Pub Rants

Story & Lyrics

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STATUS: Whimsical.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HERE’S WHERE THE STORY ENDS by The Sundays

This is a completely esoteric blog entry. I personally think that music can be great inspiration for writing. Many of my clients have playlists associated with their work. Here is the soundtrack for the Gallagher Girls.

Linnea Sinclair has a blues song that frames her novel The Down Home Zombie Blues.

Jamie Ford wrote a whole novel where a missing vinyl record is pivotal.

Do you think a lyric can jumpstart a whole novel? I was listening to The Sundays and this line just strikes me as full of possibilities:

“Oh, I never should have said that the books that you read were all I loved you for.”

I’m intrigued with the possible story that would lead up to someone saying that bit of dialogue.

36 Responses

  1. Sovereign said:

    When I write I imagine the scenes playing out with certain songs woven into them, and not only the lyrics, but the rhythm and beat as well. It’s quite logical afterall, when you consider that good songs are meant to elicit an emotional response. Is that not what makes for good writing as well?

  2. Kelly said:

    I completely agree with Sovereign. Certain scenes and certain characters are completely tied with songs. I have a whole soundtrack to each and every story I write.

    Certain songs will entire scenes or chapters in my mind. I have yet to have a song inspire an entire novel, but with how tied into music my writing is, it’s only a matter of time before that happens 🙂

  3. Alicia said:

    I love listening to certain songs when I write, ones that help me get into the emotions of a scene. In fact, I wrote a blog post the other night about music that inspires me. 🙂

  4. Charlie said:

    I’ve composed music since childhood, including the music end of published songs, but writing a good lyric is a difficult thing to do. I have written novels but to relate your emotions in lyrics is much harder, for me.

  5. Shruti said:

    That line in itself is brilliant. What is making me think is how should I create dialogues that highlight characters so beautifully.

  6. H. L. Dyer said:

    A snippet of lyrics gave me the idea kernel for my whole manuscript. And what’s more, I overheard this lyrics snippet in a TV commercial. The song is “Half Acre” by Hem, and the line that got me was:

    I am holding half an acre, torn from a map of Michigan.

    Half an acre is quite small… So small, in fact, that a map of such an area would lose all context. Unless you already knew exactly where to look, you’d never find the right place, no matter how detailed that map might be.

    Now I had an obstacle, but needed to create a character motivated to overcome it. So I considered why someone might be desperate to find such a place and why this map would exist.

    And a concept was born: a twist on a treasure map, which would lead my protagonist Beatrice on a hunt for herself.

    You can hear the song in my mock-up book trailer (the copyright holder ok’d it for youtube).

  7. Carrie N. said:

    I love this post! Love it. Yes, music can absolutely be influential to one’s work, motivational level, etc. And the Sundays are fabulous.

    I’m going to read Dust of 100 Dogs with my class and we’re going to talk about Bob Marly as an influence. Simply bring musical influences to the attention of high schoolers will spark an interest in the reading.

  8. Kristina said:

    Hi Kristin! And in my book, Real Life & Liars is not only the title and a line of dialogue, but eventually a song lyric.

    I have a melody for it in my head, too. Unnecessary on the page, but I like knowing how it goes.

    I’ve found I usually can’t write with music on. I find the lyrics distracting. Also, as a mom with young kids, silence is sometimes the sweetest music of all!

    Kristina Riggle

  9. Lisa Iriarte said:

    I can’t write with music on, either. However, music certainly inspires me to start writing. And it doesn’t need lyrics. More often, it’s an instrumental piece that gets me writing. For awhile I was into New Age music like early Yanni. I needed instrumental music that didn’t already have films attached to it and wasn’t hundreds of years old. I wrote an entire novel to Yanni’s Keys to Imagination. I guess the title was prophetic.

  10. DebraLSchubert said:

    This post is right up my alley. I’m a songwriter and my book is about a rock goddess turned domestic goddess turned rock goddess. Songs are woven throughout the book, and even some original lyrics where appropriate. To me, music and writing are inseparable. That said, I can’t listen to music while I write because I can’t not sing. (Gotta love those double negatives!) The Sundays are brilliant. The lead singer, Harriet Wheeler, is a subtle but brilliant vocalist.

  11. Dara said:

    I have a lot of songs that inspire me and often inspire certain scenes in my book. My MC has a theme song, as well as two of the secondary characters.

    I find soundtracks to certain movies also help inspire me. The soundtrack to Memoirs of a Geisha is often what I play as I work on my book.

  12. natalie said:

    I just read a book called Impossible by Nancy Werlin. The whole concept came from the Simon & Garfunkel song “Scarborough Fair”. It was a great book with a cool tie-in to the song (even though I had it stuck in my head for days! 🙂

  13. AC said:

    I was just thinking about this yesterday! I was driving along and got my character’s last name from Weezer’s “Miss Sweeney” (on the red album), which was playing on the iPod just then. I’ve heard the song a hundred times, but for some reason, it clicked with me at that point.

    I don’t make particular playlists for books – yet – but I do get inspired by lyrics often. Music is just awesome.

  14. Madison said:

    Actually, for me, it’s music WITHOUT lyrics that mainly inspires me. For example, I have a story where I wrote several scenes from the Lord of the Rings soundtract. Another story I blame almost entirely on the Spirit: Stallion of the Cimerron soundtrack. I have a story idea that I can blame the Atlantis: The Lost Empire soundtrack for. Needless to say, I love movie soundtracks! 😀

  15. Heidi C. Vlach said:

    Ah, music can be a wonderful emotional force. One of the first songs I used as writing fuel was Into The Fire from The Scarlet Pimpernel. It’s relevant to the novelwriting process as well as high fantasy daring-do. “Never hold back your step for a moment/Never doubt that your courage will grow/Hold your head even higher and into the fire we go”

  16. Windy Aphayrath said:

    Most definitely. Sometimes its a new song for me. Sometimes its the millionth time I’ve heard the song but it feels brand new, all the lyrics suddenly sound different and a few tens of thousands of words later, I’m sitting on another finished manuscript.

  17. Sarah Jensen said:

    I can’t write without music in the background. Rarely do i hear the words, but the feelings that music evokes is essential for me.

    And great lyrics can inspire.

    I’d like to say, Heather, I’m even more in love with your novel knowing the story behind it!

    Now, I can’t pass on an opportunity to write from such great inspiration, so here’s what I came up from that line. And take pity, I wrote it in under 5 minutes. 🙂

    Rebecca sat at the window seat, her head leaning against the glass panes, and looked at William.

    His hand rested on the hearth.

    Her lips quivered, but she didn’t make a sound.

    He sighed.

    “You have to know that I didn’t mean it. At least not the way you took it.”

    Rebecca looked down at her holy jeans, stained t-shirt, and grungy sneakers. She knew how people saw her. Ignorance was not something on her long list of “Things wrong with me”.

    William made his way to her and knelt at her feet. “Oh, I never should have said that the books that you read were all I loved you for. You know that’s not true.” He took her hand and squeezed. “Don’t you?”

    How could she know any such thing? Her intelligence was all she had to offer. “Sure, William. I know.”

  18. Angie said:

    I know Shanna Swendson has written on her blog about the soundtracks she uses when she writes her books. Rachel Caine actually includes the songs from the sountracks she uses for her books at the end of the book.

  19. Marianne Mancusi said:

    I held a contest and let my readers suggest songs for the Boys that Bite soundtrack. It was a lot of fun and I discovered a lot of new bands from my readers and vice-versa! Then I made up a downloadable i-Mix on i-Tunes for them to purchase, if they were interested.

    Also, I often reference older goth bands in my books to introduce readers (who are several generations younger than the first goths!) to these classic bands. They write to me saying they’ve started listening to them becuase of the book. So I feel I’m keeping the older music I love alive and they in turn introduce me to the new stuff!


  20. Heather said:

    Absolutely, music inspires me and informs my writing. I don’t usually write with it on, but I tend to listen to a few songs before a writing session.

    P.S. I always love to see what your currently playing songs are. I think we must have at least 90% overlap in our music libraries (up to and most definitely including the Sundays)!

  21. jimnduncan said:

    I can listen to instrumental music while writing, which can help with the writing mood, but not lyrics. They’re too distracting. Like others here, I’ve had story ideas spawned from songs. The one that comes first to mind is Unknown Legend by Neil Young. Some songs just inspire very strong images and emotions, which of course lends itself well to our writerly brains.

    J Duncan

  22. Lorrie said:

    I can’t listen to music while writing, but I always choose one or two novel-appropriate songs for my getting-ready-to-write routine. Sometimes, Jonathan Edwards for my first novel. Cannonball by Damien Rice for the second. I’m Not Ready to Make Nice, Dixie Chicks, and Don’t Speak, No Doubt, for novel number three.

  23. Carradee said:

    Ironically, I just started using music while writing a few months (or is it a year now?) ago. I started off just finding ones that vaguely “felt” like my story.

    But as I started it, the practice grew. Finding songs that match a character/situation is so much fun! Today I found “Far Far Away” by Blackmore’s Night, which very much matches a MC of mine.

    That said, I have had stories that at least partially spawned from songs. I can think of one (which may never see light of day; it’s psychologically disturbing) was inspired by relativism, ghosts, and Nightwish’s “While Your Lips Are Still Red.”

    I have to be careful to not get carried away with song-searching, though.

  24. Susan Kelley said:

    I like to listen to movie soundtracks when I write. When I’m working on my fantasy series, I like to listen to the soundtrack from ‘Lord of the Rings’ or something heroic and tragic like ‘Braveheart’ or ‘Last of the Mohicans.’ My current favorite soundtrack to listen to when I’m working on one of my romance series is the soundtrack from ‘August Rush.’ I try not to write all my heroes with big blue eyes and an Irish accent like that too cute Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

  25. nessili said:

    Gosh, what a great topic!

    Absolutely have to have music to write. ‘Last of the Mohicans’ is by far the best, with anything by Clannad a very close second. Within Temptation, Globus, and E.S. Posthumus are also wonderful (used to write English term papers to heavy duty industrial, but I can’t quite manage that any more).

    As for plots and characters, asking “what if” about ‘Coyote Run’ by Leahy and ‘Blackstairs’ by Clannad led to two novel-length stories.

    ‘The Wild Cry’ (also Clannad) is another song just asking for a book.

  26. Punk Rock Girl said:

    I wrote a novel (rejected by Kristin, no hard feelings) inspired by winning concert tickets from a punk rock Internet radio show.

  27. Number One Novels said:

    Just based on the number of comments, I think the answer is yes, an entire novel can be inspired by one line, one snippit of lyrics. There’s several songs that I love simply because they make me think of stories.

    I just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s ANANSI’S BOYS, which includes, among other things, the idea of how powerful songs are and the magic they have.

  28. Jessica Milne said:

    Hrm… I like listening to music when I write and definetly could be inspired to write a story based off of one song or one line. When I already have the story in my head, though, I just keep my ipod on shuffle in the background.

  29. the Amateur Book Blogger said:

    Can a lyric can jumpstart a whole novel? Absolutely.And The Sundays do have great lyrics.

    I have various songs from one album which feature in my novel, as the character listens to and is influenced by music. It also supports the location and action. However – how much of a lyric – one line? a chorus? – may one include without infringing on copyright?

    It doesn’t ring true to say…so she sang track three from X album out loud…I need her to show and hear her sing the line(s)…

    I read conflicting things online about ‘fair use’. Any advice?

    PS: And I love that Sundays track.

  30. Deb said:

    A Celtic ballad lyric gave me not only the “feel” for my WIP but the bones of the plot. Sometimes a song just takes hold of your soul and won’t let go.

    “Every happy ending needs to have a start” — the Moody Blues