Learning How to Spell 6: Music Soothes the Beast

February 14, 2010

You are about to enter another dimension... of SOUND!

Writer’s block is the kick of the junk that keeps pressing down harder after the initial hit.

Many writers have different cures for it. Mario Martinez, a collegue, suggests a stiff drink and some James Brown. Other authors take walks or exercise or just do anything else to get their minds off writing.

Personally, I think these are all great options. Who couldn’t use a little James Brown to funk up their mojo?

However, there’s something I believe works better than all of these if you’re determined to keep writing no matter how much your eyes bleed.


Think about it. We associate music with almost every part of our lives. A friend of mine quoted “Name” by the Goo Goo Dolls and I was instantly reminded of middle school computer class where I would put my headphones on and listen to the Dizzy Up the Girl album while I worked. Whenever I hear songs from Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero, I’m instantly taken back to my time in Washington DC as I walked around the Capitol on my lunch break and thought of all the hypocrisy I saw on a daily basis. Joy Division brings to mind the first time I read James O’Barr’s The Crow back in college.

I have entire playlists for different projects. I have one for Charcoal Streets and various other ones for different projects. One playlist is even for planning Dungeons and Dragons games.

And it’s not just about finding music that references whatever you’re trying to do. And it’s not about looking for lyrics to match. Let’s go over a few examples, shall we?

Don’t let the music escape by *JacobRM on deviantART

Charcoal Streets

It would be easy to just put a bunch of music specifically from the border. I could get country and cumbias and call it a day. After all, that’s the music commonly heard around here, but it wouldn’t be music that matches the tone of the piece. For example, in “Call the Baptist,” I used Joy Division’s “Disorder.”

The lyrics, I felt, match Father Flores’ moral dilemma, but I also wanted a song that harkened back to 80’s punk and rebellion, highlighting Flores’ unorthodox style.

For Carmen, I figure she’s more of a traditional girl, a real native, so I play a cover of “O Death” whenever I try to picture her mannerisms. The song is a little country, but it’s also a modern take on an old Western classic. The lyrics fit her beautifully, I think, since she really is the embodiment of Death in Via Rosa: uncaring, callous, and cold. That being said, the people she targets may be drug dealers, pimps, and killers, and she is still murdering people, and sometimes that comes back to haunt her.

Dungeons and Dragons

Amateur Dungeon Masters might instantly go for movie soundtracks from films like Gladiator, Lord of the Rings, or similar movies.

In truth, doing so really misses the opportunity to play with expectations.

Aside from music by Nox Arcana, Midnight Syndicate, X-Ray Dog, and Immediate Music, I like to play some modern pieces for battle sequences. Bands like Demon Hunter, Otep, and Disturbed have the heavy rock to compliment a fast-paced fight while bands such as Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Lacuna Coil have combinations of rock and strings that not only sound epic, but very fantasy-oriented.

For example, there is a recurring villain, a renegade elven paladin named Keyleth Greymoon, who always presents a challenge to the players. I have one particular piece of music I play whenever they fight her. It’s “I60 BPM,” By Hans Zimmer. The combination of chorus and bells invokes the mystery and grace this enemy uses to her advantage whenever my players fight her. The song goes between extremes, one moment ethereal and the next moment hard and fast, just like her movements through the battlefield.


I have a series of science fiction short stories that I’d like to start writing again once I finish Charcoal Streets in a few months. The series is called Endeavors and covers humanity’s future history over the next thousand years. Some stories are set in the very near future while the longer pieces are set in the 32nd century.

My first impulse was to make a playlist with electronic and classical music to show the contrasts in society.

That lasted about ten minutes.

Right now, the playlist has everything from Chevelle to Credence Clearwater Revival. The stories focus on people who will leave Earth and explore space. They’re not the crew of the Enterprise, but neither are they brigands and space pirates. They’re scientists, pilots, real people who have real problems. A few classical pieces remain, but for the most part, the soundtrack has few electronic pieces and instead spreads out over a very wide range of music.

The one piece that I always listen to when I want to get inspired, though, is Pink Floyd’s “High Hopes.” The main point in the stories is that you can’t run away from what you’ve done. No matter where you go, you’ll find yourself. The song’s got the kind of build up and mood I want to create with this SF collection.

Remember that writing is not just about the words on the page. Inspiration comes from everywhere. That’s why I wrote that you need a notebook at all times. Write a song you hear that evokes unique images. Make a note to look up a word you heard that seems alien but could benefit you.

Learn to embrace all your senses and you’ll become more than just a writer. You’ll become a storyteller.

Music by ~mrsnikkisixx on deviantART

And now for some links to get your week started!

  • Arthur C. Clarke is one of my favorite authors. in fact, he’s the writer that helped me decide I too wanted to write, and now here is perhaps his shortest story, dug up from the archives. It’s quote striking.  Additionally, it’s a great example of flash fiction.
  • And finally, during our weekly D&D game, someone bough ChocoVine, a chocolate-infused red wine mocked during Ellen. Curiosity beat us to it and we tried it out. The music in the background is what I had on as we played D&D. The reactions are real and… just watch.

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