When it comes time to start on a new writing project, one of my favorite things to do is create a playlist (I call them “soundtracks”). It’s fun to imagine the music that would play in your story’s future film or television adaptation. Above all, having a soundtrack on the ready on those days you don’t feel like writing could be the thing to break down your writer’s block or fears. In fact, I consider this part of my writing process and I can’t think how I can do without it! Here are five tips on how to create a great soundtrack for your writing project.
1) Research the time period of your novel
I often write novels and short stories that are set either in the modern-day or within the last few decades. I like to research what music was popular during the time. It also helps that I am already a huge fan of seventies and eighties music in general, so creating soundtracks for stories set during those times are easier than, say, one for the sixties or even five years ago.
For those projects that have more ancient settings, search out music that adapts to the time period very well. The point is it should set the mood, you don’t need to worry about getting it accurate. For example look at the Game of Thrones soundtrack; it has Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós performing “The Rains of Castamere” and the band was not around in that time period, let alone world!
2) Ask your characters to make their own playlists
I started doing this exercise earlier this year. What I do is sit down and ask my characters what their favorite songs are, and what songs they often listen to. To my surprise, it would be stuff that I wouldn’t have considered before! That was how, for one character, I dove deep into early eighties country and discovered a treasure trove of awesome tunes not only for writing but also for my personal enjoyment. I mean, sometimes characters have minds of their own, so why not music taste?
Also take this exercise a little further by writing about why your characters like these songs, what memories they evoke, or what lyrics they hum under their breath while they do the dishes. Use this as an exercise to get the creative engine up and running.
3) Check out other soundtracks
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so why not apply this to creating your soundtrack? Look at other examples of writing playlists and soundtracks to get an idea of how to build one.
One wonderful source is Largehearted Boy’s blog, where he interviews writers and has them create playlists for their newest releases. Movie and video game soundtracks are great sources to check out as well. Besides finding songs to add (more on this later), you also want to be able to understand how music builds atmosphere and creates mood and setting. Next time you watch your favorite show or movie, keep your ears pricked. You could learn a lot just by listening!
4) Take Yourself on a Song Safari
Sometimes you’ll stumble upon a song you want to add in the wild. I’ve discovered songs to add while playing video games, watching movies, or even browsing local radio stations. Anything that catches your ear and reminds you of your project, take note of it! As a record collector in addition to being a writer, I have access to all kinds of stuff that isn’t available on places like Spotify and Apple Music. Look beyond the usual suspects! Leave no stone unturned! Don’t mess with Texas! You get the idea.
5) Have Fun with It
Think of this as an exercise of your creative muscles, not as a chore. But like a lot of creative endeavors, if it does become a chore, leave it alone and get back to writing or whatever else needs to be done for your novel. As you saw from the previous steps, sometimes the songs will come to you as you are working, just like ideas for your writing, so don’t sweat it!
Whether you study other writers’ playlists or wing in on your own, creating your novel’s soundtrack can become another part of your creativity and help you on those dry-spell days. I hope this inspires you to look at your music collection a little differently now. Go forth and rock on!
Lindsey Clepper is a suspense/mystery novelist born and raised in South Texas. Besides novels, she writes flash fiction and poetry. Her poetry has appeared in such spaces as Maudlin House and The Sagebrush Review. One of her lifelong writing goals is to help make literary genre fiction a thing. You can find her on Instagram or her writing blog (coming soon in 2020).