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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Guest Blogger ~ Robert Liparulo

Best-selling author Robert Liparulo is a former journalist, with over a thousand articles and multiple writing awards to his name. His novels include Comes a Horseman, Germ, Deadfall, and this year’s Deadlock, as well as the young adult series, Dreamhouse Kings (the latest of which is Timescape, releases July 7). He is currently writing, simultaneously, an original screenplay and novel, with the director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, The Guardian).

How Music Influences My Words

Pace. Rhythm. Tension. It’s no coincidence these terms describe both stories and music. In fact, for me, music has always helped me create stories. When someone mentions a favorite scene from one of my novels, more often than not, I immediately remember the music that was playing in my headphones when I wrote it: Olaf’s attack on Brady and his son in Comes a Horseman (“Elk Hunt” from Last of the Mohicans); Stephen’s confrontation with the killer Atropos in Germ (“The Battle” from Gladiator); Hutch’s apprehensive readiness to rise from charred ground and fight at the end of Deadfall (“Death is the Road to Awe” from The Fountain). Music gets me in the mind-set to write specific scenes—its rhythm reminds me of the pace I’m looking for as I work to find just the right words; its mood holds me in a sort of suspended animation within the scene, regardless of outside distractions or the time it takes to write it.

Years ago, as movie critic, I’d sometimes see films before they were finished, without a musical score. At one screening, the director stood in the aisle humming the music that would accompany each scene. That was more distracting than the film’s symphonic nakedness, but I understood the poor man’s panic over having his film seen that way: music can make or break a movie. It not only adds a rich layer of enjoyment to the viewing experience, it cues the audience to the filmmaker’s intentions—“OK, time to get scared” or “In case the this guy’s mask made out of human skin isn’t enough to let you know, he’s the bad guy!” That’s why the tracks of musical score are called “cues.”

(I’ve dreamed of including a playlist—even the actual music in digital form—with my novels. Readers could then start a soundtrack with each chapter, heightening their experience of the story. Of course, individual reading speeds make that impractical; few things are worse than out-of-synch audio tracks. And, yes, I realize it’s part of the author’s job to create the same emotional response in readers that music does, using only words. Still, I sometimes imagine myself acting like that director: leaning over a reader’s shoulder, and at the right moment going, “Da-da-da!”)

It’s hard for me to experience a story, in any medium, without musical accompaniment—whether in my ears or my head.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve listened to music as I wrote—through years of writing magazine articles and intermittent screenplays. It started as a way of deadening the sounds of screaming kids, vacuum cleaners, and when I rented an outside office, the shouts coming from the divorce attorney’s office next door. Then I started writing novels, and the type of music I played suddenly mattered.

Faster tempos do help keep the pace up—if not within the story, then at least with how fast my fingers move over a keyboard; but then, volume helps with that as well. The louder, the better. More important than tempo is how a piece of music makes me feel. A cue that starts off slow and builds to a triumphant crescendo can carry me through a fast-paced action sequence as well as any nonstop, staccato rhythm. “Chevaliers de Sangreal” from The Da Vinci Code, for example: a hero’s theme if ever there was one.

Over time, I’ve built a library of music categorized by the mood it puts me in when I write. Take, for instance, Clint Mansell’s haunting music for Requiem for a Dream. Its cues seem to be teetering on the edge of something, without relief or execution. No wonder several of the titles have the word “Tense” in them. When I launch into a suspenseful scene, I’ll often queue up my Requiem playlist.

Here’s a specific example of a partial scene and the music I was listening to when I wrote it:

“With the speed and fluidity he had practiced a thousand times, Hutch drew back on the bowstring and released it, all in one, smooth two-second motion. He held still for another beat to make sure the arrow cleared the bow. Then he dropped his right arm to a second arrow rising from the ground beside him. His bow arm never moved. His head never moved. His eyes never came off of Bad. As the arrow sliced a groove through Bad’s skin at the temple, Hutch was already nocking the next arrow.”

Most likely, Quentin Tarantino would go with something fast and exotic, like NEU!’s “Super 16” from Kill Bill. Because the scene is a mix of suspense and action, I powered up “Betrayal” from Enemy at the Gates—from the scene in which they discover a young boy murdered and hanging from a crane. It’s emotive and heart-wrenching, and prior to the “discovery” almost painful in its anticipation.

My writing-music of choice is almost always film scores. It seems to me that movie moguls are the benefactors of today’s great composers, Hollywood the new Vienna. I also like that the structure of a good story—with its cycle of tension and relief, despair and triumph—forces a wide variation in music within one recording. I used to think the strong bond between a movie’s images and its music would cause me to think only of those images while listening to the score—Russell Crowe plucking his violin in Master and Commander. However, I’ve found that the spirit of the music takes over and I can claim it for my own. That’s why filmmakers often listen to other movies’ scores while on set. They’re not trying to imitate another movie’s scene; they’re letting the music help them get in the mood for their own scene. The director Ridley Scott is known for doing this.

Thankfully, most movie scores don’t have lyrics. I’m too much of a word geek to write with lyrics pounding into my eardrums: I’m always trying to listen to them. Every now and then, however, a song with lyrics is perfect for getting me into the groove of a scene (though usually it’s something in its rhythm, tempo or melody, rarely its words that attracts me to it). When that happens, I play it over and over until my mind stops trying to catch every word and hears the vocals as it does any other instrument. Felix da Housecat’s remix of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” comes to mind; I listened to it while writing the scene that introduced Brendan Page, my latest novel Deadlock’s villain, a true sinnerman with a penchant for “cool,” which the song captures.

It’s all about what works for the individual writer. When writing action scenes, Meg Gardiner (The Memory Collector) says Gladiator, The Day After Tomorrow, Jarhead and 300 “get me in a fightin' mood.” David Dun says he listened to “the womb-like sounds of a whirlpool hot tub with all the jets running” while writing The Black Silent. Whatever works.

When I write to music, it does more than nudged me into a specific pace or help me with atmosphere. It reminds me of quality, that musical notes, played on varied instruments in a specific order and speed can touch people in ways that are mysterious and wonderful. It can lift heavy spirits and wring tears from long-dry eyes. It can unsettle sad memories and tickle a laugh out of you when you need it most. It stirs the listener and paints unimaginably vivid pictures—exactly the things I want my words to do, as well.

Whirlwind

They've been to three worlds in less than a day. Time isn't just running out...it's running wild.

David King is reeling from his travels through history-and the evil he's found there. The last thing he needs is his great-great-uncle Jesse's hospital-bed instructions: You can't simply do nothing. You must fix things.

David and his brother Xander's search for their abducted mother has repeatedly led them on strange and terrifying journeys as they've stepped through the portals of the creepy old house and into some of history's most turbulant moments...and confronted an unimaginably bleak vision of the future.

Now Jesse's words saddle them with an obligation to not only visit the past, but the need to rewrite it.

Fulfilling their purpose will take everything they have, both mentally and physically. But they have no choice...because everything in the past-and the future-is on the line.

7 comments:

Ronie Kendig said...

Ohhhh, this is so true for me too. I can't write without music; it totally sets the tone for me. And I have specific tracks/albums for different stories. Book 2 in my military series I'm writing to Big Daddy Weave (hero is a cowboy). I write my time travel with shape-shifting creatures to the Halo3 soundtrack.

BTW - Bob, I *LOVE* the Dreamhouse Kings series!!! I am going out tomorrow to get book #3. AWESOME series (sorry I'm not up with them as you release them, but you've found another committed fan in me with this series!).

Dineen A. Miller said...

I'm so glad to find out I'm not the only one who does this. LOL! I can even hear music I listened to in the past during a particular project and I'm transported back to those characters even years later. And the emotions are still there too!

I've thought of that idea of music with books too. If only! I'm betting it will happen though and somehow the technology will provide the sensors needed to run in conjunction with eye movement. What an awesome idea!

Ane Mulligan said...

I definitely use music to influence my writing, too. LOL My current heroine gets Bette Miller. Other times I use Enya. I love her music. But I tend to use soundtracks the most. Words can distract me.

Pepper Basham said...

Great post. I associate certain songs to scenes in my novels. It goes right along with my novel playing like a movie in my head :-)

Bob, your writing is so descriptive. Thanks for sharing.

Pepper

Nicole said...

Great post. Great writer.

Makes me wonder why I prefer perfect silence to write. Although certain songs have provided the inspiration for specific stories, but it was the lyrics. (Music moves me deeper into myself . . . and usually leads to tears.)

Gina Holmes said...

I've only recently started to write to music (last few years). The right song gets me in the mood like nothing else, emotionally. If you listen to the same song long enough you stop hearing the words and just get the feeling they bring.

I have office envy btw. :)

Robert Liparulo said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone! I hope each of you finds the perfect music for your writitng. I'm always amazed at the way God continues to provide the resources I need to do the job He designed me to do.