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A Personalized Soundtrack for Your Novel: Creating Writing Playlists

When I’m in the early phases of writing, I don’t plot. I don’t outline. I don’t write extensive character bios.

I create playlists.

Okay, so lots of writers don’t listen to music when they work. But I think there’s a big difference in having the radio on and listening to an well-crafted collection of songs that remind you of your WIP. Music can create an immediate emotional reaction and help you find the emotional touchstones within your narrative. Think about Jaws without that ominous base soundtrack, or that wordless sequence of Up without the touching score. (I’m tearing up right now.) Why not use that kind of emotional connection in your own writing?

Maybe you don’t have John Williams or Michael Giacchino creating your novel soundtrack, but you do have your own collection of music. Here’s how my playlist-making process went for The Chance You Won’t Return:

Step 1. Start thinking about your WIP like a cat considers a speck of dust–“Oh, I don’t really care about you, I’m going to look over here instead”–before you ultimately pounce on it.

The Chance You Won’t Return started with the idea “My mother thinks she’s Amelia Earhart.” I eventually started thinking that this was from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old girl who’s also the worst driver in Driver’s Ed and is suddenly getting the attention of a hot guy at school with secrets of his own. Beyond that, I didn’t exactly know where this was going or what would happen to these characters.

Step 2. Once you have some basic characters/settings/plot in mind, go to your music collection. Start finding songs that might connect with your WIP and create a playlists with those songs.

For me, this is my iTunes library. I had a few scenes written already, and a few more in mind, so I imagined them as if they were movie scenes and tried to match those images/tones with the right songs.

The first few songs that jumped out to me were pretty literal: “Lady Pilot” by Neko Case, “Dream About Flying” by Alexi Murdoch, “Amelia Bright” by Ben Folds, and “Someday We’ll Know” by Jonathan Foreman and Mandy Moore (with the lyric “Whatever Happened to Amelia Earhart?”). These worked pretty well as I was drafting, then…

Step 3. Find songs that hit the emotional core of your scene/draft/character. Add them to your playlist and hit shuffle whenever you’re writing.

The first time I remember really connecting with the first draft of The Chance You Won’t Return was when I heard “All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem. I was trying to write the scene in which Alex first drives with Jim, and this song felt perfect for the scene–there’s a slow build to it, and a constant forward momentum, and there’s the sense of being swept up in something but also feeling kind of lost.

Eventually, as I started learning more about my characters and their stories, I started finding more songs that connected emotionally for me, like “Lonelily” by Damien Rice (which reminded me of the Winchesters and leaving/coming home), “Where It’s At” by Beck (which reminded me of Alex and her best friend, Theresa), and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” by Arcade Fire (which reminded me of Alex driving around with Jim).

By the final draft of The Chance You Won’t Return, I had 63 songs and 4 hours and 15 minutes worth of writing music. That’s a lot of time to be able to sit at the desk and not have any silence or any repeating song. Having a crafted soundtrack was a huge help in the writing process–I easily got into the right frame of mind, and didn’t get distracted by non-related music or noise.

Step 4. When you’re stuck, for other songs based on the songs you already have in your playlist.

When a scene wasn’t working for me, I’d go to a particular song that almost felt right for the scene’s mood and click “Create genius playlist.” iTunes would compile 50 other songs like that one from my library, some of which I hadn’t originally considered but were perfect and got me back in the zone.

Step 5. Listen to your playlist when you’re writing and when you’re not writing.

I’m someone who needs music while writing. It helps me shut out the rest of the world and dive into the emotional core of the story.

But sometimes a writing playlist can be just as good when you’re not writing. I would put on my The Chance You Won’t Return playlist when I was driving or walking around or on the T, and it led to some great brainstorming. Now, one of my favorite things to do is put on the playlist for whatever my WIP is when I’m traveling to conferences or retreats. It immediately puts me in the writerly frame of mind.

So maybe if you’re a pantser like me, a playlist can be a helpful tool in understanding who your characters are and where they’re going. And even if you’re not, it’s fun to have a collection of songs that remind you of your work and can get you in the writing mood at the click of a button. Or, you know, the dancing mood.

Annie Cardi lives outside Boston, MA, where she spends her time baking, creating alternate lyrics for tv show theme songs, and writing YA fiction. Her debut novel, THE CHANCE YOU WON’T RETURN, is forthcoming from Candlewick Press on April 22 2014. Her writing is fueled by copious amounts of coffee and chocolate.
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YouTube: Music by Christina Farley

This month’s YouTube topic is MUSIC, and Christina Farley, author of GILDED, is at Disney’s Music resort today talking about the song that inspired GILDED’s first chapter, the emotions of her main character and the songs that would make a great fit for GILDED’s soundtrack.

You can also visit her website extra page to listen to the full playlist.

After teaching and traveling internationally, Christina Farley started writing about her adventures, tossing in a little fiction for fun. This inspired her to write GILDED, a YA about a Korean-American girl with a black belt and deadly proclivity with steel-tipped arrows to be published by Amazon Children’s spring 2014. Besides writing, Christina loves traveling, running, hanging out with her two Jedi warriors, and eating dark chocolate.
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Youtube: Music by Stephanie Diaz

This month’s YouTube topic is MUSIC, and Stephanie Diaz, author of EXTRACTION, is up today talking about some of the music that she considers the soundtrack of her novel.

Stephanie Diaz is 20. She will graduate from San Diego State University with a bachelor’s degree in film production this May. She’s a Whovian, Browncoat, and publishing intern. Her work is represented by Alison Fargis of Stonesong. The first book in her debut YA sci-fi EXTRACTION trilogy is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan. You can follow Stephanie on twitter: @StephanieEDiaz.
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Kelsey Macke – DAMSEL DISTRESSED + Imogen Unlocked

We’ve got a great group of debut authors here at OneFour KidLit. Today we’re introducing Kelsey Macke, author of DAMSEL DISTRESSED (Spencer Hill Contemporary). This book is being presented with “Imogen Unlocked“, an album of original songs written for/inspired by the book, performed and recorded by the author’s indie-pop band, Wedding Day Rain. 

One author, four questions. Here we go!

Hey, you’re getting published! How’d that happen?

(First, let me say that I am ZOMGSOEXCITED to be a part of OneFour KidLit!)

The long version of this story can be found here and here. (all my gory details laid out…)

The short version is that I wrote a book that I really, really believed in. During the winter of 2012, I found two people who understood my story completely: my agent and my editor. Those two people came to know of my manuscript at different times and in different (non-traditional) ways, but somehow, we’ve all found our place and are working together to make this story the best that it can be!

What are you most excited about in the debut process?

I have to say that one of the coolest things about the debut process, for me, is that I get to debut TWO parts of the story at once!

My book, DAMSEL DISTRESSED, is being presented with a companion album of original music!

I’ve been a singer/songwriter for as long as I can remember, and I am half of a folky-pop duo, Wedding Day Rain! Together, we’ve written songs that continue and enrich the story that is told in my book. The book is whole on its own, as is the album. But together, they tell two complementary and compelling versions of Imogen’s story.

What cool facts might readers not know about you?

Well, I’m pretty much an open book, so it’s hard to find things that I haven’t blabbed to some corner of the internet, but… (HA!)

As I already mentioned, I’m a singer and have been writing songs for ages. I am also an actor and work in local musical productions as often as I can! (Favorite roles include “Maureen” in RENT, “Lucy” in AVENUE Q, and “Christine” in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS.)

I’m also a middle school teacher, I LOVE potatoes more than any reasonable person should, I’m addicted to horrible science fiction movies, I know almost every word of the film Pretty in Pink (and Pitch Perfect (YAY “P” movies!)), and I can bend my thumb around backwards, almost 180 degrees. (Seriously. It’s gross AND awesome!)

I’m also a card carrying NERDFIGHTER, and have my own vlog for writers (and other creative type folks) with new episodes every Friday! 🙂 Here’s the episode where I announced my book + album, and here’s my second favorite episode: 10 reasons writers are crazy.

Do you have any writing quirks–places you need to write or things you need to have with you?

I suppose I have a few writing quirks. When I’m drafting I almost NEVER stop in the middle of a chapter. Even if I’ve finished a scene within a chapter, I’m unlikely to stop until I think the whole chapter is at a stopping place.

I also really can’t listen to music much when I draft. I get so caught up in the lyrics, or even the structure of the music (in the case of classical), so I often have the volume so low that it’s almost totally inaudible, or, I listen to “sea scapes” style sounds on pandora… things like ocean waves and jungle sounds. 😀

It’s also rare that you’ll find me without 14 different colored ink pens beside me–even if I’m not writing anything down. I like my writing implements.

Kelsey Macke has been creative for as long as she can remember. Her formative years were a swirl of bad poetry, journals full of songs, and absolutely TONS of jazz hands. Her debut, DAMSEL DISTRESSED (Spencer Hill Contemporary) is being presented with Imogen Unlocked, a full album of original songs inspired by the book and performed by her band Wedding Day Rain.