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Music and Storytelling

posted Oct 16, 2017, 10:01 PM by Rebecca Hane   [ updated Oct 16, 2017, 10:07 PM ]
Music is an important part of storytelling, it tells stories within its notes and rhythms and it’s up to the listener to determine that story. No matter the song, no matter the genre, music is key.

Now some people listen to music while writing and others prefer complete silence or other noises in the background. Music isn’t important to the writing process, it is important to the storytelling process. The song could have lyrics or it could be lyricless, but it is always a source for inspiration. Consciously or subconsciously, music informs our storytelling. A chord or line from a song could inspire a whole new path in your piece of writing. From stories to poems to plays music can change the entire direction.

I remember once when I was working on an old story of mine, back in the days of the YA dystopian novel trend. I was writing about your typical girl in a dystopia involved in some kind of revolution and a love triangle. All very standard. I thought that the whole love triangle was going to end one way, until I heard the song “Just a Game” off the Hunger Games soundtrack (I know, more dystopian). Anyway, the song gave me the inspiration and the idea to take the story in a different direction than I had originally planned, all because of the story I perceived from the music. And I think the story was better for it.

I probably need more than my ten fingers and toes to count the number of times a song or piece of music has inspired a part of my creative works. As a violinist, I’ve performed a lot of classical music, which I’ve found to be a particularly lucrative source of inspiration. Sometimes while playing I’ll zone out and story ideas will come to me based on the music I’m playing and hearing around me at the moment.

While lyricless music, like Two Steps From Hell (seriously guys, check them out, they’re great for storytelling), and classical music are some of the big sources of inspiration for me, any genre can work. Whether you’re a fan of alternative, pop, country, metal, or any other kind of music out there it can be an amazing source for story ideas and inspiration.

If you’re into writing longer works like novels, I even have a prompt/exercise that revolves entirely around music that can help inspire and even potentially plot a whole novel’s worth of story. The exercise is from the book Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror edited by Laurie Lamson. It’s a pretty easy prompt and I’ll give you a rundown of the instructions now:
  1. Get a lined piece of paper and number it 1-30 (you can make this whatever number you want, it all depends on the number of chapters).
  2. Take out your music library, Spotify playlist, Pandora station (is that still a thing?), etc. and put it on shuffle.
  3. Shuffle it 30 times (or however many numbers you have on your page) and write down the title of each song one by one next to your numbers (ignore titles like Beethoven’s 9th Symphony or Adagio in C Major unless you think you can put a spin on that). Congrats! The song titles have now become your chapter titles.
  4. Now that you have all of those down, try to connect the dots between the song titles to try and form some kind of story out of them. By the end you might just end up with a brand new story idea, and best case scenario, perhaps an almost plotted out novel.
Now, this exercise only really works for novels as far as I can tell, but if any of you poets, playwrights, screenwriters, etc. can come up with a way to make this method work for you then by all means you should go ahead and do it!

Anyway, I could keep going on and on about how music intertwines with storytelling but I should let you all get back to your writing. But give listening to music a try, and really listen, you might be surprised by what you find.

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