Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Music and Lyrics Part 3: Soundtracking the story

I have just accidentally deleted a very long post I was writing about this, which is deeply frustrating as I have spent ages explaining the way my odd mind works. Never mind. Let me start again...

I previously wrote two posts about how music inspires my writing here and here, but thanks to general busyness, haven't got round to writing about how I actually use it to create my stories.

The way I choose and use songs is a bit of an organic process, a little bit rambly and probably makes no sense to anyone but me, but here goes.

The first thing I'm looking for I suppose, is songs with emotional heart, the sort of songs that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. This is obviously a very personal thing, and some of the songs that have that effect on me, may be different from your favourites, but as its the emotion I'm after, hopefully that shouldn't matter.

The current book I'm working on is about weddings. Given that I have now been married for nearly 20 years, it's a bit of a challenge to remember exactly how I felt when I was newly in love(though I can remember EXACTLY how I felt on my wedding day), so I've gone back to some songs from the soundtrack to my own courtship to help me reconnect with the emotions I think my characters should be feeling. The first song inevitably, I suppose is Billy Idol's White Wedding, I first heard it at a time when marriage was the farthest thing from my mind, but I was contemplating a long and lonely summer away from Spouse, so for me its always had a bitter sweet feel. And for two of my characters, unsure of the choices they've made, it's a perfect fit. I think it sums up particularly well that feeling of being on a rollercoaster ride which you can't get off, which I'm sure most brides experience in the run up to the wedding.

Hey little sister what have you done
Hey little sister who's the only one
Hey little sister who's your superman
Hey little sister who's the one you want
Hey little sister shot gun!

It's a nice day to start again
It's a nice day for a white wedding
It's a nice day to start again.

The next song is from this album by the Damned (ok, I just wanted an excuse to put up this very fine cover which I love).

I first heard Shadow of Love at the same period as the Billy Idol song. And without sounding too corny about it, I realised with a jolt that where I had been larking about and having fun before (I was ridiculously young when I met Spouse), I had actually fallen under the shadow of love, which made that parting even harder. I'm still not sure I'm going to use this song in this book, because it maybe too gothic, but I do love it. And for a punk band it is rather poetic.

The hour is late and you know that time waits for no-one
See the glow of the soul in her face
Then you know that you're caught in the shadow of love

A brief embrace and fear and restraint have all gone
Innocence burns, -yes a fire that burned all along
See the doors about to swing both ways
See the answer mirrored in her gaze
Then you know that you're caught in the shadow of love

As I'm sure is common for most people, the course of true love didn't run exactly smooth for us, so after that summer apart, Spouse and I split up, I thought at the time, forever (ha, little did I know!). When we finally got back together, we danced to Simple Minds Don't You Forget About Me, and I still cannot hear it without feeling a churning of emotions: excitement, fear, joy, anxiety all rolled into one, all of which I hope to use for all my characters at some point.

Don't You Forget About Me
Don't Don't Don't Don't
Don't You Forget About Me

Will you stand above me?
Look my way, never love me
Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling
Down, down, down

A similar tale is attached to Always on my Mind by the Pet Shop Boys. When I finished uni, Spouse still had a year to go, and I headed off to the bright lights and big city genuinely unsure that we would make it through the year. That we did, in part, was a result of this song. We're all guilty of taking our loved ones for granted, and sometimes that's a difficult thing to admit. So this song is perfect for one of my characters who has a good marriage, but is keeping secrets from her husband.

Maybe I didnt treat you quite as good as I should
Maybe I didnt love you quite as often as I could
Little things I shouldve said and done, I never took the time
You were always on my mind
You were always on my mind

This book represents a bit of a first for me, in that it is very character led, and the plot is forming as I write, rather, then as is usual for me, plotting it out first. It is both a liberating and scary way to write, so I feel the need to know my characters more then I usually do. I've started with Caz, the most difficult and unlikeable character I've yet written, who I hope will be going on a redemptive journey. I had my eye on two Razorlight songs for Caz - Before I Fall to Pieces and In the Morning, which I still may yet use. But when I stumbled on Wire to Wire, which I burbled on about yesterday, I knew I'd found the key to Caz's character.

What is love but the strangest of feelings?
A sin you swallow for the rest of your life?
You`ve been looking for someone to believe in
To love you, until your eyes run dry

She lives on disillusion road
We go where the wild blood flows
On our bodies we share the same scar
Love me, wherever you are

As Caz also has a strong self destruct button she's also getting Amy Winehouse's You Know I'm No Good

I cheated myself
Like I knew I would
I told ya, I was trouble
You know that I'm no good

I'm still working out the rest of the songs, but thanks to a complete nostalgia blitz yesterday on Twitter yesterday(thanks fellow twitterers) about Fleetwood Mac Rumours (now there's an album built for stories about the broken hearted), I'm currently looking at: Go Your Own Way/Gold Dust Woman for Sarah whose marriage is in trouble and Songbird for Doris, the optmistic joyful heart of the story. Doris is also getting Pure by the Lightning Seeds

Nighttime slows, raindrops splash rainbows
Perhaps someone you know could sparkle and shine
As daydreams slide to colour from shadow
Picture the moonglow that dazzles my eyes
And I love you

Just lying, smiling in the dark
Shooting stars around your heart
Dreams come bouncing in your head
Pure and simple every time
Now, you're crying in your sleep
I wish you'd never learnt to weep
Don't sell the dreams you should be keeping
Pure and simple every time

I love that song. Such a simple but brilliant evocation of what it is to be in love.

Beth, my fourth character is the most tricky at the moment, as she is still a little in the shadows, but I'm currently thinking of Kate Bush's Man with the Child in his Eyes for her, though at this particular moment, I can't quite tell you why. That's another thing about this process. I don't always have all the answers. I just feel in my gut it's right.

And of course, I've mentioned before, Johnny Cash's Hurt is at the heart of the book, and though mainly Doris's song, it will be appropriate to all of them I feel.

Once I've worked out all the songs - and actually I can still throw in last minute ones, which I did in Last Christmas - I have them on my playlist on the computer. I often listen to the whole set while I'm fiddling about on twitter or on my blog, so that they are somewhere there embedded in my psyche, or in the case of Hurt, which in my head is very much like a soundtrack from a movie, I'll actually listen to it as I write the scene. This can be distracting sometimes, but in the case of such a powerful song I find it helps me really reach for the emotions I'm trying to portray. Whether or not I succeed in describing them is another matter of course, and that can be a frustrating part of the process for me, but hey, alot of writing is frustrating, so I can't waste too much time getting hung up about it.

When I've finished the book, other songs often occur to me as being more suitable, or just right for a particular scene or character (this happened with the character of Rob in Strictly Love who ended up with Robbie Williams Feel as his theme tune.) But what I usually find with the songs I've already chosen, is that I listen to them again as I rewrite the book, and this often helps me find an extra edge or depth to what I'm writing - at least I hope it does.

Like I say, it's an organic process, and it's one at the moment I'm just starting out on. And the best thing about it is, having really stalled badly with my writing of late, I've just discovered from my marathon Fleetwood Mac listening (and sharing with Twitter followers, particularly Marie) yesterday that music really does reenergise me and motivate me. So even if no one else notices the emotion, the fact that I've listened probably means I will finish the damned thing. Eventually...


Persephone said...

As a card-carrying member of "Nitpickers International", I would like to point out that "You Were Always On My Mind" isn't "by" The Pet Shop Boys; they did a cover of it (which I chiefly remember for a weird and wonderful video involving Joss Ackland). The song was written by Wayne Cross (who also wrote the classic "The Letter") and was initially recorded by Elvis Presley.

Persephone said...

And to nitpick my nitpicking, the song writer was Wayne Carson and the first artist to record it was Brenda Lee....

Jane Henry said...

Sorry Persephone, should have said Pet Shop Boy's version, which I prefer to Elvis' anyway. Didn't realise it was a cover when I first heard it, but that was a very long time ago!

PS nit pick away. Am off the dash things off in a hurry but still hate getting things wrong school (-: