Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Connecting music to story by Yahong Chi

You know that feeling when you discover a new artist whose songs you connect to on another level? Well, for me, it’s not too different from that feeling when you become emotionally invested in the characters you’re spinning right out of your head, the atmosphere you’ve created in this one perfect scene, or the diction that sustains the elevated introspection at the core of this one chapter. So what could be more natural than to join a song with a scene, character or entire novel?

It can be as simple as choosing a song (or two, or three, or ten) that remind you of your current WIP. Depending how much you’re invested in both songs and story, of course, that task could also be immensely complex. At its core, the linking of music with story is an exercise born from emotional connection. Just as some people enjoy assigning real-life actors to their characters and some people don’t, matching songs with your novel isn’t for everyone.

Personally, I like to assign each of my characters a song. It’s their “theme”, similar to how film soundtracks usually compose a score piece for the protagonists. I take a few things into consideration, such as lyrics, melody and production. For the protagonist of my contemporary middle-grade WIP, Victoria, her song is Owl City’s “Hello Seattle”. This song is quirky and imaginative, and by the same hand it’s also a little left of centre, matching her “loner” tendencies. However, it’s upbeat as well, which is in direct contrast to her general attitude, and I like to think that this dichotomy adds more depth to her character.

Sometimes I also match a specific song to one scene in particular, especially if the scene runs high with unresolved tension and emotion. When stakes are particularly high, I find that finding the perfect song to accompany the scene expands my understanding and perception of the way I view the scene, and that in turn inflects the way I write it.

Playlists for entire novels are also common and fun to make. And from a reader’s viewpoint, they also offer an intriguing look into the author’s mindset while they were writing the book—and they offer insight into how the author him/herself views the book itself. Basically, music can be a reflection of your novel, and it can also be a reflection of the way you perceive your novel. If a reader were to create a playlist for your novel, would it be similar (accounting for different genre & musical tastes) in style and meaning? That’s a question that could lead to some eye-opening information in how readers approach your book, as opposed to yourself, as the writer.

Just as you develop character nuances with character worksheets and plan backstory that never makes it into the final book, linking music with your story can add another layer in representing what you want to portray through your writing. With so many websites out there offering quick and easy playlist-making capabilities (try 8tracks or Grooveshark), this exercise in matching music to book can be fun, easy and insightful for you as both writer and reader.

I’m curious: Do you connect songs to your story?



  1. Yes but only really since last year. I don't write while listening to music so I was slow to getting into playlists for my own work.

    1. That makes sense. I hope the playlists help you understand your work better!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!