How Music Can Improve Your Writing Part II- Creating a Playlist to Influence Mood and Tone

By Nichole Roundy Jarnagin

It’s no secret that music can evoke strong feelings. Movie producers use this technique all the time. In battle scenes, notice how the music rises and falls to match the intensity of the fight. Horror flicks are ten times worse than they really are simply because the music crawls up your spine one creepy chord at a time, cueing you that something horrible is about to happen. And the movie Jaws? Two notes, people!

Music can literally get a physical response out of you. Unlike a movie, your book probably won’t come with a soundtrack. Dang. But you can (and should!) use music to create powerful emotions while you write, which will come through on the page. This part of my series focuses on how music can help you do that.

Orion is the 17 year old male siren in my current WIP. He’s bitter and jaded, a loner. To help me get inside his head I have to think like him, feel what he feels, and view the world as he sees it.

So how do I (a middle-aged mother who lives in the Utah “bubble”) channel my inner 17 year old male siren? Easy: The Veer Union, Breaking Benjamin, Anberlin.

The best way I’ve found to “become” my character is to create a playlist of songs that mirror him or his mood in the scene I’m working on. Whether it’s the tune or the lyrics, I find songs that my character can relate to. I listen to the playlist while I write to evoke the thoughts/feelings/mood of my character so what I write feels authentic. It helps me stay inside his head and keeps the voice consistent.

If you find it distracting to write while music is playing, try taking a moment beforehand to meditate and listen to the playlist you’ve created. Really allow yourself to get inside the head (and heart) of your character. Use the music to your advantage— squeeze out every ounce of emotion; resentment, bitterness, loneliness, desperation, etc. When you find yourself lost in those thoughts, start writing.

I like to have a playlist for every major character in my book. Also, I find it helpful to create a playlist for specific scenes—action sequences, battle scenes, romantic interludes, etc. It provides inspiration and keeps me grounded to the scene.

Here’s one of the playlists I use when writing Orion’s POV. Word of caution, while there are no explicit lyrics (I’m pretty sure), this playlist is not for the faint of heart.


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4 responses to “How Music Can Improve Your Writing Part II- Creating a Playlist to Influence Mood and Tone

  • Jess Smart Smiley

    What an interesting idea! While I definitely try to get inside the mind of my characters, I’ve never felt a need to experience something that the character might go through in order to write about them. I really like the idea of a character playlist, though. Maybe I’ll find some songs for one of my characters and see what happens. Thanks for the insightful post!

  • Lillian J. Banks

    Wow, Nichole, I have never done that but it sounds like I need to try it! What a smart move. I totally wish our novels came with a soundtrack- what an intese experience that would be 🙂
    I love your ‘middle-ages mother in the Utah bubble’ lol

  • M.L. Forman

    Interesting. (What do you mean books don’t come with soundtracks?) I didn’t listen to the whole play list but I got a different feel from what I did listen to than the character you described. Mine was more the “dark” hero who wants to keep others at arms length because he doesn’t think they can understand him and won’t accept that he sometimes does things they would never think of doing. Just goes to show that music says something different to everyone. And yes, I do have songs in my head that go with most of the characters and various action bits.

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