Nov 9, 2011

You Can't Stop the Music

by Michelle Douglas

Reading: Everything I know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell

Watching: Jam and Jerusalem

Listening to: Kate Fagan

Making Me Smile: my afternoon walks in this gorgeous spring weather

I’ve heard that a lot of authors create a playlist of songs for their stories, and I’d always thought, Good for them. Whatever works, I say. But it was never something I’d tried for myself.

That is, not until The Secretary’s Secret (out now in the UK). I’m not even sure why I did give the playlist thing a whirl. Except, I’d given myself a whole wonderful fortnight to play with the story before getting down to the nuts and bolts of actually writing it, and a playlist seemed like one of those fun, playful kind of things to do.

So I spent a week perfecting my playlist and another week playing it over and over, and it really did help me visualise certain scenes in my book. It helped me find the right tone for the story. What’s more it acted like a form of brainstorming and had new scenes occurring to me too.

Funnily enough I didn’t play it at all once I stared writing the story. But it had already done its job – it had helped me imagine my story world.

The process for every book is different and I didn’t create a playlist for The Man Who Saw Her Beauty (out in the UK in April 2012). I did, however, have a theme song for that book—Jesse by Carly Simon. Now, the book changed quite a bit so the reunion story I had in my mind became something quite different (so plaudits to anyone who can find even a skerrick of the song in that book now). But, again, the song helped me find the right tone and atmosphere for the book, even if the lyrics no longer applied.

For the story my editor has in her hot little hands right now I had three theme songs – Jesse James by Cher (for my heroine’s attitude), Summer Rain by Belinda Carlisle (for that all important tone) and Captain Zero by The Mixtures (for my hero’s realisation of his thick-headed doofusness and accompanying need to make amends).

One of my favourite things in the world is to lie on my sofa and stare up at the canopy of trees that soars over the backyard and listen to music. I quieten all the white noise in my head, and savour the view. Invariably, however, a line of music will catch my attention and suddenly I’ll be off playing the what-if game and creating scenarios in my mind.

And it seems to me that some songs lend themselves more to this than others. Here are three songs that persistently intrigue me:

1. My Girl by Hoodoo Gurus (She’s fallen out of love with him. Can he make her fall back in love with him? Has she really fallen out of love with him? Are his friends trying to cause trouble? If so, why?)

2. Living Next Door To Alice by Smokie (OMG, Alice is leaving! Hmm…but will Sally make the loss bearable? Actually, I play a whole load of scenarios with this song. Exactly how many love-pairings can I make? For a start there’s the narrator/singer and Alice, the narrator and Sally, Alice and the guy who’s sent the limo…and perhaps even Alice and Sally.)

3. Insensitive by Jann Arden (Is this jerk redeemable? And if so, why is he acting like such a jerk?)

Oh, and here’s another two:

The Day You Went Away by Wendy Matthews (The film clip breaks my heart)

Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis (I haven’t worked out exactly what this song is getting at, but I really like it.)

I don’t know if I will ever write a story based around any of these songs, but then again… :)

Songs are a great source of inspiration and I love collecting them. Do you have any favourite songs you think could be turned into great stories?


  1. Hi Michelle,
    I've never used playlists or really connected music with thoughts and ideas. I have enough trouble with ideas randomly popping into my head without encouraging them!! LOL.

    Elton John's "Your Song" has always puzzled me. That line "you see I've forgotten if they're green or they're blue" is what gets me. How do you forget what someone's eyes look like? If you love them, aren't they etched in your mind?

    A very interesting post, Michelle. I'll have to think about music differently now :)


  2. I love that Wendy Matthews song too! She wrote it about someone she knew, yes?

    I don't do the playlist thing for my books. I like complete quiet when I work (could be because of the endless noise swirling around when all the kids are home!)

    But I did use The Spy Who Loved Me for my third book. The Hero was a suave James Bond type who always saved the day.

  3. Hi Cath,

    LOL about Elton John's song. Hmm, not sure I'd trust a lover who couldn't remember my eye colour either. :-)

    I have a similar reaction to the Kenny Roger's song, Coward of the County. His wife is he takes down his Daddy's picture? Nuh uh. Wrong reaction. Go comfort your wife!

    Funny the different reactions music can evoke in us.

  4. Oh, did she, Robbie? I had no idea. That makes it all the more poignant.

    I like it quiet when I'm working too. So I never play music when I'm writing. But I've found that finding a theme song or songs for a book has proven useful.

    The Spy Who Loved Me? Oh, the images are just yum!

  5. I usually have a song in my head for my hero and heroine. Usually some corny 80's love song that I'll play at random if I need to re-connect with my characters. I can write with or without music. But I like to listen to music for inspiration, especially some country tunes that usually tell a sad story about love lost.
    And I love that Wendy Matthew's song. Too sad.
    Great post Michelle.

  6. Helen, I love corny 80's love songs! And country and western tunes often spin great stories. :-)

    You hit on one of the fab things about having a theme song (or songs) -- it's a great way to reconnect with your characters and your story.

    Here's to much song-listening inspiration.

  7. ooo, I love the songs you've listed, Michelle.

    I like having music playing but generally instrumental. But there are two songs that do seem to get me in the mood for writing...

    "Crazy" by Patsy Cline (don't ask me why! I wonder if there's something Freudian about that!) and the other some which I just adore is "Somebody's Knocking" by Terri Gibbs. It's the story of temptation.


    I think

  8. Ooh, we could be bosom song buddies, Sharon! How smashing. :-)

    "Crazy" is a gorgeous song. And thanks for the tip about "Somebody's Knocking." I'm shooting off to listen to it right now.

  9. Great topic, Michelle.

    I always have a particular song in mind when I write a book but I can't usually listen to music when I'm doing the actual writing. Baroque sometimes helps with writer's block but choccie bikkies are even better.

  10. OMG -- Tim Tams and Baroque music. What an awesome combination, Zana! You wicked woman. Am off to find me some Baroque music. :-)

  11. Hi Michelle,
    Thanks for sharing this. I find the playlist idea fascinating. I've never done it myself, I think because I find it very difficult to write to the sound of songs. Lyrics distract me though I've occasionally managed a little writing to instrumental pieces. Zana - I'm with you on baroque music to stimulate ideas.

    One song that comes to mind as a possibility though is Adele's 'Rolling in the Deep'. Especially when she sings 'We could have had it all' and 'You had my heart and soul'. I think it's perfect inspiration for a heroine determined never to be hurt again, or maybe a heroine fighting against a reunion story some author wants to impose on her!

  12. Hi Annie,

    I'm with you in terms of wanting peace and quiet when I write, but I will say that a playlist can kickstart the creative juices.

    Ooh and another vote for baroque music -- this really is going to warrant some further investigation.

    OMG -- just went out to YouTube to listen to 'Rolling in the Deep.' Brilliant song for my purposes! All my hair stood up on end when she sang, "the scars of your love leave me breathless..." Hmm... the mind is tick, tick, ticking now. :-)

  13. Another vote here for Rolling in the Deep. I just love that song. I love a lot of country and western tunes as well. I'm not a writer so I've never had to worry about stuff like this but I do enjoy hearing about what prompted an author's inspiration

  14. Kaelee, after having heard "Rolling in the Deep" I have no idea how it has managed to pass me by. But I've downloaded it to my iTunes account and mean to spend a lot more time with it. :-)

    If you like country and western songs then you'd probably really enjoy Sharon's pick "Somebody's knocking" by Terri Gibbs. Another one that I've downloaded.

    I don't think it's just writers who can be intrigued by the plot trajectory of a song. I remember as a kid trying to work out what some songs meant and not able to grasp their meanings till I was much older. Even now there are some songs I struggle to understand. (Oh, but how I want to!) Anybody have a clue about "Twist in My Sobriety" by Tanita Tikaram? :-)

  15. Michelle, you know I love to have a full soundtrack for every book I write. At the moment I'm writing a book set on a cruise ship, so I have lots of ocean type songs:

    "Sailing" the old Rod Stewart one, but sung by David Campbell.

    "Bridge Over Troubled Water" the Elvis version. (Like the Simon and Garfunkel version but when Elvis does the deeper notes, like "I'm on your side", I just swoon).

    "Starlight" by Muse.

    Then a few songs to relate more to the characters than the setting:

    "Something" - the Beatles song, but again, the Elvis version.

    "You're My World", the Patrizio version. (I never knew what this song was missing was a verse in Italian till I heard this version ;).)

    "Don't Let Go" Sarah McLachlan with Bryan Adams - beautiful and haunting - a great book soundtrack song.

    "Limbo No More" Alanis Morissette - it's my heroine's state of mind perfectly.

    Re: songs where I want to know more: Chris Isaak's "Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing". What bad bad thing did she do? She's obviously done something to betray him, but was it cheating? Or did she use him? Or did she do something else to hurt him?

  16. Ah, Rachel, now I do know that you are a big soundtracker, so I have been waiting with baited breath to see what you'd come up with here.

    Elvis, of course! And his version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is indeed swoon-worthy. [As an aside, I can see your raised eyebrow that there is no ABBA here, but I found I couldn't choose just one ABBA track. It is inevitable that I will do an entire ABBA post at some stage in the future.]

    You have some gorgeous songs here. I've never been a big Rod Stewart fan, but I love "Sailing" and "Don't Let Go" is so evocative.

    Ooh, "Baby Did a Bad, Bad thing"!!! The story possibilities just start multiplying. Could you redeem that heroine? *Michelle slaps a hand to her forehead* Wait a minute, you did in your "The Blackmailed Bride's Secret Child."

    Thanks for the fabulous selections!