Monday Muse: Songs That Say it All


I was talking with my dear friend and crit partner, Deann Smith, this weekend, and we got on the subject of writing to music. I know there are people out there who don’t use music when they write, but I’m damned if I understand how they do it. The very first thing Bridget my muse and I do when we start thinking about a story is to build at least a tentative “soundtrack” of music that somehow relates to the story, and we refine the list throughout the writing. As characters and scenes come together, Bridget tells me to download songs that reflect the changes.

With each book, we’ve had one or two wonderful serendipitous moments when we heard a song that, because of the story, suddenly took on a new meaning. For example a few months ago, I was writing a story where the heroine found out an ugly truth about the cad she was in love with. I knew she found out, I knew how she learned the truth, but then — I was stumped. Where did she go from there? What did he do when she knew? I was baffled, and Bridget wasn’t saying a thing to me. Then, luckily, one of my daughters was listening to Rihanna. Normally, I tune the girls’ stuff out. But this one song hit me:

You look so dumb right now
Standing outside my house
Trying to apologize
You’re so ugly when you cry
Please, just cut it out

Don’t tell me you’re sorry ’cause you’re not
And baby when I know you’re only sorry you got caught

But you put on quite a show, really had me going
But now it’s time to go, curtain’s finally closing
That was quite a show, very entertaining
But it’s over now
Go on and take a bow*

Wow. Of course. Bridget jumped on that. My heroine went home to cry it out and try to figure out how she would survive the pain and betrayal, and he came to find her. Bridget and I could actually see the cad, standing outside the house, asking to come in and apologize to the heroine – and it only hurt her even more to know that he was, as Rihanna sang it so beautifully, only sorry he got caught. After that, Bridget demanded that I listen to Take a Bow over and over til the scene was written.

I cannot say enough about songwriters. The really good ones manage to tell a whole story in the space of just a few lines, when we fiction writers struggle to say it in pages. They can put feelings into focus and cut right to the heart of tangled emotions. Nowadays, I skip madly about the radio dial when I’m driving, ever in hope of hearing that one perfect song that will help me understand where my characters are and what they’re feeling.

Have you ever had one song that clarified tangled emotions or helped you realize what came next? I’d love to hear about it!

*song written and produced by Tor Erik Hermansen, Mikkel Eriksen, and Shaffer Smith

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