Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Emotion through Music

Imagine taking a morning walk outside, beside a beach. The day is clear and bright, the salty air, fresh. A breeze kisses your cheeks, and in the background is the soft lull of crashing waves, gulls calling to one another.

Nice, right? Simple and enjoyable.

Now take the same scene, only add in some New Age music. Suddenly that enjoyable experience becomes richer, deeper. Emotional.

Or how about looking outside your window on a stormy day? Dark clouds are gathering, thunder rumbles in the distance. It has a dreary, dismal feel, right?

Now add in a soft classical melody, and the moment becomes soulful and stirring. Tears burn the backs of your eyes, it’s so hauntingly beautiful.

Using music to evoke emotion in our scenes is a tried and true writer’s technique. We all know that in order to connect our readers with our characters we have to make them feel. More than words that tell, we need visceral emotion from our characters.  Have you ever stopped after writing a scene and asked, “Is that intense enough?”

I do all the time. And usually when I have to ask, it’s because I haven’t evoked the emotion the scene needs. Sure, it may pass as okay. But we don’t want okay—we want riveting.  

                                                        Photo Credit: GeEditing.com

Not everyone can write to music, and I get that. Sometimes I prefer silence, or simple background noise like Naturespace. But when I’m struggling with the right mood for a particular scene, I dig into my musical library and sometimes take a good hour to find just the right song, then write the scene with that music playing.

It makes such a huge difference. I have my go-to songs for amping up emotion, whether it be angst or stress or heartfelt moments. And then sometimes a new scene requires something different, and I have to search all over again for just the right one. To me, it’s worth it to take the time to do this, especially when I need to nail a scene. For a scene in Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc., I had a best friends’ moment that really needed something other than a tune that suggested romance, yet I wasn’t evoking the right emotion by writing it in silence or with background noise. I finally found a random song off the Lost soundtrack and played it over and over til my scene was complete.
It gave me exactly the emotion I was looking for.

Ever notice in movies when you’re totally wrapped up in a scene, that it’s the music that’s carrying it? Happens all the time. Usually when I notice this, I make a note to buy the soundtrack, because it’s powerful music.

We can do the same with our stories. When we’re stuck on a scene or just not feeling the moment, we can find the perfect song, listen with our fingers poised over the keyboard. Let the music pull us in and go with the flow. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling, just feel the moment. Corrections can come later.

I prefer instrumental music usually, but there are a few songs with lyrics that have worked for me in the past. Don’t be afraid to experiment. A few of my faves come from these soundtracks:

Legends of the Fall
Ender’s Game
Life of Pi
Robin Hood (Prince of Thieves)

How about you? Do you have any favorite go-to songs for evoking emotion in scenes? 


  1. I've discovered that music is a great way to get my head back into my manuscript after some time away, too. Thanks for sharing some of your go-to soundtracks!

  2. I have a writing soundtrack for each book I write... and my go-to when I haven't found the "right" ones yet is always the Twilight soundtracks (all five of them). Music definitely keeps me going and inspires me. So grateful for so many incredibly talented artists! (P.S. Also currently in love with Sleeping at Last. Swoon.) Great post! :)


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