Writing to a Soundtrack

My proclaimed ‘protégé’, Oliver, likes to put the “song of influence” (my term, not his) underneath the title of the short story or novel chapter that was inspired by the tune. He has received much feedback on this, ranging from: “don’t do that” to “I can see how that fits.”

He is not the first writer to be influenced by musical stylings. I admit to being pretty influenced by music as well.

Nowadays, when writers talk about ‘soundtracks’ to their work, I think we refer to inspiration instead of interpretation. The music acts as muse (ha! word roots, anyone?) for subject matter, not style. That’s certainly how I refer to it. I make playlists on the iPod with the names of my WIPs as constant re-inspiring material. These songs remind me why I wanted to write the story, or they remind me of a character’s motivation, or something else related to the storyline.

Jack Kerouac is a little different.

Kerouac was heavily influenced by Bop. The jazz stylings were something new, different, and emotionally compelling to the generation following WWII. While I’m sure Kerouac was inspired the same way that Oliver and I are (getting story ideas, etc.), it also influenced how he told the stories.

Kerouac’s spontaneous prose theories – the improvisational styling, the lack of editing, the ‘flow’ of words instead of musical notes – were a writerly interpretation of this musical style. Bop is fast, like Kerouac’s flow of writing. Bop riffs on melody lines, like Kerouac’s story lines – On the Road’s central idea was moving from one place to the other, each place was different, but the road/being on the move acted as a melodic line.

I’ve never written a story or novel based on a musical form. Partly because I’ve never had the training to understand how music forms worked. I can’t tell you the difference between a symphony or a concerto. (If there is one?) I understand bits and pieces of jazz and Beatle’s era rock-n-roll. Mostly, I can tell you what a bridge is…but after that…if it doesn’t repeat in the study of poetry…well, I couldn’t write an entire novel on any of my bits of knowledge. Still, I find the concept an interesting one.

What about looking into a song structure and expanding it into a longer piece, like a short story? Would you get the classic story ‘structure’? The rising action, climax, denouement, etc.? As Kerouac illustrates, when you play around with structure, some not-regular things happen.

And now, some Bop music to ‘type’ to…here’s some Dizzy Gillespie

Jack Kerouac Mentors music and writing On the Road soundtracks

jenny maloney View All →

Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. Interesting. I haven't used the structure of music in my writing–that I know of. The brain kinda takes all you've learned and puts that to whatever use it needs.

    I've had stories inspired by music, too. Only one novel so far.

    When I'm writing, I tend to prefer instrumental pieces so the words don't distract me. I also like to listen to music that gives me the mood I need.

    With MMG, I'm listening to music from the early 70s to get that flavor. For TKoS, it's the 50s. The one I want to work on for NaNo will require 20s-30s tunes. Lucky for me, I like a wide variety of music.

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