How Music Inspires my Writing
By Suzanne van Rooyen
Before I even dreamed of being a writer, music was my life. I started playing piano at 5, picked up flute when I was 11, and I went on to obtain both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in music. In fact, by day, I’m a music teacher to kids aged 5 through 15! So, it’s hardly surprising that music has remained a huge part of my life now that I’m an author too.
Here are some of the ways music inspires my writing:
1) Lyrics are probably the most obvious source of inspiration in music. Song lyrics tend to inspire characters more than plots for me, perhaps hinting at a certain trait in one of my characters, or even showing a possible point in their development arc. With every story I write, I tend to find one or two songs that really sum up the character for me, and I use these to help me get deeper into the POV I’m writing from or to help me get back into a character’s head during the editing process. One of my most recent examples is how the song This is Gospel by Panic! At the Disco perfectly describes the relationship between the main characters Raleigh and Crow in my forthcoming novel, Scardust.
2) Music is really important in helping me get a sense of place. With Scardust, a book set in the barren Texas Panhandle, I listened a lot to music by Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You – both bands being able to capture the sense of bleakness in their music that I was hoping to capture in my descriptions of the desert and lonely Interstate. I found my ‘setting’ playlist particularly helpful for when I needed to get back into the story world during edits.
3) I’ve also been inspired by music videos. While I often turn to inspiration boards on Pinterest when I’m experiencing writer’s block, I’ve found imagery from music videos to be even more profoundly inspiring. The music video for The Islander by Nightwish inspired my short story Where Dreams Are Grown which was published by Niteblade magazine. In this case, it was definitely the combination of the music and imagery that immediately conjured a story in my mind.
4) Being a musician, I am extremely aware of beats and rhythm in my stories. While this is somewhat different from beat and rhythm in music, I find I cannot write high octane action scenes without pacing myself to music. When writing some of the more adrenaline-filled scenes in both I Heart Robot and Scardust, I found myself turning to EBM and industrial tracks for the charged and energetic scenes I needed to write. Similarly, I have a playlist reserved especially for love scenes 😉
5) I only recently noticed that no single novel of mine has ever been without a musician. Regardless of what category or genre I’m writing in, music always seems to play an important role in the story, and I invariably end up with one or more characters being musicians. In The Other Me and I Heart Robot, the books were all about music so obviously my characters were musicians, but in Scardust and even in my earlier novels, Dragon’s Teeth and Obscura Burning, musicians seemed to sneak into the narrative without me even realizing it.
Music is an inextricable part of who I am and has proven to be an intrinsic part of not only my writing process but of the stories I write as well. I couldn’t imagine a world without music and apparently, neither could my characters.
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Sweden and is busy making friends with the ghosts of her Viking ancestors. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When she grows up, she wants to be an elf – until then, she spends her time (when not writing) wall climbing, buying far too many books, and entertaining her shiba inu, Lego.
I Heart Robot
Sixteen-year-old Tyri wants to be a musician and wants to be with someone who won’t belittle her musical aspirations.
Q-I-99 aka ‘Quinn’ lives in a scrap metal sanctuary with other rogue droids. While some use violence to make their voices heard, demanding equal rights for AI enhanced robots, Quinn just wants a moment on stage with his violin to show the humans that androids like him have more to offer than their processing power.
Tyri and Quinn’s worlds collide when they’re accepted by the Baldur Junior Philharmonic Orchestra. As the rift between robots and humans deepens, Tyri and Quinn’s love of music brings them closer together, making Tyri question where her loyalties lie and Quinn question his place in the world. With the city on the brink of civil war, Tyri and Quinn make a shocking discovery that turns their world inside out. Will their passion for music be enough to hold them together while everything else crumbles down around them, or will the truth of who they are tear them apart?
“The tension between the groups, the obvious attraction between the main characters, the ticking time bomb of Quinn’s real identity and the secrets surrounding Tyri’s birth makes for compelling reading. The world building was exceptional and the characters well developed.”~ The Australia Times Books
The Other Me
Fifteen-year-old Treasa Prescott thinks she’s an alien. She doesn’t fit in with the preppy South African private school crowd and feels claustrophobic in her own skin. Treasa is worried she might spend life as a social pariah when she meets Gabriel du Preez. Gabriel plays the piano better than Beethoven, has a black belt in karate, and would look good wearing a garbage bag. Treasa thinks he’s perfect. It might even be love, as long as Gabriel doesn’t find out she’s a freak.
As Treasa spends time with Gabriel, she realizes she might not love him as much as she wants to be him, and that the reason she feels uncomfortable in her skin might have less to do with extra-terrestrial origins and more to do with being born in the wrong body.
But Gabriel is not the perfect boy Treasa imagines. He harbors dark secrets and self-destructive tendencies. Still, Treasa might be able to accept Gabriel’s baggage if he can accept who she longs to be.
The world’s going to end in fire…and it’s all Kyle’s fault.
Kyle Wolfe’s world is about to crash and burn. Just weeks away from graduation, a fire kills Kyle’s two best friends and leaves him permanently scarred. A fire that Kyle accidentally set the night he cheated on his boyfriend Danny with their female friend, Shira. That same day, a strange new planet, Obscura, appears in the sky. And suddenly Kyle’s friends aren’t all that dead anymore. Each time Kyle goes to sleep, he awakens to two different realities. In one, his boyfriend Danny is still alive, but Shira is dead. In the other, it’s Shira who’s alive…and now they’re friends with benefits. Shifting between realities is slowly killing him, and he’s not the only one dying. The world is dying with him. He’s pretty sure Obscura has something to do with it, but with his parents’ marriage imploding and realities shifting each time he closes his eyes, Kyle has problems enough without being the one in charge of saving the world…
You can never outrun your past… After years of war ravage the globe and decimate humanity, civilization is revitalized in the city of New Arcadia, a cybernetic playground where longevity treatments promise near immortality. Detective Cyrus, fond of fedoras and narcotics, is hired by Benji MacDowell, heir-apparent to an eugenics empire, to find MacDowell’s long-lost biological father. Employing his network of shady contacts within the underbelly of the city, Cyrus uncovers a murderous web of corporate corruption and political conspiracy with ties to the old Order, a tyrannical organization whose sole intent was perfecting the next generation of genetically engineered soldiers. Now Cyrus knows too much and finds himself caught in the cross-hairs of super-soldier assassins while the dark secrets of his past snap at his heels, forcing him to confront the truth he’s been running from… and discover his own terrifying purpose.
A huge thank you to Suzanne for sacrificing her time to write this guest post!
I know that I am extremely in tune with music when I’m writing. I can’t write without it and I’ve been debating for quite some time about organizing my songs into playlists for certain scenes and emotions that will need to be written in my manuscript! I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be taking her advice and reorganizing my iPod and Pandora stations. =)
Does anyone else write with music?
What do you listen to when you write and how does it help you?