While doing revisions on Memories of Magic, I had an epiphany.
Several of the songs on Lindsey Stirling’s new album Brave Enough caught my attention and went into my favorite song playlist, but the one in particular that I’ve been listening to on repeat is “Where Do We Go?”
Note–Lindsey Stirling makes epic music videos. If she makes one of this song, I’ll replace this with the official video. Until then, this is just the audio with her album cover.
Anyway, I couldn’t figure out what it was about this song that was getting inside my head until I was working on my revisions and trying to “up the stakes” for Olivia. There was already a thread in the book that things are not going well for her in her career, but the way I’d written it, she still had steady work and expected to turn things around any day. And then I realized that I was going too easy on her, and so I changed things. Now, the project that she’s working on is her last chance at making a go of her career. If this fails, she’s going to have to give up.
And that’s where the song comes in. Because now, it fits. Early in the book, circumstances force Olivia away from the project, tearing away her last chance, and now she has to ask herself: Who am I without my career, and where do I go now?
“Where do we go when our prayers are answered but the answer is no?”
Memories of Magic is now available! Buy it here:
The book soundtrack posts are some of my favorite to do, because I get to dig deeper into my reasons for choosing particular songs for my writing playlist. Sometimes I don’t even realize why I chose a song until I sit down to write about it!
First on the list for this book is “Shatter Me” by Lindsey Stirling. In a weird way, this song is relevant to both Olivia and Savit. I say weird, because they are very, very different people who (at least at first) see the world in vastly disparate ways. But on a deep, emotional level they both want the same thing. Although neither of them would admit it at the beginning of the book, they’re both unhappy, dissatisfied with the state of their lives. It’s going to take a leap into the unknown, and a reliance on each other, to find fulfillment and feel alive.
Next is “Gravity of Love” by Enigma. This one has gone in and out of my writing playlists for a while, but only for its more atmospheric qualities. This is the first time I’m really connecting the lyrics to one of my characters. Savit has always chosen the path of restraint and detachment, so this song speaks directly to him, reminding him that there are other ways to wisdom. Perhaps he and Olivia will only survive if they give in to the gravity of love…
Unfortunately I couldn’t find an official video for this, so I picked one that has the lyrics on it.
There are lots more songs on there, but here’s one that I found recently while surfing through Bollywood music. Although the film this is from would work well for Olivia, this is kind-of a Savit song, too. It’s this bewildered journey through a world that is suddenly alive with sensations and feeling–exactly the way he feels when he’s with Olivia. Translation here at Bollynook.
Last one, this time an Olivia song. Again, I found this by looking through Bollywood playlists. I’m not sure what the movie is about, but the lyrics fit for Olivia. She’s well-traveled, and has experienced much in her life, including other loves. But she’s never met anyone like Savit. My favorite is this line:
Na Toh Pyaari Si Nadani Kahin
I didn’t find that lovely innocence anyplace
(Translation, again, from Bollynook)
It’s so perfect for Savit, who despite his position as her mentor in magic, is an innocent in ways of the heart. This is not Olivia at the beginning of the story, but it is where she finds herself by the end.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my writing life! Now I’m going to get back to it!
I am writing the pieces of my serial novel one at a time, in between the bigger novels. So the book soundtrack for A Merge of Magic is evolving slowly, too. I have some of the same songs from the bigger playlist (just called the “Fay of Skye” playlist), mostly pieces from TV and film scores. The Outlander series score features heavily, as does Game of Thrones, the Journey videogame soundtrack, and the narrative-driven orchestral albums by Thomas Bergersen, James Dooley, and Two Steps from Hell. I’ve also recently added some tracks from the Two Cellos and The Piano Guys.
But of particular interest are these character-driven songs:
“Brave Enough” by Lindsey Stirling, featuring Christina Perri
This is early in Viola and Ian’s relationship, from Viola’s perspective. But that’s where I am in the story right now, so it makes sense! Viola is questioning whether her devotion to her ideals and causes is bravery, or if she’s being a coward because she can’t admit and accept how she feels for Ian, and how he feels for her.
“Heart’s a Mess” by GOTYE, from the Gatsby soundtrack (note–if possible, I will embed the official version here, uploaded by the artist, but in this case I opted for the soundtrack version because the official music video is SUPER WEIRD).
This is Ian’s song for Viola. They are now desperately connected, her heart’s a mess, and she definitely, definitely cannot live the way she has been, with part of her soul closed off. Ian wants her to reach back to him emotionally the way she has merged with him magically, so that they both can become whole.
“Gravity” by Sara Bareilles (yes, she shows up on my book soundtracks often)
This one is a little darker than the tone I’m going for in the story, but this is sort of how both Viola and Ian feel about their relationship. They kept getting drawn back together, even though nothing ever comes of it, and it doesn’t make either one of them happy. This will be a recurring theme throughout the parts of the serial, until they finally move past all of the weights holding them back and find their happily-ever-after.
Sometimes, when I need to dive deep into the emotion of a scene, I will play one of these songs (or others) on single repeat, until I stop hearing the words and just feel the throbbing heartbeat underscoring my writing.
It drives my husband crazy if he’s home and I’m not wearing headphones, because to him it’s just a song on repeat forever. I tell him it’s the same as when he’s playing an RPG and the battle theme comes on—you hardly notice when you have to actually fight the battle; it’s just a part of the experience. But if I’m in the kitchen washing dishes, all I hear is overworld theme-battle theme-overworld theme-battle theme on a constant loop. Things always sounds different from the outside.
So there you have it! A glimpse into the nuts-and-bolts of my writing world. If you can listen to music and read at the same time, try playing these when you read the next installment of A Merge of Magic. It will be available on November 23, 2016. Or, if you haven’t read part one, go do that now! It’s only 99 cents, or free to read with your Kindle Unlimited subscription.
My first post about book soundtracks was more of a “what a book soundtrack means to me” or “how I craft my book soundtrack” type of post. From here on out, the posts in this series are going to be specifically about songs from the soundtracks.
I should probably start with Essential Magic, since that’s the book that’s available now, but I just finished the first draft of A Theft of Magic and music was a big part of the drafting process, so I’m excited to talk about it!
Early on in the outlining stage, I was driving around, listening to music, and brainstorming. I was a little late to the Sara Bareilles party because I didn’t really like “Brave,” and that was the only thing that pop radio played of hers. (Note that I love the message and lyrics of “Brave,” but the melody/production quality is not my favorite).
But then when Outlander the TV show was announced, fans started cutting together pieces of the trailer to music, and I saw this:
And I thought, “holy shit, that’s an amazing song. Who sings that??”
And then I went on a journey through Sara’s albums and found many, many amazing songs that will never be played on a top-40 station because they aren’t “pop” enough. But that’s fine with me! “Breathe Again” still hasn’t quite made it into a novel, although I did outline a story that meshes with the lyrics.
When I started brainstorming A Theft of Magic, at first the only thing I knew about the story was the main romantic pair. Sorcha, my heroine, has a magical affinity to light, and is the kind to fall in love deeply and only once. Ronan, my hero, has an affinity to water and at the start of the story had deliberately altered his personal magic into something that is more like salt water, but not the kind in the ocean. His is more like what you’ll find in Utah, or the Dead Sea- so salty nothing can live in the water.
So I’m driving, and on comes “Islands” by Sara Bareilles. Here it is if you’ve never heard it:
The actual song is about the end of a relationship with someone she loved but who was no good for her. But when I gave some of the lyrics to one character, and some to the other, it suddenly fit with the story. In a romance, there is a story beat called “The Breakup.” Sometimes, it’s a symbolic breakup, where the characters are on different sides of an issue or can’t reconcile something about their relationship. But often it’s a literal breakup, and that’s what happens in A Theft of Magic. So while I wrote that part of the story, I had this song on endless repeat.
Islands and isolation are a big theme in the story. The book takes place in the British Isles, particularly on Skye in Scotland and then in London. Sorcha lives alone on Skye, and while Ronan works with other people, he has isolated himself emotionally from almost everyone in his life. It is difficult for either of them to change those habits and look forward to a future where they are no longer alone.
But this is a romance, so through trials and difficulties, of course they do!
That’s where the second song, also by Sara Bareilles, comes in. It’s called “The Light.”
Again, some of the lyrics would be from Ronan’s perspective, and some from Sorcha’s, but this song was the one on repeat when I got through the climax and into what Gwen Hayes in the book Romancing the Beat calls “Whole-Hearted.” (Note – If you are just starting out as a romance writer or want to add a romance plot into your book, you should totally buy this book).
As I mentioned above, Sorcha has an affinity for light. Ronan repeatedly refers to her as “a solas,” which is Irish for “my light.” The song also talks about love being transformative, and how we can change and become better people because of love. That is definitely what happens, on both sides, for Sorcha and Ronan (but more dramatically for Ronan).
There are other songs on my soundtrack for A Theft of Magic, but those are the two that spoke most closely to the plot, characters, and themes of the book.
Next week, I’ll be back to talking about Essential Magic with a discussion of the process of creating the cover art!
I’ve always written to music, but it wasn’t until I started listening to the Story Wonk podcasts that I began developing more structured writing playlists. Now, when I’m starting a project, I will typically begin by using one of my old playlists that is close in theme to the new story. I copy it as a new playlist and then start culling songs that don’t quite fit. After that, I start adding music.
The adding music part has gotten much, much easier since the advent of Apple Music. I’ve had Amazon’s prime music for a while, but the selection was never the best. Apple Music is one of the most comprehensive services I’ve ever seen, and it works with my iTunes and all of my Apple devices so, yeah. I am not getting paid to plug this service, but it works for me.
My book soundtracks are built around three different types of songs.
Type One – Story Songs
These songs speak directly to the story I’m telling. These songs end up being imbued with meaning from the book, and I rarely use them again for a different project. There’s a song called “Wild Horses” by Natasha Bedingfield that is forever tied to one particular character for me. Likewise, “Secrets” by One Republic is the cello-driven heart beneath one of my completed novels. I even wrote a short story that mirrors the narrative in “Breathe Again” by Sara Bareilles because the tale grabbed me every time I heard the song.
Story Songs always have words, because the words drive something about the story for me, whether it’s character, plot, or conflict.
Type Two – Worldbuilding Songs
Worldbuilding Songs help create the soundscape of the world in which I’m writing. When I was working on a contemporary fantasy/mystery/romance, my book soundtrack was primarily contemporary pop music. With my current project, I’m listening to a lot of traditional celtic folk music. The words of the songs don’t need to match the story, but they do need to exist within the same emotional landscape. For example, I have an epic fantasy project where 95% of the music is either folksongs or instrumental pieces. But there’s one character whose PoV soundtrack is made up entirely of songs by the band Stabbing Westward. That’s his worldview, and so I listen to their albums while I’m writing in his head.
Type Three – Emotion Drivers
The third type of song is the kind that stays in all of my writing soundtracks. These are usually instrumental pieces from film/television/video game scores. I will also write to classical music, but it has to have a strong emotional component. Most classical music is interesting from an intellectual perspective; the pleasure of listening to it is in discovering how the themes and motifs work together, and in untangling the various instrumentation, rhythm, and volume choices. That doesn’t work when I’m trying to write.
The pieces I choose evoke an array of emotional responses, from sorrow, to anger, to fear, to joy. I recently discovered the group Two Steps from Hell and have really enjoyed adding their music to my writing soundtracks. I also have many of the famous score composers represented, from Morricone to Williams to my recent favorites, Murray Gold and Bear McCreary. Basically, if you google “film score composers,” at least 60% of them are represented in my go-to writing playlist.
Here’s a brief sample of songs from the playlist I built for my alternate-history Victorian Fantasy Romance series:
- Thomas Bergersen – Sun – “New Life”
- Bear McCreary – Outlander – “The Losing Side of History”
- Howard Shore/Annie Lennox – LotR: The Return of the King – “Into the West”
- LEAH – Otherworld – “Shores of Your Lies”
- Gotye – Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby – “Heart’s a Mess”
- Mediaeval Baebes – Undrentide – “Isabella”
- Gaelic Storm – Tree – “Black is the Color”
- Cara Dillon – Hill of Thieves – “False, False”
- Eilidh Grant – Masks and Smiles – “The Lea Rig”
- The Corrs – Home – “Dimming of the Day”
- Karine Polwart – Fairest Floo’er – “Can’t Weld a Body”
- Jack Wall – Myst IV: Revelations – “Dream”
- Yoko Kanno – Escaflowne the Movie – “Sora”
- Daft Punk – TRON: Legacy – “Flynn Lives”
- John Williams – The Empire Strikes Back – “Han Solo and the Princess”
- Nobuo Uematsu – Final Fantasy IX – “A Face Unforgotten”
There are many, many more songs on there, but that’s a smattering of them. Do you write to a soundtrack? I know some people who prefer silence, or the background noise of a coffee shop. No way is better than any other- the only thing that’s important is that it works for you as a writer!