Music and the Muse

This post is approximately 900 words, most of them song titles and artists.

Writers want to evoke specific emotions within the reader, which sometimes means you have to feel them yourself as you write. On those days when the Muse is with you, and She’s of generous mood, it’s easy. You’re typing as fast as thought, and you laugh or you cry as you experience those terrible, wonderful, breathtaking moments with your characters.

It can be draining. There’s an emotional, and often physical toll. It might even make you reconsider your next venture to the keyboard because you just don’t have the strength.

Sometimes, you need a little help. Or, Muse forgive me, other inspiration. For me, it’s music, although it can also be art, books, or even a stick. Heck, I write about it all the time – click for more posts that discuss inspiration.

But I digress. I often listen to music as I write, generally preferring songs without lyrics (i.e. movie soundtracks). However, when I need a stronger emotional inspiration, I put on some of these songs. I might even listen to one track on repeat, letting my mind drift into the story. Maybe I’m in the car; maybe I’m taking a walk. When I’m finally in the right frame of mind, I start writing. When it works, oh man, it works. When it doesn’t, well, it’s gotten me to the keyboard, and even a bad day of writing is better than one without any writing at all!

Without further preface, here’s a partial list. You’ll find love and loss, sadness and melancholy, anger, hope, and heroism. Maybe you’ll discover some new tunes, too!

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Writing Update – 3 Years In

Three years.

December 11, 2015 is more of a ceremonial date because I’m not sure how much writing I did at the start. Did I sit down and type, “Tildy sat up so quickly her head swam” – the first sentence of the first chapter – that first day? I don’t think so. I’m pretty certain I didn’t have her name yet. If memory serves, I started with the prologue, which has a boatload of too much historical context in it.

I recall thinking about a new direction for my story over the Summer of 2015. I started parts of it twenty-five years ago and I still liked much of the world I’d created. However, I needed to inject something into it: something to make it appeal to a broader audience and something to reinvigorate myself as a writer.

I wondered what kind of books the real world needed. It occurred to me that we could use more stories with empowered female characters, and they had to appeal to girls and boys. As simply as that, I was running, sprinting, in a new direction.

The writing came suddenly. One day I wasn’t writing; the next day I was.

superman_typing

Three years later, and more than a thousand hours of effort, I’m coming up on 190,000 words, which is about 100,000 more than I intended. I’ve also removed characters, places, and scenes to cut another 30,000 words. And I’m pretty sure I’ll have a bit more culling to do. Continue reading

Writing Exercise #8 – Whimsical Horror

This is post is approximately 650 words, many of them silly nonsense, but limned with a sinister tone, I hope.

I like fun and I like whimsy, and I like them mixed with horror. In the appropriate proportions, of course. Without the proper balance, a story is either too dark or too goofy. It’s something I’m managing in certain parts of my current manuscript.

I think this penchant comes from fairy tales I read in childhood. They’re cautionary stories, of course: stay in bed, eat your peas, don’t lie! They all promise horrible fates to children who fail in some regard. Take Little Red Riding Hood, who was devoured by a slavering wolf before a woodcutter sliced open the beast’s belly to free her.

In deliberate contrast to the horrors of the story, the pages often featured colorful illustrations of cherubic tots venturing obliviously into danger. After a few similar stories, we all knew something bad was coming, despite the innocence of the art. And we loved it. As kids, we were practically watching them through half-covered eyes, gleefully anticipating their demise as we imagined their chubby little legs carrying them toward certain doom.  Continue reading

The Book’s New Working Title

A 750-word post for those who want a peek into the thought process – in the loosest sense of the term – that a writer puts into naming his first book.

I’ve probably renamed the book a dozen times in the last three years.

At first, I just needed SOMETHING, because I’m writing a book and a book needs a title. It wasn’t even a full title, but sometimes the Muse won’t let you progress until you’ve checked off that box She wants filled. So I’ve named and re-named, never finding something I loved; always promising to figure it out later. I usually followed the typical pattern you see in a book series: “The Lost Princess and the Descriptive-words-that-will-intrigue-readers”. I like the style and I’ll admit I’m heavily influenced by the Harry Potter series, though you’ll see it these excellent series, too: Percy Jackson, Skulduggery Pleasant, and The Spook’s Apprentice (US version shown here).

Unfortunately, I’d been imposing some confusion upon myself, and I just hadn’t been able to get past it. Because I was too in love with my own idea.

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Inspiration: the Star Wars soundtrack

This post is approximately 900 words and focuses on one of my favorite topics: Music. Ooh, and Star Wars.

Star Wars reel-to-reel 1You won’t be surprised that Star Wars has been hugely influential to this 40-something writer. It’s second only to family in that regard. I’ll probably write about that on some future date. A large part of my adoration/zeal/mania is the soundtrack. I’ll get to this in a moment, so please bear with me while I set the stage, sounding like an old man as I do so.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have streaming services that allowed us to watch any movie when we wanted. We didn’t have cable. VCRs were around $1,000 and video tapes were $100.

I grew up twenty miles from the nearest movie theater, which doesn’t sound like much these days, but when you’re on the edge of the North Dakota prairie, you don’t make a lot of trips “to town”. Back then, you saw a movie once, and you might never see it again. If you were lucky, one of your three TV channels might air it, though your rooftop antenna was at the mercy of the elements. Yes, yes, first-world problems.

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Wonder – Discovery – Adventure

I started this post in June, but set it aside as part of the writing break I described in my last post. The title comes from three words I wrote as they came to me. Behind my office desk, I might refer to them as ‘guiding principles’ or ‘fundamental values’. But we’re talking about writing today, so no stuffy corporate phrases allowed!

macbook pro beside white cup and saucer on table

Here’s what they really are. They are the heart of Tildy’s character, and therefore, the heart of her story. Of all the words in the English language that I could use to describe her, these three are all I need. Everything I have written so far – and everything I will write – needs to convey this or I haven’t adequately transported the reader.

The amount of thought writers put into their works might surprise people. Using a scientific measuring tool known as ‘my gut’, I’d estimate nearly half of my time is spent thinking about the story. Yeah, it’s not all butt-in-chair, typing away like a half-crazed hermit. Whether I’m walking in to work, driving, or waiting in line for coffee, I’m thinking about where the story is going. What happens beyond the first book? Am I doing my female protagonist justice? Is it marketable? There are myriad questions, and if a writer isn’t focused, it’s easy to deviate the story too far from your original intent.

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Inspiration: Chemistry by Semisonic

This post is approximately 900 words and focuses on one of my favorite topics: Music.

Semisonic 1Oh man, I’ve been meaning to write a post like this for awhile. Ideas have been churning in my head for years. Years! I’m excited to finally get to it, and I hope this comes through in my writing! It will be the first in a series that covers storytelling in lyrics and what writers can learn (similar posts can be found here: Influencers). The hardest part, aside from finally taking the time, was choosing which song to cover first. Honestly, in two minutes I could list a hundred songs to write about, but as I listened to a playlist tonight, it came down to two: Prince’s “Starfish and Coffee” and Semisonic’s “Chemistry“.

A friend and former colleague one told me that Dan Wilson was “finest singer/songwriter ever.” As is common with people in the music biz, he said it with a fervor that would suffer no debate. And while I’m not overly familiar with Dan’s solo work, I do know a fair number of Semisonic songs. I find it hard to disagree. Because of that, this is not the only Semisonic track I’ll write about, though for the sake of diversity, I’ll probably write about a number of other songs before I get back to them. Continue reading