For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work before purchasing it on the Kindle store; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.
Music and writing novels: The title of this post might seem a little odd to some people, as the written word does not make a sound, and music is seemingly all about the sounds. But bear with me.
Music has had a big influence on other writers, ones more famous than me; and many authors – including some of my favourite ones – have quoted lyrics at the beginning of chapters of their novels. Here I’m thinking of people like Stephen King. I think that in the novel Christine he quotes from Eddie Cochran, the Coasters, the Beach Boys, Bo Diddley, Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Berry, Woody Guthrie and others. The novel being Christine the lyrics quoted are all about cars or driving in cars, of course. They evoke the image of driving in cars, especially in old cars like Christine, the demonic ’58 Plymouth Fury. In other novels, up to and including Duma Key, you will find the other occasional music lyric appear, albeit not is as much profusion as in Christine.
Music has been a big influence on my writing, although I do not listen to music while I write, as I simply find it too distracting – I end up listening to the music when I should be working on my prose.
I have quoted the odd line from a song in my work, trying not to use anything which is going to end up with me getting sued for breach of copyright. So, when I have used lyrics a lot, I have gone for early music, such as the blues. I have a few such quotes in the novella Hoodoo Hobo: Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker. There is, of course, a connection between the blues and hoodoo, with several blues songs mentioning elements of hoodoo magic. Here is one example by Muddy Waters, from (I’m You’re) Hoochie Coochie Man:
“I got a black cat bone
I got a mojo too
I got the Johnny Concheroo
I’m gonna mess with you”
(Johnny Concheroo is John the Conqueror root, which is used a lot in hoodoo.)
The above is just one example of how a quote from a piece of music can be used. I’m sure that any budding novelists out there will be able to come up with their own. But be careful of copyright – at the moment it is fifty years after the date that the song was published, so anything from 1963 or before is out of copyright. But there are several people, such as Paul McCartney, who are trying to get that changed, and bring it in line with written material, where copyright is much longer.
You can use music in other ways, and I have endeavoured to do so, in my prose. Characters do not exist in a vacuum, and nearly all characters should have some music which they like, as few people do not like music at all. While you do not need to indicate the musical tastes of minor characters, in a series of novels or short stories, as you learn about the characters, you will also learn about what music they like.
In the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for example, we learn that the great detective is a fan of what we call classical music, especially of Wagner, and the violin playing of the great Paganini. I’m not sure if Watson tells us his own musical likes. But such things round off a character, and bring them to life.
Also music can eventually lead to adventure. In my Briggs and Prenderghast novels Prenderghast’s Sikh manservant, Vishwanath, developed an interest in the English music hall. that led, eventually, to a mystery set in one – what was, even for me, a very strange little gas-lamp fantasy vignette.
In writing the novel Shadows and Ghosts I imagined music playing in the background for each of the different chapters. For example, for chapter one, I wrote that the soundtrack to the chapter was the album Hotel California, by the Eagles, to be played in its entirety. But there is a reason for that – the Eagles come on the radio early in the chapter. To quote from the novel:
Hotel California came to an end, and was replaced by some modern rock crap, probably that grunge stuff out of Seattle. He twisted the dial, searching for the same song again. Somewhere, in America, the Eagles are always playing.
Other suggested pieces of music, from other chapters, include;
Time by David Bowie, from Aladdin Sane
String Quartet no. 3 Mishima composed by Philip Glass, played by the Kronos Quartet
Decades, by Joy Division, from Closer
and Another Brick In The Wall, Pt 3, from The Wall, by Pink Floyd
Of course there is no way that an author can command what his readers should listen to. But that is not the point. By listing those pieces of music I was putting an idea into the heads of the reader (or at least I was trying to). The reader could imagine that music playing in the background of what he has just read.
Well, I think that’s all for this post. I hope that it has explained how music relates to my prose. If I have any more thoughts on the matter I can always return to it in the future.