Every writer I’ve met has some music that takes part in their writing process along with them. Whether you play wordless soundtrack music to drown out distractions or spend hours finding the perfect theme song to match every character, we all tend to work up a pretty decent variety of songs.
Which is why you may be looking at this post’s title and going: “Just 2? Really? How did he manage to narrow it down like that? Doesn’t he get tired of listening to them?” No, they’re not the only songs I listen to when I’m writing or brainstorming. Far from it. In fact, I tend to change the tone of my playlist to fit the project that I’m working on. These, however, are ones that I consider so universal that they never leave my list.
Switchfoot – Dare You to Move
Education tells us that every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. They might sort of let us know what that means, but when it comes to writing our own, it can be hard to visualize.
To me, Dare You to Move is a complete model of this idea, and much more. From the opening “Welcome to the planet” (hello, setting the scene!) to the dramatic bridge into the last chorus (the crisis of character that leads to the final act), it’s the best map to storytelling that can be crammed into 4 minutes. Lines like “What happens next?” as well as the chorus remind us to keep the action moving, to let our characters make choices that actually matter.
My only suggestion for anyone who wants to try to take this as an exact model for a story: beef out the middle a bit, compared to what the song has. If you follow it exactly you’ll be stuck in the beginning until halfway into the second verse and nobody really wants that. But don’t get me wrong. That’s a very important verse and I love it.
Killswitch Engage – My Curse
This one may be less familiar to those of you who aren’t into the hard rock and heavy metal scene, but hear me out. Because I personally think this is one of the most beautiful songs in the genre.
I always loved it, but it really came up when I was finishing my draft of The Demon’s Guardian. I suddenly realized that the main character, Rasuke, has at that point lost a lot of people that he really, truly loved. It’s a heartwrenching ending that will set the stage for the third book, but I can’t reveal too much about that just yet, can I? The point is that I imagined, all too clearly, what the movie adaptation might be like at the end: the last line of the book comes to pass. My Curse begins to play. Roll credits.
It was one of the most powerful visions I’ve had of my work in a long time, but it didn’t end there. As I listened to it again, I came to the realization that this is also exactly what Ius, the antagonist of the trilogy, has been dealing with this entire time. The god that he served for millions of years just disappeared from his life one day. And in The Third Face there’s one scene I remember that evokes this all too clearly. As the song goes: “I strain my eyes, hoping to see you again. This is my curse.”
Everyone in this series has “love burning to find” someone or other. They’ve lost something. It’s heartbreaking. And because everyone deals with it differently the story moves forward. This is the kind of thing that gets me tearing up a bit over my own fictional characters. Every time.
So there are my two songs. The first was universal, in my opinion; the second feels more iconic to my own work, but it’s still capable of penetrating every story there is. What are your picks for the most earthshattering songs that writers should hear?