Thursday, May 26, 2016

Music as a Muse

By Patricia Cates

Most of us know why we write. We also seem to have a fairly good grasp on how to write. The question that looms in many, weary, writer’s-blocked heads, is what should I write?

The answer has not always been simple or clear. There has been much ado about the advice given years ago (by Hemingway?) to simply “Write what you know.” However many writers disagree. (Boy do they!) They see it as limiting. I will counter and say the most successful comedians who write their own stuff, who have done interviews, admit that they get most of their material from everyday events. It’s the hilarity that comes with family life or even their sadly laughable adolescent years that works for them. If you write what you do know you will surely still have to do research, just not as much. But maybe it’s not in the knowledge as much as in the experience itself, and the emotions attached, where we get our inspiration. No matter the genre, we will always need characters plucking emotion in fiction writing.

Soooo…If you have writer’s block and do not know what to write, I have a suggestion. Grab a note pad (or voice command device,) pull out your favorite records from when you were in elementary school, close your eyes and see what happens. Are you 10 again? Surely a vivid memory or twenty will come floating back. Some might make you smile and others could make you cringe...and that's good! The feelings attached to those settings you are now recalling could make for great fodder for your next chapter. Hey, maybe you can even derive a book from one of those memories. If elementary school is reaching too far back, try high school or college. Music can trigger long forgotten memories like no other. (So can smells but that would be much harder and…um…strange.)

Drawing from life experience is likely practiced by romance writers everywhere already. They write about their first crush and change the name, and the outcome! Writers create justice in their pages where none was found in real life, (like the school bully they put up with for seven years.) We see that all the time. The clothing styles and descriptions we can put our characters in from days past are fun as well. Sometimes we just need a memory jolt to garner those bold descriptions of things we have already seen and have forgotten. Big hair bands anyone? Spandex pants? Grunge?

But what about writers who want to focus on fantasy. Can they draw any benefit from this method? How do our past memories relate to a world filled with fantasy? Certainly one could base a character off an old long forgotten school chum. As an author you can give them a special power or gnarly facial warts. Your elementary school library can become a porthole for the children who read a specific book found on aisle A-F. That song you loved from 1987 can be playing in the background of your novel. When your fairy is awarded her first wings, use lyrics from your favorite victory song, just remember to give the band credit. In mystery writing that same friend you now remember from 3rd grade can be your supporting character and maybe even a suspect. I think pulling from our personal pasts is great and music can help get us there.

Do you need a setting? Could the music you listened to from the late 1990’s maybe remind you of a family vacation you took, and now you are suddenly transported back in time to that weird restaurant you happened across while driving? Voila! You have a new setting for your murder scene. After all the waiter WAS pretty creepy. All remembered because of a song you heard on the radio during that time.

But still stands the question of what to write! You are the only one who can answer this. Stop thinking so hard and just let it flow. Put your WIP down for a minute, get some Pandora or iTunes going and start jotting down your memoires. Let the music be your muse. I guarantee you that your fingers will start tapping pretty fast.

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