The role music plays in writing

The absence of music in writing, especially fiction, is as unimaginable to me as the absence of music in life.

This might sound a little bizarre, but the first thing I typically hear when I listen to a new sound is its melody.

It may only be a single note and it may even be off key, but if you listen carefully, you’ll hear it in just about everything: A car idling impatiently, a bell ringing at a train crossing or a vacuum cleaner humming as the floors are being cleaned.

For this very reason I never seem to remember the words of a song. Unless I’m deliberately concentrating on the lyrics, all I’ll be memorising is the melody.

It goes without saying that music plays an important role in my writing, as in my life.

I have to mention that there are some exceptions, especially when it comes to editing, when there’s just no substitute for silence. But in general terms, music brings a certain film soundtrack quality to the process of writing and sets the mood of a scene unlike anything else. It can assist in adding speed when writing an action scene, in adding suspense throughout pages of horror and even in escalating the amount of conflict, when nothing else will.

Take a wedding scene, for example – with the bride and groom, the flowers and of course, the ‘I dos’. I would have a very hard time selling the idea of my protagonist walking down the aisle, while a 300 year old church organ is blaring Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and vibrations of the purest sound possible are sending chills through the entire church, if I hadn’t experienced the song for myself.

Imagine for a moment that you are pouring red wine into a glass. The wine is flowing from the bottle (or decanter) in your hand, into the glass. Now imagine the same scene with no bottle or decanter holding the wine in place. Impossible. You’ll be drenched in red before you even start and you’ll be pouring salt on that stain for days.

In my experience, the same is true of music and how a melody has the ability to mould a scene – as if it somehow transports words from mind to paper. Without music, all I am often left with is a stained mess of organised emptiness.

And I’ll be pouring salt on that stain for days.

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