Welcome to my blog series all about how ♫ Music Inspires Writing ♫
Today my guest is Elliot Thorpe, a writer and music lover.
The Strength of Sound
How Music Inspires Me to Write
Music has always been a large part of my life. Growing up, it was something the family was acutely aware of (the family business was music-based) and a friend of the family was a singer of some renown.
When my own career ventured towards writing, it wasn’t a surprise that music still had its part to play.
Thanks to the family business, I‘ve been given opportunities I never thought I get and that, in turn, has led to other non-music influenced writing. But music is still there and still resonates quite literally.
As well as being influential, music has also turned into something inspirational, mainly when it comes to my fiction writing. And that isn’t something I’m alone in.
I spoke to a couple of fellow writers recently about this and we all came to the conclusion that we more or less tend to compile specific playlists to set the tone or find a rhythm, or even create flash fiction because a particular piece of music inspires a story to be written. Quite often, I’ll put a CD or two on of a full scorer or put together a compilation of a specific artist. On occasion I have been known to do something about-face by making up a mock ‘soundtrack’ once the work has been completed (sequencing different tracks from different composers to create something new).
And it’s the genre of music that is important to me, that draws inspiration onto the page before me.
Y’see, I’m something of a film score aficionado and I’m fortunate to have a wealth of soundtracks I can tap into: anything from Rosza to Hermann to Morricone to Elfman to Giacchino to Desplat – and lots inbetween. Those names there alone conjur up such a range of styles and subjects that it is easy to find a piece, or even a complete score, that can easily emulate the feel of a scene I want to write.
Steven Spielberg has often said of his long-time collaborator John Williams that the music his composer produces is a character in its own right (Indiana Jones’ melodies are a perfect example of that, as is Monty Norman’s James Bond theme). That stance is something I can understand and appreciate.
Take for example, a scene I was writing for my medieval horror novel ‘Cold Runs the Blood’. There’s a night sequence in a snow-laden forest, with my protagonists on the run from soldiers wielding burning torches, rabid dogs on chains leading the chase. There are also vampires in the air, ready to add to the impending slaughter. It was one of the first chapters I wrote for the novel (and very much out of continuity at the time).
When I plotted the scene, I could hear a pounding, heart-in-mouth soundtrack, possibly something from James Horner, most likely from his terrific score for Aliens. It gave me the pace I was after and the rhythm it needed to add dimension and suspense. When I finished writing, happy with what I had created, the music that then fitted was a subtle, brooding piece from Mark Snow (taken from his composition for the first X-Files movie) coupled with Riz Ortolani’s surprisingly wonderful music to Cannibal Holocaust. The unexpected change in tone actually guided the remainder of the novel and it meant I could find inspiration from unusual sources. Same book, different scene involving a drunken brawl in an inn: leit motifs to the romantic period movie Total Eclipse composed by Jan A P Kazcmarek. See? It’s funny how a writer’s mind works! It works, it would appear, much the same as a film director’s.
One such creative who is well-known for his love of music is Quentin Tarantino. The soundtracks he complies sometimes contrast wildly with the visuals. Look at the opening scene to Inglorious Basterds. It’s a World War II movie but we hear music that implies we’re watching a spaghetti western. Then there’s J J Abrams and his take on Star Trek, telling us that James T Kirk is a fan of the Beastie Boys by pounding out ‘Sabotage’ both in the opening young-Kirk car chase sequence and the trailer for third outing Star Trek Beyond.
It’s that contrast I like. It allows me to not be so conservative when I write. It pushes me to (or at least attempt to) write in a style or voice that I would not normally do. It also allows me to find that creativity – designing and executing plots and tangible threads.
I can’t easily write to music that has lyrics (vocals yes, lyrics no). There’s a distraction simply because a song has a story of its own – unless that song is a springboard itself! (In an older work, I wrote a complete scene triggered by a song by the Cure and I’ve been long-time planning a contemporary novel inspired by a hit single from the UK-based 70s progressive rock band Electric Light Orchestra.)
It makes sense, of course, that film music is an inspiration for writing but I do also find myself turning to the classics. I’m not that well-versed but I know what I like!
Wagner is incredibly emotive. Rumbling along, offering bleak murmurings and soaring operas, his music spills into the dark fiction that I adore writing. Conversely, classical works from modern composers such as Michael Daugherty or Karl Jenkins offer diverse instrumentation and eclectic melodies – and my writing has sometimes gone off on tangents as a result.
I don’t always write with music playing in the background, though. It’s not a requisite to get the words out. But writers’ block, that old enemy of the author, can often be swept away by a choice track or two.
This writing thing isn’t easy. It’s sometimes agonising and it’s sometimes poetic and it’s sometimes heart-breaking and so there’s nothing to say we shouldn’t find comfort in listening to something that thrills us and moves us.
And in the end, what appears on the page should be a wondrous creation, calling on multiple inspirations, differing channels and rousing foundations but be, ultimately, unique.
Elliot Thorpe (Twitter: @Elliot1701) is a freelance writer, having worked with the sites Den of Geek, Shadowlocked and Doctor Who TV. In 2005, he scripted ‘Doctor Who – Cryptobiosis’ starring Colin Baker and his first horror novel ‘Cold Runs the Blood’ was released in 2013. Some of his short stories have been published in the anthologies ‘Grave Matters’ and ‘The Extraordinary Lives of People Who Never Existed’. He has also contributed to and co-edited ‘Seasons of War –Tales From A Time War’. As well as his own blog (elliotthorpe.wordpress.com), he contributes regularly to the San Francisco-based magazine SEARCH, and is currently writing a biography of Dean Martin.
Thank you Elliot for sharing your thoughts!
So what music inspires you to write? Share yours in the comments below and tune in here next time when one of my friends shares their music inspirations.