Dealing With a Music-less Novel

NYCorgan2As the rain pours down in a typical English spring day outside, I’m listening to Mozart’s 27th violin sonata (in G major) and thinking. “Does this reflect any scene from WTCB?” There’s no reason why it should, but I have been trialling certain songs to see which would make any kind of ‘soundtrack’, theme songs or #ManuscriptMusic for the novel.

If anything, 27 in G echoes the silence between the scenes. Peter’s walk from Mansion hall to entrance after he chooses family rather than love; Aidelle and Phillip arm-in-arm leaving Grassland Close with an argument of revelations in their proper past. The music holds both the sorrow and the relief of scenes like those. Maybe not happiness in an entirety, but an edge of artistic peace, an edge in general.

Despite his accompanying flamboyance, and what one feels is rather an overuse of certain motifs, I am rather partial to Mozart sonatas.

These thoughts came to me mostly from the fact that Twitter has been alive with Pitch Slam hashtags recently, one Twitter party of which was the above #ManuscriptMusic, inviting authors to post songs or playlists of their novel’s soundtrack or the music they listen to as they write.

Now, I have neither. I don’t listen to music as I write – my musician’s tendency distracts me from the writing – nor does WTCB have a set of music fundamentally linked to it, as, for instance, OJAP does.

This problem has crossed me before, but I might just be at a solution-point.

What does one do when music not only is not a prominent feature of a novel, but also is backwards to our real, modern music? Jumping the gun a little, this must provide some sort of problem for those people who pair commercial movies with commercial or ‘modern’ pieces of music (you’ll recall that The Great Gatsby sound track featured modern interpretations of jazz-era sounds); all well and good if one has Hans Zimmer or John Williams, but for an alternate universe without those composers and ideas some sense of the music is lost by sticking common songs in place of something that should be created. Even dystopians get away with pop song soundtracks – after all, we live in a world of metallic and computer-generated beats that reflect the frame of metallic surroundings, capitols and divided societies dystopians emulate.

I Wanna Be a Billionaire1. Ignore the music aspect entirely. There’s nothing wrong with this. Not every novel needs a soundtrack tied in a bow around it. One doesn’t need music for the process of writing or editing, and not every protagonist thinks in music.

For me, however, this route is flawed, since, as soon as the first chapter, Phillip and Aidelle have a quick discussion of the piano Aidelle’s mother bought for Phillip’s parents. Evidently, even if it is a matter of class, music features in my novel, from beginning to end and I have to be true to that.

2. Tailor the characters’ experiences of music to fit a suggested soundtrack. In WTCB, three significant instances of music stand out to me. One of these is an indirect feature: the piano, as I mentioned, which, whilst not showing the type of music Continentians tend towards, gives a suggestion that music has some weight in their society, if not their culture. In an earlier draft, Phillip uses a similarly indirect mention of a guitar plectrum to act as a metaphor.

The latter two instances of music come from a character whose career is to become a singer – if she lives through the changing timelines. Lynnetta sings a phrase of the Piu Jesu in one instance – suggesting that the Continentians are acquainted with choral music even if they don’t understand the notion or vocab of God. The song is just words. After all, Latin is present in the society.

Later, she and her brothers (who play said piano) sing their composed ditty. So, that sort of music is present, too. I have to create a soundtrack that reflects this – with choral music moving towards a more casual kind of inn music.

As The Almanac says:

“The Little College takes into account the ‘fashion’ of music and creates a new Entertainment course. During the year, they have an influx of applicants and break away into a new college. The Espionage Team still exists and they discover a ‘Conservatoire’ music hall in The Second Continent. The name is stolen.”

3.RecordPlayer_AlexB Have a character who defies the norm. In The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, music is prohibited. When MC Paige is sent to the alien-run Oxford, her Warden, Arcturus, has managed to obtain a forbidden gramophone through transactions with humans and Paige often comes back from her training to the sound of jazz and awesome classical pieces.

4. Devise a ‘soundtrack’ of action pieces. Every good story has conflict and spikes in tension. Think of your favourite books – haven’t you ever heard a cacophony of noise in amongst the dialogue? Maybe not, but I know I have. Had I the confidence, I’d return to composing my own pieces of action sequence music. In this way, that’s why I’ve been seeking classical music to fill the void where WTCB’s soundtrack ought to stand. It best has the crashes, bangs and synaesthesia-like patterns of scenes to mimic the elegance of prose.

5. Create an alternative playlist. Maybe it’s not so faithful to the fantasy world you’ve created or maybe your protagonist doesn’t have any favourite musicians/songs, but you want to show how music is in the themes and ideologies of the novel. I’ve heard a good number of modern songs that reflect Aidelle and Phillip’s relationship and troubles, but I’d not put them on my playlist because they don’t reflect the feel of the novel – such as Time by Anastacia.

There’s nothing wrong with having an official playlist and having your favourite songs on a separate list to point to and say – “this is what I feel my novel is about, but this isn’t music from the novel.”

So, those are my thoughts for how music could be included in a music-less world. I’m hoping I can get a playlist or one or two specific songs that truly reflect the world I’ve devised and in which my characters exist and live.

Any other tips you can think of?


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