In a movie, there is music during emotionally charged scenes. It’s a clue. “He’s worried. He’s sad. She’s crying because she’s happy.”
Hear the music? It’s happy. Nothing bad is going to happen right now.
Hear the music now? It’s ominous. Something bad is about to happen.
Books don’t have those musical clues. We have to use only words on a page to summon joy and sorrow and worry and every other emotion. We have to build story-lines and craft scenes and describe inner journeys in a way that makes the reader feel what we are feeling, what our characters are feeling.
I like to be alone when I write. I like be alone because, to write those emotions, I have to feel them. And I don’t want to be distracted by self-consciousness about how dumb I look.
I’m pretty sure I look really dumb.
I can’t just decide to feel heartbroken inside and then write a scene in which a girl is weeping for her dead father. I don’t “feel heartbroken” that easily.
But I have to become that girl before I can write about what she’s feeling. I have to feel what she feels. Without having ever really felt it.
Often, the first thing I do is find songs about heartbreak. And I don’t mean pop songs about how we are never ever getting back together. I mean songs where the music and the words and the way they’re sung combine to make me feel that sorrow and pain and loneliness.
Then I act it out, and this is the part where I have to be alone. Preferably the only one home. At least with no one watching me. Because it looks weird for someone to be sitting at the computer with headphones in, curled up into the fetal position, running their hands over their head, whispering tragic song lyrics. I’m sure it looks weird.
No, really, I’m not crazy. I promise. I’m just a writer.
After I start writing, I usually don’t hear the music anymore. I’m wrapped up in the story and the emotions inside it with one part of me, and planning out what’s happening and correcting sentence structure with the other part. There’s nothing left over to hear music.
But that musical introduction to the emotions of my scene are like a jumpstart. It’s inspiring. It reminds me of the emotions that I can portray. If I feel like crying, maybe people who read my story will cry. If I am thrilled and excited and pausing between sentences to jump up and down, maybe people who read my story will want to jump up and down as they read. Sometimes, music helps me feel like that. It’s the musical clue for the movie inside my head.