NaNoWriMo Essentials: The Soundtrack

Posted: October 29, 2011 in Music, Novels

Tiberius Kane is coming for you, punk.

I bet you thought I’d say outline or something, right?

Don’t get me wrong. An outline is crucial, as is a good cast list. The cast list is not as descriptive as I would like, but I’ll flesh it out a bit later. And I just finished my outline this morning. It’s 1,700 words and 4 pages long. Not bad for a 23 chapter novel. I’ll tease bits of that out over the next two days leading up to kickoff.

But today is something that I find helps getting those other elements in place: the soundtrack. In specific, a 5 1/2 hour playlist saved down onto my iPod that I can pipe through my home system while I write or set the mood as I’m on the way home to write on the bus.

Like in a movie, a good soundtrack should convey a sense of energy to every scene. My soundtracks aren’t a specific “Oh, this is for chapter 11” kind of deal. (Although the “trial” in my novel is entirely thanks to Saliva’s “Ladies and Gentlemen” which is featured in the soundtrack.) A soundtrack is meant to inform the tone, the energy, the spirit of what I’m about to write. And thankfully, I’m a slut for music. I have sounds from all across the spectrum, so it’s like cooking with a full spice cabinet and a clear sense of what each element brings to the dish.

I started with a core of Coheed and Cambria. Six songs, in particular, across several albums. “Here we Are Juggernaut” from their latest, Year of the Black Rainbow just finished playing, and now I have “Blood Red Summer” off their second album. So, why Coheed? First off, this is going to be an aggressive, action-centered novel, and Coheed delivers on volume. Plus, I’m writing sci-fi, and they dedicated four albums to a heavy prog-rock concept sci-fi epic, so that’s a good thematic fit. Finally, the tunes I picked have a good hook, so they get set into the brain.

In keeping with that loud, fast and out-of-control theme, I added a few metal standards. Megadeath’s “Symphony of Destruction” and AC/DC’s “Shoot to Thrill” captured the mood quite well. I also filled heavily with New Model Army, one of my perennial favorites who can always be counted on for barely-contained rage and rolling thunder.

Adding other flavors to the mix, I considered our hero, Tiberius Kane, one of the most dangerous men in the galaxy. He’s from a xenophobic, “pure blood” race that has a real superiority complex. Everyone hates his people. Even him. He’s an outcast from his own race, a bit of a traitor, and oppressed on every side. For some reason, this inspired a heavy dose of political soul, which blends nicely with the Norther Soul influenced rhythm section of New Model Army. This was a healthy mix of flavors: Gil Scott-Heron, John Legend & The Roots, Marvin Gaye, and others.

But there were some quiet moments, moments for contemplation. I have two versions of “Wild Is The Wind” in there–one from David Bowie, one from Nina Simone. I also have a bit of Barry White to smooth some things out.

Finally, I added just a dash of opera to bring in the opulence of the Vox twins, the two villains of the novel. In specific, I chose a track from La Boheme.

The total mix came in at around 65% loud, 34% smooth, 1% “bonus weird.” I’ve been listening to it for a few days and already I can feel the novel pulsing to life. I can easily listen to this 5.5 hours on replay shuffle over the next month. And that’s important. A soundtrack that speaks to the novel, but not to you, that in fact, makes you want to swallow your own tongue? That does no one any good.

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