30 October 2012

Discovery via Soundtrack

It's November, so yet another opportunity to take a crack at writing a long form manuscript while sharing that experience with others. I am an unabashed fan of NaNoWriMo. While I am aware of why writing a massive chunk of a book in a short time span might not work for some, it works well for me. Even when I'm not NaNo-ing I tend to write in intense bursts followed by a period of catatonia (and what better month to be in a coma than December, right?).

This year I've been spending a little more time than usual planning my November novel. In past years I've typically thought about planning, then ended up doing a last minute very sketchy and excitement-fueled outline of sorts. Recently, though, I've decided to start spending a bit more time on the front end of my long form projects. I don't want another experience like the time-travel-story-turned-future-utopia-which-is-really-an-extreme-dystopia manuscript that I finished this summer. (Basically, the time travel portion of the novel did not work and will be trashed, though the dystopian back half might be something I can use.)

In the name of figuring out the planning side of things a little bit better, I'm taking Lani Diane Rich's excellent NaNo Pre-Game Class, via Storywonk. (I asked for it for my birthday. Hoorah for clutter-free gifts!). (By the way, if you're a writer and you're not listening to Storywonk Sunday, you are missing out. It is a wonderful way to spend a bit of time every week thinking about narrative and getting stoked about being a writer. Looks like there will be a Storywonk NaNoWriMo daily podcast too, which should be loads of fun.)

Anyhoo, as part of the class, one of the things I've been working on is a soundtrack for my book. The idea here is that, in picking songs that match the tone or speak to the characters or evoke any aspect of what you want to do, you're exploring your project without necessarily committing anything to paper. At least, that's what I've gotten out of it. For me, putting a soundtrack together has been almost like going into worldbuilding via intuition instead of logic. Plus, it is just plain fun.

This book is going to be dark. One of the ideas I'm playing with is a world in which technological progress stopped sometime in the early twentieth century because people learned to harness magic as a power source. I wanted an early twentieth-century aesthetic with some elements of contemporary culture. The story is set in a school for magicians, but this is no Harry Potter world of wonder. My central idea is that the dominant form of magic is wholly evil, based on the idea of taking essential energies from others, especially those most vulnerable.

Because I can think of nothing more diabolical than taking from other people, my soundtrack includes a whole lot of classical music that's downright Halloweeny ("Night on Bald Mountain", anybody?). I'm most proud, though, of the blues and pop content, especially the way it opens, with Bessie Smith's "Devil's Gonna Get You."



I'm pretty happy with the way it ends, too, with Daniel Johnston's "Devil Town." I've got the recorded version of this song from Welcome to My World on my soundtrack, but I found this live version on YouTube. If you're not familiar with Daniel Johnston, some context might help. Or, if you like, just watch and enjoy:

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