Monday, February 1, 2010

Music is My Story Board

First off, let me tell you about our first guest blogger at M & M this Wednesday. Leann Harris is a chaptermate of mine whose next book will be her lucky number 13th. She's currently writing inspirational mysteries for Steeple Hill and is coming by to talk about the mindset of a mystery writer. She worries she's not wired right in the brain ...until she talks to another mystery writer. Be sure not to miss this one.

Now on to my topic. I blogged about this a long time ago on a friend's blog and got an outpouring of comments. I decided it was worth another blog entry to see if y'all do this, too. It's a little trick I learned that helps me pack gut-wrenching emotion into my scenes. Hopefully, it will get you thinking about your wip and how it might help you.

First a little backstory.

I grew up with four sisters in a small town in Ohio. We didn't have iPods or Nintendos or even CDs, so we sang, usually in harmony. The Everly Brothers were our favorite. If you ask either of my kids what they remember about their teenage years, they'll tell you it was rolling down all the windows and the moon roof (called sun roof back then) of my Thunderbird and rocking out to our favorite songs. We could be heard singing Little River Band, Dr. Hook and Linda Rondstad clear across town. Give me a song with a fantastic beat and great words or a slow dreamy one that tells a story, and I'm in heaven.

So it stands to reason, when I started writing years ago, I would somehow find a way to connect my two favorite things, writing and music. Yeah, I've been to a lot of woorkshops and learned how to use story boards. They make it easier to keep up with external and internal motivations as well as plotting and character profiling, I was told. But I never could get into them. Like grocery lists, to-do lists, etc., I forgot where I put them.

Then one day I was listening to one of my favorite singers, Marc Anthony, and it dawned on me how well the song related to a scene in my manuscript. The more I listened, the more I pictured my H/H in a tent on an isolated beach in Colombia waiting to be first interrogated, then killed the next morning. My Hero had finally found her after searching in Costa Rica despite rumors she'd been killed in a car explosion. Long story short (a joke since I never tell short stories!) they had surrendered to a cartel hit squad in order to save the members of a Colombian vigilante group they had grown to love.

A little manuscript back story - two weeks prior to my Heroine 's trip to Costa Rica, she discovers this bad boy has spent the night with an Ex. Needless to say, she's got a trust issue with him.

Fast forward to "How Could I?", a beautiful love song hidden on one of Marc's albums. In it, he says he would fight a thousand soldiers for the woman he loves. A woman whose tears he caused.

OMG! Had Marc read my book?

Again, long story short, when a rescue attempt is made by the women and children from the camp, my Hero, a doctor accustomed to saving lives, kills to save the Heroine. I played that song a zillion times as I rewrote the scene, my own tears falling onto the paper (I write longhand). Even now, every time I hear it, I am taken back to that tent and reminded of the anguish I inflicted on my characters in order to make them grow emotionally. I'm sure there are a few truckers out there on Interstate 35 still wondering why the crazy lady in the blue car was crying like a baby. They obviously couldn't hear Marc on my CD player.

Now picture this. Opening scene when my heroine is getting on the plane to go to Costa Rico for a friend's bachelorette party, her heart broken. Her intent is to drink as many margaritas as it takes to forget the betrayal and get on with her life, maybe even toss in a Latino one-nighter. Can you hear Shania Twain's "Man, I Feel Like a Woman"?

Oh, Oh Oh. Go totally crazy, forget I'm a lady. Oh. Oh. Oh.

I hope you're starting to see how the songs inspire me to add more zing to the scenes. All in all, that 95K manuscript has twelve songs. When they make a movie of my book, all twelve will be included in the album of the same name.(I dream BIG!) I even burned an album called "Shattered Dreams."

I'm getting kinda windy, so I'll head toward the conclusion with one final example. In an earlier gunfight with the cartel squad, as a secondary character is dying, she begs my Heroine to take her fifteen-month old daughter out of Colombia. After my H/H are rescued and the soldiers killed, they make plans to start their journey to the American Embassy in Bogota with the toddler. Then another woman asks them to take her orphaned niece and nephew (two other secondary characters). The niece, a sixteen year old, pleads with her aunt not to make her go. Swears she'll be good if she lets her stay. You can imagine the emotions I had to get past to write this one as the three Colombian orphans head out in a boat. Something about a child in that much pain gets me every time.

Listen to Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You", and you hear what I needed to put into that scene. Think about when she sang it to Kevin Kostner in "The Bodyguard". Then picture Dolly Parton singing it to Burt Reynolds in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas". As the boat pulls away, the children are huddled together, torn from the only life they have ever known and the only people who have ever loved them, and that song is playing in the background. I had another good cry, then I rewrote the scene.

When I was offered representation, I was told my agent cried as she read that scene and was a big emotional mess until the end of the book. I don't know why she decided to take a chance on me, but just in case it had anything to do with that chapter, thank you Whitney and Dolly.

I've only written one other story where I used an entire album of sings for the scenes because I began writing mystery and humor. Right now, I am writing a cozy with a cast of zany characters. As I'm typing, I'm already thinking of songs I can use for that one. "Sweet Dreams" pops into my head.

So now I'd like to hear how you motivate yourself when you write big emotional scenes. Aromatherapy? If you do use music, do you have a favorite artist? I'd love to hear about your process.

In the meantime, I'll bet you'll never hear "I Will Always Love You" again without picturing the tears of my teenage orphan.

33 comments:

Mary Martinez said...

Liz,
Great blog. As I read this I have Fleetwood Mac blaring from the stereo. I have to have music. And it depends on what I'm writing on what I put on the CD's.

I wish I could sing, in or out of harmony with anyone, but I can't!

Anyway, I bought Brian Adams greatest hits for "Have you ever really loved a woman." (I'm terrible with names so that may not be the exact title.) It's from Don Juan De Marco with Johnny Depp. One of my favorite movies and whenever I'm writing a tender scene, when the man wants the woman to melt, that's my song.

We're going to have fun over Margarita's when we meet!
Mary

Gin said...

What a great blog, Liz!

I listen to many different types of music, but I mostly listen to instrumental while writing so I don't get too distracted by singing along.

Not always the case, though. sometimes, I need something specific to put me in a frame of mind conducive to the scene I'm writing. While writing Murder Creek...a book about assassins, I listened to the song Angel, by Massive Attack a lot. Along with Evanessence. (I'm horrible spelling that group's name.)

Also, I have to admit that I've come up with story ideas by listening to music.

In my first historical/fantasy novel, I wrote a whole book based on a suicide scene inspired by a song on the "Pure Moods" compilation.

And I can't go without mentioning that I blare my ipod while cleaning the house on a speaker system. My daughter asked me why once, and I told her that music not only makes me dance and happy, but it tells me stories.

I spent the next hour explaining the stories I heard from each song.

A great topic, thanks for allowing me to participate!

Best,
Gin

Marilyn Shank said...

When you were describing the scene with the children, I thought of all the children in Haiti who have lost their families.

I've also found myself inspired by music--hymns in the first novel, 50's popular music in the sequel--integrate the lyrics in my chapters. I would love to read your novel. It sounds powerful.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

I have to admit I have to have complete silence to write. Although I do get ideas from listening to music while driving in the car.

Another great post, Liz!

I love watching movies and tend to get inspired by that. Otherwise, I put myself in the mood to write whatever type scene I'm working on. A hot bath and glass of wine when I'm in a sexy mood, a martini when I'm in a mysterious mood, etc.

Liz Lipperman said...

Mary, I love that Bryan Adams song. Matt, from American Idols last season recorded it, and I love his version, too. I also loved the movie.

We are definitely going to have fun over margaritas!!

Sylvia Rochester said...

Your Columbian story sounds fantastic, and I know we'll all have a chance to read it in the future. I'm with you, kiddo. Music is pure inspiration. Can't live or work without it.

Liz Lipperman said...

Gin, who the heck is Evanessence? Never mind, I'm sure it's an age-related thing, just like I'm sure you've probably never heard of Sam and the Shams!!

I love that all of you react the same way I do to music, although I have to clear up one point. I have to have EXTREME silence when I write. I get distracted so easily. I listen to the music as I'm plotting.

When I posted this blog several years ago, a few readers commented about how they use candles in certain fragrances for different moods. Anyone out there do that?

Liz Lipperman said...

Marilyn, how fitting that you mentioned the Haitian children. They must have had the same thoughts as my orphans as they were forced to leave the people they loved. I'll add more prayers for them tonight.

The totally different types of music that inspired you for the original story and then the sequel are intriguing. Were the stories that different or did you just like the change-up?

I am in the process of changing my Colombia story to make it more marketable. Right now I have two strong heroes, making it more Women's Fiction and consequently, harder to sell. Christine and I are working on changing that, but if you're serious, when I finish, I'd love for you to be my beta reader.

Liz Lipperman said...

Ah, Kari, I knew we were kindred souls. Total silence here,too. Hubby's "What's for lunch? - Where's the such and such? - take me right out of the story. One of these days, I'm going to head to the library to write.

I get the wine and hot bath for sexy, but why the martini for mystery? Like we really need a reason to drink - snort!!

Liz Lipperman said...

Welcome, Sylvia. I proofed a book for Sylvia and was delighted to see my name in the acknowledgments. Thanks, again.

What it is about music that inspires us? Even though you write in a completely different genre than I do, we both use it wisely.

Thanks for stopping by. Gotta run to the dentist to get permanent crowns. I hope they'll be lots of comments to answer when I get back.

Cassy Pickard said...

Liz: Once again, you dunnit, girl. Great blog. But, I'm afraid I'm with Kari, at least on this :-) I have silence, except for the two dogs fussing with their bones and squeaky toys. I find my head so noisy that any outside music distracts me. My husband and I have talked about this a lot. He loves the music, loud and jive-y, when he is in "production mode." When he is in gotta-think-and-concentrate mode, silence. I'm afraid I'm silence all the time.

Some time I'll tell the story of our sharing offices when he first started up his company--humm, maybe something for one of my Fridays.

Liz, I can see your orphans bobbing in the waves while trying to be strong and brave. Your stories are moving, just what the reader wants. If it's music-- go for it. But, I also think your talent has a bit to do with it. Maybe you'll discover that artists start reading YOUR books and then the songs come to them.

Donnell said...

Liz, did you write this blog for me? Did you? :) In the words of Mac Davis, **Music is the Universal Language and Love is the Key, people who believe in music are the happiest people I've ever seen.**

Music inspires, it lifts and it celebrates the human condition. I love that Mel Tillis has trouble talking due to his stutter, but, man, oh man, when he sings...

And of course, my 2007 Golden Heart final was inspired by a country song. Walk Away Joe.

Wow, I'm so flattered you wrote this blog for me ;) And I'm sure everyone else who reads it thinks... did she write this blog for me?

Lindsay said...

Great music blog. Liz said she had Fleetwood Mac, seen'um live, in the background while she read it (the blog). I have to have either oldies or preferrable country music. Even people walking and talking around me. For some reason I can tune it all out. But, heaven forbid, I have total silence-forget it. That, to me, is the loudest noise there is.
I'm also glad to see that I'm not going crazy, Cassy might disagree with that though. There have been times when writing a scene I automatically think of a song and play it over in my head. Somehow it makes writing it go smoother.
BTW, who's buying.

SG Redling said...

Great post, Liz. Like so many on here, I have to write in silence. I work in radio so music can often push some "real world" buttons for me. But just like being in love, I'll be in the car listening to the radio and a song will come on that makes me say "He's totally singing about ___ (my character)"

When I finished my last manuscript, I had put my female MC through so much I almost couldn't stand it. Just as she is THIS close to relief and justice, I came across the song "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" by Flogging Molly. When I played it for my critique group, everyone of them saw it playing at the exact same point in the book and, yes, we all boo-hoo'd.

I guess a good story makes us all 13 year old girls in love! SGR

Liz Lipperman said...

Cassy, you say the sweetest things. I can't even imagine working together with my husband in the same room (Waving at Christine!) I can't wait to hear that story.

And Gin, if you're still reading this, a funny thing happened at the dentist's office. A really pretty song I kinda recognized came on through the piped-in radio station. Although the entire side of my mouth was numb and the dental assistant had her hands in my mouth, I managed to ask if she knew who was singing it. To my surprise, she said, Evanessence. I'm not as old as I think!

Anita Clenney said...

Great blog, guys. I prefer it quiet to write...for the most part. Occasionally, I'll listen to music while I'm writing, or I'll hear a song in the car and it just grabs me and says, "this is your story."

I LOVE Loreena McKennit and there is one song by Nickleback that I swear, makes me think Awaken the Warrior must be rolling on a movie screen somewhere. It really should be on the soundtrack. Guess I should worry about getting the story published first.

Anita Clenney said...

I'm with Gin. I love Evanessence. (Can't spell it either.) Liz, they did one of the songs for Daredevil, the movie with Ben Afleck and Jennifer Garner. That's the first time I heard them.

Liz Lipperman said...

Donnell,you crack me up. I loved the inspirational message from Mack Brown, too. Music does lift the spirits. Even when I'm going through a rough patch and certain music makes me cry, it's all good om the end. Somehow, after the tears, I am able to move on.

I love the title Walk Away Joe. Fingers crossed for this year's GH.

Liz Lipperman said...

Lindsay, are you the Lindsay who had dinner with us in DC?

I'm envious of all you guys who are able to work with noise. It would allow many more hours spent writing - or at least take away excuses for procrastinating!!

I so get it about plotting a scene when you hear a certain song.


Thanks for the comments, and yes, I'm buying!!

Liz Lipperman said...

Sheila, how cool that your entire critique group responded the way you did to the song and what sounds like a real tear-jerker scene in your story. I love a story that makes me cry and as I mentioned, a young person in pain gets me every time.

I'm heading over your way to check out your blog now.

Liz Lipperman said...

Anita, since I loved Awaken The Warrior, I need to check out that Nickleback song. And there is no doubt in my mind you will sell and soon. A Scottish warrior to die for, a lovable heroine, a great suspenseful story, and an agent who kicks butt and takes names! What else do you need?

I'm going to Amazon to see if I can figure out which Evanessence song I heard today.

Liz Lipperman said...

Gin and Anita, I just checked Amazon, and the Evanessence song I heard at the dentist's today was "My Immortal." What a great haunting song. I'm gonna have to download it to hear the lyrics.

Mary Marvella said...

If you haven't read The Geometry of Sisters, you must! You won't forget it.

Leann said...

Great post, Liz. For each new book I do, I get a different album to listen to. When I put that music on, I'm immediately in the "zone". It also helps if there are other humans in the house and you want to block them out.

Liz Lipperman said...

Leann, as I said before, I envy you people who can write with noise.

Maybe I'll give soft music a try.

Thanks for commenting.

Liz Lipperman said...

Hey, Mary, somehow I missed your post. I will definitely read the Geometry of Sisters. Is it about music? I ask because I know you know I have a paranormal mystery about sisters.

Thanks for commenting.

Melanie Atkins said...

What a great post, Liz. I can picture the scenes you mentioned thanks to the songs. I don't usually work like that, but I'm willing to try. So powerful. And the TV shows (I'm thinking of Castle, in particular) and movies I like most use songs like that. Why shouldn't writers? Hmmm...

Donna Caubarreaux said...

I'll have to try that. I love the music when Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeline Stowe are running up the rock, and all you hear is a voice along with the music. Very powerful.

With the new technology, it's possible to burn a disk of certain music, like I know how to do that.

I have a son that could do it, if I bribe him.

Thanks for the great post.

Liz Lipperman said...

Melanie, thanks for commenting. I love Castle. I'm surprised you didn't mention Law and Order SVU!!!! Mel is multi-published in RS and addicted to that show. If I can talk her into it, one day I'll get her to guest blog about all her books.

Liz Lipperman said...

Donna, trust me, burning a CD is a piece of cake. If you can't figure it out, I'll do it for you.

Do you know the name of the song you're talking about with DDL and Madeline Stowe? I'd love to listen to it.

Music is so important in movie and TV, so why should we be surprised that it plays a big part in our writing?

Mary Martinez said...

Liz,
Evanescence is a great group. I listen to the CD when I'm writing wild. Along with Alanis Morissette and Gwen Stefani w/No Doubt. Yup, a lot. Oh and I do my Pure Funk CD, I dance around the house to that one.

Love scenes though are Brian Adams, James Taylor, Keb 'Mo, Eric Clapton.

Oh, and my music addiction can be embarrassing. One night--hope I haven't told this story--I needed to write and there was too many distraction (Grandkids) so I put on my huge wireless headphones (picture the 80's) and cranked up the tunes. Well I drink a lot while I write--not wine, well sometimes but mostly Diet Dr. Pepper--anyway as you can imagine I had to visit the girls room. I didn't bother to take off the headphones, they're wireless. And there was good rockin' song on. So after I'm done, I open the door beboppin' and there stands my husband in the hall looking right at me. Not going to live that one down in a long time!

The others who need quiet, I can't even imagine!
Mary

Liz Lipperman said...

LOL, Mary. Your story sounds like it is right out of Pretty Woman!! Why is it we always think we sound so good when we sing? And that we're singing quietly when we have head phones on?

It still freaks me out that you guys write while listening to music!!

And BTW, you'll never live that one down with us, either!

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