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.