For those who don’t know The Trial of the Kouzinns is a high fantasy novella I’m currently planning out set in the world of Batomi. The rough draft of which will have monthly chapters posted on my Patreon. More details here!
This post is about how music and worldbuilding come together for me. I know a lot of writers who can’t write with music that contain vocals. I’m the opposite. I love to have music playing while I write scenes. Sometimes the music I’m listening/chair-dancing to is just whatever I’m loving at the moment. However I also often make playlists for novels I’m working on and these are more specific. The songs are selected for many different reasons: themes, worldbuilding, scene soundtracks, inspiration, character motivations and more.
Here are four examples in three categories.
Personal Character Themes: Some songs are about specific characters, how they feel at the the moment, what keeps them going, something that speaks to the core of who they are.
Bibi Bourelly – Ego
This is Constance’s personal theme song. She feels misunderstood by the family that she loves. She feels out of place and pulled between two worlds, longing to do well in one world while still wishing it was different. She knows the world is unfair but she still believes herself to be excellent enough to achieve over all of it. This is all fine and dandy but in some ways it blinds her to things she should have been noticing all along. It takes something big to change Constance’s worldview but it’s important that she is willing to change it. What she won’t change is thinking that she’s great and worth it because of who she is not because of whatever superstitious things her mother is spouting.
Sometimes I’ll listen to this song when I’m trying to understand how Constance would react to a situation and to underscore her confidence when writing tough scenes she has to push through. Having a personal theme song for a character can give you some unique insight into that character and remind you of the way they would react to certain situations rather than how you (the writer) would react.
Specific Scene Soundtracks: These songs often act like movie soundtracks and outline certain scenes. They’re useful for capturing the emotion and pace of a scene.
Janelle Monae – Violet Stars, Happy Hunting
This song is a theme for one of the early scenes – a chase scene. However in a lot of ways it is also acts as a theme for the novella The Trial of the Kouzinns as a whole. The first novella is very much a time sensitive plot that takes place over the course of five days. It starts out a little slower but becomes frenetic and fast-paced very quickly and stays that way until the end. If I get stuck on the scene for whatever reason the song acts as a reminder of the pace the scene is supposed to set and the emotions I want to evoke in the reader. These kinds of songs can also help with visualization in a scene.
World-Building/Framing Music: These songs say something about the world or culture I’m writing itself. Sometimes the music is what I imagine music to sound like in the world and sometimes they represent an aspect of that world.
Los Tigres Del Norte – La Reina Del Sur
I love this song, it tells the story of Teresa Mendoza, a woman who rises from a money changer in Sinaloa to ruling a criminal empire that spans the entire south of Spain hence her title La Reina del Sur – The Queen of the South. It’s based on a novel that then became one of the top telenovelas of all time La Reina del Sur which is pretty great (a sequel La Reina del Sur 2 is coming out in 2018 and I can’t wait!). It’s currently getting an American version on USA called Queen of the South which is good as well (TW: sexual assault for both versions of the show). This is on my playlist for two reasons, I wanted the culture I am creating to be one that creates songs to honor people and tell their stories which this song does. Also the story within the song has some (very small) similarities with the arc I’m planning for the three Batomi novellas to tell. Mostly in terms of a young woman rising to power in a criminal organization.
Lianne La Havas – Good Goodbye
This song is in a scene in my head where Constance is home resting for a few minutes before taking off again and she hears her older sibling singing. So technically this could belong to the second category but the song is a theme for the world. Cultures change and shift naturally, some things fall out of vogue or become more popular, beliefs are born and die. However in Batomi this is being forced by a corrupt King who is trying to shape the culture into something that benefits him, bringing in elements of misogyny, colorism, homomisia, strict binary gender definitions and other things that the people of Batomi evolved past centuries ago. The mourning in this song is for a culture that is not naturally dying but is being murdered and what it is being turned into against its will.
These are just a few ways in which I use music to help me with my writing. I hope I gave you some ideas or at least introduced you to some awesome music you hadn’t encountered before. If your interested in reading the draft chapters of The Trial of the Kouzinns, the first Batomi novella they start going up on my patreon the first week of November.
If you wanna see the whole Batomi playlist on Spotify? It’s here.