Friday, July 3, 2015

Writing to Film Scores: Emotion from Music to Paper - A Guest Post by Susannah Metzler

I'd like to introduce you to fellow blogger Susannah Metzler. Everyone wave! Okay, stop, you look really weird waving at a computer screen. You may remember me mentioning Susannah and her blog launch here. Today she has graciously agreed to guest post about the link between music, emotions, and writing and how to use it to better our storytelling. It's going to be awesome:
Think of your favorite movie. Why did you like it? The storyline? The characters, the ideas? Betcha you like it mainly because of the emotion. Let me explain what I mean by that: When you watch a movie and you are overtaken by certain feelings (i.e. sorrow, fear, suspense, triumph), the film score composer has successfully done his job. This is not unlike the writer's job as he conjures emotions with his skill in writing.

Try this: Watch one of your favorite scenes from one of your favorite movies and pay close attention to the soundtrack. Do it again without. Without soundtrack, did it seem odd, somewhat dry and maybe even boring? A waste? That's what I mean about the importance of emotion in movies. The person who has the duty of conjuring those emotions is called the film score composer. A few of my favorite soundtracks are from Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, and Narnia. Personally, I do think I would like Star Wars 50% less if there was no music or if the music was horrible in bringing about the emotion. But thanks to the composer, my favorite music artist John Williams, it is my top fandom.

Here's another exercise. Watch the "New Tail" scene from How to Train Your Dragon: the video below. Watch it first muted, and then watch it again with the sound (this video I found has the music boosted, which this scene definitely needed).
I use this particular example because first off, the music helps you to feel the excitement: Hiccup has made a tail for Toothless. It helps you to feel the suspense: is this tail going to work or will Toothless be forever unable to fly? And then the music changes into an amazing sweep of joy, triumph, and even humor, as Toothless's wings drop in shock at the familiar feeling, and he soars into the air, with Hiccup hanging onto his tail with all he's got: "IT'S WORKING!!!" At that particular moment, I feel like I could cry, laugh, cheer, or just sit and smile; this dragon, where before he was doomed to stay on ground, is brought back to life. The music just helps to tell the story, along with a much more emotional and dramatic effect. (Fun fact: that song New Tail is what made me want to watch the movie.) You see now? Movies just wouldn't be the same. The music ties the audience to the characters in the film and what they're going through. It's the bridge.

Now, what if we reverse the process? What if you could listen to music and write whatever the induced emotion spurs you to write? You will listen to the emotion, and, with your skill for writing what you feel, you can put that emotion you hear onto paper. When I first started doing this, I was in a particularly creative mood. Pandora was playing The Imperial March (doesn't get better). I felt like some evil, awesome hero, and I couldn't stay still. I tapped my foot. I marched in a chair (if you can imagine). I whistled along, tapped my fingers to the beat. I opened up an empty document and started writing a scene about a villain returning in triumph, his soldiers snapping to attention, the gallantry in the air … then the song ended and I was forced to stop writing. I read my little paragraph. And I wanted to do it again.

I wrote to "The Wardrobe" from Narnia. I wrote to "Thor Kills the Destroyer." I wrote to "Introduce a Little Anarchy" as well (that was fun). Writing ideas galore. Pandora kept feeding the songs and I kept writing.

One of my favorite paragraphs I wrote to a film score is a longish one ... the song was long and I rewrote the paragraph until I could read it at normal pace in time to the music so that it seemed like the music was actually written to go with that scene. The song was "The Black Rider" from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Now, I don't usually edit like that to make sure it fits the song perfectly. The way I do it is, as soon as the song starts, I start writing whatever would fit what I was listening to at the moment. I keep writing until the song is done (gotta type fast), and usually I go back and edit misspelled words, but I like keeping the original.

David Corbett is a best selling author who wrote The Art of Character. In this book, he has a few things to say about writing to music as well, in the context for creating a character: "Using music for character inspiration can sometimes be more helpful, because most pieces of music manage to engender more than one mood, and they also move in time, thus suggesting the same mobility and capacity for change that people have." In writing his own book, he listened to a piano piece by Fauré to help him capture contrasting elements to a character he was developing; "… it was precisely the use of the music in contrast to the rough-edged first impression I had of this man that made consideration of the piece helpful." Which is another way that music can help you in writing.

You should try this. Listen to film scores (the best play on Pandora) and you can, with the emotion from the music, write whatever the music spurs you to write. It's fun, easy, and, after all, you get to listen to epic music while you write epic scenes. These can end up being good inspiration and prompts for your stories as well. And it's good typing exercise because you gotta type fast … or the song will be done before you know it!

Check out Hannah's playlists on her YouTube channel. One playlist is a set of film scores that she listens to while writing moving scenes, and another is a set of film scores she listens to while writing action scenes in her novel, which is a great idea. Do you like listening to music while writing? What kind? I'd love to hear different ideas and alternatives from fellow writers.

See, I told you it would be awesome. Susannah has several other helpful and fun blog posts over at her place, Tea with Tumnus. Don't forget to check it out and subscribe!

Related articles:
11 Songs To Listen To While Writing Moving Scenes
My Top 10 Songs for Writing Action Scenes
6 Easy Ways to Gain Writing Inspiration

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  1. Nice post. Music is a powerful device that always enhances the quality of my writing :) Writing outside in my garden is also inspiring, especially in late spring.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I love hearing what other writers use for their inspiration. Writing in a garden or outside is a great idea. Being out in nature helps.

  2. Ramona, I'm with you when it comes to music and gardens. I pump up my stream of film scores when I write. Helps me get mellow and creative. I will check out Hannah's YouTube stream. Thanks for focusing on music in your post, Susannah.

  3. music store Wonderful blog post. This is absolute magic from you! I have never seen a more wonderful post than this one. You've really made my day today with this. I hope you keep this up!

  4. Terrific post. I am always searching for that perfect accompaniment to visualizing. I'm certainly going to take a fresh look at the film scores I find most moving. Thanks for writing!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Han! Susannah is an amazing writer. =)

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  7. Definitely worth a shot. Next time i her a song i start writing..

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