Wednesday, September 23, 2009
That is NOT to say I don’t like or enjoy music—I love it. It just isn’t something that is easily filed in my brain. HOWEVER, I think for writing books there are some fabulous uses of musical references.
In A Field of Darkness, which I reviewed a couple weeks ago, there is a dive bar with a juke box which is used really nicely to contrast the world views of Madeline, the heroine, and Kenny, the dive bar owner who is a friend, though of a different generation (an ex-military man). They bicker about what he has on it, and without ever having to give huge amounts of background, we can easily see deep differences in these people that give us clues who they are.
I think musical preferences can relay very quickly some important information about who a character is, how and where they were raised, what they value… Classical music junkies are likely to be either elite or classically educated. Country music listeners can be believed to hold certain wholesome (if slightly red-necked) beliefs, or else come from a town (or state) where everybody knows everybody’s business. Pop music. Rap. Heavy metal. Punk rock. All of it says something about the listener.
The mood of a jazz bar is definitively different from the mood of a hard rock club or a country bar—the kind of trouble a person might find is very different, too. A reference to what is playing in the background shortens the description you need to include by pages.
Pop cultural music can set your story in an era, without having to identify a date. There is a danger to this if you want your book to be less time bound—choosing bands with better longevity might help, but with LEGACY, I am setting the story in the early 80s in Portland, and my cues are musical (Quarterflash, Portland’s one-hit wonder, was big at the time), and that Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is still called Union Avenue. I needed that timing because I wanted it before the Iron Curtain fell, but I chose the clues I did, so as not to be heavy handed.
I’d love to hear how others have included music in their work, or about works you’ve read where it really added (or detracted) from the story.