Musical inspiration

Do you listen to music when writing? I don’t like to be distracted when I’m writing and enjoy the feeling which comes when my study is quiet and suddenly I’m really “in the zone” and the story is taking off. This happens most often when writing dialogue, but I have a confession to make… I don’t actually enjoy writing dialogue! Of course, in keeping with the old mantra of “show don’t tell”, this is the most effective way of writing for pulling readers into our stories. Writing dialogue can feel long-winded and slow the pace when trying to build a backdrop for action. It is also hard work, and who likes that?

One way that I have found to ensure I keep engaged when writing is to actively choose background music that matches the scene I am trying to create. I started to do this when I was distance-studying for a degree; I found that the soundtrack to the film Event Horizon was just what I needed. That music was often subdued enough not to detract from my studies but energetic enough to keep me focussed on the task at hand. The soundtrack uses long sequences of fast-paced but subdued drumming that was just what I needed then!

Today I have two science fiction stories on the go: a short story entitled GRIT and a novel-length tale called An End Of Beginnings. GRIT has a folkey,open spaces feel and I am using Jon Boden’s “Songs from the Floodplain” to build an ambience while I’m writing.

‘An End Of Beginnings’ is both the longest and the most complex story I have attempted to date. It is in part a tale of survival, a “road trip”, a journey of self-realisation for the characters, and an opening foray into speculations about cosmology and religion. That is a very mixed bag of over-arching themes and goals!

To stay appropriately focussed two soundtracks are proving very helpful: firstly Jerry Goldsmith’s 2-CD complete soundtrack to Alien – this film is an enduring favourite of mine and the soundtrack stands as an atmospheric masterpiece in its own right.

When I’m not listening to ‘Alien’ I am currently playing either Marc Streitenfeld’s soundtrack to Prometheus (a somewhat coincidental choice) or Marco Beltrami’s 2011 offering from the remake of The Thing – “God’s Country Music” from that album is one of my all time favourite pieces of music.

On other occasions I will choose different musical styles in order to actively develop a particular emotional state for other pieces of writing. Mozart is always uplifting, Ultravox can be energising, whilst “Chant: Music for Paradise” from the Cistercian Monks Of Stift Heilgenkreuz is very calming.

The next time you are writing why not try actively choosing background music yourself?

Published by Lee J. Russell

Often having a Cold War influence, my stories explore desperate situations that take people to their physical and emotional limits. Find me on Twitter as @LeeJ_Russell or at

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