Musical Cues for the Creative Writer

Few creative mediums instantly set the tone and affect our emotions so immediately and powerfully as music. Think about the Indiana Jones theme. Now the Imperial March from Star Wars. You’re humming it, aren’t you?

How did they make you feel? Were they different emotions, or the same? Now think about Lily’s theme from the last Harry Potter movies. How do you feel now?

Music has a mysterious, yet undeniable power to transport the listener to a particular place or time, play on their memories, and stir up emotions and imagery. I find it an extremely useful tool to mentally “set the stage” for whatever type of scene or culture I happen to be writing.

Here are a few of my favorite scene-writing songs to get you started:

Action/fight scene: Anything Skillet (“Hero” and “Rise” are at the top of my list).

Sad/poignant scene: Lily’s Theme” from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2; “The Grey Havens” and “Breath of Life” from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Return of the King; Now We Are Free” from Gladiator. 

Happy/celebration: “Concerning Hobbits” from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and “Kingdom Celebration” from the Tangled soundtrack

Epic/Triumphant: “Main Theme” from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; “The Ring Goes South” from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Culture and setting plays such a critical role in establishing the mood and personality of a character or place. I use these songs or soundtracks to “cue” my brain to write from a particular cultural perspective and to evoke imagery. 

Asian: The Memoirs of a Geisha and Last Samurai soundtracks; “Blossoms” from Disney’s Mulan.

Norse/Germanic: “The Riders of Rohan” and “The King of the Golden Hall” from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; The Song of Durin” by Peter Hollens.

Arab/Middle Eastern: The Prince of Persia soundtrack, especially, “Journey Through the Desert.

Scottish/Celtic: The Outlander soundtrack, specifically, “The Skye Boat Song“; the soundtrack from Disney’s Brave; The Voice” by Eimear Quinn.

Indian/Latin: The 2016 live-action Jungle Book soundtrack, especially, “Jungle Run” and “Trust in Me” by Scarlett Johansson.

Appalachia/Historical: “The Hunger Games,” “Katniss Afoot” and “Rue’s Farewell” from the first Hunger Games movie;  “Hanging Tree” by Jennifer Lawrence from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1; “Kingdom Come” by The Civil Wars, Songs from District 12.

Historical/Western: The Firefly tv show soundtrack by Joss Whedon, especially the main theme; “Roundtable Rival” by Lindsey Stirling; songs featured on the Longmire tv show.

At the 2016 Realm Makers conference prolific writer T. Davis Bunn/Thom Locke spoke on “cue-ing” yourself to help your brain transition into the right mindset for your story. He told how he used music, a particular book that he always read from before starting writing, and other cues.

Music works for me. Something else may work for you. But if you’re struggling with immersing yourself in your story’s characters and culture, musical cues might just be exactly what you need.

Have you tried listening to certain types of music as you write? What are your favorites? Share so we can all enjoy!

Feature photo by Clem Onojeghuo.

One Comment Add yours

  1. briannamerrittwriting says:

    Here you go Karis! Your post is wonderful by the way. 🙂 Thank you for sharing it and here are some of my top picks for writing and musical cues. (The list kind of grew longer than I was expecting).

    Action Scenes: “Mombasa” and “Dream is Collapsing”, from Inception. “Motorcycle Chase”, “Six Weeks Ago”, “Bim Bam Smash”, and “Escape from Embassy” from Jason Bourne by John Powell. “Drive It Like You Stole It” and “Can’t Kill Us” by The Glitch Mob. “The Red Flower” from The Jungle Book, “Barge Apolycapse”, “Eight Floors Down”, “Taser Puppet”, and “I’m Going Home” from Salt. 
    “Lazarus” from Sherlock Season 3, “Hail to the King” by Avenged Sevenfold, The Verge of Total Chaos album by Danny Cocke, “Arena” from Tron:Legacy, “For God and For Country” from The Lone Ranger,  “The Causeway”, “The Winter Soldier”, and “Fury” from Captain America The Winter Soldier, “Th3 Awak3n1ng” by Ivan Torrent, “Drums of War”, “Take You Down”, and “Fists” from The Man From UNCLE, “The Way” by Zack Hemsey, “Gender” by Really Slow Motion, and “Shark Attack” and “Paddle Battle” from Soul Surfer. 

    Sad Scenes: These songs really play on your emotions which is what you want in your writing. As multiple famous authors have quoted, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader”. 
    “Together” from Eragon, “True Love’s Kiss” from Maleficient, “Loosing Your Memory” by Ryan Star, “Funeral Pyre” from The Bourne Supremacy, “Memories” by Within Temptation, “Circles” by Ludovico Einaudi, “Hurts Like Hell” by Fluerie, “Sound The Bugle” from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, “Save You” by The Moxy, “Lost It All” by Jill Andrews , “Illusion” by VNV Nation, “Tears of an Angel” by RyanDan, “Sleeping Sun” by Nightwish, and “Addicted to a Certain Lifestyle” from Sherlock Season 3. 

    Happy/Celebratory Scenes: Some songs just make you want to dance and throw a party!
    “Under A Violet Moon” by Blackmore’s Night (perfect for those elves who love to dance long after midnight has come and gone), “Blackheart” by Two Steps From Hell, “Lone Ranger” by Rachel Platten, “Moondance” and “Elan” by Nightwish, “Mood India” from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” by KT Tunstall, “Gotta Be Tonight” by Lifehouse, “Flying” from Peter Pan 2003, “Icarus” by Ivan Torrent, “Two Hornpipes” from Pirates of the Caribbean, and “Only the beginning of the Adventure” from Narnia. 

    Love Songs:
    “Never Let Me Go” by Florence + The Machine, “Fairy Dance” from Peter Pan 2003, “I’d Come For You” by Nickelback, “Never Knew I Had A Heart Till It Beat For You” by Karliene, “Running Up That Hill” by Placebo, “Can You Hold Me” by NF, “Broken” by Seether, “Don’t Let Me Go” by RAIGN, “Apologize” by OneRepublic, “Broken” by Leona Lewis, and “So Close” from Enchanted. 

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