3.26.2019

Music Impressions

Overcoming loss of memories presents a significant challenge for authors. If you are stuck, unable to think of details associated with a time past, take a gander at your music playlist. Trying to access relevant memories sometimes springs from an act as simple as playing the right song.

For most of us, listening to music is associated with our youth. A soundtrack of popular music, no matter which era, was playing during our teenage years, and we tend to identify closely with that music. That defined our clan, so to speak. That tribal power is shown when we get up and dance at a reunion, no matter how ridiculous we may look. For an author’s purposes, youth also happens to be the time when most people venture into unexpected places.

An old song can instantly conjure up a specific place you were when you used to love it. For instance, I can access a wide assortment of locations around my hometown, based on driving during teenage years. Each of those speak to us in different ways, because we have associations with those places that extend far beyond the speaker delivering the sound. I can see what the dashboard of the car looked like, who was sitting in the passenger seat, how crowded the backseat of the car used to get. Beyond that, what about the open places outside that teenagers frequent before they are allowed to congregate in bars? What were the conversations held while lying on the grass under the stars? What longings were expressed?

While a song is only the starting point for such explorations, think of all the different songs you used to listen to. Each one can spawn a memory of an incident long buried in your mind. You may remember an odd flavor, maybe of a time when you weren’t acting like yourself at all. The music moved you. All of those sparks provide a richness of experience that you can use in your stories.

Among that panoply of memories, the most important for an author is how music allows you to remember your interactions with another person. Your past friends or lovers or relatives provide a rich lode from which you can pick out cast members for your story. What about that kooky girl who used to float in and out of your group of friends? What did she wear? What do people wear that makes them look kooky? You can extend such explorations in many directions, given the right musical prompt.

Exercise: When you listen to a song, one specific memory will usually pop into your mind right away. Hold onto that impression. Let your mind wander from that thought to other factors that surrounded it at that time. Whatever spills out, let it run in its direction. All of that train of thought is potential gold. Then write out the string as fast as you can, before your hand closes off the bright glow in your mind.

“Every composer knows the anguish and despair occasioned by forgetting ideas which one had no time to write down.”
—Hector Berlioz

Copyright @ 2019, John Paine


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