Quid pro quo with Dr Lector

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Eric von Rothkirch has got the baddest name for a science fiction writer. Eric systematically posts about his creative process – something I consistently fail to do – and one recent post concerns ambient music, and though this is rather navel-gazing, again I refer my honourable readers to the answer I gave some months ago: one of the reasons for the existence of this blog is to document aspects of the creative life. And this-is-how-I-do-it aspects of writing are, I think, quite apposite. (A quick to aside to mention a great by the autopope and skiffy author Charles ‘Charlie’ Stross on the reality of making a living as a freelance service provider, i.e. a writer.)

For what it’s worth, I’m not 100% sure that the use of music during writing (or any other ‘enhancer’) is a good thing all the writin’ time. Part of me says, ‘No, Hocking, you’ve got to put yourself in the place of the reader; keep quiet and think.’ I’m also aware of research from cognitive psychology that suggests music is detrimental to performance in a given task (because your brain only has a certain amount of attentional resource, and if you direct some at appreciating a piece of music, you’ll have less remaining for your main task). That said, it is a fiction writer’s job – in my opinion – to take the reader through a series of emotional states. To do that, you need to infuse your scenes with emotional intensity, and just as an actor calls upon his or her experience to recreate an emotional state, the writer must do something similar. Music can help that.

Here are some of the things I listen to when writing (and I make sure I don’t listen to them when I’m not writing; they keep their status as ‘work music’). Like Eric, I think movie soundtracks are great. Music with a verbal component is just going to snare too many brain cycles, and good soundtracks are usually good because they’ve been designed to help create an emotional state.

  • The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy: Fantastic for chase scenes and bits where you want to feel excited as you write. (Perfect antidote to a Monday morning.)
  • Vertigo, North by North-West, Psycho: All these themes are crackers. Composed by Hitchcock‘s main man, Bernard Hermann, they are complex and well crafted pieces that will get you in the story mood. I dare anyone to listen to the theme from North by North-West and not run around their living room trying to avoid an imaginary aeroplane.
  • Hulk: A little derivative of the masterly Vertigo theme, but surprisingly deep. Moody.
  • The Silence of the Lambs: An absolutely brilliant score by Howard Shore, and genuinely frightening. Conjures memories of a cracking film and one of my favourite books (yes, I liked Hannibal too, and I loved Hannibal Rising; Thomas Harris is frickin’ awesome; Note to self: Write a post on how much I love Thomas Harris on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being my Macbook Pro and 1 being Russell Brand’s haircut).

As you were.

Published by

Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

6 thoughts on “Quid pro quo with Dr Lector”

  1. My writing music, when I use any, is Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. It’s interesting – as the mood of the music changes, so does the feel of my writing.

  2. Because I work as a radio blokey, I have millions and millions of productions CDs – I tend to make “mix” tapes of my favourite tracks to get me in the mood.

    When I was writing Adventure Eddy, I had a CD which included some key ’emotional’ bits of theme music and then some tracks I’d have liked to have had in the movie – believe it or not “South Bound and Down” was on there, from Smokey and the Bandit, for when Eddy and his mates race 600 miles across France in his old sports car to catch a TGV.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Simon. Do you get the urge to write about fallen priests and spinning heads? 😉

  4. Roland, what a great image! The writer bashing furiously at the keyboard while SATB blasts out. What a life!

    ‘We gotta loong way to go and short time to get there…’

    Yee-hah.

  5. Simon, ah… Tubular Bells. Surely you don’t have that one song on repeat ad nauseum?

    And I’m with ya Ian – soundtracks are the best background for writing.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Eric. I do worry about Simon 🙂 Love Tubular Bells though, it’s just that my brother played it ad nauseam when I was kid…

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