Hearing a Novel: Creating a Novel Playlist

music note figure

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The book Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult has a line that simply reads, “Every life has a soundtrack.” In recent days, I’ve become a convert to the idea that every book has one, too.

I understand that this is by no means a new or original idea. I remember giving it some thought a while back when I wandered through Stephanie Meyer’s website. She actually posted a playlist for each novel, sort of a snapshot of the music she listened to while writing. At the time, I remember thinking that it was quite odd for her to post such a thing. Who would want to know what she listened to while she wrote? What difference did the music make since it wasn’t as if it was a movie (yes, I realize it would eventually become a movie, but this was way before that point). A novel is a visual experience rather than an auditory one, isn’t it?
I suppose I’ve betrayed myself as a reader in that last line. I am a visual person, so when I read, I don’t generally “hear” the book. I guess I’m a visual writer as well, focused on the words rather than the music that informs them. Maybe that’s why this soundtrack idea was really challenging for me to wrap my brain around. However, this playlist thing seems to be taking over the literary world. Erin Morgenstern and Jennifer Egan, both best-selling authors whose work I’ve enjoyed, even have playlists on Spotify to give context to their books.
In wandering some of my favorite writing blogs, I found out that the idea of a playlist, or soundtrack, for a novel has become fairly commonplace, but I was still a bit curious about why someone would go through the trouble to do this. After all, isn’t writing a novel about WORDS rather than music?!
After a good deal of research, I think I’m starting to get it. Young Adult writer Christina Farley says she creates a playlist to establish the mood of a piece and to maintain a consistent tone. I wasn’t conscious of this, but I have sort of accidentally done this in my first two novels. I am a devout Pandora listener, and I was rather perplexed when what I normally listened to—the songs that were the backdrop for Novel #1—were far from what I wanted to listen to as I wrote Novel #2. I’m not much of a country music fan, but somehow, I’m drawn to certain country artists as I write this time. I couldn’t have explained why if someone asked me… but I’m starting to understand now!
So, okay, maybe I have some background music in my head for my books, but a playlist? Really? Do I need to go that far? Rob Reid writes in Wired Magazine that he found each of his characters had a different playlist, which helped to define them—and some of this characters even have very different musical tastes than he does. Ink Out Loud has this incredible discussion of how to think about the playlist for a novel, including themes for specific scenes, characters, and even the places depicted in the book. When I really got thinking about it, one of my favorite novels from 2012, written by a former Miami University colleague of mine Jason Skipper, Hustle, was saturated with music references. I’m not sure if Jason has posted a playlist for the book somewhere, but I’m sure he easily could. I’ve even heard he’s been persuaded to sing during his readings to bring that playlist into the foreground.
Whoa…  my mind is reeling. Each character could have a song? Or maybe each scene? My book could be like a movie? This sounds a bit overwhelming—yet I’m really intrigued.
Suddenly I’m looking back at my first novel and hearing a solo piano playing behind Preston’s words, something feisty—and a bit sultry—blaring out of Tess’s radio as she drives to her photo shoot, and the strains of something a bit melancholy tinged with a bit of anger as Grace reads the letter from Jon’s lawyer. Suddenly, I’m HEARING my novel… and it sounds amazing!

The best resources I’ve found so far for creating a playlist for a novel include Pandora, Playlist, and Spotify. Do you include a playlist on your website or blog for your books? What has worked best for creating and sharing that playlist?
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