Firstly, I need to state how incredibly perfect it was that this topic was assigned to me the same week Taylor Swift dropped RED (Taylor’s Version). “All Too Well” (Taylor’s Version) (10 Minute Version) is just begging to be put on your playlist, am I right? For me, there’s also the fact that “Red” was the catalyst that pushed me to pursue writing stories. Well, technically it was a dark-haired, tall, gorgeous, lead guitarist worthy of a Taylor Swift song. But since I wasn’t particularly gifted with the songwriting bug no matter how much I tried, I guess he’ll just have to settle for a book written about him. Luckily though, I’m finally over it. Writing about it and growing up definitely helped me move on.
So if you’re anything like me (minus the mortifying crush from band camp when you were 16), music is part of your process. I’ve been known to float aimlessly around YouTube, but then curate playlists for my readers later. Here’s how I like to construct my Spotify playlists.
Tell your story in song form on your playlist.
Think about the introductory chapters and the feelings you want to evoke. Is there a song that particularly fits a character to a T? Or maybe there was a particular moment that you could just hear a certain tune playing in the background as if it were a movie. Play into the visceral sensations you get when writing (and later, for your reader when they’re experiencing your story). Dive in a little deeper in the pivotal moments, like your climax or fight scene. For anything romantic, I highly recommend anything from RED (Taylor’s Version). Albums like this are great to model your playlist from, because they incorporate so many diverse moods. You’ve got the tear-jerking “All Too Well” contrasted by bubbly love songs like “Message in a Bottle”. So take your pick, and make it matter to your readers as much as it does to you.
Play around with different genres and styles.
Don’t feel like you have to stay in any one genre. I’ll tell you right now that I’ve personally got a collection of pop punk, pop rock, and even a sprinkling of post-hardcore alt rock (for my angstiest fight scenes). Don’t believe me? Take a look at my playlist for book one of my time-travel coming of age novel, Forgetting What I Couldn’t Remember HERE. As Vera finds herself (and her past self) at the intersection of who she was and who she wants to be, these songs color the moments. You can even show different facets of your main character’s personality. Maybe they’re mostly bubble gum pop, but have moments that are more than a little… metal. Take that as you will.
Monitor your headspace for your playlist.
Are you choosing songs that make you feel anxious and uptight while you’re writing? Maybe it’s great for the story but not so great for you – and that’s totally okay! Save it to share with your readers later so they can experience how you felt in the moment. Or maybe you find that you get more work done with instrumental tracks – that’s also a great way to keep your head free while feeling all the feels. For my editorial work, I usually find playlists of full-album instrumental piano covers on YouTube. Or if I’m feeling particularly stressed, white noise like rain or waves can help you find your center again. For more help focusing your writing session, read this recent article HERE.
Highlight your centerpiece with a book trailer!
This is something a bit extra, but so much fun! With even the simplest software like iMovie (or heck, even TikTok), you can layer up videos or photos of moments related to your story. Adding music behind it elevates the experience while giving your reader something unique to grab onto. I definitely would recommend an instrumental track for this, but you do you! No one can tell your story the way you can!
When you think about it, music and storytelling often goes hand in hand. While music is a sonic experience, it carries the same depth that stories do (just in a different way). You also might think of stories like the longform of what a four-minute song might be. In this way, music presents an intriguing platform that introduces complex emotion in bite-sized chunks. Books offer the chance to expand on those bite-sized pieces. Readers can rent an apartment in your world, instead of just driving through. Regardless of the amount of time spent in the place you’ve created, music can be a powerful backdrop – so turn it up loud.