I know some writers who outline their novels . . . after the first draft is written. They go back and look over what they’ve got, outlining it to help themselves figure out what exactly they’re trying to do, and where it doesn’t yet work. And it came to me just recently that, you know, I do the same thing.
It’s called making a soundtrack.
I talked about this a bit with Midnight Never Come, which is where the practice jumped from RPGs to novels. It started as a mood-music thing, but when you think about it, sitting down to figure out what characters and events deserve songs, and what kinds of songs they require, is basically like creating a musical outline of the novel. Trying to make my choices, I find myself pondering what mood a scene is trying to communicate — is it more ominous or mournful? Is that thing that happens an end-punch to a sequence, or a turning point halfway through it? I’m mostly working from film scores, which are great for this kind of thing; I can be finicky about the shape of the songs I pick, trying to find one whose contours match the events I want it to describe.
Those are my major requirements in picking a song, but there’s a secondary game I sometimes play, hidden beneath the surface. I used a track from Henry V for this particular thing, so if I use something else from the same score over there, will that create an appropriate thematic connection . . . I end up pondering linkages in an unexpected way. And there’s a wealth of ironies hidden in some of the source titles, too; I don’t pick songs based on their original names, but when those line up, it amuses me. (Two non-spoiler examples: Lune’s song this time around is “One Mistress, No Master” from Elizabeth, and the High Court of Justice, which put Charles I on trial, is “The King Is Dead” from Ennio Morricone’s Hamlet score.)
Oh, and then there are the utterly obscure musical in-jokes from Memento. This book bears only a distant relationship to the game — it pretty much consists of the Great Fire being more than just a bunch of flames — but I re-purposed several pieces from that soundtrack to appropriate effect. I mean, if a song is good for the Black Death, why not use it for a later outbreak of the plague? Not that 99.99% of the world will ever know those connections are there.
Some of it, though, is annoyingly difficult. I don’t know why, but I have a devil of a time picking songs for certain characters, protagonists especially. I’m not happy with my current choices for either Antony or Jack, though Lune’s is good. (It’s like trying to pick for the Merrimans in Memento. I never liked about three-quarters of my choices there, but they were the best I could do.) Maybe it’s just that characters are too complex in my head to be reduced to a piece of music — I don’t know.
Anyway, this gives me something to do while I wait for my edit letter. Though I’d be making faster progress if my computer would stop choking on iTunes . . . .