1. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    songs in your writings.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Garball, May 27, 2013.

    I was wondering of others used specific songs regardless or popularity in their writings based on how they fit the mood or MC.
    In the following example I used a more popular song (if your old enough to know), but the point remains. Or, do you just say he turned on the radio?

    Stan put the 2112 cassette in the deck rewound it all the way and hit the play button. Neighbors be damned, he lifted every lever on his equalizer to the max. "Right across the board to eleven," Nigel Tufnel would say. The bowl on the slide was filled with swag with some seeds and stems. Stan wasn't embarrassed that he had to pull the couch cushions up to find enough litter for a proper hit. The room was filled with harmonious sci-fi sounding music, almost extraterrestrial or like a moon landing. Stan found his lighter and held the flame at the bowl and filled the tube with smoke. He pulled out the slide and emptied the smoke right at forty-eight seconds when Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson began their parts. He didn't know what kind of pills that girl gave him but he was totally spaced by a minute and a half when the holy triumvirate that is Rush really began to jam and Peart takes off on the drums. It was one of Stan's favorite songs, but he would be dead before the twenty minutes and thirty-four seconds were over.​

    Yes, it is a long example, but I think the song is a perfect backdrop to this scene....But only if you know it. Just like using unknown terminology in writing, does the use of specific songs have the same impact? Is a twenty year old going to stop reading and listen to 2112? Is it better to just say a classic rock song was jamming on the radio?
     
  2. fallenn
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    fallenn Member

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    I've read few books that have songs in them that I've never heard of and I think it can work if you do it right. Still, if the name of the song is specifically given and revealed, I usually go an listen to it if I don't know it yet, cause I know that the writer wanted to have that song and only that song right there in the story and I believe it's worth listening to, then. Of course some people will just read it and ignore it but that doesn't mean it works any less. Although, describing the song tiny bit more in the text may just fix the problem of not knowing the song in advance.

    So I personally would go and listen to it if I didn't know it already.

    I hope that helped somehow. :)
     
  3. blackstar21595
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    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

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    Don't do it. All the good writers I read never used song lyrics. And one of them made a short story that had chars dancing to music. Don't do it. Why waste words on song lyrics? You, the writer, should get the mood or the MC's feelings across through your writing.

    If anything, you can say what kind of music the MC wants to hear, but don't say the song lyrics. And it's different from unknown terminology because the writer uses certain terms which are probably important to the story. And why wouldn't one look up a word they didn't know?
     
  4. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    Never said anything about writing lyrics. Talking about using specific songs the MC knows and loves in the setting.
     
  5. blackstar21595
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    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

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    No. Only the type of music would suffice. If you mention a song name, it weakens the story's grip on the reader.
     
  6. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    Koontz often uses beetles song names and lyrics in his books "dark rivers of the heart" was one he used to great effect. the sociopath/psychopathic assassin did a clean-up job while listening to "baby it's you" one of my own scenes has the radio skipping to "disco inferno" just before a guy slowly starts burning to death.
     
  7. BUDDY GORGEOUS
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    BUDDY GORGEOUS Active Member

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    One particular author who comes to mind that uses alot of music in his books is George Pelecanos and to great effect. Bit of a nut with my music so when I come across a part where a title is named and maybe some lyrics then I have the song in my head and it does set the mood somewhat. Dont do it with every scene though haha. Its not a movie. Its a book you are writing. How you include the music in your scene is up to you. Experiment and play around with it. If you shorten it down and make a punchy sentence when your character is listening to something instead of a few lines, maybe that would work better.
     
  8. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I disagree with blackstar - I believe there are times when it is appropriate to name the song. It can be effective as long as it is used sparingly. However, I do think this only works well for (a) well-known songs or (b) when you already know the sort of music your audience is going to recognise. e.g. you can expect that most people will recognise Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal; but if your story is targeted at an audience who you expect will be familiar with Stockholm's music scene then you could get away with naming a lesser known song such as Overworld's Until We're Dead.


    You were quite specific with your example, Garball, and if you are going to pay that much close attention to the track (I wouldn't recommend it!) then I think it would be better to let the reader know exactly which song is playing.
     
  9. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    Blackstar, I disagree with that, Joe Hill used songs in his story Heart Shaped Box, which in itself is a reference to Nirvana's song of the same name
     
  10. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, it depends whether you are a pedant for "not ageing your work" or not. In '50 Shades of Grey' (I'm only using it as an example because of it's enormous success), the author described a lot of classical music, as a perfect backdrop to the scenes, but she never named them because the POV character didn't know what they were. Later, '50 Shades' franchise released a hugely popular CD with those songs.

    Perhaps you can describe the music without naming it, or if you don't mind dating your cultural references, name them as well. One of my favourite crime authors Jo Nesbo does it all the time, and it doesn't distract at all.

    I found that my protagonist is a Morrissey fan, it's just how it is :D
     
  11. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm personally not fond of it, but bear in mind that not everyone who is in your audience is going to be familiar with the song, so depending too much on the song for mood/effect is going to be wasted effort. It's also, as others mentioned, going to date your story unless it's a song that obviously was popular long before the story takes place.

    Basically, don't let your enthusiasm for a particular song or group or even style of music get away from you. Same goes for any non-writing hobby. Make sure its placement in your book is needed, appropriate, and enhances the story, and isn't just author indulgence.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    having characters be music nuts and going on about what and who they're listening to bores and bugs the bleep outa me and i simply skip over all that gluck till the tiresome author gets back to the story... i suspect i'm in the majority, book-buyer/reader-wise...
     
  13. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @maia: No need to go on about it, for sure, but mentioning a song if it suits the narrative is perfectly acceptable and found in lots of bestselling novels (that I read anyway) :)
     
  14. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with you. Brett Easton Ellis had me skipping pages all through American Psycho. I do not want to go on musical tangents myself. What I am trying to weigh in the balances is how much better the scene would be when the reader knows the songs versus how detracting it is if the reader doesn't know. Take my example and use it as the opening for a short story. Here, I have used one of the greatest progressive rock epics of all times from one of the most musically talented bands and it is obvious from the replies that there are people who never heard this song and might possibly have never heard of the band. But, the way it is written, you know the song or not; either way the reader knows there is music in the background. Does the detraction some readers might have from not knowing outweigh the 'awesomeness' that the readers who do know might experience?
     
  15. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Frankly, I wasn't sure who all the names referred to - other characters already mentioned in the story or members of the band or someone in the music industry - so confusion reigned and it was more "irritated sigh-skip over-try to make sense of the edited version" than anything. Not really the reaction you want from a reader. Personally, if the music were that important, I'd work with the style of the music rather than the specific song.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'm with shadow on this... that was exactly my reaction to the way-too-much [for me] detail of both the music and the pot-smoking...
     
  17. MaillouxB
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    MaillouxB New Member

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    If there were ever a time to add music to a scene, it HAS to convey some sort of mood; I finished reading through "January First" for a book club, and the author Michael Schofield quoted the Beatles: "Try to see it your way- Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong." This is right before he's about to learn whether his daughter has schizophrenia or not, and he's just trying to understand her world. His situation lines up perfectly with the lyrics, which justifies his use. In terms of how the original post used it, then the music has to describe or emphasize the mood; chaos could be represented by loud crashing drum solos, calm, peaceful scenes by soothing violins, so on and so fourth. If you're going to use music or songs in writing, then they have to have meaning, not just act as filler.
     

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