One of the most common things people ask a writer is where do you get your ideas? How did you think of this… or what happened to you to make you come up with this…? Can you imagine the wild speculations or claims that people must ask Stephen King about?
For me, it has always been an easy answer: I am just wired to ask “What If” and “Why” when I listen to music. My head fills with images and instantly creates a background story. Some writers are inspired by people they meet or places they have been to, I am inspired by what I hear in songs.
As an example, an essential part of my exercise routine is to slip on my wireless headphones and start my laps (walking around a local park’s pond at night). I do this for several reasons.
One, I always get energy and drive from my music — not just because I listen to heavy metal, dubstep and techno either. I let the beat and pace of the song guide my output. I will walk faster, run harder or do that elusive “one more rep” with the weights (when at the gym). It’s my “invisible personal trainer” you might say.
Two, the music helps distract me from the monotony of working out which I think is the normal reason most people wear headphones.
But the third reason I have to have music is that when I am into a song my mind naturally delves into a story. What is the inspiration for this song, my brain wonders. Was the singer wronged by someone and thus this song? What would make someone feel this way?
Then if I am working on a particular story or maybe looking for a new one, I try to find inspiration behind the lyrics. What would my story hero do if this happened to him? It helps me explore different paths that I hadn’t thought to go down and helps me think of new angles for the characters in my stories.
A long time ago I read that Quentin Tarantino had a massive vinyl record collection and that when he works on his stories, he plays his albums looking for inspiration. Recently in an article:
There’s nothing immediately iconic about either the songs or the images they respectively soundtrack, but, in Tarantino’s own words, picking the right song for the right scene…
“is about as cinematic a thing as you can do. It works in this visceral, emotional, cinematic way that’s special. And when you do it right and you hit it right, then you can never really hear that song again without thinking about that image from the movie…”
Here is the whole article: Quentin Tarantino and the Art of the Badass Soundtrack
Music by its very nature is interpretive and thus a treasure trove of ideas. I have actually created characters from songs too. For instance, the band called Stone Sour has a song I love called Made of Scars. It fit perfectly with an upcoming story character I have who is an ostracized warrior and deemed “unnecessary”. His society has thrown him to the side during a time of peace. He’s covered in battle scars and he can proudly relay the story behind each of them. They are not shameful, they are his badges of honor. While this isn’t the only part to this character, it does add depth to him and gives you some inclination to his reactions and behaviors.
Now not every part of a story will be relatable to a song or a lyric of course, but when you are struggling and looking for some inspiration, try putting on some music, relax and then just open up to the words. When your well runs dry, ask the “What If”s and the “Why”s and you will find your story behind the images that come to your mind.
Leave me a comment if you have ever found inspiration in a song? Or tell me what you do for inspiration or to bust through a period of writer’s block?