Soundtracks to Literature

Movies and books have a lot in common: they bring stories to large audiences, they are meant to transport us somewhere new or highlight something old, they entertain us, and they can have profound effects on all manner of people. What’s one thing that movies always have that we almost never see with books, however? Soundtracks!

Like movies and novels, music can draw out just as much emotion from a listener, and can be used to strengthen present emotions as is seen in the compositions of brilliant modern movie scorers such as as John Williams (Star Wars) or Hans Zimmer (Batman Trilogy). So, shouldn’t the idea of a soundtrack go hand in hand with a powerful novel? I think so.

While this idea is not unprecedented (see the autobiography of Mötley Crüe’s bassist Nikki Sixx for one example), literary soundtracks are increasingly rare. Why is this? Is it because it’s more difficult due to readers moving at their own pace? Or is it because readers don’t want to think they’re being led to how to feel? I think both of those answers have merit, but I also disagree with them.

WhenI finished my first long-term piece (about 140 pages), it was a strange feeling to be done with the story and done with my characters. So, to spend more time with them, I decided to score my writing. At key points in the novel, I placed a track number in the header of a page that corresponded to a song on an accompanying CD. I then reread my work and followed the cues I had added. I loved it, and that’s saying something when it comes to me talking about my own work. Here’s an example: First read the following paragraph, and then read it while listening to this.

“She saw above her what looked like a shadow come to life. Laughlin’s shrouded figure pounced on top of Ærinndis. Pinning her wrists with his left hand, Laughlin reached behind his back and drew a one meter, double-edged blade. With a hum, electricity arced form the hilt and engulfed the blade. He made to slit Ærinndis’ throat, but was knocked off balance by a combat knife that came sailing through the air, the blade hitting the side of Laughlin’s neck.”

Which felt more powerful, without the music or with it? With the addition of Hans Zimmer’s genius composing, I find this scene holds a lot more tension, creates a sense of urgency and pulls the reader through faster. What do you think of it? Should more books look into soundtracks? Or is this the worst idea you’ve ever heard? Sound off in the comments!

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