• Jabe Stafford

Write Good: Playlists For Writing Fantasy

Write Good: An Absurd Storytelling And Adventure Blog

Playlists For Reading & Writing Fantasy

Tentacle rabbits.

That’s not a band name. BUT... music can make even tentacle rabbits relatable.

They say, “Get all five senses involved in the story.”

This is not permission to go licking walls so your characters know how the walls taste. Pretty damn sure that won’t ever come up in any story.

Nor is it permission to literally live EVERYTHING your characters go through. No breaking a bone so you know what it feels like. No tying yourself to a chair and locking yourself in a basement for two days so you get the “full” horror victim experience.

Absurdity aside, including music in your writing can do a shiz-ton for your story. Some good tunes set the mood, evoke an atmosphere, and enrich the experience for readers even if they don’t know the specific instrument or genre of music used in the writing. A character’s favorite music—or their reaction to a song they friggin’ love or hate—shows a lot about them, and it saves you the trouble of having to shoehorn in klunky awkward scenes that show a character’s personality in a forced way. Taking the time to download some ear candy and arrange it into a playlist that fits your book is dadgum good for the mental health AND for getting you back into the swing of writing if reality intrudes.

The first moment a person hears music, it draws the attention like a mega-mighty mind magnet. Go into a grocery store, a favorite bar or a new one, or just stroll down the street and your ears perk up when a song floats into them. You turn your head to search for the source. Memories pop into mind if they’re tied to the song, and if not, the rhythm and the instruments at least sound familiar enough for you to recognize some. Music in stories is the exact same.

Now, it’d be NICE if we could include playlists IN our books themselves so readers could click or tap on the song name where it appears in the story so they can hear it. BUT we aint’ that technologically advanced yet. Music is associated with places, with experiences, and with expectations. So throw a jukebox into a bar scene (or an airship battle) with a jazz tune playing. Have a character almost get hit by a car with a tentacle rabbit blasting metal or rap. How those characters react to the music or the incident that goes with it will ground your readers and maybe even offer some shared experience to connect character to reader!

No, this is not permission to breed a tentacle rabbit and give it a car with a stereo system.

People have ABSOLUTELY FRICKIN’ PASSIONATE responses to music. Thus, a character will feel more like a person through their responses to it. I read a book once where a character’s wedding song was playing while he caught his wife cheating, then a psychologist tried playing that song to see if it still triggered the memory of him beating the man she cheated with senseless. (Guess the book.) Sound complicated? Good! Write a scene where a character or three builds good memories with a specific song in the background of the place. Then write more where the meaning changes because of shiz going wrong while they’re TRYING to relax to their favorite tune. That song becoming a hated tune indicates a journey for the character. It shows she or he is not static. And dynamic characters who change over the story’s arc are such fun to read!

Maybe this is permission to play a soothing, relaxing tune in the story while your MC fights off tentacle rabbits without a laser boot to kick rump with. If they relax, they’re dead. Heh.

I may transform into a donkey while writing this, but I’m assuming that you have a music streaming service or a frick-ton of CDs or some other go-to music medium. Find that music. Take an hour or two to surf through those songs and build a mix or playlist of songs that fit the themes or atmosphere of your book. Writing action scenes? What songs do YOU associate with action? Typing some world-spanning epic fantasy? What songs do YOU pair with journeys across wilderness and waves? Put those songs into a mix or playlist already! Doooooo iiiiiit!

Guardians Of The Galaxy did it with the Awesome Mix tapes.

Ready Player One and Armada did it with pop culture references and the Raid The Arcade playlist.

Building these playlists for yourself—or even including the song titles in the back of a book or on a blog—can offer you AND readers more ways to connect with the story you’re writing.

Had a shit week? Plug that playlist in and your brain will have an easier time getting back into that tentacle-rabbits-driving-tricked-out-cars story.

Or you know, the story you’re actually writing. The one you cared enough about to match music to mood and milieu.

Readers can tell when the author cares. I know you can too. So try building playlists as well as fantasy worlds.

If you grin your butt off while doing this, I can’t be held responsible. Replacement butts sold separately.