I talk about bards more than, say, the normal person. Though I’m far from a skilled bard myself, the importance of music in my writing can’t be stressed enough. Many writers outline, sketch, plot, sit at desks or in parks or at coffee shops and plan, plan, plan, then plan some more. They fill up notebooks with voluminous notes, details, and references. They know exactly what’s going to happen, and when it’s going to happen.

I am jealous of these people inasmuch as, well, that’s not how I work. I’d love to say that I have a Tome somewhere with all the secrets of The Aldersgate Cycle down to which dress Cora is wearing when she… well, you get the idea. But I don’t. I know where the story is going, I have my first draft for that. But the actual details literally, well, appear.

After the birth of my son, I dealt with a lot of uncomfortable issues, postpartum depression being the big troll in my proverbial closet. The world didn’t seem right to me. Creatively I was devoid of inspiration, physically I was exhausted, and emotionally I was numb. It was a scary time. Any person who’s dealt with depression knows it’s a tricky little bastard, and women who’ve fought through PPD know how much of a thief it is. It’s a special kind of cruelty that robs the mother of those months with her child, at least from a mental standpoint, but that’s not my point, exactly.

When Liam was about three months old I started listening to WCPE. This magical station can be heard all the time, from anywhere, but it happens to be located right here in NC. Though I’d always loved Classical music, I don’t think I’d ever taken the time to really, really listen. To notice the variances, the currents, the melodies that meld and grow, twirl and change.

I would drive to my parents’ house almost every day and listen to the station, and during those 20 minute intervals, thing would appear to me. Scenes, conversations, words forming in front of my eyes like some strange spell. And that’s how I’ve been writing The Aldersgate. Although many of the particulars of which composition I was listening to at the time elude me, I know that the words and music are part of the same Source, whatever that Source really is. It’s a bit like going into a trance, but not so deep that one can’t drive. It’s deep, deep thinking.

Sure, it’s a little unusual. But what’s neat is that, over the last few drives, I’ve been thinking about my NaNoWriMo book–and lo and behold, the first few chapters are already written, in between Brahms and Bach; the first scene, especially, is crystal clear. A New England winter, right after the holidays, when the snow is two feet deep, the snowbanks encrusted with salt and grey with mud; you can hear the trees, then, crackle in their frozen state. That’s where it starts.

Classical music has a bum wrap, unfortunately, especially in the younger generation. Many people believe it’s boring, or old fashioned. I tell you it could not be more untrue. The variety of what can be found in Classical music, from period to period, ensures that, somewhere along the way you’ll likely find something that speaks to you. While Bach has always been a preferred composer of mine, I was surprised one day to hear Samuel Barber for the first time–his Adagio for Strings, Opus 12 played on a rainy day as I made my way to Target, and though the details are mundane, the experience was religious. Seriously. I burst into tears.

Just a suggestion. If you’re out there writing, and you’re stuck, and if you’ve not found something interesting, tune in to WCPE. I’m particularly fond of Deana Vassar and David Ballentyne and their shows “Allegro” and “Rise and Shine” respectively. You may find something surprising there between the notes.

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Every book has its own song. You can’t always hear it, but it’s there. Sure, it isn’t the kind of song that you can play on your iPod, but any story has its own melodies and harmonies, moments of dissonance, and at last, resolve.

Before our words were written, they were sung. This served not only to make the telling more beautiful, but also more memorable. Words are much more easily committed to memory with the inclusion of music. Sometimes when I’m in a rut writing wise, I take out my guitar (or ukulele, or keyboard) and work out melodies, then harmonies, listening for the story within the music. Sure, that sounds terribly new-age, but it’s a part of world building for me–it helps me understand what I’m doing more clearly.

Most of my world building happens while listening to music, it’s true. There are certain songs that I associate so intimately with characters (Cora, Runaway Horses, Philip Glass; the Aldersgate itself, Samuel Barber‘s Adagio for Strings Op. 11; Sir Gawen, most of Sir Edward Elgar). I’ve had some of the greatest epiphanies simply driving in my car, listening to whatever Fine Tuning or WCPE will give me.

Stories are a force to be reckoned with. The right (or wrong) story can inspire a nation to greatness, or plunge them into a war. And most of our most beloved songs are just that: inspiring stories. From national anthems to battle cries to stadium rock outs–we seem to understand stories on another level when music is involved.

To come to my point though, music ought to be considered during your world building sessions. Even on our planet, small as it is, what is considered to be beautiful music is as varied and individual as can be. While many of us from a Western tradition puzzle at the music of the East, they puzzle back at us. So consider what your characters might like to listen to, and what sort of musical traditions have grown up in your culture. Note, too, that music has a habit for driving people to all kinds of unsavory behaviors–even Mozart was considered scandalous in his day!

My inspiration for Emry Roy, my resident bard, was a hybrid between a court bard from the Irish tradition and the folk singers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America. For a great resource, I turned to the Popular Songs in American History site which (blaring midi excluded) is a delightful window into popular music in a variety of time periods.  Some are simplistic, and seem trite to us know–but there are some incredible gems. How about this bit from the song “Eight Hours” by I.G. Blanchard (so delightfully steampunk):

From factories and workshops
In long and weary lines,
From all the sweltering forges,
And from out the sunless mines,
Wherever toil is wasting
The force of life to live
There the bent and battered armies
Come to claim what God doth give
And the blazon on the banner
Doth with hope the nation fill:

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will;
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will.

So find your musical inspiration, and flavor your world with it!