‘I want you to feel what my characters feel; music helps me do that’
Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by historical novelist VR Christensen @VRChristensen
Soundtrack by LV Beethoven, Aaron Dunn
As a historical fiction writer, music is very important in my creation process. Music is a part of that necessary atmosphere, so key to any good novel, but particularly in one that asks you to step out of your current reality and to step into that of a past, that which might have existed, if…
I’m a huge fan of the BBC literary adaptations (some might say I’m obsessed with them). That’s the sort of thing, on paper, at least, that I’m trying to create. That there should be a score, a soundtrack, if you will, is only natural. But more than that, it’s often necessary.
Although it’s not usually very difficult for me to step into the past, (I spend so much time there in my head, after all) it isn’t always a piece of cake. Neither is it easy to convey what I see and hear and feel onto paper, making it as vivid for the reader as it is for myself. Music plays an essential role, for instance, in the conveying of character emotions, in outlining conflicts, and, at times, in magnifying them just enough that I can examine them in depth, like a screen shot, a virtual moment in time, allowing me to feel what my characters are feeling, and to spell it out in their own language.
It’s easy enough to tell you what my characters are feeling. That’s not enough. I want you to feel it too. Music helps me to do that.
So what pieces have been most valuable to me in this endeavor? In truth, I have a couple of standbys. These are favourite pieces, that, no matter what I’m stuck on, or what is preoccupying my thoughts, I’m instantly drawn into that place and time where I need to be in my writing, in that imaginary world I’ve created, and which I need to convey as realistically to my readers as it appears to me.
Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont, Op 84 is the one piece of music that defines Cry of the Peacock (the first book I wrote, the second to be published, in October 2012) Listening to this piece, one can easily imagine a vast country estate in England, a young woman walking across the Hampshire Downs, having just come from visiting the poor labourers. Just over the hill emerges the great estate. And you can feel her envy of it, her admiration of it, and her resentment, too. And then, as the story unfolds, and the music with it, so much is revealed, through the haunting intensity, the sorrow, the anger, the lilting sounds of a happiness…just out of reach. It’s a fantastic piece, and totally takes me to that place I need to be.
Boy and girl
Another piece I like to listen to, particularly during the key ‘boy loses girl’ (or can’t quite get her) sequences of a story, is another Beethoven piece, Moonlight Sonata, Op 27 mvt. 2. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear this, it still gives me the chills, makes me want to weep. The longing portrayed in the hesitating movements of the one hand, and the constant rhythmic undulations of the other… It’s breathtaking.
As much as I would have liked to, copyright issues prevented me from being able to use either song in my book trailers. Fortunately there are some really generous and talented artists out there who both record and compose music that works well. For my debut novel Of Moths and Butterflies I used a piece by a fellow named Aaron Dunn called Sonata no. 1. It had just the right mood, and the tempo of it created an interesting opportunity to present the analogy; an insect collection, which represents a woman trapped in an arranged marriage.
Both original and well known pieces can be found at Kevin Macleod’s website, where I found the piece I used for the trailer for Cry of the Peacock. It’s no Egmont, but it still has that haunting minor key feeling I think evokes the atmosphere of the book.
Music is timeless. Like symbols written on a piece of paper, which, when taken in their entirety create a written story, so is music. I think it’s miraculous, in a way. A bit of necessary luxury.
VR Christensen write neo-Victorian historical fiction. Her debut novel, Of Moths & Butterflies has spent the last six weeks on the bestseller charts in various categories on Amazon.com and is published by Captive Press. Her second novel, Cry of the Peacock, will be released in October of this year. She is also the author of a novella, Blind, another historical piece with a paranormal twist. VR is a member of Historical Fiction Authors Co-operative, Past Times Books, Authors Anon and Literary Underground, all of which aim to ensure that the publishing revolution now upon us produces some of the finest work available to the reading public–and makes it available. She tweets as @VRChristensen