I went to an all-candidates meeting in my municipality last week. We have 13 candidates vying for 6 council positions, plus 3 candidates for mayor. I always vote and I want my vote to be as informed as possible. The meeting was jam-packed and it became clear early on that housing density vs green space was a hot button issue. It made me think of a workshop I went to years ago where the presenter suggested we create the “village” and let the conflict flow from there. It seemed an odd idea to me, but by the time her presentation was finished, I saw the merit in starting with the place.
I tend to start my stories with an idea of the characters and then wrestle with the conflict. The old saw, “she’s a pyromaniac and he’s a firefighter” was my starting point. Using the “village” idea, and my recent encounter with grass roots politics, it’s easy to see how real life events can create conflict. So much of public life comes down to “us” vs “them.” Here are some examples.
- Owners vs renters. In a story this could create conflict between a landlord and a tenant.
- Preservationist vs developers. This trope is so prevalent in romance fiction it is almost cliché. Still, in the hands of a skilled writer this universal concept can be made fresh.
- Rural vs urban. My community is currently rated rural/rural residential, but there is enormous pressure to urbanize. This friction brings in the question of farming vs housing. Generally, everyone is in favour of farmers, but most people want to save money on the grocery bill. So, do we really support farmers? Which brings us to the next conflict . . .
- Environmental protection vs commercial interests. When does a neighbourhood coffee shop become the villain? Does one commercial activity inevitably lead to more and is that good or bad? In a story, the owner of a heritage home operates an Airbnb in order to save the heritage home. She opens a cafe in the original dining room. Can’t you see the conflict growing out of that scenario? Which side of the equation is she on? Who opposes her? Why?
- Young vs old. YA authors often use the generation gap in a family as a source of conflict but it can also be an issue in the larger community. At the meeting I attended there were distinct hints of resentment from younger families wanting to buy houses against older folks who already owned them. Is the older homeowner being greedy or is he just living in the family home his parents built years ago?
- Taxes vs Services. This division was very evident in the meeting I attended. Everyone wants lower taxes and many want more services. You can’t have both. What is the trade off? Do you pay for expertise or rely on volunteers?
These are only a few ideas that tickled my brain as a result of the all candidates meeting. A good story won’t rely entirely on external conflict. The author will build in internal conflict and emotional challenges as well. Still, the external, the “village” may be a good place to start the story.
Oh yeah, if there are elections happening in your area, vote! The ballot is the greatest tool in a democracy. Make it count.
Over the summer I reread Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester. I have all her romances on my keeper shelf, but I’d forgotten this one, so it was like reading it for the first time. What a treat! When I finished it, I picked up New Girl in Little Cove by Damhnait Monaghan. This book is set in modern day Newfoundland. I felt as though I’d switched the soundtrack from Mozart to Great Big Sea.
That got me to thinking about the music I might associate with my own books. For the Prospect Series, Gord Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy was an obvious choice. It combines the excitement of opening up a new land with the hardships that come with the adventure. The fact the song has three parts plays well into my storylines as well.
I’m currently working on a short read with an older couple. I don’t have a particular song in mind, but I’m thinking of a community dance. I went to many of those in my younger years. The music ranged from waltzes to square dances to The Twist — the music wasn’t the most important thing–it was who chose you for a partner! And yes, in those days the boys did the choosing and the girls did the hoping. With that image of the town Odd Fellows Hall and the homegrown band in my ears, I can stay in the story world more easily.
I tried out my idea on my author friend in Australia and learned that she had specific songs in mind when writing her books too. “Yes my books do have theme songs… although not always logical. Evil in Emerald was ‘Cat Like Tread’ from Pirates of Penzance, The Postmistress was ‘Peter Hollens Shenandoah’ and The Gold Miner’s Sister was ‘Shallow’ from the latest Star is Born movie. The oddest was probably ‘Arms’ by Christina Perri which was the theme for Gather the Bones. ”
So, why have a soundtrack for your story?
- Tone The soundtrack playing in your mind will keep the tone of your writing consistent. The English language is rich and varied. Authors have many choices for the “right” word. A song can help make those choices better. Is your book a stately gavotte or a rollicking sea shanty?
- Mood Even though stories move through light and dark times, a book can be strengthened if there is a consistent mood. War stories carry that hint of danger even when we aren’t on the battlefield. Children’s books are full of wonder, regardless of the actual scene. When the reader puts down the book, what do you want her mood to be?
- Setting I am an author who views setting as a “character” in a story. The mountains in my Prospect books, for example, played a role in the heroines’ reflective scenes. Those towering peaks gave strength and courage to Lottie and Emma and Louisa.
- Inspiration “What happens next?” is a constant question before a writer. The lyrics or the music of your soundtrack can provide some ideas. Country and western songs are legendary for telling a complete story from joy to heartbreak in only a few lines. Tammy Wynette’s Stand by your man, give him two arms to cling to
And something warm to come to/When nights are cold and lonely.–might provide the nudge to take your story down a different path.
- Fun Sitting at a keyboard or holding a pen over a lined notepad, can get lonely and dreary. We all start this journey because we want to tell a story, we love words, we want to send our ideas into the world. That’s the part that makes us want to write. But the process from idea to finished work can be a slog. The soundtrack playing in our heads can remind us to have fun. Maybe we could all “Whistle While You Work.”
What about you? As a reader do you hear music in a book? As a writer do you consciously choose a soundtrack to accompany your story?