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Mixtapes

I have heard more than one writer say that they have created mixtapes while they were working on a story or novel and listening to that music, and that music alone, while they were writing was hugely helpful. If you’re writing a story that’s not contemporary, this can help to put you in the place when that specific music was in the air. Or if you’re writing something in the present moment, it can help you understand your characters at a different level. It can give you insights into your characters, into your storyline and, perhaps most importantly, into your subconscious.

Some writers make mixtapes for their projects after they’re complete and release them to the world. Check out this article for some examples. And this site chose classic books and created mixtapes for them. Flavorwire ran a series which developed mixtapes for classic characters. Some of the best included Jane Eyre, Humbert Humbert, and Lady Macbeth.

So try it out! Here are a few ideas of ways to incorporate music into your writing practice.

Exercises

  • Take a short story—not written by you—that you love. See if you can create a mixtape for the main character. How does this help you understand the character and the story at an even deeper level?
  • With a story or a scene that you’re working on, create a playlist for each character, no matter how minor the character may be. Pay attention to how easy or difficult this is to do for each character. What do you learn about the characters by doing this? Were you surprised at some of the songs that you included? Are there songs shared by different characters? In what way do their likes and dislikes inform the relationships between them?
  • Again with a story or scene in progress, create a mixtape for a character that’s from a different era. For example, if you’re writing a story that takes place today, create a mixtape from the 60’s. Pulling a character out of their setting can be really helpful in understanding who they are and what matters to them.
  • Limit your mixtape choices to one artist. Have each character choose their favorite songs from that artist. What does that tell you about the characters that you might not have thought of before?
  • Create a playlist for your project that includes one perfect song for each character. Think about the ways in which these songs work with or against each other. How can you use that energy and tension in your writing?
  • Make yourself a mixtape that represents the soundtrack of your story or novel. Think about why you chose each song. What can you learn about the totality of your project from this mixtape? Listen to it while you write.

by Laura Spence-Ash