Some writers habitually write with music playing, while others find it easier to focus in silence. When I refer to the soundtrack of your story, I am not necessarily referring to the music that you play while writing, although that also has its place; instead, I am thinking of the music that belongs to your book.
It is possible nobody but you will ever know what these songs are, although some authors make playlists to accompany their books. Even if nobody ever knows what they are, having a soundtrack in mind can help to add a layer of richness to your story, to create moods and characters.
Do you know what your hero’s first single was? Your heroine’s first pop concert? Or does she prefer orchestral music? Which radio station plays in the car when they are together? And what is the guilty secret CD that she pops in, only when she is SURE nobody is listening? Like any other details about a character’s life, their musical preferences can help you to define and differentiate them.
Do your characters’ musical tastes tie in with their observed styles and behaviours – the elegant, sophisticated opera-goer, or the black-clad teenager with a taste for rock or Goth music – or is there something unexpected about their preferences? Does your character have rigid tastes, which may bring them into conflict with others, or are they quite flexible?
Like weather, music can play a part in setting a mood, and it can do this either by following or by contrasting with the characters’ emotions. Without ever naming a song, it is possible to use it to set the tone for a scene, just as a film director might use a musical soundtrack to underscore a dramatic moment or lighten the tone afterwards.
In some cases, music can even become a strand of the story in its own right. This works particularly well in fantasies such as Orson Scott Card’s Songmaster and Ann McCaffrey’s Dragonsong, but it can also work in contemporary stories such as Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music.
If you love music, it is well worth considering whether there are ways you could use that love to add another dimension to your writing. Even if you are not a great lover of music, once you start looking, you are sure to find ways that the right soundtrack can enrich your story.