The Soundtrack to a Thriller

I’ve been asked a number of times if I listen to music when I write. Yes…but only when I’m actually typing the story. I have a process. It’s called all or nothing.

I build a story concept in my head, then pull out a trusty yellow pad to sketch an outline. Nothing more than a bullet point or two per chapter, in a very fluid structure. That’s usually the last time I look at the outline. It is tossed aside and becomes just a soft framework for the story after that. No music involved.

guitar-2816248_1280Next is a detour from the process, which in itself makes it a part of the process because I do it every damned time. I open Scrivener and start typing the opening scene. At this point I have no idea who my characters are, only what I want them to be. The first scene (or chapter) is me trying to find their voice, motivation, and opening the story in the circumstances in which I envisioned it. Still no music.

After the first scene (or chapter), I have a head full of questions. Who is my protagonist? Is he really a hero? anti hero? super bad guy/girl in disguise? Who is he/she fighting against? is the fight what it seems? Will I kill him/her? Will he/she allow me to kill him/her or will it just be torture? What is the prize? Is it an object? a person? revenge? peace? overthrow of a government? What’s the back story (even if it never gets written)?

Those questions fill my universe for days or even weeks. This is the stage where you might see me walking around, stroking my mustache while staring at the ground; standing in the cold with a burned out cigarette between my fingers, chuckling for no reason; or sitting in my comfy chair, staring at the wall as a series of emotions play across my face, anger, relief, amusement… I’m a head builder. I’ve always been one–even with my furniture building. I have to understand each cut, mortise, balance, material, and purpose for every aspect before I can start. There is no music involved in this part of the process either.

background-1872802_1280The next phase is the exciting one for me. It’s the part when the last major puzzle piece drops into place in my head and I freeze. Really…Gretel has seen this. She can testify. I close my eyes as the last major piece moves into place and then clicks “POP”. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing. I stop and let the feeling wash over me…the sense of raw joy, unfiltered…completion. It’s pretty erotic.

At that point, the story is basically done. All I have to do is start typing it, letting the personalities of the characters fill in the gaps in narrative and dialog. That’s where the music comes in.

It’s a pretty personal playlist. Some obscure, some cliche, some WTF?!!! But each song was added to the playlist over the years for a specific sentimental purpose. Having a multimedia keyboard makes it easy to hit “skip” if a song pops up that threatens to derail me.

So…70 songs (give or take) is my soundtrack for writing. It brings emotion, purpose, and richness to my 1st draft. I’m going to share it with you now. Don’t get me wrong…this isn’t the only music I listen to. In fact, this play list is very light on KISS, Ozzy, Foo Fighters, and all manner of head banger metal. It’s not my only play list, and I rely on Sir Edward Van Halen a LOT when it comes to timing on fight scenes and chases. But for writing I’ve discovered over the years that my hard music preferences have more a tendency to disrupt the flow than support it.

With that, I present my Thriller background soundtrack in alphabetical order by track:

Name Artist Album Genre
Above the Wreckage Dishwalla Dishwalla Rock
Alone Ben Harper Burn To Shine Alternative & Punk
Always Midnight Pat Monahan Last of Seven Rock
Angel Massive Attack Mezzanine Electronica
Apoligize (Remix) OneRepublic Dreaming Out Loud Rock
Army Of Me Björk Telegram Alternative & Punk
Ball And Biscuit The White Stripes Elephant Alternative & Punk
Bleeding Love Leona Lewis Spirit Pop
Blue (Da Ba Dee) Eiffel 65 Europop Electronica
Breathe Tonight David Cook David Cook Rock
Catch Hell Blues The White Stripes Icky Thump Alternative & Punk
Cherry Blossom Girl Air Talkie Walkie Electronic
Closer Kings Of Leon Only By The Night Alternative & Punk
Come Come Hot As Sun Hot As Sun Alternative Rock
Come Home OneRepublic Dreaming Out Loud Rock
Come On Closer Jem Finally Woken Pop
Coral Sky Dishwalla Dishwalla Rock
Crawl Kings Of Leon Only By The Night Alternative & Punk
Danklicker Hotel Wrecking City Traders EP Hotel Wrecking City Traders Stoner
Dear Maria, Count Me In All Time Low Vans Warped Tour ’08 Rock
Deeper Into You Trust Company The Lonely Position Of Neutral Rock
Dervish Luke Brindley Contemporary
Drumming Song Florence & The Machine Lungs Alternative
Everything You Want Vertical Horizon Everything You Want Rock/Pop
Extreme Ways Moby 18 Electronica
For Agent 13 The Besnard Lakes YPF Soundtrack Alternative
Galvanize The Chemical Brothers Push The Button Electronica
God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters Moby Pure Moods IV New Age
Hallelujah Jeff Buckley Grace Alternative & Punk
Hey There Delilah Plain White T’s Every Second Counts Alternative & Punk
Hide And Seek Imogen Heap Pop
History Repeating Propellerheads Mantra Mix [Disc 1] New Age
Hold You Down Jump Little Children Between the Dim & the Dark Alternative
Immigrant Song Led Zeppelin Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin, Vol. 1 Rock
In The Waiting Line Zero 7 Garden State Soundtrack
Jezebel Iron & Wine Woman King [EP] Alternative & Punk
Kashmir Led Zeppelin Latter Days: Best Of Led Zeppelin, Vol.2 Rock
Let Go Frou Frou Details Alternative & Punk
Look After You The Fray How To Save A Life Rock
Love The Way You Lie Eminem Feat. Rihanna 2011 Grammy Nominees Pop
Make This Go On Forever Snow Patrol Eyes Open Alternative & Punk
Messenger Obiat Emotionally Driven Disturbulence Stoner
Monkey Wrench Foo Fighters The Colour and The Shape Spy Thrillers
Murr Murr Mugison Mugimama! Is This Monkey Music? Electronic
Never Say Never The Fray The Fray Rock
New Soul Yael Naïm Better Living Unlimited Pop
No Church In The Wild Kanye West Watch the Throne Hip Hop
Plasticine Placebo Sleeping With Ghosts Alternative & Punk
Porcelain Moby Play Electronica
Pretty Little Thing Fink Pretty Little Thing / So Long – EP Folk
Primary The Cure Faith (Deluxe Edition) (CD01) Gothic Rock
Profanity Prayers Beck Modern Guilt Alternative & Punk
Respect The Wind Alex & Sir Edward Van Halen Twister Soundtrack
Samson Regina Spektor Begin To Hope Alternative & Punk
Say (All I Need) OneRepublic Dreaming Out Loud Rock
She Wolf (Falling To Pieces) ft. Sia David Guetta Pop
Ship Of Fools Robert Plant Sixty Six To Timbuktu [Disc 1] Rock
Sour Girl Stone Temple Pilots No. 4 Rock/Pop
Supermoves Overseer Snatch Soundtrack
Taj Mahal Sam Roberts YPF Soundtrack Alternative
The Pretender Foo Fighters Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace Alternative & Punk
Titanium ft. Sia David Guetta Pop
Tom Sawyer Rush Moving Pictures Rock
Vertigo Jump Little Children Between the Dim & the Dark Alternative
Viva La Vida Coldplay Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends Alternative & Punk
Wake Me Up When September Ends Green Day American Idiot Alternative & Punk
What Else Is There?


The Understanding Electronic
Whatever You Became Cold Year Of The Spider Metal
When It’s Good Ben Harper Diamonds On The Inside Alternative & Punk
Youthless Beck Modern Guilt Alternative & Punk

Happy listening…and writing if you’re inclined in that direction. If not, grab a book and read. You may even hear the music in the pages as you pore over it.


Post a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s