Friday, June 7, 2013

Writing with Strong Emotion using Music or Movies

Welcome to this One-Day Workshop.

I'm Wendy Laharnar, a MuseItUp author.
I hope you'll enjoy the workshop and that you will join in and get quite emotional :)

The aim  here, is to use strong emotion to hit a universal nerve in your reader.

There are many means to do this, but since time is limited, I'd like to suggest an effective way you might not have considered, that is to draw on your readers’ knowledge of music and movies to make your reader experience the emotion your characters feel at that moment.

To begin, we’ll concentrate on the primary emotions:

Love; Joy; Surprise; Anger; Sadness; Fear.

[For secondary and tertiary emotions see:

As an unrelated extra, I found this link to exclamations that help express emotion in dialogue
Choose one emotion for now

With this in mind think about the mood you wish to create in your scene by asking some basic questions.

  • Who is it about?               --  which character owns this scene. POV
  • What happened?              --  story
  • When did it take place?   --  era
  • Where did it take place?  -- place
  • Why did it happen?          --  theme
  • How did it happen?          -- plot

 Also consider:
Who is my target audience?

Which music and movies affect you most?

Do any give you goose bumps,

Or make you smile or laugh out loud.

Bring tears to your eyes or make you sad.

Elicit memories or make you cringe.

Remind you of a moment of fear.

Remind you of being in love -- ‘our song’.

Or do you dislike them so much you never want to hear another word about them.

 These are the songs and movies stored in your emotional memory.
Would the majority of your target audience be familiar with any of them?

For you to hit the universal nerve, you need to draw on the songs and movies with the most universal appeal or reaction. Just the mention of the title should alert the reader to awaken a particular emotion.
Wait! Remember copyright laws.
For music you can use the title and the artist's name, but you need permission from the copyright owners to use any of the lyrics.
For movie quotes, under 'Fair Use' you can use a short phrase but not direct dialogue.
I wouldn't use direct quotes, rather refer to scenes or characters in their moment of emotion.

For example:
 Alone, in the pre dawn light, I stood proud, like Scarlett surveying my Tara, and willed the sun to rise on a brand new day.
My golden rule for copyright. If in doubt, don't.
This link is helpful regarding copyright and Fair Use. 
Thus armed we will see how our character reacts.
Okay, let's go.
 You are the creative artist targeting a universal nerve
My emotion is Joy

Since I love the era of the movie musicals my target audience will need to be familiar with the 50s movies.
  • Who is it about?               --  a young female,  Cindy.
  • What happened?              --  she fell in love
  • When did it take place?   --  any time
  • Where did it take place?  -- Anywhere
  • Why did it happen?          --  for the purpose of this scene: to show
  •                                                      the joy of young love.

  • How did it happen?           -- Cindy's emotion came from                  

  •                                                     a satisfying date.

     Which movie:
     Although totally different, the movie that inspired my medieval time travel novel, and from which I drew for emotional effect on several levels, was The House on the Square - otherwise - known as I'll Never Forget You (1951).
    But when  thinking about this 'young love' scene filled with joy and expectation, the movie 'Carousel' (1956) came to mind, even though my story is  unrelated.

    Which song affected me?

    I love the cheerful song from Carousel, This Was a Real Nice Clambake.

     Just  hearing the title has me singing the chorus and humming for ages after.  My guess is that those who know this tune might even add ‘we’re mighty glad we came’ in their mind.

      I'll see if I can use this title to create
    a joyful mood. The  reader should feel warm and happy. 

    Tomorrow! He'd kissed her and said he'd see her again, tomorrow.
    Cindy hugged herself tightly, twirling and swirling around the room.  This Was a Real Nice Clambake throbbed in her veins. She hummed softly at first and then, throwing her head back, burst into song,  allowing the lilting melody to take her breath away.  Clambake, she sang between gasps.  Giddy, she slumped to the floor. Tears spilled onto her smile. Tomorrow she'd summon the courage; she'd say those three little words. #

     I could have used The Hills Are Alive with The Sound of Music or some other well known joyful song. 
     Or reverse the emotion
    Drawing on the same joyful song title, you can have your character show an altogether different emotion.

    Huddled under the bridge, her clothes in tatters, her innocence destroyed, Cindy hummed through clenched teeth. This Was a Real Nice Clambake throbbed in her veins. Clambake, clambake, she thumped, madly drumming the rhythm on her bruised  thighs and breasts, humming louder. Tears pricked her eyes but she squeezed them away. Tomorrow, she thought, when I'm stronger, he'll pay. #

    You can be like Donald O’Conner in Sign’in in the Rain and Make ’em Laugh,  or like Roy Osbison and have them Crying while they are Walking In The Rain .


    In my Historical Novel, The Unhewn Stone, I use the song Money, Money, Money by Abba to create joy through ironic humour. I loved having medieval peasants follow my modern Swiss time traveller  in the ancient  square of  Altdorf,  singing those words. Soon this 14th century crowd was happily humming and whistling along with 21st century Stefan.

    So, over to you!

    Which music or movie will you draw on to create your strong emotion and  put your reader in the mood?

    I'll be popping back regularly to comment on your examples.



    Edith Parzefall said...

    I agree, Wendy, certain movies or music, even if only mentioned by title, can evoke powerful emotions. The crux really is to find something many people in your target group will know and react to. Of course, a classic like Gone with the Wind should work very well. I'm using The Rocky Horror Picture show in Crumple Zone. Should still be fairly safe.

    For my current wip, one of my characters plays his "Feel Good" CD in the car and sings along to Bobby McFerrin's "Don't worry, be happy" followed by Bob Marley's "Girl I want to make you sweat." Did I mention he's got female company? ;-)

    Anonymous said...

    I loved your post, Wendy. Music is far more powerful than words at evoking emotions. I enjoyed the way you illustrated this, and will defnitely think about incorporating songs in my WIP. Thanks for sharing!

    Margaret Fieland said...

    Wendy, great post, and thanks for the terrific link to the interjections. I'm an amateur musician --I play the flute and the piccolo -- and have a wide musical "memory" to draw from. For dramatic, the beginning of Beethoven's 5th symphony comes to mind. For anguish hidden underneath a surface lightness, Mozart. I also love Joan Baez -- for regret, I love her "House of the Rising Sun."

    Oh, yes, and then there are all those folk songs we learned in elementary school: Red River Valley, Greensleeves, etc.

    Wendy said...

    Edith, Rocky Horror Picture Show in your Crumple Zone is ideal. Can you point me to the section so I can re read it? I loved the different layers of emotion in Crumple Zone.

    Good choice of music to get the reader involved in the road trip too.

    Wendy said...

    Helena, I'd like to see how you use a song in your WIP. Do you have one in mind?

    Marsha said...

    Great post, Helena. I especially liked the links to info on fair use. Always an issue. I'll be sharing on FB and Twitter.

    Wendy said...

    Margaret, I can hear the dramatic Beethoven's 5th. In fact I think it will pulse in my brain most of the night. Thanks very much :)

    And did you have to mention Greensleeves? LOL. How that tune terrified me after hearing it in a horror movie. For days after, my husband followed me up the dark hall whistling that. It still gives me the creeps.

    Yes, certain music does hit a common nerve.

    Wendy said...

    Hi Marsha, glad you like the links, and thank you for sharing.

    I hope some of you will have a go at the exercise. I'd love to see what songs or movies you choose to create strong emotion.

    Suzanne de Montigny said...

    Two songs: Ode to Joy and I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair!

    Wendy said...

    Suzanne, I like your choices. You could do a lot with I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair. I can see the group of women and Mitzi Gaynor in South Pacific. It would be fun to see how you used that emotion in a different setting.

    Edith Parzefall said...

    Hey, Wendy, the scene is in Chapter Nine of Crumple Zone. Here's a short (no need to say highly symbolic) quote:

    “Is it the bonfire or do I see a calculating glint in your eyes?”
    His smile broadened. “I hope you won't hold it against me if I try to seduce you.”
    “I'm shivering with anticipation.”
    “Is that a good thing?”
    “That's what Dr. Frank-N-Furter says in the Rocky Horror Picture Show and you know how that ends.”

    Rosalie Skinner said...

    Great post Wendy,
    I also use music as I am writing. In Fantasy it would be difficult to refer to actual songs but I play music that suits the mood I am writing.
    I think the cadence can influence the pace of my writing to help achieve atmosphere or emotion.

    Like you, now I have music thrumming through my veins. Will have to turn on the radio to get rid of Greensleeves. hehe. Thankfully I didn't see the horror movie. :)

    Wendy said...

    Oh yes, Edith, that's what I mean. You've created an ominous atmosphere and toyed with our emotions. I remember feeling very uneasy at this point.

    Wendy said...

    Rosalie, listening to music is something I haven't tried yet but I've heard it does help with pacing and tension. Since this creates emotion in the writer while she writes then, as you point out, that will flow through to the reader.

    I wonder if there are titles a fantasy writer could make use of to hit a universal nerve in a modern readers?

    Sherry said...

    I made a soundtrack play list for my main characters not because it would be in the book but so I could think about what they would listen to when I would write from their POV. So for example, for Helen of Troy, "I'm a bitch, I'm a lover, I'm a child, I'm a mother..." to convey her natural duplicity, and then when I'm trying to capture her better nature, I put on songs that make me soar like Unwritten. I did this for the top three characters to help move my brain along. But I like how you used the same song to convey different meaning.

    Wendy said...

    Sherry, yours is such a good idea. Your choice of music captured Helen's duplicity perfectly, here, and obviously kept you focused on your character.

    I think if you used that title in a modern character's dialogue that could be quite emotional too, depending on the context. "I'm a Bitch, I'm a Lover...what did you expect?" said in anger or said softly in reaction to her partner's surprise at her prowess. The reader who knows the song will notice the nuance and get more out of the exchange, possibly even more than the writer intended.

    Pam Kelt said...

    Great post. I agree, music is so powerful. I tend to go for soundtrack music without lyrics, often in the minimalist style. This way, I'm not distracted by other's people's words.

    Wendy said...

    Hi Pam, Thanks for joining in.
    I understand that many writers use background music to get themselves in the mood. I agree with instrumentals for this purpose. My aim here is to use the title of songs or reference to movies in the narrative, in such a way as to hit an emotional nerve in the reader. Shake, Rattle and Roll is one example. or Your Cheaten' Heart is another, for readers who belong to my era.

    Rosalie Skinner said...

    I remember comedy sketches where people only use song titles as dialogue.
    Off topic.. but imagine creating a short interaction between characters doing that? Could be a lighter moment.

    Wendy said...

    Hi Rosalie, Using only song titles would be fun but very difficult. I'd love to see that comedy.
    In my WIP I'm playing with titles, having fun but I'm using them sparingly in my scene of manipulation e.g

    “Everyone is dressing up like someone out of the old movies. You’d love that.”
    “Well, maybe…”
    “You’ll have fun. Shaking the blues away.” He sang in a tenor as good as any I’ve heard on the radio.
    I pirouetted in front of him. “What about you? Won’t you miss your...dream lover?”
    Spinning me round the kitchen, he crooned, “All I have to do is dre e e e eam.”
    “Stop.” I tried to keep a straight face. “I’m too busy to go to a stupid reunion, and I’m old.”
    He dropped on one knee, raised his arms and affected the wavering style of Rudy Vallée, “You outa be in pictures –”
    “You’re an idiot.” I threw the wet dishcloth at him.
    Still persistent, he pulled his lip over his top teeth, like Bogart. “Look, Shweet heart. Que Sera Sera.”

    Rosalie Skinner said...

    LOL.. that works for me. Very clever!

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