He’s going on location to create the perfect background music for his story, and—
“On location”…”Background music”– Is this a posting about cinematography or writing?
Hmmm, allow me to address these two notions before moving on.
To add authenticity, directors often film on location. Thus, the background is genuine, original.
Watch any film and you’ll know what it is. It’s that tune you hear each time a particular character is on screen. Think of the creepy “bum-bum” in Jaws to announce the shark, or the edgy and irritating high-pitched repetition from The Twilight Zone, or the catchy whistle in The Bridge on the River Kwai as the men diligently built that controversial railroad bridge.
In fact, I’ve often wished I could have a theme song follow me wherever I go. Can you imagine having an upbeat tune like “Walking on Sunshine” announce you just before you enter a room!?
On the other hand, I’d be horrified if my personal background music was the aforementioned song from Jaws.
So, you get the point: Background music sets the mood and helps to build suspense.
What’s this Have to Do with Writing?
In books, we can’t add background music, so we have to find other ways to set the mood and build suspense. I believe writers create a type of background music with descriptions.
In my novel, my character Grace journeys to live in her new ancestral mountainside estate in West Virginia. Before reaching the house, she learns that local residents believe the property to be haunted.
When she first nears the house, alone, in the dark, in her car, the song, “Walking on Sunshine” should not be playing. Therefore, I didn’t say, “The house was huge with expansive east and west wings that seemed to reach toward Grace as though to pull her into a welcoming embrace. Made of glittering rose stone, the house looked warm and inviting.”
No! My novel is a suspense, so I wanted creepy background music, a cross between the tunes played in Jaws and The Twilight Zone.
Instead I wrote: “The house loomed like a dark, gray mass, crouched into the curve of a hill, a hulking presence set amidst weeds and wildness. Made of stone, it looked strong, heavy, almost vile, as though the walls were there merely to encase the darkness within.”
Can you hear the creepy music?
Same house, different perspective, different description.
Back to Our Fellow at the Railroad Tracks
I said I know how he feels, and I do! In another scene, Grace and her questionable romantic entanglement, Clay, journey to Georgia to battle the dead wife of a ghost Grace befriended. This is just before she learns the ghost may be an angel or demon in disguise. (Huh? You’ll have to read the book for that to make sense.) So anyway, they find the ghost wife at a railroad just like this one.
After writing the scene, I decided my “background music” didn’t do it justice, so I visited the site again. Despite my memory and several photographs I earlier had taken, it looked so different in person that I returned a third time with my laptop. I probably looked as pensive sitting by the railroad track as does this guy in the picture.
I’d forgotten how the ground rumbles when a train nears. I’d been wrong about the distance from the tracks to the bordering trees. I had not realized just how dark it can get on a moonless night.
So, on location, I revised the scene and created the perfect background music.
Writers: Are your descriptions prompting the correct mood music in your stories?
Anyone: Check your disposition. What tune would characterize your life at this moment? Are you happy with the song that would announce you wherever you go?
Wise words: Everyone should have a song in his heart! In Ephesians 5:19, Paul speaks of “singing and making melody” in our hearts.