Creative Process

Which Songs Inspire Novels?

By April 7, 2014 20 Comments

Jackie Brown Gun
When you hear the perfect song, the words will form. It’s not necessarily the critical acclaim or the singing quality that drives you to push pen into paper, but rather the narrative in the song that make it almost criminal not to document the song in a story.

My writing inspiration comes from gritty music. Vagabonds, junkies, and mavericks inspire writing like no other. It makes sense, given my affinity with neo-noir. Jazz, death metal, or synthpop are good for getting into the groove of writing, but the songs below just plain inspire me to write a novel:

“Across 110th Street” by Bobby Womack

Jackie Brown is my favourite Tarantino flick, hands down. Cat-and-mouse games driven by a strong female protagonist slay like no other. Bobby Womack’s vocals are authentic and remind me of sitting down while a parent with a half-smile tells me about some forgotten childhood anecdote that I probably blocked out of my absorbent little brain due to PTSD.

“What Death Leaves Behind” by Los Campesinos!

If I ever need to revisit adolescent angst or want to be stabbed with a Confusion Dagger, I turn to Los Campesinos! Lyrically, this song is dense with references and is just pure witty:

I was the first match struck at the first cremation
You are my shallow grave, I’ll tend you as a sexton


They say you and me are tautology

Nice. Very nice.

“Nightcall” by Kavinsky

Ever need to write a Morally Ambiguous Protagonist? If so, this is the perfect song for you, and it’s made for surreptitiously tailing cars on the freeway at night, too. The redemptive character of Ryan Gosling’s unnamed protagonist in Drive, which features this song, just gives it an added dimension of raw. It’s hard to explain how much I love this song.

“Love Theme” by Ennio Morricone

No explanation necessary.

Which songs inspired your writing?

Join the discussion 20 Comments

  • kvennarad says:

    Very few. I tend to come to my writing ideas by other routes. I can however cite one song+video that gave me mood and atmosphere once or twice. Holocene by Bon Iver. The landscape is Iceland; it’s like Scotland but up a couple of notches. That element of familiarity means that I’m awed but not overwhelmed by it; that’s an important level of emotional control.

    • Millie Ho says:

      Isn’t all writing about getting back to nature? Great song and video. I like what you say about getting emotional control. There’s music that a) inspires you and b) makes you drop everything and listen to it/perpetuate procrastination by way of melophilia. Best to choose a) most of the time!

  • steve says:

    I’m continuously amazed by you-Millie and Marie’s ability to know what the hell is going on inside you with regards to writing or at least get a glimpse of the process. I feel more like tumbleweed going somewhere I don’t know where, why, or how, but there’s definitely music along the way. Now, I’m gonna listen to this Bon Iver. It comes at an appropriate time because I’ve recently been made aware of Bill Forsyth and took two trips to Scotland via his cinema; two of my favorite movies now….”Local Hero” and “Gregory’s Girl.” I tend to say favorite often, but the original plot of Local Hero and the way a typical plot was treated in Gregory’s Girl leave me wanting to visit Scotland one day. The humor and irony and sarcasm in both is so damn refreshing. And now I’ve gone off topic. Oh well, music does that.

    • Millie Ho says:

      Re: feeling like a tumbleweed, no kidding. Zig-zag all the way. I can see the appeal of “Local Hero”; everyone loves a good quest gone wrong flick, and I’m always rooting for the underdog standing between the big corporations and the old way of life. I wonder if it has a good soundtrack!

      • steve says:

        The soundtrack is what brought me to the movie. Bill Miller who writes a baseball blog is also a big movie fan and he recommended Local Hero after I included “water of love” by Dire Straits in one of my posts. Bill is a big Dire Straits fan as well and Local Hero was the fist soundtrack done by Mark Knopfler.

        One of the many interesting things about Local Hero to me is the astrology institute’s dependence ov the oil project. The money has to come from somewhere. It kind of kills the us versus them-corporate versus underdog dance and leaves the viewer thinking interdependence.

  • I looove that Jackie Brown album (and the movie, of course). ‘Natural High’, also from that album, inspired a waterfall murder scene in a novella I’m writing. Or should I say, pre-murder scene 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing I remember most of those songs!

  • Karen Wan says:

    I like your collection of inspirations. I have an unusual set of inspirational music set from pop to hard rock to classical. In terms of my novel, the music that inspires me is a lot of Led Zeppelin particularly Kashmir, Scheherazade by Rimsky Korsakov, I like this question so much, I may blog about it later this week myself, and include some other music that is inspiring me lately to write my own songs to accompany my novel.

    Millie, I always enjoy your blog!


  • Jen says:

    Music inspires me on so many levels and is intricately woven into most of my memoir writing. I’m finding it an interesting challenge to convey it’s meaning to me in a way that’s meaningful to my readers, though.

  • Jen says:

    oh, and as for which music? Right now, Van Morrison, Brian Wilson/Beach Boys, Billie Holiday, and Buena Vista Social Club…

  • Aquileana says:

    “Love Theme” by Ennio Morricone is wonderful…
    You should check out the song hidden among haruli Murakami´s books … There are too many and all highly meaningful…

    Best regards, Aquileana 😉

    • Millie Ho says:

      Thanks, Aquileana! Haruki Murakami’s books contain lots of interesting jazz songs, too, especially in the “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”. Have you read?

      • Aquileana says:

        Hi Millie Ho;

        That one I haven´t , but I have read “Norwegian Wood” and “Dance , dance , dance” among a few others.-.. Those ones I mentioned have interesting musical references (also worth listening to!)…

        I´d have to read “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” as it is one of his best books as judging for some reviews I have read …

        Thank you, regards, Aquileana 😛

  • Really great selection. Check out London grammars cover of nightcall.

  • johncoyote says:

    The poet of music are my motivation. Leonard Cohen, Lana Del Rey, Johnnie Cash and Baez. Good words from songs make us dream, travel back in time and remember.

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