The Soundtrack of the Movie

I don’t think there are many fiction writers, especially members of the fantasy/sci-fi crew, that haven’t at least day-dreamed about the movie of their book. I know I have. Maybe more than most.

This is mainly due to the fact that when I write, I see the action. I am aware that narrative needs to be informed by everything: taste, sound, smell, thoughts, feelings. I do my best to make sure I cover all bases but when I construct narrative, my instincts play it out in front of my eyes, as clear as on a cinema screen. I get camera angles, I get landscape and reaction shots, montages and music.

Most of it is just idle fancy-making. Considering what locations you might want to be used for the shoot (Cambodia?) or what actors might pay what parts, whilst jolly good fun (who hasn’t daydreamed about Alexander Skarsgard, Lena Headey or Chistopher Lee in the role of one of your character’s?) does not help you an awful lot in the short term.

Thinking about the soundtrack, however, I think does.

Music is a huge mood-setter for me. There are certain things I listen to when writing fantasy, other things when writing sci-fi. There are tracks I listen to over and over because their mood and cadence effortlessly invokes my imagination. I can’t help but listen to a song, track or piece of music without seeing something play itself out before my eyes. And the beauty of make-believe is that you have access to everything in the world without limitation of time, space, death or budget. If you want Mozart to write your soundtrack, just click your mental fingers (and/or set up an account on Spotify or iTunes) and he’s yours for the taking.

I thought coming up with an musician for the imaginary soundtrack of my fantasy novel, The Road Elsewhere, would be absurdly easy. We have such a wealth to pick from, especially at the moment.Β I considered the likes of James Horner (Titanic), Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings) and John Williams (everything awesome, ever). All have written music that I love and often listen to whilst writing. But any and all of these, and many more, would be too easy a choice, I feel. (Please note, James, Howard and John, if you do happen to read this, I am in no way suggesting that I would be averse to your involvement in the project at a later date should it ever come to that).

They’ve all written amazing music, and I want amazing but I also want something different. It’s fantasy, there’s no getting around that. We need grand and we need sweeping. But I also want dark, I want nasty, I want doubt and tension and hate and fear. I guess I want edge. I want Trent Reznor.

Trent Reznor doing a soundtrack to a fantasy movie? Tell me that hasn’t got potential. He won awards for The Social Network and the soundtrack is one of the few parts I did enjoy about that movie. I would want that sort of thing, but with the extremes dialled up. I want him, again, to have access to a full orchestra as well as synthesisers and I want dizzying highs and gut-wrenching lows. I know he is perfectly capable of creating dark, nasty, doubt, tension and hate (my favourites from his time with the Nine Inch Nails are Reptile, Hurt and Something I can Never Have) but I would also be really interested to see what he would create for the victorious parts of the narrative, the successes and the moments of hope and clarity. In my fantasy-land, it would be glorious, epic and with edge.

Keeping this idea in mind (and the tunes on my MP3 player) helps me keep the atmosphere in my imagination which, I hope, translates into the prose.

Zero is a different kettle of fish. This is science fiction. This is ray guns, spaceships, death-defying light-speed chases between the stars. The atmosphere is different, the tone is different. TRE‘s narrative spans an entire world. Zero‘s narrative, it’s true, spans everywhere from the earth to the moon and beyond, but somehow it is more concentrated in its scope if that makes any sense at all. It’s somehow more…human.

For Zero, therefore, I want the soundtrack written by Their music is fantastically futuristic, atmospheric and with a distinct post-apocalyptic, dystopia sort of feel. Simply delicious.

There is a particular track Remember that I think of as the imaginary title track of the soundtrack of Zero. There is despair in there, and bleakness and uncertainty but I also feel a huge potential for action and drama. I see scenes from the Zero movie whenever I hear it. Other notable tracks that demonstrate the sort of atmosphere I imagine Zero has are Amnesia and Stalkers. Any sci-fi fan who has not listened to their work I would highly recommend them. I defy you not to be inspired.

Another artist I would consider would be Deadmau5. There is drama and action again, conflict but also hope. I think he could easily achieve the lows and the highs of the mood of the narrative and still keep something edgy on the go to keep the tension ratcheted up. Almost everything off the album > album title goes here < invokes images and narrative of the ‘Zero‘ sort. If you want a particular couple of tracks to check out, I’d say Closer and There Might be Coffee are two that lend themselves particularly well.

I know I have got carried away but I also have ideas for the sort of artists I would like working on the soundtrack to Zero‘s sequel, currently imaginatively titled Zero-Two. This story is darker than its predecessor. I already know that the events in Zero lead all the characters and the world in which they live to shift and change and initiate a new age that, whilst may be better for humankind at large, takes its toll on the characters. They are different people with many more scars, emotional and otherwise, by the beginning of Zero-Two. The sort of events that unfold and the drives that move the characters through this narrative are baser, darker and with nastier consequences. There is little faith or innocence left for them after the events of the previous story.

Thus, we have no chirpy Deadmau5 for this movie. I want the likes of Massive Attack (Angel) and Garbage (Crush). Dark, moody, dangerous but not sweeping, epic and grandiose like I need for TRE. Music that makes you think of gutters in forgotten cities of forgotten people, where blood is cheaper than water and where fight for survival is more than just a phrase.

It would seem that I have thought about this rather a lot, but it didn’t take long and it didn’t take much. I listen to music in some shape or form for most of every day. I have a lot of music and my experience and taste is so diverse that I have rather an eclectic collection. And this is because music does more for me for creating atmosphere than almost anything else. Whether it be an atmosphere for washing the dishes, or for writing an epic High Fantasy novel.

Picking out particular artists and tracks to imagine as the soundtrack to the movies of my books I find helps a huge amount to establish tone and help keep your events in motion. If you haven’t already done so, I’d suggest having a go. At the very least it’s a great deal of fun.

And if anyone runs into Trent Reznor or John Williams, let them know I’d happily hear any demos they might like to come up with. Though I’d have to run it past my director, Mr. Nolan, first.

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3 Responses to The Soundtrack of the Movie

  1. D. James Fortescue says:


    I see a fast sweeping panorama of the first country of my story world, before it zooms in on its capital city, to the top of a building and to the eyes of the first character we meet.

    Do you find any particular movies inspired how your mind’s eye views the action?

    I also have a list of songs for each character, for some important scenes, and novels as a whole =)

    • jcollyer says:

      Oh wow that’s cool, having particular songs for particular characters. I’m not sure if any particular movies have influenced the way I see things, though I think the cinematography of Lord if The Rings is hard to keep from under your skin πŸ™‚

      I like your opening shot, that’s a great start to a fantasy movie. I would watch that movie πŸ™‚

  2. Pingback: Seasonal Settings and Informing your Voice | The Path – J. S. Collyer's Writing Blog

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