She got the power in her hand
To shock you like you won’t believe
Saw her in the amazon
With the voltage running through her skin
Standing there with nothing on
She gonna teach me how to swim
–‘Electric Feel,’ MGMT
During the most recent workshop, we had a lengthy discussion on inspiration via images. My professor talked about creating a file of images to inspire him for a story or to help him get in the right mindset for that particular world. I’ve definitely done this before, especially with pieces of art (see ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace, and Paris‘). Images are great for providing setting and plot elements; what you see in the picture can easily be made into a scene in your story, or the fleeting image you describe in your poetry.
In recent years, and especially now, I’ve found myself drawing inspiration from somewhere else entirely: music. I draw on songs and albums for a different purpose than scenes or environment; I find that songs, especially good ol’ rock and roll, provide whole characters for me to play with and fold into my own story. I profile a lyric from an MGMT song above about an “electric girl,”–and, for the record, “This song isn’t about eels, it’s about drugs,“–who could easily be turned into a pretty cool, super mystical character in a story or poem. I’ve got better examples: pretty much anyone written about by Lou Reed. I’m stating this here, so no one better steal my idea, but I would love, love to write a collection of short stories or even a play about all of Lou Reed’s women: Candy, Stephanie, Jane, Jenny, Lisa, Caroline…and the list goes on! Each song gives me a snippet of who these women are: Jenny’s life was saved by rock and roll because she’s been bored since birth; Jane is sweet and wear’s a vest. Great little details that could easily become full fledged characters, or even side characters to sprinkle in.
More often than straight-up stealing people from music artists, I like to create playlists for the characters I already have, or for the story in general. Listening to a certain type of music really helps me get in the right writing mood. For the most recent story I’ve been working on, “Like This,” I’ve been listening to a lot of Air, The Vitamin String Quartet, and Coldplay to get inside my main character’s head. Frankly, I think it’s working. I write faster and I’m more engaged with my words when I have cinematic background music playing. I can’t wait for the day when books and music combine so that readers can hear soundtracks as they push through a book.