Pirates, Hobbits, and Jedi, Oh My; On Film Scores and Finding Writing Inspiration
Chapter 26 of The Sword and the Spark is hardly the first action sequence in the novel, but it is a crucial turning point in the story in terms of character and plot. Up until that chapter, the action pieces are pretty dark: a bomb threat, chemical warfare, a raid on a rebel facility, and a handful of murders. In fact, based on the feedback I've received from early readers and a few direct messages on social media, some of these events hit pretty hard, and by the end of Chapter 23 things look incredibly bleak.
And then comes "Chapter 26: The Pilot." Without spoiling anything, I needed to move a group of characters from Point A to Point B, but not without a serious amount of danger and the threat of imminent capture or death. Additionally, I needed to develop the relationships between some key players that would carry them through the rest of the story. In essence, I needed to form my LOTR fellowship, my Serenity crew, and the "escape from Mos Eisley" quartet (the scene that is the source of the original Star Wars quote, "Here's where the fun begins," before Anakin said it). This would be the merry band of antagonists fighting against my hero, who by this point has "fallen to the Dark Side" (which should NOT be a spoiler for anyone who has been following me on social media and has taken note of the Macbeth, Star Wars, andGame of Thrones comparisons).
So, how was I to set the right tone for a dramatic, action-packed sequence that left my readers truly liking the characters and their relationships? I listened to film scores.
Film scores do so much heavy lifting when it comes to cinematic storytelling. Tone, character, relationships, pacing, intensity. . . a good piece of music will tell an audience how to feel about what is happening on screen. Thus, whenever I am in search of the right way to write a scene to capture the feeling I want my reader to experience from it, I listen to instrumental film scores until the right one hits.
How do I know it's the right one? The scene unfolds, dialogue and all, as the music plays. And that is precisely what happened with Chapter 26. I was out on a 10-mile training run in preparation for a marathon, and I had chosen to switch out my usual running mix for my "Cool Movie Music" playlist. "The Forest Battle" from Return of the Jedi got my creative juices flowing, but it wasn't the right tone. "The Bridge of Khazad Dum" from The Fellowship of the Ring was a bit too intense, but my heart was certainly pumping. Then came "Barbossa is Hungry" from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and I knew I was on the right track, but it still wasn't the one. However, the Force was apparently with me on that run, because this piece was immediately followed by another from Pirates of the Caribbean, "Up is Down" from At World's End. Suddenly, I saw my characters, I heard the dialogue, I knew all of the beats that would happen in that sequence, and in the two minutes and forty-two seconds from the start of the song to the end, I had my chapter fully realized in my head. Of course, I had to wait until I got home to write it all out, but that chapter was probably the one that went through the least number of revisions between initial draft to final edit because it had manifested itself so clearly. There was danger, there was humor, there was action, and there, at last, was the essence of one key character that my readers would come to love.
Of all the chapters in The Sword and the Spark, this was the most heavily inspired by existing music, but the entire novel owes a great debt to my collection of cinematic soundtracks. I rarely write to music, but I certainly draw heavily from film scores while mapping things out in my head. So, thank you to Hans Zimmer, Ramin Djawadi, Klaus Badelt, Howard Shore, James Horner, David Newman, Clint Mansell, Randy Edelman, and John Williams for helping this novice writer create new worlds and new stories through the magic of your music.
Maybe one day I'll list all the various tracks that influenced each chapter of the novel. And if you're interested in what "Silver Sword" sounds like (that's the key musical motif in the novel that I composed myself), it's what's playing during the "Early Readers Respond" video on my homepage.
In the meantime, happy reading, and Stars light your way.