Commercial Breaks and Soundtracks

It’s all music and television for me. Though not together. That’s just silly.

I’m really into television as a medium. I will marathon a television show just so I can watch a whole story unfold at once; it’s the closest we get to novels in a visual format, if novels had filler episodes. (It’s not a perfect metaphor.) And while I have no interest in ever writing for television, I certainly I think that episodic format influences how I craft and manage scenes within a story.

First there’s the matter of formatting. I will structure a story in scenes, sometimes on the short side, to set up for one relatively long climactic scene. I will set scenes that end in abrupt points, and jump into another scene as necessary to make sure the story is told as I want to reader to experience it — I can’t imagine telling a story without the best characters on the keyboard: ***.¬†This scene’s over? Eff it — put in a commercial break and get on to the next one. I assume that’s normal, but honestly? I’ve never really paid attention to the way scenes are structured while reading. If I did, something is probably going wrong within the story.

It’s also because creating a story is really visual for me, which is weird because I’m not huge into physical description. I like watching the way characters in television shows hold themselves during emotional scenes — the way they move during an argument, or the subtle ways that they show their feelings without screaming, “I’M JUST REALLY SAD, OKAY?” When I’m really into a scene, when I just need ten minutes to write this down shut up I’m working! it’s because I can see the scene so clearly, and I don’t want to lose the mannerisms or the motion. The dialogue, the general prose — that can be cleaned up later. But I don’t ever want to read and scene and not feel the way it moves.

And thus, we bring it to music. If television powers the way I view a story, music powers the way I shape it. There are two ways I listen to music while I write — and I always listen to music while I write. There’s music that inspires what I’m writing. I bought the Florence + the Machine album (Ceremonials) right when I started last year’s NaNoWriMo, and I could not stop listening to it. My sci-fi novel turned into an epic romance. Whoops.

And then there’s the playlist that I build around something I’m writing, whether it’s a story-specific playlist or a generic genre playlist. (Also: great procrastination method!) I might pick it because of the lyrics or message — how do you not put Virtual Insanity on the playlist for a dystopian novel? ¬†Other times I’ll pick it for the beat: my doomed romance playlists always feature Protege Moi, and my sad bastard break-up playlist will always have I Don’t Care. (What, people write things other than depressing, doomed romances?) The lyrics might not always be relevant to the story, but the way the music flows, the theme of the music video, or the emotion in the singer’s voice might.

Or you know, sometimes I just bought the MP3 half an hour ago and I still haven’t taken it off repeat.

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.

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