Listen to Movie Soundtracks to Create Your Dramatic Voice

Listen to Movie Soundtracks to Create Your Dramatic Voice

by Nick Nebelsky

One of my writing tools is listening to instrumental film scores. When I find myself stuck in a rut or I’m experiencing a creative block, I turn on Pandora and listen to music and writingsome film scores. It’s amazing how music will change one’s mood. Whether I’m writing a chase scene or a romantic love scene, I always find music my salvation. I’m a huge fan of John Williams, James Horner, and Thomas Newman.

Music can affect our moods and feelings in such ways that makes us feel a range from deep sadness to euphoria. One of the best songs I’ve found for writing a chase scene or fight scene is track 10 “The Battle of Stirling” on the Braveheart soundtrack, with an original score by James Horner. The piece begins modestly, builds momentum with pounding drums for the action and battle sequences, and finally rises to the climax where the beautiful violins bring you a sense of redemption. There’s no doubt that something dramatic is happening in the scene. This is what a great soundtrack should do: allow the music to move you as you put down words on screen.

One of the most iconic film score composers of the present day is Thomas Newman. He’s an award-winning composer who has penned more than 70 film scores but is still looking for that elusive Oscar; he’s much overdue. Although he’s been working since 1984, his latter works are the ones I find most enjoyable. His compositions include Shawshank Redemption, Apollo 13, American Beauty, The Help, and Fried Green Tomatoes, to name a few. He’s also joined his cousin Randy Newman in composing music for PIXAR.


Try this exercise:

Open your word processor to a blank page. Turn on Pandora or Spotify and find a film score channel. You do this by typing in a movie score or Thomas Newman. Close your eyes and start writing to any song that starts playing. If the music is fast, write an action scene. Conversely, if it’s slow and mellow, write a romantic scene. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar at this stage. Just write. I bet in those two- to three-minute songs, you’ll have written some amazing prose.

I hope my example and my suggestions will prompt you to utilize film score compositions as tools for better writing. Maybe someday your book will become a film, and you’ll be able to suggest an artist to do the score.

NOTE: David Waid’s November 16, 2014 post had a different take on the idea of writing to music.

For more than 30 years, Nicholas Nebelsky has created everything Nick Nebelskyfrom greeting cards to short stories to children’s books to trade show presentations to screenplays and radio dramas. He currently spends his days listening to a lot of music while writing his first YA novel and contemplating his next venture. For additional information, please visit his web site.

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