Music That Inspires Writing

Music That Inspires WritingI’m not one of those people who have to have music playing, and I’m definitely not someone who pays much attention to lyrics. I prefer instrumental soundtracks and the like to keep me inspired and on track when I am writing so that the words in the music don’t distract me from the ones in my head.

I know a lot of writers that are on either side of the spectrum—they prefer complete silence or they can’t write without the sounds of their favourite artist saturating the air. Each to their own, as I always say.

But for those who are in-between like I am, I thought I would make up a short list of the music I like to listen to when I am writing anything from an informational article to a piece of flash fiction or a short story. Some of these are from movies, video games, or TV shows that I enjoy, others I just happened to happily stumble across in my many searches. Let us begin!

Assassin’s Creed 2 Official Soundtrack, composed by Jesper Kyd. I first discovered Jesper Kyd while I was playing Assassin’s Creed (the Ezio trilogy being the best part of the series, of course). The music is at times both soothing and soft as well as desperate and fast-paced. This one has been on my playlist for a few years at the least and I don’t plan to remove it any time soon.

The Lord of the Rings Symphony Soundtrack, composed by Howard Shore and Johan De Meji. Most of you know that I am a huge fan of anything by Tolkien, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that something from The Lord of The Rings made it onto this list. My absolute favourite song on this soundtrack actually has lyrics—”Into The West“. I also enjoy the separate albums from the movies that include music from Enya, such as “May it Be“.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Hyrule Symphony, composed by Koji Kondo. Ok, so if I am being honest, this music harbours an abundance of nostalgia for me. This was the first video game that I really fell for, and it is what helped to set me on the path of a true fantasy lover. But, more than that, it’s actually a great soundtrack. For the most part, it’s soft, calm, and non-invasive, which is perfect when I need to focus on a particularly tough piece of writing. It helps to keep frustration down and patience high.

Outlander Soundtrack, composed by Bear McCreary. I tried reading Outlander many years ago, and it didn’t stick. When the TV show first aired, I decided to give it a try. It’s a decent show to watch, but the soundtrack is what really got me. I had already heard music from McCreary before, and this soundtrack certainly didn’t disappoint. Bagpipes, violins, and otherworldly vocals make for music that both sets the blood on fire and then cools it with gentle rain from the highlands.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Soundtrack, composed by Marcin Przybyłowicz, Mikołaj Stroiński, and Percival. If you are even slightly interested in video games, you have likely heard of The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. The game has won a ridiculous number of awards and it deserves every one of them. This soundtrack is guttural, though at times it can be soothing and quiet, at others it is reminiscent of Viking rituals and clashing swords. If you need something to get you through that tired period in the afternoon, give this a try. And if you need a new game to play, I would highly suggest playing this.

As you can see, most of the music that I listen to is inspired by books. In fact, The Witcher, Outlander, and LOTR were all books before they were anything else. There is even a paperback series about the events in the Assassin’s Creed video games. I think it’s safe to say that I love much more than the pages of books, I love the popular culture that surrounds them, from music to movies and TV shows, I can never get enough.

What do you listen to when you write? Does it depend on your mood? How do you feel about lyrics when writing? Feel free to share your favourite piece in the comments!

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

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Dry Spells

Dry SpellsA couple of months ago, my grandfather sent me a box full of books. I had been complaining about having nothing to read, and books are where we always find common ground. He has never suggested a book to me that I did not like, so as I opened the box, inhaled the smell of old books, and started to pull them out, I was feeling that unique high of a reader; anticipation and indulgence all swirled into one.

There were maybe 20-30 books in this box; I can’t even imagine what shipping must have cost him. I found homes for all of them on my shelf, and left the one that he had spoken the most about on my end table (Sailing Around the World, by Joshua Slocum). Around the same time, I had ordered 4 books from Chapters as a birthday present to myself, so, as you can imagine, I was inundated with reading material.

I should be through those books by now. I’m a fast reader, my evenings and weekends are free, and the only things that beg for my attention are my pets, who would gladly curl up next to me to enjoy a few quiet moments with a book. But I’m about 30 pages into Sailing Around the World, and it’s a good book; clever, full of dry humour, adventurous, and well-written. So why aren’t I finished?

It’s because, as sometimes happens to me, I am experiencing a dry spell. No book can hold my attention, not even Harry Potter or The Hobbit. I can’t re-read any of my old favourites. I can’t get caught up in a new bestseller. I can’t even finish a book that I started months ago. I don’t want to read in the evenings. I don’t want to read in the bath. I don’t want to read on a sunny weekend afternoon.

And it’s not that I have no desire to read, it is that nothing interests me right now. My brain is craving other forms of stimulation, regardless of how I feel about it. In some ways, it can be a blessing. When I read a book, when I become entranced by a story, I am a slave to it. I eat it, breathe it, sleep it. I physically crave it when I can’t read it. I will become so involved in it that I will read even when I only have 3 minutes to spare.

This makes me wonder if perhaps it is healthy to take breaks every so often, to lose that all-consuming feeling of curiosity and longing. After all, if I were to feel like that all of the time, it might drive me quite mad. Reading has become an addiction to me, and to abstain from it for a week or a month at a time can help me to clear my head.

I find that when I keep my distance from the pages, I am able to focus more on my own writing. Questions that have been floating around in my head for ages suddenly have answers and plots can be untangled. I have more time to explore other mediums that I relish, such as video games, movies, and theater.

And the strange thing is that during these dry spells, I do not miss reading. I do not gaze at the books on my shelf in exasperation or frustration. I do not feel as if I have lost anything, but instead, as if I am taking a vacation and will soon return to the routine that I know and love. I know that I will return to their pages soon, and that it will feel like home.

As I have said umpteen times, we are all different. How we read, how we write, and what inspires us are all individualistic experiences that help to shape and define us. There is no “right” way to read, and no “right” way to write. We are who we are, and there’s no one way to be a bookworm.

Do you ever have dry spells? Or do you read constantly? Do you take conscious breaks from books, or does it happen naturally?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Every Villain is a Hero

The basis of almost every book, movie, or video game is this: you have a hero, generally some sort of underdog, who has to overcome some sort of evil, usually represented in the physical form of a villain. This hero has to go through many trials and tribulations whilst the villain thwarts them at every turn. Eventually, the hero overcomes and the villain is defeated.

The hero is sculpted to make you relate to them in most cases. A good person, someone who has faced adversity, who is fighting for what is right. The villain is designed to be someone that a reader, player, or watcher can despise. Someone who says and does things that make your heart turn against them, but these villains almost always have followers of their own, people who believe in their cause and their vision.

While we might find reasons to side with the hero, we must attempt to remember that those who side with the villains have their reasons too. That’s what empathy was invented for, right? Take a look below to see some famous villains from various books and games that may or may not change how you see them.

Lord_Voldemort's_FigureVoldemort (Harry Potter): Voldemort was born to an abused and magical mother and a non-magical father. He was conceived into an already broken home, seeing as his mother used magic to charm his father into falling in love with her. When she dies in childbirth, Voldemort (then Tom Riddle), is left to go into an orphanage and spend his days wondering why he seems to be smarter and more skilled than the other children around him.

Eventually, Dumbledore visits him and invites him to attend Hogwarts, but instead of attempting to understand why Riddle did such nasty things as a child, he immediately finds that he is wary of him. He invites him to the school, but instead of offering love and support, offers suspicion and prejudice.

What would Riddle have been had Dumbledore offered him the same bond as he had Harry? Voldemort seems to be a simple case of someone who has never known love, and instead of knowing where to find it, he creates walls around himself and recruits followers that will do his bidding. He would have been a very different man had he felt affection from someone early on.

The One Ring (LOTR)Sauron (The Lord of the Rings): Sauron was once an “angel” of sorts. Melkor, this other angel-type being, started spreading about his own thoughts, which ran a different way than those of the other spirits and of their creator. Thus, Melokor was deemed evil. At some point, Sauron decides to join Melkor, and this is when he is forever labelled as “evil”.

It could have been different, though, had the other spirits accepted Melkor’s thoughts, or even pondered them, as opposed to immediately deeming them to be unsound and inappropriate. Or perhaps if they had destroyed him straight away even, which would of course be harsh. But if Sauron had known what was to come, or if he had been shown that other thoughts are ok, but not necessarily as actions, would he have made the same choices? One will never know.

BatmanRa’s al Ghul (Batman): Ra’s story is a sad one. The basis is this: he is a doctor, married to and in love with a woman named Sora. He discovers a magical place that can heal people, and when he is called on to heal a sultan’s son, he lowers the son into it. The son, who was already a little cracked, comes completely undone and murders Ra’s wife. Ra’s is blamed for the crime, and sentenced to death. He escapes and vows revenge on sultan and thus begins his life of evil.

This one doesn’t need much explaining. When a person loses the love of someone important, they can become desensitized. After the death of his wife, it is only natural (in the comic book world) that he would want revenge on the sultan. Then, once that is done, he finds solace in a life of darkness. With nothing left of happiness or hope or love, where would any of us be?

Hans_Holbein,_the_Younger,_Around_1497-1543_-_Portrait_of_Henry_VIII_of_England_-_Google_Art_ProjectHenry VIII (Non-fiction): Henry VIII is a man that many love to despise. His actions were quite atrocious even when he was king, which is saying a lot since public hangings, burnings, and beheadings were still acceptable. Henry had a number of wives (six in all), four of which whose deaths are directly or indirectly attributed to their loving husband. Henry was a second son, destined for the church and not for the throne. His brother, Arthur, died before ever becoming king, so the crown fell to Henry, who had not been raised as a ruler, but rather as a spoiled little boy.

Henry wasn’t taught a lot of things that Arthur was. His life was meant for different things, so when he finally inherited the throne, he apparently thought that it was all about pleasure and that being king meant that his life was meant to be great. He enjoyed women, and games, and parties, and hunting, and all of the other amusement-based aspects of ruling. It was how he was brought up—not necessarily to rule, but to be spoiled before possibly one day becoming a cardinal or even the pope.

Things would have been a lot different had Henry been taught the same things as Arthur had, and if he had been raised to take the throne instead of to live for pleasure. There’s not really a protagonist to Henry, unless you want to count any one of his wives, who many still feel for.

Assassin's Creed LogoAssassin’s Creed (1): The first Assassin’s Creed game is set around Altair, an assassin who takes orders from Al Mualim, who is basically the head assassin. The entire game is shaped around Altair questioning the “hits” that are delegated to him, as he begins to see that there are two sides to every story. Throughout the game, your enemies are Templars, but near the end, you start to understand that maybe, just maybe, Al Mualim is the corrupted one, and that, although opinions may vary, the Templars and Assassins are not so very different.

In this game, and some of the others that come after it, the lines between friend and foe can be blurry. You learn that not all of your “enemies” are as terrible as you thought. You learn that taking blind orders can be dangerous, and that thinking for yourself is a noble trait. A trait that sometimes requires going against the grain.

There is an endless list of villains that can qualify as heroes. It’s important to remember that while an author shapes our perception, we should remain thoughtful creatures that form our own evaluations as opposed to taking everything that is handed to us.

What are some famous villains that you have felt for? What are some that you could never appreciate?

PS: I do have a FB page if anyone is interested. You can find it here.

Characterization Inspiration

 

da2_cast_lineup
Let’s talk characterization, shall we? When I was taking a class for editing fiction, one of my instructor’s told us something that opened my eyes. It was a small thing, something that is actually quite obvious. Nonetheless, it forced me to think about characters of all shapes and sizes in a new light.

What he said went something like this: Our personal experiences have a definite influence on how we view characters. We must be very careful when figuring out what is working for a character in a story and what is not. Is that character designed to make you despise them, or do you just have an irritating aunt that resembles that character? Do you dislike the character because the writing makes them that way, or do you dislike them because they go against your personal views?

This couldn’t make more sense to me, and though it has not changed how I despise characters, it has made me understand why they irk me.

I’m going to go through two characters here from Dragon Age 2. I know, it’s not a book, but it is still so relevant. If you haven’t played and want to, be warned.

In that game, we have two elves that can become companions to your MC, Hawke: Merrill and Fenris. The elven history in the DA games is mostly negative, since some elves are treated as slaves, others are basically quarantined in certain areas in the cities, and the rest live outside of society.

Merrill is a Dalish mage, who showed up briefly in the first game if you played through as an elf. The Dalish are wood elves and wanderers. They live outside of society and keep to their clans. You get Merrill by completing a few quests and then she becomes part of your party. She was second to the “Keeper”, the leader of her clan.

Fenris is an ex-Tevinter slave and warrior. When you meet him, he has semi-recently escaped his master and is set on revenge. His childhood was spent as a slave and he has a penchant for revenge. He becomes part of your party after completing a few quests related to him. He is alone and, as a fugitive, has no family or friends.

Now that you know a bit about their backgrounds, let’s look at their personalities:

Merrill is shy, unsure of herself, and desperate to help her people in any way that she can. She is naive and inexperienced. She is not opposed to blood-magic (generally frowned upon by most) and sympathizes with demons and people who become possessed by them. She is nice enough, with a sort of quirky personality that just makes you want to help her.

Fenris is broody, dark, and quite dry. He has learned to despise magic because, long story short, that’s what caused him to be raised in slavery. He is smart, very useful in battle, and is confident in his beliefs. He does not support blood magic or demons. At first, it is his desire for revenge that drives him to become one of your companions. He has little emotional attachment to anything.

Which character did I prefer? Fenris. Broody, dark, depressing Fenris. Why? Because Merrill struck me as an irritating, unreasonable character who has no logic or sense in her. She might have heart, but, in comparison to my character, her goals were counter-productive.

It was easy for me to understand why Fenris was so morose—he grew up as a slave. It was easy to understand why he didn’t like magic too—that’s what enslaved him. He smart, quiet, and knows himself. Merrill is constantly seeking approval and assistance in things that my MC wouldn’t want to get involved in. Blood magic and demons usually means bad things.

Fenris is useful, and I know where his loyalties are. He is straightforward and you never need to guess about what his response will be.

On the other hand, Merrill has become a favourite with many DA2 players. I was just involved in a conversation where it was argued that she was cute, friendly, and just so “charming”. Those aren’t the words I would use to describe her.

This goes to show that your own personality and life experiences does change the way that you view characters when reading a book or playing a game. I am more like Fenris, and his goals are akin to mine as a player. Merrill, to me, was quite different from what I look for in a friend or companion in real life.

If you’ve played the game, which elf did you prefer? Why? Are there any other examples, in books or games, that really spoke to you?

Writers and…video games?

360I am a writer, both by trade and by passion. In my spare time, I read, I play with my dogs and cat, I garden, and among other things, I play video games.

Perusing through other blogs about writing, I have realized that many of my fellow writers also play video games, whether female or male. It seems to be yet another thing that links us together. I started to wonder why, as writers, many of us seem to enjoy immersing ourselves in a fictional reality.

Is it because it is as close as we can get to actually living in a story? Is it because when we write, we see our own writing just as clearly as we see our own lives? Or is it just because, as time goes on, video games are becoming more and more popular and almost everyone plays them?

I think that it is one of the first two. As someone who works with words, I tend to see things differently than others. When it’s raining, it is never simply raining to me. I narrate the rain in my head: the rain, cold and smooth, hurls itself at the parched soil, bringing with it the life that wakes the earth. With video games, stories come to life in the most remarkable way.

Video games allow you to become a part of a story that, unfortunately, would most-likely not take place in your everyday existence. I mean, it would be really amazing if I were to wake up one day and find myself on a cart with Ulfric Stormcloak, but that’s probably not going to happen.

Then, in some RPGs such as Dragon Age, Fable, Mass Effect, The Witcher, etc., you are given the opportunity to exercise your ability to choose. What you decide has an impact on the way that the games plays out. Of course, some games more than others. When I am faced with a decision in a video game, I take it very seriously. I take a lot of time to think about which choice I will make and what it will do to the outcome of the game. Sometimes I will even save before I choose, and then watch how it comes to pass. If I don’t like to outcome, I reload and choose the opposite.

It’s amazing to think that we can create a character that looks like us (or not) and become part of a fictional world. We control the movements, we control the progress, we are an integral part of a virtual story arc. How’s amazing is that?

Not to mention that some games even offer fighting companions, family, love interests, and pets. And the ones where you get to purchase, renovate, and rent out homes (that are customizable to a point) are pretty interesting as well.

This connection between the creative and vast imagination to the world of video games is closer, I think, than most realize or ponder. Games help me to imagination the fictional aspects of my stories in a whole new way, from the characters to the places.

Are you a writer and a gamer? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them! Or, just tell me what you’re currently playing. I am in the middle of Castlevania 2, and I just started Dark Souls 2 (I have already died 6 times).