Writer’s Music: Mychael Danna IV

91ilvkdjfkl-_sl1500_One of the many reasons I write with music in the background is to help me feel outside of myself. To clarify: if there’s a feeling I’m going for in a scene, it helps to sense that feeling elsewhere than in my brain. If I hear music that reflects the feeling, I am better able to relate the feeling with language. This goes for music that lifts up as well as music that drags down.

Today, I want to focus on the “lift up” part. Mychael Danna, the unshakeable rock of my movie score library, both drags and lifts with Little Miss Sunshine. The story itself—a dysfunctional family coming together to help the young girl reach a beauty pageant—calls for such pendulum swings in mood. The genius here is that the music seems to symbolize the dysfunction: one hears some strings, but not many, drums, a squeezebox, a tuba and trumpet. Some other little percussion odds and ends, like a xylophone. These are not the instruments one hears together often, save for, hmm, a polka party? But then strings are not usually involved… ANYWAY. You have an eclectic batch of instruments with their own very unique sounds, but together, they not only create harmony, but a genuine song.

And what a song. “We’re Gonna Make It” builds as more instruments join, and while the sounds are so very different, the melodies played by each instrument are very much the same. Add to this the percussion, which builds up the rhythms with a little help from the tuba, and you’ve got a song that runs through the dirt, leaps into the air, and soars.

Help your characters see that, though odd ducks they may be, they are better as a unit than apart. Give them the hope and determination they need to rise over the conflict. Danna’s got just the wings for the flight.

Click here for more on LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.

Click here for more on Mychael Danna.

Writer’s Music: Mychael Danna II


As I wrote in February, Danna’s music has helped me a great deal as a writer. While The Sweet Hereafter creates an unsettling atmosphere, Breach provides an air of mystery no plot should live without.

Say what you will about writing for a specific genre: if you want a page-turner, you’ve got to have a puzzle of some sort to be solved. Characters must work out causes of events, sources of conflict with others, and their own inner flaws. These puzzles can’t just sit on the table half-finished until the last ten minutes; someone’s always got to be working on them or the reader’s going to leave, bored, and never return.

Danna’s Breach utilizes an extensive string section, keyboard, and a few brass and woodwind instruments to build upon each other with musical rhythms. As “A Full Day” begins with the keyboard, I can watch my characters start with little, and slowly begin to piece the different elements of their mystery together, just as Danna brings in layers of short rhythmic melodies, each played by different instruments. By the time the keyboard pulls together its melodies over the crescendo of strings, my characters have uncovered a clue vital to uncovering the kidnapper and where he’s hidden the protagonist.

One other note on Danna: the timing of his music. While I may start a track over and over during the writing process, I expect my story to read in time with the music. If my scene lags—and it does, shamefully often—I know it must be tightened. Writers constantly hear they must “keep up the pace,” but apart from using a metronome, how does one pull it off? In moments where mystery dominates the plot, use Breach’s rhythms to drive your characters onward.

Selection: “A Full Day”

Click here for more on Mychael Danna’s BREACH and other albums.