Writer’s Music: Jim Parker

Music tells such marvelous stories. Sometimes, though, music written so perfectly for one story never fits anywhere else. Many of John Williams‘ themes, for instance, are cemented in their iconic-ness: Superman, Jaws, Indiana Jones, Star Wars–even Harry Potter. The themes for those characters fit. Period. For a sample of Williams’ work, this is a decent mix:

But then there’s the occasional surprise: an iconic sound that still produces a fresh image far removed from the music’s original universe.

Take Jim Parker‘s theme for Midsomer Murders. The original novels were written by an amazing old granny named Caroline Graham. Never have I seen point of view shifts performed so smoothly and so often than in her work–a “Lessons Learned” post is coming, I promise you. For now, though, let’s listen.

The discovery was something like an apple to the noggin. I had experienced a very, very weird dream brimming with potential for a kid’s adventure story, but I wasn’t capturing the bizarreness of the world: the details felt, well, lame, like a flannel-graph presentation for teenagers. I was desperately flipping through Hans Zimmer, The Beatles, The Who, and even Joel McNeely to get me into…well more like “out of.” I needed to feel the fall out of the humdrum and into the crazy. But without the right music, I just couldn’t get over the edge.

Now this is back when Biff and Bash were still wee and nursing. I often had a show locked’n’loaded in the player for late-night feedings. Weary of our home’s offerings, I had picked up Midsomer Murders from the library earlier that day. 2am: Biff and Bash are hungry. I situate the pillows, crook the boys to the boobs. On comes the title sequence and that clarinet like water in a shopping mall’s fountain: a quiet fluttering one only notices on the corner of perception. Then come the theremin and the strings. They float about like the bedsheet ghosts one hangs from trees on Halloween: eerie, a touch off, but not nightmare fuel. The sort of music for spooking kids, filling a night with as many giggles as shrieks…

YES! I could picture it all now: the kid stuck in the middle of nowhere who meets another bored kid who isn’t a proper kid at all, the trip down below to the goblin king and his mastery of giants–Brilliant, must write! But the boys are still nursing. Suckle faster, dammit!

It’s amazing what sights and sounds can spark up our imaginations, especially when we’re worn out by all that life requires of the grown-up. Let Jim Parker give you a break from adulthood and run loose as a kid, full of mischief for the humdrum village outside.

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Writer’s Music: Hans Zimmer II

81hlcdsuknl-_sl1500_Showdowns are, I find, one of the most necessary elements of story, as well as one of the trickiest. Actions are a blur, emotions and motivations impossible to explain, don’t let it go too long or the pacing drags, don’t let it go too short or you’re better off not bothering at all, the setting’s impacted so you better talk about that, and what about the OTHER characters outside the showdown you can’t forget them and ARGH.

Oh, and it’s not like you can only have ONE showdown.

Music is a savior here, one which I’ll happily share over the next few “Writer’s Music” posts. Every showdown must be unique: there is no one quite like your protagonist in this moment, for he/she is either a) barely understanding the world right now, b) still learning his/her abilities, or c) ready, impassioned. These moments of growth influence the showdown, so the music should reflect that.

Your antagonist may be on a similar arc, or not. Some prefer the antagonist to be impossibly powerful so the final showdown and defeat is all the more satisfying, but I think it’s interesting to watch the antagonist grow, too. Any earlier interaction with the protagonist should affect the antagonist, and make him/her more intelligent, wary, etc.

Hans Zimmer’s “Air” is a favorite showdown track for me because, being a longer track, it does allow the characters to think and feel. To realize. Such moments are important, I think, when the protagonist doesn’t really get what’s going on; therefore, those breaths in the action help ground the reader, too.

I am also a sucker for ominous choirs, which Zimmer uses in abundance here. Strings carry the main weight of melody here, but when it’s time for the true tension to arise, percussion and choir overwhelm; you can feel the physical battle here. The eerie soft moments in the choir’s absence only add more to the tension—a moment of dialogue here, perhaps? Or perhaps a moment to run and hide? Give your characters “Air” and see what they do.

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