Setting the Mood: 24 Songs to Accompany Specific Scenes While Writing
Music is medicine. Sure, if you get shot in the stomach, cranking CCR isn’t going to stop you from bleeding out. Odds are, if you’re reading this, then you’re old enough to understand that music cannot treat bullet wounds. Note: if you have recently been shot, please seek immediate medical attention. LitReactor will not be responsible for another poor fan’s ignorant death.
But still—music is medicine. It treats wounds not visible to the public eye. It picks us up and it brings us down. If souls exist, it’s because of music. It's the ultimate motivator. It fills us with inspiration to live creative lives. If I ever find myself stuck on a particular scene while writing, blaring some music will almost always restart my flow. But I have to be smart about what music I play. With writing, I can’t just put on any random song. I have to analyze what kind of scene I’m writing and determine the best possible song to fit the scene’s mood.
Hence this article. While writing, you will undoubtedly come across at least a few of the below scenarios. Maybe you won’t have the easiest time figuring out how to approach them. Maybe you just need an extra kick to get your ass moving.
Well, here’s that kick.
So your protagonist just robbed a bank and now the pigs are on their tail. You gotta burn rubber and get the hell outta Dodge. Here’s what you need blaring in your CD player—or whatever the hell people use to listen to music at the time you find yourself reading this article. Maybe Google glasses eventually make a comeback, or, hell, all entertainment's now inserted directly into our genitalia, I don’t fucking know.
“Bad Habit” by The Offspring
There are few other songs in this universe that instantly makes me want to go fuck somebody up and drive like a reckless maniac. Blare this song as you speed down the highway and I guarantee the urge to take on not just the local police department, but the entire planet, will hit you full-force. I won’t lie. I’ve screamed along to the lyrics of this song on more than one occasion. Sometimes I even sing it when I’m not driving. Like when I stub my toe or I spill coffee on my crotch, which seems to happen on a regular basis lately.
- “Black Betty” by Ram Jam (I hate this song but I can’t turn it off—oh god please help)
- “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest (could also be listed on the “songs to wash your dog to” soundtrack)
- “Spacegrass” by Clutch (JESUS ON THE DASHBOARD!!!)
Sometimes you just gotta punch somebody in the face. This is a fact of human nature. People get punched in their stupid faces. If you’re writing pretty much any genre, there’s a good chance one of the characters is gonna end up brawling with another character. You try writing a fight scene in the wrong mood and it’s going to come out staler than the three-month old bread in my pantry. You gotta get yourself pumped and ready to kick some ass. You need...
“Out of the Black” by Royal Blood
I’ve heard this song a couple times, and it never fails to get me pumped up to fight somebody. Anybody, really. Hell, even myself, if I don’t start watching my mouth. Sure, I’ll probably get my ass whupped, but I can accept that. But then I watched the music video for this song, and now I want to go battle weird bunny mascot aliens with awesome nunchucks.
- “Lemon Scent” by Dead Sara (her voice is terrifying and just SO ANGRY, seriously, you don’t want to fuck with this woman)
- “The Fight Song” by Marilyn Manson (pretty self-explanatory here, folks)
- “Headstrong” by Trapt (probably the song every teenager played on repeat in the early 2000s after getting picked on by bullies)
Writers tend to make their protagonists bona fide badasses. We do this because, often, we are recycling onto the page our own fantasies of who we wish to be in reality. This isn’t always a problem, it just depends on how much we choose to differentiate the characters from ourselves. If the characters prove to be an exact carbon copy, we aren’t going to be fooling anybody. Regardless, we still love to read about bad motherfuckers. Gangsters and rogue po-lice. Anybody with a quick draw and a cool Stetson. Speaking of Stetsons...
“Sinister Kid” by The Black Keys
Raylan Givens is one of the most baller characters to ever step foot into the realm of crime fiction. He’s great in the Elmore Leonard books, but he really shines in FX’s Justified. If you haven’t watched it yet, you’re doing yourself a grave injustice. I’ve always thought “Sinister Kid” by The Black Keys is the perfect theme song for Mr. Givens. Just give it a listen and tell me I’m wrong. Tell me you don’t want to immediately start writing about some kickass gunslinger taking on the world.
- “Ego” by Bibi Bourelly (a song that will drain any fucks you might have available to give)
- “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash (this needs no introduction)
- “A Real Hero” by College & Electric Youth (a real human bean)
If you’re one of those weird horror writers, you’re gonna eventually need to nail a perfect eerie atmosphere. You need some spooky tunes for fright radio. So tighten your diaper and let’s get scared with…
“Heels” by Disasterpiece
You probably recognize this one from It Follows. I imagine you also heard it in your last fifteen nightmares because holy fucking shit.
- “Run From Me” by Timber Timbre (hey this isn’t creepy or anything)
- “In The Room Where You Sleep” by Dead Man’s Bones (if you’re wondering why you’re turned-on in addition to being freaked out, it’s because you’re listening to Ryan Gosling)
- “A Nightmare on Elm Street Main Title” by Charles Bernstein (this thing has given me nightmares since the womb)
LOVE & STUFF
If I was an intelligent person, I would argue that love directs every good story. But I’ve never claimed to be such a disgusting creature, so I’ll just let the music speak for itself...
“Punk Rock Girl” by The Dead Milkmen
This is the quintessential love song. Some people might try telling you differently, but those people are terrible, ugly liars who are only trying to deceive you. “Punk Rock Girl” fills me with hope and pure excitement. If you want to write a scene that invokes the thrill of love and romance, you need to put this song about stealing cars and rioting in pizza parlors on repeat.
- “VCR” by The XX (sometimes it’s okay to not do anything at all)
- “Brooklyn Baby” by Lana Del Rey (reminder that your characters will not always seem meant to be)
- “Brand New Colony” by The Postal Service (awwwwww)
Sexy sex goes hand-in-hand with love & stuff. Sometimes your characters are going to bone. There’s no stopping it. So let’s get groovy.
“Business Time” by Flight of the Conchords
Aww yeah, baby. You know what time it is. It’s no coincidence this article was published on a Wednesday, baby. Awwwwww yeah.
- “Erotic City” by Prince (RIP)
- “Drive” by Melissa Ferrick (XXX)
- “Yakety Sax” by Boots Randolph (this was actually my #1 pick because, as long-time readers already know, I lost my virginity to “Yakety Sax”, but when I turned in the first draft of this article, editor Joshua Chaplinsky just laughed like a jerk and said, “You’ve never had sex. You’re like eleven years-old.” So I guess I’ll just sneak the song in here at the end.)
All right, so now's the time to tell me how wrong I am in the comments. What songs would you use instead? What other categories would you add? Let's hear 'em.
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