The Soundscape of a Novel

“The making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art…First of all, you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel.  This is a delicate thing.” —High Fidelity

*sigh*…the Mix Tape.  How I remember practicing that delicate art in high school and college…mostly, I made tapes for myself (hey, you have to love yourself before you can love someone else :)), but I can think of at least one I made for a boy…*blush*. I didn’t need to read or see High Fidelity first to innately understand the delicacy in balancing out those tracks—it’s a lot like writing, really, in that you need to start out with an attention-getter and then try to avoid redundancy in carefully pacing yourself through the highs and lows of fast and slow. The words should carry meaning, and you need to establish mood and tone.

But I didn’t necessarily adhere to all those rules this time.

You see, as I try to hold my anxiety at bay while the last 15,000 words of my manuscript rest in my trusted Reader’s hands for review and feedback, I’ve been playing around with giving my novel a soundtrack, as inspired by the Milk Fever Blog post, “The Soundtrack.” The preliminary playlist that I’ve compiled is in order of story progression, not the sacred aesthetic rules of the Mix Tape as referenced above. Basically, I thought through the themes and atmosphere of my key scenes, as well as any songs specifically referenced in the text, and have listed the songs as these elements appear.  Though humor keeps some of my scenes relatively light, needless to say my protagonist undergoes some pretty crazy stuff that just doesn’t warrant many feel-good tunes.

At any rate, I bring you “Monkey Manuscript: The Musical”—ta da!  You can access this first-pass playlist for my as-yet-untitled manuscript online by clicking the image (a painting I only just stumbled on today that is strikingly in keeping with my tale’s motifs, so would make ideal cover art). Titles and artists are also listed below:


"Ophelia," by Leah Piken Kolidas (


The “Untitled” Soundtrack:

The Ghost in You – Pscychedelic Furs

We Are All Made of Stars – Moby

Charlotte Sometimes – The Cure

Dreams Never End – New Order

The Fear – Lily Allen

Goody Two Shoes – Adam Ant

10:15 Saturday Night – The Cure

Cemetry Gates – The Smiths

Peace and Hate – The Submarines

Sexy Boy – Air

Dead Souls – Joy Division

Shiver – Coldplay

Start to Melt – Peter Bjorn and John

She’s Lost Control – Joy Division

Where is My Mind? – The Pixies

All Cats Are Grey – The Cure

Black Mirror – Arcade Fire

Cold Hands (Warm Heart) – Brendan Benson

Quick, Painless and Easy – Ivy

Last Goodbye – Jeff Buckley

Slow Life – Grizzly Bear

Edge of the Ocean – Ivy


About thefallenmonkey

Primate that dapples in writing when not picking others' fleas or flinging its own poop. View all posts by thefallenmonkey

14 responses to “The Soundscape of a Novel

  • Eva

    Man, how I love manuscript soundtracks! And yours sounds like an interesting one indeed. Loads of dark stuff, I like!!
    Are all of these songs you like yourself, or did they come out of the story?
    What I find is that sometimes a new song just blends in with the story, or I use songs that I think my characters love but I don’t necessarily, and sometimes instrumental stuff that is the soundtrack for my inner movie. My current boy does adore Barry Manilow, btw, so quite an interesting soundtrack that is … 🙂

    • thefallenmonkey

      To answer your question, they’re both. I’ve been listening to The Cure, The Smiths, New Order, and Psychedelic Furs since I was a wee lass in braids, so it was inevitable they would influence the tone of the story (as well as my protagonist’s tastes, true to a rookie writer ;)). I listened to this music as I wrote, and there are a couple songs I had in mind as I shaped those scenes, but the rest of the specific selections predominantly arose out of the story itself based on what fit the characters/themes perfectly. There is deliberately a triumvirate of British, American, and French presences (with a couple exceptions), as well as a blend of Eighties/Noughties and alternative/mainstream. Wow, I admire your ability to let your boy embrace his love of Barry Manilow :)! That’s brilliant.

  • Agatha82

    Joy Division, The Smiths, The Cure, Jeff Buckley…awesome stuff. My novel soundtrack would mostly contain Bauhaus as it is the ONLY music I listened to whilst writing it.
    Like the Furs as well and New Order as well.
    My boy loves Bowie, that’s who he listens to in the novel 🙂

    • thefallenmonkey

      I say with Bauhaus and Bowie, you can’t go wrong :). Glad you like my choices…this Midwestern gal grew up on British rock. Have vivid memories of being eight years old and singing dark lyrics about things like “soil falling over my head…”…yet somehow I was still capable of popping those cassette tapes out and inserting Janet Jackson or Debbie Gibson or some other bubble-gum pop like that—thank God I had my older sister to keep making me mix tapes of the former variety!

      • Agatha82

        Debbie Gibson and Joy Division…now there’s contrast! Aa a clueless UNCOOL child of 11, I loved Abba BUT fortunately, around the same time, I discovered Queen and I never looked back…

        Rawk on dude 😉

  • Glen

    you do have good taste in music – that is a fact!

  • nothingprofound

    Thanks for introducing me to something new: had never heard of this mixed tape idea before. I don’t think I know a single song on that list. So that’s all new for me as well.

    • thefallenmonkey

      Glad I could introduce you to the Art of the Mix Tape, nothingprofound. Definitely something I engaged in more as a dreamy, teenage lass, but it was fun revisiting for this compilation. To this day, one of my long-time friends continues to make such mixes for me, only in recent years switching to CDs from cassette tapes :).

  • Nicki Elson

    Love the High Fidelity quote. And I have your soundtrack playing right now! Excellent choices, my dear, excellent choices.

    I make a mix for any longer stories I write. If nothing else, I get to tell myself I’m “working” even when I’m just goofing off and listening to it. 😉 But really, when you’re trying to get a strong emotion across in a scene, having that music playing in the background or in your head as you plan it out is an extremely useful tool.

    • thefallenmonkey

      I agree, Nicki—when it’s difficult to describe something in words, somehow if the music helps you feel it, the sensation/mood becomes more tangible and the words start to flow. Your book has one killer soundtrack itself :)!

  • Milo James Fowler

    Nice taste in music, indeed. Lately I’ve been going the post-rock route, with Explosions in the Sky, Red Sparrowes, and Hammock on in the background while I write. is my computer-generated mix tape!

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