My Story as a Playlist

Melina Kantor~ By Melina Kantor

When I tell people that I always, always, always create a soundtrack for my WIP, the response is often, “Oh. Well I can’t write to music.”

You know what? I honestly can’t either. I get too distracted and too lost, especially by songs I feel connected to.

Music can turn my brain into a sort of popcorn popper, causing all kinds of disorganized ideas to zing around my head.

Which, actually is the point. Building and listening to a story soundtrack (a trick I learned from Lani Diane Rich) helps me discover my stories and create a world I can escape into every time I put my earbuds in.

headphones, keyboard, mouseBut like I said, I don’t write to music. I listen to my soundtrack when I’m washing dishes, walking the dogs, or sometimes just lying down with my eyes closed.

After a long day, when my head is full of everything but my story and it’s time to write, I depend on my playlists to transport me into my fictional world.

There are as many ways to create a playlist as there are writers, but in case you’re curious, here’s the process I went through for choosing the most-listened to selections for my current soundtrack, along with explanations as to how each song made the cut:

1. I found an instrumental piece that could act like a movie score. My story takes place in Greece, so it was only fitting to find something Greek.

The problem was, the song I wanted was one I grew up hearing all the time, and the familiarity was holding me back:

So I scrapped that version, and chose this one. It’s similar, but it has different feel. I was surprised by how much more helpful it was, even though it’s not my favorite of the two:

Tip: It’s usually much easier to use songs you don’t have any associations with. Once a song is on your playlist, it’s going to belong to your story forever. It’s kind of like you’re sacrificing each song for the sake of your writing.

For my first novel, which I wrote over ten years ago, I used songs from Grey’s Anatomy. Now, if I’m watching an earlier episode of the show, I can’t concentrate.

2. Once I had a score, I wanted to find a theme song of sorts. I actually didn’t find this song until I was well into my story, but it fits so well I’ve been known to listen to it on a loop before I write. It doesn’t sound like any of the other songs I’ve chosen, but it doesn’t really matter. My heroine, Evi, gets involved in taking self-defense classes, as have I, so the emotional impact of the song is huge.

Tip: It helps to have at least one song that has the power to rip you apart emotionally. Once I associated this song, which I’d already associated with my own journey into self-defense, with my heroine and her powerful story, I had to make a point of avoiding this song unless I needed the emotional upheaval to help me write.

3. I added a few songs that anchored me in my own time and place (which I guess you could call “reality”), not the time and place of my story. I’m not exactly sure how this song made it onto the list, other than it was playing in a Starbucks one morning when I was writing. It has absolutely nothing to do with my story, but it feels like a piece of the overall writing experience.

Tip: You can always justify a random selection by considering it a song one of your characters would listen to. Ask yourself what a particular character would be doing / thinking / feeling as they listen to the song.

4. Throughout the process, I added songs that Evi would hear in the world around her. For most of the story, she’s in a tiny Cretan village, hence:

Tip: It’s okay to have more than one playlist for a book. If you want to have an entire playlist just for world building, go ahead. It helps. I listen to this song, and then the other songs on the same album every time I send Evi someplace authentically Cretan, like to a beekeeper in the mountains.

For this story, I’ve gotten a bit carried away and have been using my playlist as a plotting device. I’ve been adding song titles to my Scrivener outline, and though my readers may never know about the secret soundtrack, the music is helping me organize the story and make it tighter.

And there you have it. Don’t stress if you can’t build your playlist in a day. Be picky, and only add what feels right. It’s okay to add to the playlist even during the revision process. There are no rules. Just be sure to create your playlist in a way that’s going to help you.

Do you build playlists? Why or why not? Do you have a process?

Please share in the comments!

Melina writes contemporary romance with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. She loves to travel, especially to her family’s village in Crete, and turn her adventures into research for her novels. 

In July of 2012, she moved from New York to Jerusalem with her adorable but sneaky cocker spaniel. Her family now includes an incredibly sweet yet troubled rescue puppy.

Melina likes the color pink, baking, daffodils, teaching girls to code, running her small business, learning to use power tools, practicing self-defense, Krav Maga and karate, and breaking cinder blocks with her fist.

All three of the protagonists in the trilogy she’s currently working on study empowerment self-defense and / or matrial arts.

You can visit her at

2 thoughts on “My Story as a Playlist”

  1. Pingback: What Karate Has Taught Me About Writing |

  2. Annie O'Rourke

    What a great blog article. Thank you. I would have been one of those people who would have said, “I can’t listen to music while I write.” Lol. So,this information is enlightening. I love the idea of listening before I write to set the mood. I guess I just never gave it much thought. I’m going to start looking for songs! Oh, and I adore Lani Diane Rich. I once drove six hours to hear her talk.

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