Nostalgia and Emotional Soundtracks (or How to Catch the Feels)

I hear a lot of talk about ‘soundtrack for your novel’. I could never quite pick the songs that would go with the story or the characters in the way that others seem to do, with the biggest exception being the novel I wrote that was a nod to idol and icon Leonard Cohen (Sebastian’s Poet). Nope. It just isn’t me. I couldn’t tell you what my characters would listen to, really. When I create a musical soundtrack to accompany my novel writing experience, it’s usually an emotional soundtrack. I want to hear songs that will make me bleed when my scenes bleed and jump for joy when my scenes are to depict joy. I like my soundtrack to be nostalgic…to evoke my emotions.


There are two songs I almost always listen to during the novel creation process. They are songs that have always had me on the brink of tears. I don’t know what it is about them? It is a combination of the beauty of the words and the longing of the melody. Both songs just seem to bite me in the feels.

The first song is one from my punk-rocker days in the early 80s (full disclosure here…I didn’t only listen to the Dead Kennedys and the Sex Pistols. I also had a new wave streak in me strong enough to induce me to occupy the dance floors at the darkest underground clubs of Toronto for entire nights at a time. Dancing eyes closed to Bauhaus, Kajagoogoo, B52s, and Blancmange was not something I shied away from.) One of the songs from that era that still brings me to near tears is PERFECT by THE THE. If I need to write a scene in which FEELS happen, Perfect is, well, the perfect song to plug into! It helps me to catch those emotions that I want to portray in the scene. It’s the the perfect atmospheric song for the purposes (see what I did there!).

I drag out IF VENICE IS SINKING by THE SPIRIT OF THE WEST if I need to go deep and plug into that emotion that nostalgia evokes. It’s hard to pinpoint, but I know when to use it. Nostalgia is something I like to feel when I’m writing, say, the denouement of the story. I’ve hit the climax and the excitement of the near conclusion is over (I may have been listening to OZZY OSBOURNE’S CRAZY TRAIN to get me over that hump!) and now I just want to make the reader pause and get a gripping display of the feels…sadness that the story is ending and fulfillment that the story is ending. SO, I throw on IF VENICE IS SINKING and I wrap myself up in its feels. “They come in bent-backed, creeping ‘cross the floor all dressed in black. Candles thick as pillars, you can buy one off the floor. And the ceiling’s painted gold, Mary’s hair is red. The old come here to kiss their dead…” – verily, it makes me weep with nostalgia!

See where I’m going here? These songs really have nothing to do with what I’m writing. My characters don’t dig them. My story doesn’t take place in the same time the songs were released. I’m digging the minefield, looking for the feels these songs evoke. And, once I get there–once I’m bleeding inside and ready to explode–I work the scene. Yep, my novel soundtracks are definitely all about the feels. Who knows, maybe I’m pretty much emotionally dead and I require these musical interludes to force me out of my comfort zone and get me into the moods I wish to create in my novels. Whatever. It works. And if it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.

I mentioned it, so I might as well throw in the piece I use to reach the climax!


How about you? Do you include songs that will force your emotions to the surface when you’re choosing the soundtrack to your novel writing sessions?

By Kevin Craig

Author, Poet, Playwright. Author of The Camino Club, Billions of Beautiful Hearts, and Book of Dreams, all from Duet Books, the LGBTQ Young Adult imprint of Chicago Review Press. Other books: Pride Must Be A Place, Half Dead & Fully Broken, Burn Baby Burn Baby, The Reasons, Sebastian's Poet, and Summer on Fire.

1 comment

  1. I don’t pick the songs to force emotion, that is just a happy side effect. I find that the story picks the songs. It’s like a harmonization, like tuning a guitar. And once aligned, the music becomes the canvas backdrop, the stage dressing in front of which my story unfolds.

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