Music, Fanfic, and the Combination Thereof

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Title: Music, Fanfic, and the Combination Thereof
Creator: Celli
Date(s): 2008 or 2009?
Medium: online
Fandom: multi
External Links: Music, Fanfic, and the Combination Thereof, Archived version
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Music, Fanfic, and the Combination Thereof is an essay by Celli and one of the "lectures" at Fanfic 101.

The essay includes some recs and example fics.

From the Essay

Music can be important when you're writing fic, too. For some people it's easy. Want to write a Buffy fic? Just throw on the actual Buffy soundtrack (or, in a pinch, anything by Sarah McLaughlin) and you're off. What do you use for JAG though? John Phillips Sousa?

There are some stories I literally cannot write without musical accompaniment. Every writer has his/her musical preferences; I know some people who can't write while listening to anything with lyrics, because they start listening to the words and get sidetracked. Yes, I have the attention span of a gerbil. What's your point? Of course, I also know people who can write smut sitting in the middle of Union Station. I think it's a focus thing. Or something else I don't have.

Moving from fic inspired by music to fic that includes music...this is one of those areas where you have to really think about what you're doing. I'm not going to tell you you can't use a song in your story.... But there are some things to think about before you jump in. There's different levels of this, so let's take a look:

1) Using a song title or lyric as a story title. Makes sense. Sometimes the best way to evoke the mood of your story is to use a song that means something to you. A couple of warnings: first, make sure the title itself makes sense with your story if you haven't heard the song, and second, tell people where it's from in your story notes. I, at least, appreciate knowing where to look for something that sounds interesting. (I've also been known to use song titles as chapter parts, which can be fun and keeps the song-happy part of my brain interested.)

2) Using a quote from a song at the beginning/end of a story. Any quote at the beginning is good if--IF--it really relates to your story. Don't put a quote up just because you like it, use it because it adds meaning to the story. See the difference? If it doesn't, just write another story around that quote; don't try to force it. An example: the verse of "Galileo" that helped with my Smallville story was great, but didn't exactly fit. I used a quote from Mother Theresa instead and plan to slap the lyric into another story (because you can never bring up Lex's past too often).

3) Having a song playing in the story. Just mentioning that "X Song" is playing can be good for atmosphere. The time to exercise caution is when you actually have the characters listen to/think about the lyrics; usually that's shown when you start quoting large portions of the song. Danger, Will Robinson. I'm not saying you can't do it, or it won't work. I am saying you have to be careful. Too much quoting, and it's all song and no story! Plus, if your reader hasn't heard the song, s/he probably won't care about the impact said song has on your characters, and they won't really pay attention to the story.

Also, let's face facts. Song lyrics tend to look stupid on paper. They need music backing them up. Tara O'Shea gave some great advice about this once: if the lyrics move you so much, make a vid that shows why the show and song go together. Then you can get people to listen to the song and watch the show at the same time. :) I'm not going to get smug and superior on this, because I use songs in my stories all the time. But I try to remember the adage "less is more" when it comes to lyrics.

4) Having your characters sing. This isn't a song issue, this is a character issue. Would JAG's Harm and Mac sing? Well, they've done it on the show, so...maybe. Would Buffy characters, without the influence of a demon? Dicier. Would the West Wing cast break into a song other than "The Jackal"? Um...I'm thinking no. This is one of those areas where I won't tell you no, I'll just tell you it better be really well-written. My suggestions: you're a writer, you can think of better things for them to say. Have them give an impassioned speech or write a love letter. You can do it!