Listening to Nita

Or in this case, Nita’s soundtrack.

I do soundtracks for my books for the same reason I do collages: to look at the story in a different way.  I start by making a playlist of any song that seems right–Chesney’s and Imagine Dragons’ “Demons” songs were a no-brainer–and trying to find new things–that would be Lenka’s “Trouble is a Friend” recommended by CateM here–and then putting them in a rough order.  Then the soundtrack usually sits for awhile as I write.  

(Image/Poster is by James Gulliver Hancock.)

But when I’ve got the plot pretty much blocked out,  I circle back to it.   Which of these songs fits in what act?  Which of these songs is a scene?  Which are character themes?   Which just don’t fit any more?  Where are my gaps and what kind of songs do I need to fill them?    The point of this is not to make a playlist which I will forget once the book is out anyway, any more than the point of a book collage is to make a poster.  The point is to think about the story in a new way.  

Example: I’d started the list with Imogene Heap’s “Spooky” because that’s how Nita’s introduced.  Months later, the list now starts with Lenka because that’s Nita’s theme.  I can hear it playing while she sits in that cold car with her new partner, knowing things are very wrong and trying to cope with reality, which within twenty-four hours is going to get very bent.   So no problem, just move Heap to the bar scene sequence where Nick meets Nita.  Except that Heap is female and the whole song is really about Nita understanding Nick, which doesn’t happen until the third act.  So Heap drops down to the third act.  But now I need “Spooky” sung by a male, and the classic version isn’t doing it for me.  Too upbeat and affectionate; we’re talking about a dead guy here.  

So what did I get from that bit of musical brainstorming?  For one thing, that I want Spooky in there twice, which reminded me that I have a bit of dialogue between Nita and Nick that gets repeated but reversed.  Nick says it to Nita in Act Two and Nita says it to Nick in Act Three, which are reversed dynamic acts already.  Nick’s still in charge in Act Two and  Nita’s on the ropes, trying to cope with the changes forced on her, but in Act Three, Nick gets hit with massive changes and Nita’s in charge because she’s on her feet again.  So maybe Heap’s “Spooky” stays in Act Three and I put the original “Spooky” in Act Two, when Nick is less dead.  

Or there are the sex scenes.  I do not like writing sex scenes, but if your characters have sex and it makes a difference to the plot, you’re a coward if you don’t show what happens.  And because this book is kicking my ass, there are three sex scenes.  Not extended scenes, there’s a limit, but scenes that go on long enough to show how different they are because Nita and Nick keep changing and their relationship keeps changing.  Trying to figure out the music for those is another not-there-yet part of the soundtrack.  I know “Such a Night” is the second one, but for the other two, we’re talking some specific mood music I haven’t found yet.   It doesn’t matter because the soundtrack has already done what it’s supposed to do: told me the three moods of the three sex scenes, something I hadn’t thought about before.  

There’s a lot more–that soundtrack goes for two hours and it’s not finished, I’m still rearranging and filling holes in the playlist–but the good news is that the music is doing what it’s supposed to do, helping me see Nita and her story with new eyes.  Ears.  Whatever.  

The Extremely Tentative, Still in Progress Devil in Nita Dodd Soundtrack

Act One:
First Scene: “Trouble is a Friend,” Lenka
Scenes in Bar: ??
Scenes at House: “Demons,” Chesney
Investigation: “Busy Day,” Gooey
Scenes on Demon Head: “Suddenly I See,” Tunstall

Act Two:
Arguments: King of Anything, Bareilles
Scenes w Family in Bar: “Master of Disaster,” Hiatt
Aftermath: Have a Little Faith in Me,” Hiatt

Investigation “Together,” She and Him
Smite: “Ghost,” Henderson
“Spooky,” ?
Aftermath: “Lullaby,” Mullins

“Not a Love Song,” Lewis

Act Three:
“I Can’t Decide,” Scissors Sisters
“Strip Me,” Bedingfield

“Ashes,” Tunstall
“Alone Together,” Fall Out Boy
“Such a Night,” Elvis
“Spooky,” Heap
“Human,” The Pretenders

“Too Lost in You,” Sugababes
“You’re the One,” Chapman

“Will You Remember Me?” Cash
“Somebody Knows You Now,” Paisley
“Stronger,” Sugababes

Act Four:
“Demons,” Imagine Dragons
“World on Fire,” McLachlan
“Only Human,” Cash
“Bleed to Love Her,” Fleetwood Mac
“No More Tears,” Streisand and Summers
“What Love Can Do,” Hiatt








26 thoughts on “Listening to Nita

  1. Between this and Senator Kamala Harris’s Spotify playlist, I have such excellent music to listen to. And in some cases educate myself.

    You use music to create more than a mood, to inform a theme. It works, because I don’t have to know all the references to get the feel. I certainly didn’t listen to Fleetwood Mac when I read Crazy for You but I knew enough about them for it to fit.

    As for this:
    “Or there are the sex scenes. I do not like writing sex scenes, but if your characters have sex and it makes a difference to the plot, you’re a coward if you don’t show what happens.”

  2. Playlist gets my approval, especially Hiatt, anytime, anywhere.

    For your consideration and for what it’s worth, John Prine and Iris Demint on his song “In Spite of Ourselves.” I intensely dislike the rendition, Iris Demint’s voice doesn’t do it for me. But together, they pull off batshit crazy in love. My husband listens to it almost every day (still!) and calls it “our song.” Gaa.

    “In spite of ourselves
    We’ll end up a’sittin’ on a rainbow
    Against all odds
    Honey, we’re the big door prize
    We’re gonna spite our noses
    Right off of our faces
    There won’t be nothin’ but big old hearts
    Dancin’ in our eyes.”

  3. “I Can’t Decide” is so fun. Not at all my usual music, but TV shows introduce me to things I wouldn’t find otherwise pretty often. I can still see John Simm running around singing it to The Doctor.

    1. That’s the first time I heard it. It was amazing. He leaps all over that set singing it, too, including going up and down stairs. It’s on You Tube.

  4. I love hearing about soundtrack choices!

    I read the rough draft of the first act when you posted it awhile ago, and kept thinking of Regina Spektor’s “Grand Hotel” when reading through the description of the bar and Nick’s apartment. <3

  5. I’m always interested in the soundtrack ideas that some authors have. Any piece I’m working on always has a soundtrack, and there’s usually one specific song that goes with the overall story – Every Little Thing She Does by Sting, and The Phoenix by Fall Out Boy are so strongly tied to a story that I can’t hear them now without flashbacks. Although I’m not so structured with identifying scene and song. I just put on the playlist while I’m writing, and it helps put me in the right frame.

    And when it’s well done, I love when music is worked into the story itself. I love that Agnes listens to Dixie Chicks (the soundtrack of my 30s), and there’s a fanfiction I love where the most memorable scene is when the female lead starts singing along to Springsteen, taking the male lead by surprise because it’s not her usual thing, and he realises just how far gone he is.

  6. I started doing project soundtracks after you and Lani talked about them, and I’m noticing that some of the soundtrack songs I used for an old writing project (Strip Me, King of Anything, Suddenly I See) are all on your list. I love those songs anyway, but I think there’s something about the resolution, gumption, and cards down on the table tipping point honesty that makes those songs feel like they belong in the engine of a story.

  7. I have to admit, every time I try to imagine how the sex scenes would work I hear The Killers singing Bones in my head.

    “Don’t you wanna come with me? Don’t you wanna feel my bones on your bones? It’s only natural…”

  8. I have to admit, every time I try to imagine how the sex scenes would work I hear The Killers singing Bones in my head.

    “Don’t you wanna come with me? Don’t you wanna feel my bones on your bones? It’s only natural…”

      1. And I’m coming back to this song:

        It’s only natural that I should want to be with you
        it’s only natural that you should feel the same way too.

        It’s easy when you don’t try going on first impressions,
        man in the cage, made his confession now,
        he’s seen me at my worst, and it won’t be the last time I’m down there.

    1. Nope. It’s been twenty years since I wrote that story. They all lived happily ever after.

      The only one from the HQ years that I’ve ever thought about writing a sequel to was Anyone But You because I wanted to send the best friend on a book tour; the title was Jane Errs. HQ was ready to buy the proposal when they put in the moral rights clause and that was it for HQ.

        1. Short answer: The contract gives the publisher the right to change anything in your book.

          I was going to stop there, but then I remembered you’re a lawyer.

          As I understand it–and it’s been twenty years since I was up to date on this–an artist’s moral right is invested at the time she or he creates the work of art–music, painting, sculpture, story, whatever–and any change to that work is illegal because it violates the artist’s moral right. Been that way since English common law, as I recall.

          Then some time in the nineties, a mall in Italy had a sculpture of flying ducks that it put bows on for Christmas, and the sculptor sued the mall for violating his moral rights and won. This caused a kerfluffle in publishing legal departments all over, but there was only two publishers that treated their authors as employees and not artists (at least there was only one that blatantly did so), so those two publishers inserted a mandatory clause in all of their contracts that any moral right to the work belonged to the publisher, not the author. I think I was the only person who refused to sign the contract, and most people thought I was nuts since it left me without a publisher. I really didn’t have a choice; there was no fucking way anybody was changing my word.

          A couple of months later, an RWA member got in touch with me because I was the Published Author rep for the organization. She’d written a book with a supporting character, a small boy, who was a peeping tom and who the hero mentored into a healthier relationship with windows, which she felt was an integral part of his characterization and the story. When the book came out, the little boy was gone along with all the mentoring, and now the peeping tom was a raccoon. She called me, almost hysterical,a nd said, “What can I do?” I asked her who the publisher was, and it was one of the two who’d made the moral rights clause mandatory. I told her there was nothing she could do; she’d given away the moral right to the content of her story.

          The point being that it wasn’t just a technicality; that publisher could and did change the writing and still published it under her name. That raccoon now belonged to her.

          And the whole thing was a crock because those publishers had mainstream lines for which they did not insist on the moral rights clause because they knew no writer with any power would ever sign such a dumbass clause. I don’t think anybody on the publishing side every really understood what they were taking. I remember my editor at the time, a good person, swearing to me that she’d never touch my story, not realizing that anybody can tell any story, it’s the words you use that make it yours.

  9. It’s fun to hear about your soundtracks, though I feel out of things – I recognize few of these songs.

    But thinking about demons and evil has put “Nemesis” by Shriekback in my head (“Big black nemesis, parthenogenesis/No one move a muscle as the dead come home”). Possibly about necrophilia, but it’s got a good beat…

    1. Don’t feel out of things; most of this stuff is old. I am not a cutting edge music-listener.

  10. Actually, now that I think of it, do you know Human by Rag’n’Bone Man? It’s moody with a great beat, and having made the connection I will now picture Wentworth Miller as Nick every time I hear it. Not a bad mental image to have.

  11. I just recently heard this song, “In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company,” by The Dead South. ( It has a great, bouncy rhythm and neat rhyme scheme, plus the great title 🙂 I’m not sure what happens in your Hell scenes (after the initial Pandemonium scene), but this might possibly fit in your story.

    1. You’re right, it’s clever and bouncy. Won’t work for me, but it was fun to listen to.


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