Incorporate Music into Your Fiction

Song Titles

As a reader, specific song titles in the midst of a story can strike one of 4 reactions:

  1. Indifference because I don’t know the song and want to get on with the story
  2. Pride because I’m actually familiar with the song
  3. Curiosity because the song seems important enough to the scene that I should look it up
  4. Annoyance because I don’t know any of the songs this author is talking about

While 2 and 3 can be a very positive addition to the story, 4 can be just as destructive and every writer should be wary of when they mention song titles, how often they do so, and consider the popularity of each song. In my opinion, the more popular of a song you mention the better, because you’re readers are more likely to be familiar with it. Also subtly mentioning the type of music or character’s reaction to the music can reveal more than the song alone.

Beyond the Song Titlepiano man

Thankfully, mentioning a song title is only a very small part of incorporating music into your writing. This line recently jumped out at me when I was reading Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates:

“If there was music in this scene it would be a quick staccato music.” p. 27

It’s so simple, yet so telling. It gave the scene life at a time when I was resisting the urge to permanently put down the book. And it has stuck with me for weeks now, even after I did quit reading the book.

Other ways to incorporate music into fiction:

  • Write in a musical rhythm
  • Use music to define your character’s personality
  • Incorporate musical concerts/events into your plot
  • Quote song lyrics
  • Incorporate music into metaphors and similes

Musical Fiction

When I typed “music in fiction” into Google, a Wikipedia entry came up that defined “Musical Fiction” as “a genre of fiction in which music is paramount: both as subject matter, and through the rhythm and flow of the prose; that is, music is manifested through the language itself.”

It listed examples such as Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo, The Wishbones by Tom Perotta and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. I recently read The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni (read my book review here!) which I would argue also falls into that category. 

Music and Characterization


Would your character be in the middle of the mosh pit or high in the bleachers?

Music is powerful. It’s a tool of expression, a reflection of our mood and taste, and, possibly the most important of all, it can triggers memories. Ask these music-related questions when creating a fully-round character:

  • What kind of music does your character like?
  • Does he/she play an instrument? What? How often?
  • Does your character sing in the shower?
  • What radio station dominates their car stereo?
  • Do they attend concerts?
  • Were they forced into music lessons growing up?
  • Do they wish they were musically enhanced?
  • What songs trigger memories for your character? What are those memories?


About Sarah JS

Aspiring writer, lover of words, book nerd, working editor, and permanent student of the world

Posted on May 7, 2014, in A Writer's Life, Writing, Writing Prompts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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