This week I have been researching different background tunes for a scene in my current work in progress, the sequel to An Unfamiliar Murder. I need to find an album that is generally well known, atmospheric and melancholic in places, with resounding lyrics; but also upbeat in others. A tall order…

It led me to consider how important music is in our fiction, and whether indeed we should we use it all? Some might argue that music dates a novel, which it inevitably does, but I think there are few novels out there that don’t date already themselves in some way. If you’d written a book in the early 90’s, you’d be unlikely to mention the internet, people didn’t have mobile phones clung to their ears, folk could still smoke cigarettes in restaurants…

Others would say that music is subjective and using particular songs may alienate some readers. Hmmm. I agree that you shouldn’t pick something too obscure – only seasoned ‘Musos’ are likely to research an unknown song in a novel and it can detract from the story. But to use something that is reasonably well known, that matches the mood you are trying to create, that resonates – can be a very effective tool. True, some people might not like the tune, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will dislike your character. How many of your friends or partners have different musical tastes to you?

Music can also be a wonderful aid to atmosphere. The mention of a song, the tune in the background, even an individual lyric can either lift, lower, or freeze the mood of your scene.

My husband recently joked that I’ve lived with my characters for so long that they’ve become good friends. And he’s right (well, for most of them anyway). I want readers to relate to them in this way too, so that they jump out and grab you, and, when you finish the novel, you miss them dearly. I think music provides a great reference point, like a car or a place that everybody knows and relates to – that all important song that conjures up images and memories in your mind. Your mind, just like theirs.

I’ll go back to my research, but leave you with a list of music mentioned in An Unfamiliar Murder:

Snow Patrol – Eyes Open

Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars


The Intermezzo

I would love to hear your thoughts.


Jane Isaac’s first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, is out on, and Kindle worldwide now. Jane is still very much a Newbie and with a day job, a family and a very demanding black Labrador, she squeezes her writing into every spare moment she gets. You can catch up with her at



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  • EW Greenlee
    Posted on February 21, 2012 at 3:27 am

    When I write, I visualize my book scenes in a movie complete with a soundtrack. Two soundtracks I played over and over again while writing my mythological trilogy, “The Chosen One of Allivar” were from “Braveheart” and “The Lord of Rings Symphony.” I was fortunate to have seen the symphony in Dallas, complete with adult and children choir. Listening to the soundtracks helped bring out emotions I felt for those movies and allowed the words to flow freely.

    To enhance the marketability of my stories I selected music and video that I incorporated into a super book trailer. Hoping that words, video and music would entice prospective readers to give my stories a try.

  • JaneIsaac
    Posted on February 21, 2012 at 4:49 am

    Hey There! Thanks for stopping by. What a lovely idea – to visualize your scenes like a movie with a soundtrack. And interesting that you incorporate the music into a book trailer too. I might try to give that a go…

  • EW Greenlee
    Posted on February 22, 2012 at 5:37 am

    You should try it sometime. Give this super trailer a view and see if the music, video and words give you any interest. It’s all about reaching prospective readers.

  • Junying Kirk
    Posted on February 22, 2012 at 5:47 am

    Jane, very interesting post on music, and I tend to agree with you that appropriate use of music can aid the atmosphere in a book. Readers do not have to share the writer’s musical tastes to appreciates it.

  • Jane Isaac
    Posted on February 22, 2012 at 5:55 am

    Hey Again! Lovely book trailer. Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to give this some thought for An Unfamiliar…

  • JaneIsaac
    Posted on February 22, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Hey Junying! Thanks so much for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the post. We seem to be on the same wave length:) I’ll keep looking for the right piece…

  • Gordon Bonnet (@TalesOfWhoa)
    Posted on February 22, 2012 at 9:14 am

    As a musician and a writer, I couldn’t agree more. Most of my stories have internal soundtracks (my brain certainly does!). I just wanted to add one caveat, however — be careful about quoting lyrics in your writing. More than a line or two is a copyright infringement, and getting permission is a legal nightmare (and quite expensive). Titles of songs, however, are generally fine!

  • JaneIsaac
    Posted on February 22, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Hi Gordon. Thanks for your wonderful comment. Good advice too – I’ll bear that in mind:)

  • James Garcia Jr
    Posted on February 22, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    What? No Zeppelin? *grins* Just kidding… Okay, I’m not!
    For crafting a novel (and drowning out house noise) I use classical. The sweeping, loud stuff and not the quiet pretty stuff. It is definitely a must. Lyrics distract, so I only listen to my regular classic rock stuff when I’m blogging.
    With regard to inserting a song into a book, I say go for it – if it belongs there. The novel is a snapshot in time both for the author as well as for the timeframe it takes place. We really can’t know what will happen in the future anyway.
    Thanks for sharing!


  • Jane Isaac
    Posted on February 22, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Hey James! Lovely to see you here and thanks for your great comments. Yes, classical is wonderful. Not sure Zeppelin would fit into this scene, LOL! It is interesting that you adjust the music you listen to according to what you are writing. Ditto – I like to find the right music for the mood. Thanks again:)

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