Ever notice when a certain song comes on the radio or is played somewhere, it can take you back to an exact place in time, and you vividly remember who you were with and how you were feeling? That’s because music is the soundtrack of our lives, and when we begin to recount songs that mean something to us, they can act as powerful writing prompts to capture the essence of those defining moments that truly make us who we are.
As story coaches and screenwriters, we use the “Write Your Life as a Movie” exercise to help our clients see the big picture of their lives. But it's today's exercise, which focuses on the music, that can help you reveal the underlying tone and tenor of your entire narrative arc.
In films—and in our everyday lives—music is a powerful tool that helps to create the mood and emotion in a scene, which in turn, helps engrain these scenes in our minds. For life writers—that is, anyone on a journey of self discovery—a piece of music can act as an entry point to our memories, especially ones that have been left dormant for years.
For instance, whenever we hear the song, “Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing, chances are, most of us will remember when Jennifer Grey ran and jumped into Patrick Swayze’s arms for that perfect lift. Now, let’s take that memory—or any other from a film that we loved—and apply it to our own lives to explore the memories and emotions that it evoked in us.
Soon after I moved to Los Angeles from the Pacific Northwest to join my fellow Garage Girl, Beth, we spent several Sunday mornings going to what we call, “Cinema Church.” We call it that because, for us, watching a good scene in a film or television show, inspires us to write and create our own memorable characters and moments in our projects, much like a good sermon in church inspires someone to act or create something in their lives.
Every once in awhile, a certain song in a scene strikes something much deeper in us, more than mere spoken words ever could. Such was the case one Sunday when we saw La La Land. Toward the end of the film, Emma Stone’s character begrudgingly goes in for yet another audition as she contemplates finally giving up on her dream of making it in Hollywood. Even though Emma had already done an exceptional job of capturing those desires throughout the film, it was her singing the song, “Audition,” that catapulted her into winning an Oscar. Here is a link to that performance:
The lyrics and music conveyed another level of emotion that could not have been captured by mere words alone. As Beth and I heard her sing these words, they resonated, deeply.
Leapt without looking
And tumbled into the Seine
The water was freezing
She spent a month sneezing
But said she would do it again
Here's to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that ache
Here's to the mess we make
So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays
And here's to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that break
Here's to the mess we make
After the song was over, Beth and I looked at each other with tears streaming down our faces. That song, those words, that performance, captured exactly how we feel about our dreams of creating stories for the screen. We know that most people in our lives probably think we are “fools who dream,” but without us dreamers, none of the world's most inspiring art, whether that be on the screen, book, song, or painting would have ever been born. And without those foolish dreamers, we wouldn’t have all of that art that captures the emotion of a time in our lives that no mere words ever could.
As you recount key moments in your life, think about memorable songs and how they played a role in the scenes of your life. How did the song capture a feeling that you couldn’t fully express as well as the lyrics could? For those of us who remember music cassettes, think of all the mixed tapes you either made for someone special in your life or was given to you. The goal was to connect with that person on a whole other level in a way that only music can do. And chances are, the mere mention of mixed tapes will bring you back to specific memories that you haven’t thought about in years, moments that have definitely helped define who you are today.
Personal Mythology Writing Exercise: Create the Soundtrack of Your Life. What is a memorable song from your childhood—the first one that comes to mind? Think about when you first heard it and who was with you. What were you doing at that time and how did it make you feel? And what is it about that song, these words, that has stuck with you always?
For me, I thought of “Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head” by B.J. Thomas. As I clicked on this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hziG9Nr6KHU , a rush of emotion came to the surface. My cousin Scott and I have danced to this song ever since I was a little girl. Even though we are 14 years apart, we were inseparable growing up whenever we got a chance to be together. He called me his baby, and to me, he was the man, father, brother in my life, who gave me the attention and affection that I so longed for as a little girl.
For as long as I can remember, Scott and I always danced to "Raindrops" at every family reunion or wedding, including my own, when he walked me down the aisle. And last summer, we danced to it at my 50th birthday party.
After you think of a song from your childhood and answer the questions above, start compiling five to 10 other songs that make up the Soundtrack of Your Life. What other songs had a profound effect on you and whenever you hear them, you can recall exactly the details of that special moment in your life. These songs can depict joy, laughter, sorrow, heartache, determination, a big-life change, and so on. Since the soundtrack of our lives requires some thoughtful time, we’ll leave you with that assignment for now. More writing prompts next week as we continue to Write Our Life as a Movie!