Note: I originally wrote this for Civilian Reader back in 2014.
By far the most common question you get asked as an author is “where do your ideas come from.” Of course, my ideas come from the same places as your do: the crazy parts of your brain intersecting with the crazy parts of the world around you. Human brains are hard-wired to find patterns even when there are none and those little synaptic misfires are part of what makes us creative beings.
Now, the question I never get asked is, “where do you get your groove from?” Maybe this sounds like a silly question. After all, books don’t have a groove, do they?
Think about those big moments in a story when you’re eyes are racing across the page to find out what comes next and, if the author is doing their job, every line moving the story at the perfect speed for the action taking place. Remember back to one of those heart-rending passages where your eyes suddenly freeze on the last three words of a sentence that hold you there as the implications of an emotional turnaround hits you. That strange, almost magical timing is pacing. It’s rhythm. It’s groove. My first experiences with storytelling were as a touring musician, so I often go back to music for the inspiration in finding the right pacing for key scenes in the books I write. Here’s a few that helped put Traitor’s Blade onto the page.
Kest’s Fight Song: Mirando by Ratatat
Being a swashbuckling adventure tale, Traitor’s Blade has a lot of swordfights, battles, and other action scenes. Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are very different sorts of fighters and finding their pacing came in part by listening to songs that just seemed to match the tempos of their duelling styles.
The hardest people to fence are the ones with unusual and unpredictable timing and this odd piece of electronica has a rhythm that helped me conceive of Kest’s fluid style. There are little beats within beats and the rests between some of the notes are just the kind of stuttering style that would throw an opponent off in a swordfight.
Falcio’s Fight Song: You Know My Name by Chris Cornell
This was the song from the opening credits for Casino Royale and there’s a kind of dramatic aggression in the shifts between verse and chorus that always make me think of Falcio’s habit of thinking through the first beats of a fight and then launching into fierce attacks. It also inspired the opening beats to Falcio’s first fight in Rijou where he starts making Shiballe’s thugs anxious by repeating ‘You know my name’ over and over.
Brasti’s Fight Song: Cobra Style by Teddybears (featuring Mad Cobra)
This is an odd one musically but it works at a tempo that’s just a bit faster than rock songs normally follow. It’s also got these great bouncy moments where I always envision Brasti drawing, knocking, and firing arrows one after another. The lyrics are terribly sophisticated but, you know, neither is Brasti.
Chaotic Battle Theme: Walkie Talkie Man by Steriogram
This is my favourite everything’s-gone-to-hell song. The verse lyrics are sung too fast to make sense of and gives me the sense of three guys trying to tell each other what’s happening in the middle of a chaotic battle.
Sneaking Song: Lifting the Building by David Holmes
Originally from the Ocean’s 12 soundtrack, this bongo-fueled instrumental evokes a group of intruders sneaking their way into danger.
The Dashini Song: Baghdad by Jesse Cook
The opening has an odd combination of Spanish, Middle Eastern, and an almost cowboy showdown kind of sound to it that gives the sense of suddenly realizing you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s a sinewy woodwind playing that made me thing of the snake-like movements of the Dashini stilletto blades.
Falcio’s Last Chance for Happiness: Island in the Sun by Weezer
It was listening to this song that made me realize Falcio needed to get one last chance at happiness only to refuse it because his quest wasn’t done. The reference Ethalia makes to a small island off the coast of Baern comes from this tune.
Riding Into Battle: Count on my Love by Liz Phair
It might be a little sappy, but I can’t hear this song without imagining Falcio riding hard and fast to try to save Aline’s life.
The Mystery Song:
There’s another song that inspired a phrase used in Traitor’s Blade written by a somewhat obscure early 1990’s band known for fusing rockabilly, latin and reggae. If you find a track listing from their sole album you’ll immediately know which song it is!