By Sarah J. Maas
I think the question I get asked most when I tell people that I’m a writer (or when I tell them what QUEEN OF GLASS is about) is: “Where do you get your ideas?”
Most of the time, it’s music.
QUEEN OF GLASS, as some of you might remember, was inspired by roughly 60 seconds of music from the score to Disney’s CINDERELLA. While listening to the track that plays while Cinderella flees the ball, I thought music was way too dark and intense to accompany the scene. The music fit much better when I imagined a thief—no, an assassin!—fleeing the palace. But who was she? Who had sent her to kill the prince? Who might the prince’s enemies be? A powerful, corrupt empire, perhaps? And thus Celaena Sardothien, the heroine of QUEEN OF GLASS, was born.
My other novels have arisen from similar origins. Sometimes, it’s a combination of being in the right place at the right time. Meaning, reading exactly the kind of book that inspires me to write in the first place, then randomly listening to a piece of music that triggers my creative juices, and then BAM: idea. Sometimes the ideas are stronger than others. While listening to this track, the idea for A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES (my YA “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, in which “Beauty” is a huntress, and the “Beast” is a faerie lord with a mask permanently attached to his face) hit me like a brick to the face. I saw the opening scene to the novel with perfect clarity, heard Feyre’s voice as if it were my own…And then the whole novel spread before me.
Usually, music plays two roles after I get the initial idea: figuring out the opening and figuring out the ending. Without fail, those are the two things I need (personally) to sort out the rest of the novel. And sometimes, in order for me to figure it out, it means I need to sit in front of my computer and click through song after song. Sometimes it’ll strike me when I least expect it: driving in the car, zoning out on a plane, going for a walk—but with all of them, music is usually playing, shooting image after image into my mind, narrating the twists and turns of a scene, guiding my characters’ actions and voices.
When my creativity juices dry up, I’ll turn on my iTunes and just let it play through one of my playlists until the ideas start flowing again. I also have soundtracks that I turn to when I need inspiration—not for specific ideas, but just to feel something stirring under the surface of my conscience…simply to know that ideas are there, just waiting for the right bit of music to bring them out.
So, what have I been listening to lately? It’s been all over the place, to be honest (the new KARATE KID soundtrack, the TANGLED soundtrack, the PREDATORS soundtrack…).
Yesterday, I listened to this piece from the DRAG ME TO HELL soundtrack practically on repeat.
The original source of the music doesn’t indicate the kind of story I’m working on (so don’t expect any horror/demonic haunting novels out of me anytime soon), but it definitely speaks to the FEELING I’m trying to evoke. Dark, beautiful, terrifying—listening to the piece made me wonder where those feelings might fit into QUEEN OF GLASS, or ACOTAR…It also made me wonder what kind of NEW story might fit that music (again, not horror)—in what world would that music belong? What kind of character would that music embody? What sort of personal history would that character need to have in order for the music to fit their personality?
Someone really pretentious once said something along the lines of: “My definition of an intellectual is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger.” And you know what? While it might be a pretentious as all hell, it’s also partially correct if you apply it to imagination (instead of intellect). I think there’s real creative magic in hearing the same piece of music over and over and finding something different it every time—in finding all of the different images and stories between the notes.
That’s just me, though. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work for everyone (I know people who are inspired by art, or movies, or nature, or the people around them). But maybe the next time you’re feeling a bit stuck with your writing, turn on iTunes, close your eyes, and listen. You never know what ideas might sing to you.
What about you guys? Does music play a huge role in influencing your creativity and/or stories? What particular pieces inspire you?
Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in fall 2012. Sarah resides with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.