Music is a friend of mine, just like movies life has a soundtrack and what is on the player depends upon what I’m writing at the time, so before I get started I’ll introduce you to a few situations and the musical friends that help me find the voice I need.
For writing battle scenes, Duel of the Fates from Star Wars or Princes of the Universe by Queen, or most of the Patton Soundtrack.
For a brawl, Beer for My Horses by Toby Keith and Willie Nelson,
For A death scene the obvious choice takes us back to Queen, Who Wants to Live Forever or Too Much Love Will Kill you, or Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt.
Love scenes, Siuil A Run (Walk My Love) by Celtic Woman, I don’t Want to Miss a Thing by Aerosmith, I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) by Meat Loaf.
For the great speech before the battle: Hold your Head Up by Argent or The Angry American by Toby Keith.
Actors talk about their process, but writers have it too. You can’t write about the privations of a man without food and water when you’re burping up Burger King, you can’t do romance when the dog is hiding when it looks like you need to kick someone. You have to draw on every trick of the trade that actors think is their realm alone. I don’t care what actors say, they may believe that they draw the cold written word from the page and breathe life into it, but no actor ever born can bring life to dead words.
I’ve just written the scene below just now, be a little merciful and I am rarely a first draft writer. Make that almost never, but I digress. You can’t let me do that or I’ll start remembering stories and we’ll be here for hours. Pay attention! Wink
Music, as I said, is a great help to setting a mood, but music alone can only do so much, you have to look back into your own life for experiences to draw from. The piece below tells of the return of a legion to the fort and barracks and houses that they call home, bur the emotions of that can fluctuate throughout even something so short, because the same event that is joyful to one may be shattering to another. I can look back at the times I walked down a boarding ladder or the ramp of an aircraft and remember the feelings that I felt when I saw the people waiting, and then the butterflies you get when you see the face in the crowd that you missed so much.
So, taking that feeling, a little mood music and mixing in other memories and emotions that I’ve felt and seen around me I came up with this, a situation I’ve clearly never been in, but one I can bring myself to feel:
The long lines straightened as the gate opened before them, and men scarcely able to hold their heads up before the sound of the stiff beams being drawn and the massive hinges groan now drew themselves tall and the scuff of boots on gobbles was replaced by the beat of heals striking ground. Proudly now they returned, the weariness of the miles and aches of wounds in the back of a thousand minds as they stepped through the gate and again into that place they knew as home. From the corners of anxious eyes in composed faces they sought the faces of those they loved, spying them at last, a single face from thousands as each found the face they carried etched into their hearts.
And at the head of the column rode their commander, the privilege of the horse now a trial as he felt the eyes of those that searched the lines and could not find the faces of those they gave to their country, and now shaking fingers touched lips nervously as the frantic eyes searched again, and again they returned to the man astride the tall charger in the front rank, their eyes begged and accused him at once and with leaden heart he wheeled his mount and looked over his command.
His voice was rough and he fought for control over it as he ordered the Centurions and Sergeants to case their colors and at his order the broad flag of the legion leapt up the and cracked with a loud snap as the wind pulled it proudly. He had no words for them, they needed none from him as his eyes swept over the ranks and at last he gave the order to stand down and fall out. He himself dismounted, passing the reins over to a waiting groom and standing beneath the standard.
The voices of wives, sons and daughters raised in slow crescendo to joyful and raucous greeting, husbands and wives and soldiers and sweethearts crushing themselves to each other, unwilling to let the slightest space grow between them after these many pitiless months held them so far from each other. The children swarmed, new babies shown and crying with confusion at the strange person that now held them for the first time, many marveling at the size of little ones now grown taller. Tears poured without shame to leave dark dampened lines in the dust of the road on their cheeks to be wiped away by loving hands or ignored entirely as lips touched first tenderly and then with the explosion of long contained emotion. Many was the wife, lass or child with small muddy smeared on their cheeks.
Not so for the Tribune. Amidst all this joy, the ache of greeting his wife formally lest their joy turn to salt in the wounded hearts of those than now looked to him for word of the ones that didn’t come home. Wide eyes and trembling lips that pleaded for words that he could not speak. He could not ease their fears and sorrows, there was no joy for these faces. It tore at his heart and he wished again and once for each of the seventy men that would not march through that gate that he had died in every one of their stead. But he couldn’t even do off the buckles of his armor and show that he too had bled, shedding his blood, but not his life beside his men. Merciful fate mocked him and the words of praise they receives when the grand army separated and returned home were bitter ashes in his mouth now.
He walked among them, a word to each, his regret, his sadness, they mocked him now as hollow as he commanded his face to remain as stone, but they all saw into his eyes and into his soul, it wasn’t enough but they took what they could from him. And then to spare him, to ease the cruel burden of command came the sergeants who left for a bit their own families to go among those that knew now only loss and despair, and then those fortunate families spread to find friends and bring what comfort that could be found on such a day.
Among this huge multitude, yet all but alone he saw what so many would never know. The profession of arms was pitiless and remorseless, claiming with savage caprice the health or lives of the young, the old, the brave or craven without any rhyme or reason. But though the fields of strife drank deeply of the blood of so many, none that lived apart from these men of leather and iron could ever know the bonds between all that shared the lot in life of a soldier, and the lot of the wife, the son, the daughter of a soldier. And as the Tribune saw the many families blend and draw close around those among them in such pain until none could tell where the single families began or end as they drew together as one, and then would his hand seek hers, and their fingers twine together as they drew apart that he could at last bare his pain to the only person that cold custom allowed, after the door closed the world away from them at last.
I hope what I’ve given as my “process” matches what I’ve written, and hopefully some one can tweak and adjust it to their writing. As always your mileage may vary, thanks for indulging me.
© 2009, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.