Music to write to:
soundtracks that chill out

“Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time.”
-Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

09_28_2013As a part of my creative process, I find an organized iTunes playlist as valuable as a comfortable chair. To give you a peek, I’ve listed my “music to write to”– Enjoy!

# Song Artist Album
1) Time Hans Zimmer Inception (Music from the Motion Picture)
2) Astor’s Birthday Party Daniel Licht Dexter (Soundtrack from the TV Series)
3) My Number is 47 Geoff Zanelli Hitman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
4) That New Car Smell Michael Giacchino Star Trek (Music from the Motion Picture)
5) Earth Jesper Kyd Assassin’s Creed 2 (Original Game Soundtrack)
6) Su-Chou Prison – Original Motion Picture Harry Gregson-Williams Spy Game (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
7) Prologue Alexandre Desplat Birth (Original Score)
8) Capa’s Last Transmission Home Underworld Sunshine (Music from the Motion Picture)
9) Vide Cor Meum –
Patrick Cassidy
Hans Zimmer Hannibal
10) The Prestige David Julyan The Prestige (Original Score)
11) Chevaliers de Sangreal Hans Zimmer The Da Vinci Code (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
12) Adaptation (Fat Boy Slim Remix) Carter Burwell Adaption (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
13) Birth Watlz Alexandre Desplat Birth (Original Score)
14) May It Be and Themes from Lord of the Rings Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
15) Music for a Found Harmonium Penguin Café Orchestra Preludes Airs & Yodels
16) The Son of Flynn Daft Punk TRON: Legacy
17) 503 Joshua Bell Angels & Demons (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
18) Vespertilio Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard Batman Begins (Music from the Motion Picture)
19) The Madam Jesper Kyd Assassin’s Creed 2 (Original Game Soundtrack)
20) Music from the Right Stuff Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
21) The Kiss Trevor Jones & Randy Edelman Last of the Mohicans
22) Recognizer Daft Punk TRON: Legacy
23) On the Similarity of Human and Orchid Forms (Instrumental) Carter Burwell Adaption (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
24) Epilogue / Bloodroom Daniel Licht Dexter (Soundtrack from the TV Series)
25) The Chase Philip Glass The Illusionist (Music from film)
26) Main Titles (From “Blade Runner”) Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture)
27) Long, Long Time Ago Javier Navarrete Pan’s Labyrinth (Original Soundtrack)
28) Perpetuum Mobile Penguin Café Orchestra Preludes Airs & Yodels
29) Veridis Quo Daft Punk Discovery
30) A Kaleidoscope Of Mathematics James Horner Beautiful Mind Soundtrack, A
31) Scrooged – Main Titles / Show Time At Ibc / Elliot Gives Blood / Danny Elfman Music for a Darkened Theatre – Film and Television Music, Vol. 1
32) Main Title from Shakespeare In Love Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
33) The Illusionist Philip Glass The Illusionist (Music from the Film)
34) Lasiurus Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard Batman Begins (Music from the Motion Picture)
35) Love Theme (From “Blade Runner”) Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
36) Discombobulate Hans Zimmer Sherlock Holmes (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
37) The Orgy Basil Poledouris Conan the Barbarian (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
38) A Small Measure of Peace Hans Zimmer The Last Samurai
39) Batman Theme from Batman Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
40) End Titles- Tron London Philharmonic Orchestra & Wendy Carlos Tron (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
41) Classical Gas Mason Williams Rhino Hi-Five: Mason Williams – EP
42) Adaptation Versus Immutability Carter Burwell Adaptation (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
43) Adagio for Strings Leonard Bernstein & New York Philharmonic Barber’s Adagio and Romantic Favorites for Strings
44) Modigliani Guy Farley Modigliani: Music from the Original Picture
45) Spotkanie Z Matka Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
46) Operation Dinner Out-  Original Motion Picture Harry Gregson-Williams Spy Game (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
47) Rosasolis Penguin Cafe Orchestra Preludes Airs & Yodels
48) The Last Man Clint Mansell The Fountain (Music from the Motion Picture)
49) No Expectation Boulevard Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
50) Elysium Klaus Badelt & Lisa Gerrard Gladiator
51) The Floating Bed Elliot Goldenthal Frida
52) Ave Maria Geoff Zanelli Hitman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
53) Main Title from the Last of the Mohicans Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
54) Blade Runner Blues Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
55) Rescue Mission Tyler Bates Watchmen (Original Motion Picture Score)
56) Burning Bed Elliot Goldenthal Frida
57) LV-426 James Horner Aliens (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [The Deluxe Edition]
58) Beetlejuice: Main Titles / End Titles Danny Elfman Music for a Darkened Theatre – Film and Television Music, Vol. 1
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Using Pinterest for Personas

Using Pinterest for PersonasFrom an author’s perspective, I need to get to know my characters before I start writing about them. To do this, I start by identifying the small things that make up their personalities and backgrounds. Having spent time in the creative industry, I like to do this visually. By using personas, I can shape their image and individualism more realistically with Pinterest boards.

Personas on Pinterest– Jon

For my main character, Jon, I needed to know things like what kind of sound do his shoes make? How would he react to specific types of smells? How does he take his coffee? You get the idea. Here is a Pinterest board for Jon that helped me think about these things:

Jon on Pinterest

Personas on Pinterest– Liz

For Liz, what kind of music does she play when she runs? What does the scarf around her neck feel like? What would she wear on the weekends?Liz on Pinterest

In persona development, I’ve found Pinterest valuable in the creation of moodboards. Simple objects become reference points in the story and make the characters more real to me. I like calling these little details the ‘subtleties of life’; I think they make my characters more grounded and relatable to the reader.



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Starting a Plot Outline

Starting a Plot OutlineTo write about the plot outline process,  I had to carefully balance not giving away every plot-line element in my current book while explaining how I landed on it’s structure. So, in order to shape a dialogue around this topic, I decided to dissect an existing story and re-tell it from a different character’s perspective. This technique has been used on many well known books and movies– it’s called the Rashomon Effect.

For my example, I’m going to take the story The Elephant’s Child from Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling and create an outline of the existing story with the Freytag pyramid. After which, I’ll use the Rashomon Effect to create an alternate storyline in a parallel Freytag Pyramid.

The Elephant’s Child–Original Plot

The Elephant’s Child, a child with ” ‘satiable” curiosity who lives in Africa is constantly getting in trouble with his family for asking too many questions.

Rising Action:
The Elephant’s Child keeps getting spanked by his relatives for his curiosity over what crocodiles eat. Out of desperation to know the answer, he leaves the safety of his family to pursue the truth.

Naively, the Elephant’s Child asks the Crocodile what crocodiles eat, not realizing he is talking to a crocodile. The Crocodile answers by chomping down on and tugging the Elephant’s Child’s nose.

Falling Action:
The Elephant’s Child’s nose begins to stretch and stretch as the Crocodile pulls. With the help of a Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake though, the Elephant’s Child is able resist the crocodile until he gives up and lets go.

After waiting 3 days for his nose to shrink back, the Elephant’s Child unconsciously swats at a fly on his back that would have been previously out of reach. Then, he reaches down with his new elongated nose, pulls a large bundle of grass from the earth, and stuffs it in his mouth. Not even thinking, he then scoops up some mud and slaps it on his head to cool himself off. With these new found nose-abilities, the Elephant’s Child goes home to spank his family with his new trunk.

The Elephant’s Child–Alternate Plot

The Wise Crocodile who lives in Africa is frustrated over the younger generation of animals scaring food away.

Rising Action:
At the river bank one day, the Wise Crocodile gets inpatient when a group of young crocodiles refuse to hunt in the traditional ways. Out of frustration, he decides to go hunting upstream away from them all.

After a few hours of seeing nothing, the Wise Crocodile decides to take a nap on the river bank. To his surprise, he is awakened by a young elephant asking him what crocodiles eat. Rather grumpy and hungry, the Wise Crocodile decides to take this opportunity by the nose, and tugs…

Falling Action:
The Wise Crocodile has never seen a nose stretch so long before. Just when he thinks he has the young elephant in his grasp, a Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake decides to help his naive prey. Afterwards, sitting high above the stream and out of the crocodile’s grasp, the young elephant proceeds to scare all other animals away by his very loud complaints about his new nose.

Annoyed by the commotion, the Wise Crocodile decides to go back to his original feeding ground. He swims back down to the main river bank and discovers that all the young crocodiles have finally moved on. With the water’s edge calm and quiet, and a little bit of patience, he is able to wait and eat a hearty fish dinner.

You can see that different perspectives of the same story create an opportunity to explore character development and plot possibilities. The Freytag Pyramid is one construct to guide your basic plot structure and fully explore what your story can be.


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Collecting everyday life

I once had a college art professor tell me that my ability to conceptually build stories through imagery and words would become easier through more life experience. Now, reflecting Collecting everyday lifeon that moment, I understand why Professor Fred Burton was right. Big ideas are enriched by the small, day-to-day, simple details of life.

Choosing the tools for writingFor The Heir to the Unexpected, I invested time collecting a repository of momentary ‘subtleties of life’ and then infused them into my larger cohesive story. By using a cloud-based sync tool on my iPhone (I use Evernote), I have the ability to capture ideas quickly and assign multiple topical tag categories (i.e. characters, conflict, dialogue, eating, environment, travel, location, year/date/time,) to organize my thoughts. Then, when I get back to my desk, iPad, and MacBook, I have my thoughts of the day documented and waiting at my fingertips.

One such moment was a walk in New York City… and it happened to become the first sentence in my first chapter:

When it was early morning, you were confronted with a thousand smells and the common glare of solitude.

Now, this sentence is not only about sidewalk aromas and that introspective pre-caffeinated time of the morning, but it’s the start of the mood and the moment that my character is experiencing. More specifically, it’s hinting at the day-to-day routine work commute behavior we all fall into. In that brief moment, I collected a feeling that could connect the reader to a relateable instance.

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Reaching a first draft: defining a timeline and milestones

Reach First DraftThere are several ways to plan writing a story as a First Draft. Some people have a clear idea of what tale they want to spin, they write it, and then they find a way to publish it. Other writers start by testing their market, and then writing a story to reach their specific target audience. In my case, I am pursuing a hydrid approach- we’ll see how it works… I’m still trying to figure out the right balance.

As I started preparing to write my story, I knew the basic plot structure and how I wanted to differentiate it from other mysteries. But having a big idea and making it a reality on paper requires some planning. First, I made a projected schedule of milestones to guide my story development (below). Having some form of protective boundaries like these during the creative process is a must, but my boundaries were carefully established so they were not too creatively restrictive or too lackadaisical. For me, as I write, I need to continuously step back and take a breath and ask myself what’s working and what’s not? Then, I refine my process. But, everyone operates differently, and what works for me may not be the best scenario for you. Moving forward, as I shape my ideas onto paper, I plan to share specific chapters with you, in order to gauge how the story is flowing.

For this post, I’m avoiding the role of an agent, publisher, and marketing requirements for story development and how the first draft is handled. I promise this will be further down the road.

For my First Draft timeline, I identified the following milestones:

*Defining Timeline

  1. Writing
    • High level- Plot Outline
    • Opening
    • Conflict
    • Climax
    • Post Climax
    • Resolution
  2. High level- Characters development
    • Personas
    • Dialogue
  3. High level- Environments
    • Setting
    • Subtles of life (my collected ideas for content bridging.)
  4. Plot, Character, and Environment integration
    • Refined Plot
    • Refined Characters
    • Refined Environment
  5. Editing Review
    • Self
    • Editors

*First Draft Completed


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Project: The Heir to the Unexpected

Glasses: The Heir to the UnexpectedFor the last year and a half, I’ve been working on a book tentatively entitled The Heir to the Unexpected. This project has turned out to take a little longer than expected! While working on this project, I met and married my wife, have traveled around home and abroad, and have maintained my day job. During this process, my book began to change with me along the way. Sometimes it was more prominent in my day-to-day activities, and sometimes it was placed in the background as I reflected on life. Recently though, I decided it was time to complete this writing project.

I started this blog to give my readers a narrative glimpse into my creative process, and to document this experience. Over the next few months, I will be sharing snippets of the book with you. While my plots and characters will have distinct arcs and personalities, I think it would be interesting to refine these based on the feedback of my readers. Therefore, I’d like to invite everyone not only to come along for this creative ride, but also to provide me with feedback that will make my ultimate story more rewarding for all to enjoy.

I look forward to sharing my journey with you.

D.C. Sumrall

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