Plotting with playlists

Before I start writing any book, I have to have a playlist ready. It’s simply impossible to start writing without it.

It evolves as the book goes on – in fact, sometimes I’ve fixed a plothole in the book by moving around a few songs, or deleting one completely. Songs represent moods and character developments, and listening to a playlist is like an audio version of reading a book – it’s the unfiltered ups and downs and swings and roundabouts. It’s the essential feeling of a book, distilled.

It’s also the easiest way to slip into writing. Playing the first song in a book’s playlist, wherever you are, is a kind of instant connection to the story. It sets you up perfectly to begin writing without having to reread anything to get yourself in the right frame of mind.

Good music also has a way of tricking you into delusional grandeur – you can make believe that you’re writing The Illiad, instead of the mediocre first draft of a YA novel. It’s exactly the kind of belief you need to force yourself to see writing it through to the end of the book.

So here’s the soundtrack of the last four years of my life.

final cover.jpg

Playlist for The Next Together  (All links lead to Spotify)

I haven’t listened to this playlist since mid-2015 – by the time I’d finished work on TNT, I was so sick of these songs that I couldn’t play it again. But I listened to it while writing this blog post, and it was an instant transition back into being 21 year-old me: a nervous, adrift debut author with no idea how people would react to this hefty thing I was writing.

Track list:

  • shine/anna nalick (The past, it knocks on your door and throws stones at your window at 4 in the morning)
  • love story/taylor swift (We were both young when I first saw you. I close my eyes and the flashback starts: I’m standing there on a balcony in summer air.)
  • tired of waiting for you/the kinks (I’m so tired of waiting for you, I was a lonely soul, I had nobody till I met you)
  • dear river/kina grannis (I doubt anyone can keep up with you)
  • i will wait/mumford and sons (These days of dust which we have known will blow away with this new sun)
  • rattlin’ bones/kasey chambers (Till they bury me down beneath the ground, With the dust and rattlin’ bones)
  • back to where i was/eric hutchinson (New life decides we never had a clue, The two of us deciding what to do, I rebound so I can say at least I tried)
  • pompeii/bastille (If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all? Like you’ve been here before?)
  • radioactive/imagine dragons (I’m waking up, I feel it in my bones. Welcome to the new age)
  • when the war came/the decemberists (A terrible autonomy has grafted onto you and me)
  • young volcanoes/fall out boy (We are anti-venom, we’re the beginning of the end)
  • rolling in the deep/adele (I can’t help feeling we could have had it all)
  • to the dog or whoever/josh ritter (She makes the most of her time by loving me plenty, She knows there’ll come a day when we won’t be getting any. Stain of the sepia of the butcher Crimea, through the rack of a brass band I thought I could see her.)
  • la meme historie/feist (While there is time we all go round and round, partners of lost and found)
  • centuries/fall out boy (We’ll go down in history, remember me for centuries)
  • man o’ war/eric bachmann (Many messengers and rebels have come and gone without a trace, And many more will come tomorrow and many more will be erased)
  • maybe/ingrid michaelson (‘Cause maybe in the future, you’re gonna come back around. I still feel you on the right side of the bed)
  • brand new day/joshua radin (This cycle never ends, You gotta fall in order to mend, And it’s a brand new day)
  • first day of my life/bright eyes (This is the first day of my life, besides maybe this time is different, I mean I really think you like me)

The song that never fails to make me cry when it comes up on shuffle is Dear River. It just gets to me. It sums up the way my characters feel about each other so well that I always take it like a blow to the heart. It’s impossible to underestimate the power of good music.


Playlist for Another TogetherAnother Together_short story_ by Lauren James_publishing 2 June 2016.jpg

This next playlist is for my novella about Kate and Matt, ANOTHER TOGETHER, which comes out in eBook on June 2nd. The story is set during World War II, so I listened to a lot of 40s-era music while I was writing to get me in the mood.

There’s also some modern songs, which I heard when I was writing, and just made me think of this story. Sometimes it’s hard to isolate just why a song makes you think of a story – but when you can work it out, it can give you a lot of insight into your characters, I find. (I feel like I’m talking nonsense now, but this is a legit thing! Promise!)

I’m less sick of this list – it was a much shorter writing process, so I didn’t listen to them an indecent number of times.

  • history/one direction (You and me got a whole lot of history, We could be the greatest team that the world has ever seen, 
    So don’t let it go, we can make some more, we can live forever)
  • collapsing stars/the mountain goats (We knew if we waited long enough the change would come, and then the day did come, and at last)
  • agape/bear’s den (I’m so scared of losing you
    And I don’t know what I can do about it about it
    So tell me how long love before you go and leave me here on my own)
  • i’ve heard that song before/harry james and his orchestra
  • chattanooga choo choo/glenn miller
  • oh Johnny/the Andrews sisters
  • buttons and bows/dinah shore
  • mr. sandman/the chordettes (Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream, make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen)
  • posh girls/scouting for girls (Posh girls have good manners but they go like the clappers because they never got to hang around with boys at school)
  • this is war/ben kweller (Hunted you all day and night now I’m ready for a fight)
  • liars A to E/dexys midnight runners (You choose sweet stolen info’ you must never lose, until you’re so secure in your habitat familiar)

Playlist for The Last BeginningThe Last Beginning by Lauren James_publishing October 2016.jpg

Okay, this one, for my second novel THE LAST BEGINNING is very, very long. I’m going to cut it down eventually, because it’s just plain greedy at the moment – but as I’m still working on this book, I’m not ready to let go just yet. I’m not going to give you lyrics, because that might be a bit of a spoiler – you’ll have to work them out for yourself!

  • girls like you/the naked and the famous
  • classy girls/the lumineers
  • happy together/the turtles
  • love you much better/the hush sound
  • a better son daughter/rilo kiley
  • campus/vampire weekend
  • why am i the one/fun. 
  • the weight of living pt. 1/bastille
  • you’ve got time/regina spektor
  • sail/awolnation
  • wonderland/taylor swift
  • she’s got you high/mumm-ra
  • exile vilify/the national
  • get home/bastille 
  • samson/regina spektor
  • brave/sara bareilles 
  • become the colour/emily wells
  • elenore/the turtles
  • she’s electric/oasis
  • how you get the girl/taylor swift
  • high hopes/the vamps
  • riptide/taylor swift
  • if she wants me/belle and sebastian 
  • philomena/the decemberists
  • i’m a believer/the monkees
  • big parade/the lumineers
  • laughter lines/bastille
  • help/the beatles
  • party in the usa/miley cyrus
  • pencil full of lead/paolo nutini
  • feeling good/muse
  • year 3000/busted
  • house of gold/carrie hope fletcher
  • shut up and dance/walk the moon

“She’s electric, she’s in a family full of eccentrics, she’s done things I never expected. And I need more time.”

Published by Lauren James

Lauren James is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many Young Adult novels, including Green Rising, The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. She is a RLF Royal Fellow, freelance editor and screenwriter. Lauren is the founder of the Climate Fiction Writers League, and on the board of the Authors & Illustrators Sustainability Working Group through the Society of Authors. Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide and been translated into six languages. The Quiet at the End of the World was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award. Her other novels include The Next Together series, the dyslexia-friendly novella series The Watchmaker and the Duke and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise. She was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and many of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. She sold the rights to her first novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university. Her writing has been described as ‘gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly. Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2022. She has taught creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands.

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