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How Creating a Soundtrack Can Improve Your Screenplay

By Marilyn Horowitz

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When I am deep into a new project, or coaching a screenwriter who is, I have found that a significant part of the work is to visualize the world that is being created. Visualization is often thought of as being able to “see” a scene, but that may not always be enough to bring a script to life. It also helps to “hear” it, and for this I find nothing works better than music.

Think of what it feels like when you watch something with the sound off. Visualizing without “hearing” is often equally frustrating. While hearing is as natural as seeing, educationally we are not trained to regard visualization as a multi-sensory task, and so we limit our ability to fully experience the world we are writing about. The result too often is a boring script with weak dialogue and flat writing that requires a great deal of revision.

However, in my trademarked writing method, The Horowitz System®, an intuitive technique that has helped hundreds to write a screenplay in 10 weeks or less, I take a multi-sensory approach. In the initial exercises, the writer is instructed to draw stick-figure versions of the main character’s family and to write about his or her favorite food. Finding your character’s favorite song or piece of music is also at the top of the list. For example, in the film The Silence of the Lambs, the villain, Hannibal Lecter, loves classical music, which lends fascinating contradictions to his savage yet sophisticated personality.

To better visualize your writing project, try creating a “soundtrack” for it as if it were already a film. It doesn’t matter how you build it or what you include in your playlist, only that you make one. By adding this soundtrack to your work sessions, you’ll better feel the mood of what you’re trying to create, and you’ll type more easily because you’ll be listening to a beat. As a wise counselor once said to me, “Ninety percent of success is based on the ability to implement.”

Here’s the exercise:

1. Listen to the soundtrack for a film you enjoyed that is similar in genre and storyline to the one you’re writing. For example, if I were writing a gangster movie, I would listen to the soundtrack for—you guessed it—The Godfather.

2. Choose up to ten songs or instrumentals.

3. Organize them imagining when in your story they might be playing. If you are working from an outline or treatment, this can really be fun.

4. Think of a song or songs that you are currently listening to. This is a personal reflection, not about the music that might go along with your story. For example, I recently had a wonderful dinner at a lobster joint at my favorite beach. At a pivotal point, the classic song “I Hear a Symphony,” by the Supremes, played on the restaurant’s sound system. In that moment, my heart lifted! Now whenever I think of the song, I remember the feeling of happiness it gave me, and my heart lifts once again. Playing the song while I write reignites my enthusiasm for my screenplay, and I easily get to work.

5. Add that song to the beginning of your movie soundtrack.

6. Play your soundtrack every day as soon as you get up in the morning. This focuses you first on feeling good about life, and then it turns that positive energy and enthusiasm onto your screenplay.

To recap: Creating a soundtrack for your screenplay will enhance your ability to visualize the script, and adding a personal song at the very beginning will help your enthusiasm and belief in the project remain consistent.

Here’s to your successful writing!

About Marilyn Horowitz

Marilyn Horowitz is an award-winning New York University professor, author, producer, and Manhattan-based writing consultant, who works with successful novelists, produced screenwriters, and award-winning filmmakers. She has a passion for helping novices get started. Since 1998 she has taught thousands of aspiring screenwriters to complete a feature length screenplay using her method. She is also a judge for the Fulbright Scholarship Program for film and media students. In 2004 she received the coveted New York University Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Horowitz has created a revolutionary system that yields a new, more effective way of writing. She is the author of six books that help the writer learn her trademarked writing system, including editions for college, high school, and middle school. The college version is a required text at New York University and the University of California, Long Beach.

Professor Horowitz has written several feature-length screenplays. Her production credits include the feature films And Then Came Love (2007). Her new novel, The Book of Zev is available on Amazon.

Screenwriting Article by Marilyn Horowitz

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