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The Muse of Soundtracks

Updated: 23 hours ago

All through my school years, my friends did their homework while listening to pop music. That never worked for me because the lyrics were too distracting.

To prove my point about distracting words, I challenge you to read or write anything substantial while listening to the following exuberant song: Independent Women. Or how about this great song by Tower of Power: Soul Vaccination.

What I needed to hear when I did my schoolwork was music designed to exist in the background, music that thrived as the sidekick rather than the main character.

Pop music is entertainment,

not background music.

What type of music is best suited to help create mood, theme, scene, and characterization? Which compositions are subtle, yet provide mysterious, secret powers?

Movie and video game soundtracks

What I’m speaking of are movie and video game soundtracks.

"What?" you ask.

If you want to immerse yourself in a unique atmosphere that sends you to a distant land, then listen to a movie or video game soundtrack. This is because they're specifically designed to do just that. You can do this for free by going to Youtube and entering into the search field your intended movie or video game title followed by the word soundtrack.

"But, I’m not into video games," you say.

Who says you must know where the music comes from? Almost all of the games included in the lists below I have never heard of and have never played. But I have listened to their soundtracks countless times because they provide mood-enhancing background music, and that's what matters to me.

Soundtracks sound pretty but aren’t heard.

They're attractive but aren't the center of attention.

They give life but aren't the life of the party.

Unlike pop songs, soundtracks often last for hours. Open up Homeworld and you’ll be freed from your present thoughts for 3 hours and 19 minutes. The Surviving Mars soundtrack goes on for 5 hours and 14 minutes. Or you can listen to soothing, ancient-sounding music that tells a story from ages gone by for a whopping 6 hours and 3 minutes.

If you listen to Thief: Deadly Shadows on its own, you may be bored. But if you listen to it while writing something creepy or suspenseful, it will create for you mighty magical muse muscle.

I'm not into western movies, but their musical scores definitely have their own style. Listening to this track takes me to the untamed west. Why go through the expense and trouble of actually flying to the American old west when you can just listen? I find the musical score of Westworld haunting even though I've never seen the HBO show.

I’ve heard of famous authors who have taken illegal drugs for inspiration. Too bad they didn’t know about musical soundtracks.

Dinner Guests

When you invite guests over for dinner, put on a good video game soundtrack. Even your most hoity-toity guests will not stick up their powdered noses at this music. Or even this for a more pensive mood.

I put on music because people rarely do anymore and because the purpose of soundtracks is to create a certain mood. Our guests seem to know that something unique is happening, and on their drive home they say to each other, “We should be more like the Richardsons.”

Background music is like using spices in good cooking.

If you can taste them, you’ve put in too much.

What does all this have to do with writing?

Soundtracks will help you as much as they will help your dinner guests. Hearing calm, romantic, or exhilarating music will spurn your imagination in the direction you choose, which helps you enrich your stories.

Caution: Not all soundtracks will help you

Unfortunately, most soundtracks will not be helpful to you when writing. I am forever searching for more and better soundtracks that promote a wider range of imaginative thought.

I can describe with only four bullet points why most soundtracks are not useful to you when writing. Non-useful soundtracks,

  • are too loud (distracting)

  • are too boring

  • contain lyrics

  • are too recognizable

Background music cannot be too recognizable because its purpose is to take you to a faraway and unfamiliar place. You don’t want the music to remind you of Hobbits or lightsabers.

Avoid soundtrack compilations (collections) of the “most romantic” or “most exciting” soundtracks. Good ones are very rare because they usually don't provide enough musical content. Just when the music gets good, the track switches to the next movie theme. Music that yanks you from one place to another isn't useful.

The best soundtracks I’ve found so far

The following soundtracks have helped me richly while writing. I will continue to develop this list as I discover new music. While I’ve organized these pieces into categories, most can be applied to several categories.

Honor, loyalty, beauty, perseverance

Abyss (music mix)

Alan Wake (game)

Amélie (movie)

Ancient Cathedral Music

Anno 1404 (game)

Blue Planet II (TV series)

Creaks (game)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (movie)

Elysium (orchestral music)

Endless Legends (game)

Endless Space (game)

Enola Holmes (movie)

Eternal Sonata (game)

Everyone's Gone to the Rapture (game)

Final Fantasy (guitar)

Frost Punk (game)

Frost Punk 2 (game)

Goldstone (movie)

Halo (game)

Homeworld (game)

Horizon: Zero Dawn (game)

The Host (movie)

Humankind (game)

Icewind Dale (game)

Jade Empire (game)

Knights of the Old Republic (game)

Knights of the Old Republic: The Sith Lords (game)

Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2 Ambient Music (games)

The Last Airbender (movie)

The Last of Us (game)

The Last of Us II (game)

The Last Samurai (movie)

Life Is Beautiful (movie)

The Moon (movie)

Monster Hunter Stories 2 (game)

Monument Valley 2 (game)

Myst (game)

Native American Folk Music

Night Sky (TV series)

Never Let Me Go (movie)

Nowhere Somewhere (music mix)

Oblivion (game)

Orchestral Film Music (music mix)

The Outer Worlds (game)

Passengers (movie)

Pharaoh (game)

The Prince of Tides (movie)

The Princess Bride (movie)

Princess Mononoke (movie)

The Queen's Gambit (TV series)

Rainman (movie)

Rimworld (game)

Samorost 2 (game)

Samorost 3 (game)

Shadow of the Colossus (game)

Skyrim (game)

Skyrim Ambience (game)

Solaris (movie)

Spirited Away (movie)

Stellaris (game)

Surviving Mars (game)

Syberia (game)

Syberia 2 (game)

Syberia: The World Before (game)

Tales From the Loop (TV series)

The Theory of Everything (movie)

This Beautiful Fantastic (movie)

Tunic (game)

Westworld (TV series)

The Witcher 2 (game)

Well-Tempered Clavier (piano)

Western music (movies)

Wonder Woman (movie)

Zelda--relaxing (game)

Tension, suspense, adventure, determination

Alias (TV series)

Alien (movie)

Alita Battle Angel (movie)

Assassin's Creed Ambience (game)

Assassin's Creed Ambience 2 (game)

Assassin's Creed 2 (game)

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag (game)

Back to the Future (movie)

Blade Runner (movie)

Chaos Theory1 (game)

Chaos Theory2 (game)

Chaos Walking (movie)

Conan the Barbarian (movie)

The Dark Knight (movie)

Death's Door (game)

Diablo 3 (game)

Dishonored (game)

Dishonored 2 (game)

Double Agent (game)

Divinity II (game)

Dune (movie)

Dungeons and Dragons (movie)

Fable (game)

Final Fantasy VIII (game)

The Fugitive (movie)

Ghostbusters 1984 (movie)

Ghostbusters 2016 (movie)

Ghost of Tsushima (game)

Ghost Recon (game)

Gorky 17 (game)

Gorky Park (movie)

Hitman 3 (game)

How to Train Your Dragon (movie)

The Island (movie)

James Bond (movies)

Jungle Cruise (movie)

The Legend of Zorro (movie)

Mass Effect (game)

Mechanicus (game)

Medal of Honor (game)

Modern Warfare 2 (game)

Modern Warfare 3 (game)

Mysterious Island (movie)

Need for Speed: Most Wanted (game)

Pillars of Eternity (game)

Pillars of Eternity II (game)

Predator (movie)

Tenet (movie)

Rise of the Tomb Raider (game)

The Rite of Spring (movie Fantasia)

Returnal (game)

The Rock (movie)

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (movie)

Severance (TV series)

Stargate (movie)

The Thing (movie)

Tomb Raider Legend (game)

Tomb Raider Underworld (game)

Vikings (TV series)

Vertigo (movie)

World of Warcraft (game)

Horror, creepy

Arrival (movie)

Bioshock (game)

Byzantium (movie)

Fallout (game)

Lady in the Water (movie)

My Cousin Rachel (movie)

Planet of the Apes (movie)

Psycho (movie)

The Ring (movie)

Riven (game)

Signs (movie)

Sixth Sense (movie)

Thief: Deadly Shadows (game)

The Village (movie)

Strength against overwhelming odds

Battleship (movie)

Mission Impossible 6 Fallout (movie)

Mortal Engines (movie)

Exuberant, enthusiastic, exaggerated, over-the-top, whimsical

Grandia (game)

MapleStory (game)

Free Guy (movie)

FTL (game)

Maniac (TV series)

Pajama Sam (game)

Psychonauts (game)

Psychonauts 2 (game)

Rimworld Royalty (game)

Sly Cooper (game)

Voodoo Vince (game)

The Wind Waker (game)

The only exception to the "no lyrics" rule above is for Need for Speed: Most Wanted. I'm not a rap music fan, but the songs' lyrics and energy are so motivating.

Never enough music

I am open to suggestions! Email me your favorite writing music at, or add a comment at the bottom of this post. Let’s help each other become better writers as we fill the world with our creative, colorful, and stimulating stories.

As an added bonus, here is a compilation of exceptional classical guitarists. These aren't sound tracts, but they're pleasant enough to listen to while imagining new people and worlds.

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