“Music is the shorthand of emotion.” Leo Tolstoy.

I’m writing scenes set in Budapest in the early 1990s. My protagonist, Sean is in a bar. Everything is going his way. He’s invincible, unstoppable. The world is his oyster and everything is coming up roses, (ouch – talk about a mixed metaphor.) He is full of that impossible confidence of youth.

I want the reader to feel all of that, to be transported to a smokey bar, whisky in hand, rock music booming from the speakers, ready to party hard.

“Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.” E. Y. Harburg.


I lived in Budapest in the 1990s. Sean and I have similar tastes in music. To get inside Sean’s head, I decided to build a playlist.


I’m back there. It’s all I can do not to pour myself a Johnnie Walker Red. I can smell the bar, see the faces. Memories rush back with every chord.

I messaged a friend from those days. We reminisced about basement rock clubs full of leather jackets, tattoos and sticky dance floors. He suggested some missing tracks. Listening to a playlist melted 25 years, taking us both back to those days. It was a joy to bathe in nostalgia and “feel those feelings” again. The question is, can I communicate those feelings to the reader, without the music?


I can’t use the lyrics. In order to quote Guns and Roses or U2, I need their permission, which can be withheld or charged for. That’s overhead that I can’t afford, neither in terms of money, nor time.

Still. I’m a writer. Communicating is a core skill, I hope. How hard can it be?

Turns out, really hard.

I’m going to invest some time in creating specific playlists for each character and each venue. At worst, I get to luxuriate in memories of my youth, and the scenes become much more vivid in my mind’s eye.

I’ll publish them in the members section of the site.

Now. Where did I leave that Johnnie Walker?