Guest Post: Your Music Versus Their Music

Let’s face it. You have musical tastes. Whether it was the music you grew up with, or the music that spoke to you, or the music that someone gave you on a mix tape, or the soundtrack to one of your favorite movies, we are a species and a culture that loves their tunes — and someone else’s tunes are at times ‘noise-that-you-don’t-like’.

Stop for a moment and think about what music lives on your iPod, WinAmp, or on your playlist for Pandora — or, if you’re not part of the iThingy generation, your CD collection, or (if you go that far back) vinyl and cassettes.

You’ll see that your music defines you, more often than not. Listening to a song can take you back to who you were and what you were doing when you listened to the song — maybe it’s about someone you dated, or classes, or maybe it was played at your graduation — perhaps by you on an instrument of your choice. Maybe it was the in-thing when you were growing up.

I trust you see where I’m going with this.

Your characters ought to have their own musical tastes. Maybe it’s the same as yours. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe it’s an anthem for who they are as a person — and maybe the secret to their character is hidden in the lyrics.

Have you ever listened to a song’s lyrics and said, ‘this reminds me of a friend?’ And yet when you played it for them, they said, “I don’t get it?”

Realize that they aren’t wrong, and neither are you. What it is is that you, as the author-attributor (yes, I know that’s not a word), are seeing the person with your own filter that happens to be a song. And so your perception lends itself to music.

When you’re the author, though, you will almost always match the perfect song to your character, because they can’t help but agree with you — unless you have characters that defy initial definitions and ideas and strike off on their own – to with, marching to the beat of their own plotline.

One of the things that I gave the Novice Wordsmith as a challenge, more than once, was to say, “Take this song that I’m giving you. Look up the lyrics, listen to the song, and then apply it to a character of yours. Figure out what sort of situation they would be in for these lyrics to make sense. Go.”

I, personally, am somewhat musically driven; I’ve written whole short stories and parts of chapters while being inspired by music. It didn’t even have to have lyrics – sometimes it’s just a feeling. After all, how often does listening to the instrumental soundtrack to a movie conjure up memories of the movie itself in your head?

(And just to prove the point: “Everything is awesommmmme!” o/~)

You should try it. It’s a different way of seeing the words and getting some inspiration. Instead of having ‘writing music’ in the background to help set the mood for you, why not have the music take a more active part of the writing by choosing the song directly?

A bit of trivia here: My very first NaNoWriMo started out exactly this way. Lacking inspiration, I turned on the radio, and started writing using the first song that came on — Sting’s “If I Built This Fortress (Around Your Heart).” Suddenly I had a mental flash of a guy driving down the highway doing 75 in a convertible, and a character snapped into focus. I let the lyrics and that mental image drive the introduction, and decided that I’d take that journey with that character — wherever it went.

You can go either way with this, really: have the song write the character, or have the character pick the song that goes with them. It really is as easy as the character turning on the radio — and then deciding whether to hit Skip/Shuffle or listen and live.

Let me know how it goes for you, and whether you tuned in or tuned out.

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