Characterization affects everything. They’re the folks who bridge the world of your story and the reader. If the reader likes your character, they’ll accept anything. Needless to say, there are loads and loads and loads of materials out there on the interwebs about how to create great, strong, magnificent, luxurious, exfoliating characters. A lot of them involve checklists.
Now there’s nothing wrong with a checklist, but do you know what’s wrong with a checklist? It’s a checklist. It reduces characters to a resume, cover letter, and professional references—boring corporate stuff. The only thing separating them from a bond issue is a rating from Standard & Poor’s.
For characters to be great, they need something organic, breathing, human.
Think about the people you’ve met. Did you wait until you could classify them like a list before you decided to be friends? Or did you start feeling them out from the moment you saw them? It was the latter, right?
That’s why I use music to figure out my characters.
It’s a long story, but I don’t really get music. I started listening to, well, any music in my teens. For me, music is still this new weird thing I obsess over. In ancient mythology and more recent mythologies like THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, music is the language that created the universe.
Why is that? Because music transcends. It elevates our experiences into something mythical and legendary. Let me prove it.
First, the checklist. Marie is a sweet, kind girl who longs to leave her small town, but her doubts keep her in despair.
Goal: Leave her small town
Motivator: The longing for more.
Still awake? Yeah, me neither, but hey, that checklist is kinda filled out. We did writerly work!
Music method: Marie is all sorts of Vanessa Carlton’s ‘White Houses,’ and wishes she was feeling every addictive note of The Bleachers’ ‘Don’t Take The Money,’ but she’s been through Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have” and Lana Del Rey’s ‘Summertime Sadness.’
Doesn’t your imagination explode at the all the possibilities this presents? It fact, you know what her voice sounds like: dark, sleek, airy, with all those beautiful teenage hopes shining through. If push came to shove, all of us could describe Marie’s appearance from these songs alone.
Usually, writers use music to get into the tone of a scene and we use movies, games, and TV shows to describe characters, story, and settings, but music can do so much more for us.
First, it gives your imagination room to breathe.
Second, it clues you into their voice and tone.
Third, once you have their feel, you can make them come alive on the page. (Also, paying attention to the structure of a song will help you structure a scene).
And it’s all a song away.
Written by Timon Skees