A few years ago, I took a writing class and one of our exercises required us to raid the fridge and car trunk of one of our characters. It seemed weird at first but that day I pulled some interesting items from my character’s fridge and I think that day I formed a very special bond with her.
Like me, she had plain and artificially flavored yoghurt in her fridge but she almost always chose the flavored yoghurt and the plain ones stayed in there till their expiry date. Random fact, but one I related to on a personal level. She tried to live a healthy life but always fell short. I knew this desire and I was well acquainted with the shame that followed each time she disappointed herself. I understand the excuses she told herself because those were my excuses as well.
That’s as far as our similarities went but I did learn a lot from that exercise.
Before I write the first words in any story, I spend a few months dreaming up these characters. I find myself imagining them everywhere. At the grocery store, at the DMW (you can learn a lot about a character from their time at this portal to hell), at work or school. Sometimes, their traits end up on paper and sometimes they don’t, but they always shape my understanding of this people my mind creates. I knew how they acted in most scenarios even the ones that never make it into my story. I’ve used this method to develop my characters and I still to work at expressing what I know about them on paper. I’d like to think I know every character I write better than I know myself.
A few days ago, I was having a particularly difficult time writing a scene and after an hour of being irritated and deleting every sentence once or twice, I stopped. I laid back on my sofa and listened to the music blaring from my headphones. Minutes later, I thought to myself, X would hate this music. X is the male protagonist in my story. And the scene I’d been working on was from X’s point of view.
I sat up on my sofa with a thought tickling the base of my mind. What if? What if because I’d slipped into X’s mind, this music made it difficult to concentrate and then write. I turned it off and continued with my scene. Writing became less laborious and the words tumbled to the paper with no effort. I planted an idea in my mind and the seeds grew and my paragraphs ran faster than me. But I could do better.
I put the earphones back in my ears and browsed Spotify for a song that X would love. I found one, Outside by Tender a London duo that is terrific but as myself, I would never have given their music a listen beyond a few seconds. As X, this music inspired me and X’s words came out faster, sounded more authentic and if X was real outside my mind, he would have felt every second of this music like I did. This inspired a new way to learn about my characters. The playlist method.
I don’t know if this is an already known technique and truth is, I didn’t bother researching it because I didn’t want that to dissuade me from posting this to my blog.
The method is that you pick a character and make a playlist they would like. It is a labor of love, like making a mixtape for that high school crush you are sure you’d love forever. Truth is, no matter how despicable our characters are we still love them.
Four hours later, I’d come up with hours of music for my two protagonists. I’m writing a story with from their point of views and before I start a new chapter, I switch playlists to match the POV. Writing these past few days has been a delight and my music taste has evolved because there is some good shit out there!
If you are struggling with your character and you write with music, give this a try and tell me if it worked for you.
And if you want to listen to some good music check out https://soundcloud.com/tenderofficial. They are terrific. No, they are not paying me and have no idea who I am. I just love good music and thing everyone should too.