What’s their jam?

Your story’s world is a full one. The story itself may be about only one or two main characters, but those people have family, friends, acquaintances, and enemies. And those people have beliefs, fears, experiences all their own. And, even if the reader never discovers these facets in full detail, it’s important for you to know who those people are. From the way they dress to the way they dance, their dietary habits or exercise routines, what they do for work and play, the magazines they read and the television programs they watch…all of these details will help you solidify in your head who each person is, and – in turn – make it easier for your readers to differentiate each character outside of name alone.

You don’t have to do all of these, of course (your time is likely better spent in the guts of your story), but pick a few for each of your characters, to help realize them more fully. Music is a great way to do this.

You’ve heard people say, “This is my song,” when they hear a particular tune. The same holds for the characters in your story. Whether a song describes that character, or it’s their own favorite song, music provides a way for you to make your world bloom. The best part? Unlike plotting your story or designing your world, giving your characters their own songs doesn’t have to take very much work at all!

S1 mp3 player example

If you hear a song on the radio (or on your mp3 player of choice), and you’re reminded of a particular character or story moment, set it aside in your mental list of story details. Listen to that song when you’re on your commute, doing your morning exercises, or washing the dinner dishes: this keeps you in-tune with your story and characters even while you have to do the necessary chores of your life. And keeping your story close to you this way (even if you don’t get the chance to write as much as you might like during the day) will help keep it immediate, so you don’t lose too much momentum while you’re, you know, living.

For example, whenever I hear Kevin MacLeod’s lovely piano track for “With the Sea”, it instantly puts me in the mood to write the about quaint coastal fishing village where my novel takes place. When I hear that opening guitar riff for “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett, I am ready to write Ross’s confident swagger. And, when Pete Townshend sings about how to “Let My Love Open the Door”, Amber’s dimpled smile comes immediately to mind.

Some writers like to work in silence, so, for those of you who do, I won’t impose upon you the suggestion to create a playlist for your story. For those of you who enjoy a bit of music while you plot and pace, though, I’ve got to ask:

What’s your character’s theme song?

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13 thoughts on “What’s their jam?

  1. I’ve never thought about a song describing a character before. Sure, it can be a theme for a story, but this actually sounds fun. While I haven’t given a character a song, I have tried basing a story off of “Somewhere Down the Road” sung by Barry Manilow. And I’m sorry to say that, because I carpool to school now, I don’t get a chance to listen to music anymore, without endless chatter dominating. The car’s pretty much the only place I’m really willing to listen to music freely.

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    • That’s too bad. You don’t have a headphones option? Not for when you’re driving, of course – that would be dangerous. But, I personally can’t imagine not being able to listen to music.

      Starting stories from songs is one of my favorite jumping-off points, too. 🙂 Sometimes, a song will just speak to me so perfectly, I can’t not associate it with a story idea. That’s what’s great about songs and music: they tell a story just like any other form of art.

      Thanks for commenting!

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      • I don’t really listen to music with headphones at home. I get called a lot for things in my house, so I can’t really. If I sit down at my computer and write, then I’ll have music playing, but without headphones. If I just use notebook and pen, I just have the TV on. Outside the house, I hardly ever write because I’m usually out with people or enjoying myself outside. Wow, I guess I only really listen to music if I’m driving.

        I never really have songs speak to me about whether it’s a fit for a character, or if it’ll even mold to a character. That might be mainly because I hardly ever sit down and listen to music now.

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  2. As one of those writers who needs quiet when working, this probably wouldn’t work for me. But I know other writers have mentioned creating playlists for each work and its main characters. This is a good tool for the writer’s workbox. 🙂

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    • Thanks, JM!

      I completely understand about needing quiet to work. I certainly need quiet to both plot and edit. (The writing itself is sort of filling in the blanks, for me.)

      Did you ever think about what kind of music, say, Meghan enjoys? Or Evelyn? I’d be curious to know. 🙂

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      • I hadn’t really thought about it before. But now that you ask, I think Meghan likes popular stuff from the ’80s and early ’90s and maybe some alternative from that time. Evelyn favors classical and opera, I think, because they’re “appropriate” for someone from an old family….

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        • That makes sense; Meghan “feels” very much like she would have been most interested in popular/radio airplay music during those decades. And I chuckled at the idea of Evelyn favoring such “appropriate” music, as you say. 😀

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  3. When I first wrote my novel, I listened to specific music that seemed to fit the characters and the lives they led. As my protags are in their early 20s, I found that by listening to current hip-hop, pop, rap, etc., I was able to step into their shoes easier, I think.

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    • Music certainly helped me identify better with characters and situations, too, Kate. Hopefully, you were able to enjoy some of that music, too!

      Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

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  4. I like to think that I have written a wide range of characters (maybe not as wide as I could, but some I haven’t quite figured out yet), so to me it really depends on not only the character, but the situation that they are in. A theme for the moment, like you wrote about with one track made for Ross’ swagger, then insta-switch over to some nice calm fishing.

    And some characters I don’t think I could ever apply just one song to, they need an entire list just for themselves. After all, what one piece of music would fit someone like Wedge Antilles or Captain Nemo?

    Honestly, little song-based vingettes and flash-fictions are some of my favorite things to write, and helped really spark all my other writings. When a song really clicks to me, the story pretty much writes itself. My challenge is trying to dump it onto paper or keystrokes in time before it is washed away by life.

    I’d be curious to see what your playlist is for Stoll and the Runaways, Ardess and Aral.

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    • True, it’s difficult to pin down a character to just one song, as you mention. Sometimes, a song just clicks, though. (For example: “Bad Reputation” is for a moment, but “Behind Blue Eyes” is damn near perfect a representation of Ross’s character.)

      I used to dabble in what are called “song-fics,” which is where you take lyrics and interpret them to a story. I always worried I’d get lazy with that, though: using someone else’s words and imagery to tell my own story. Where was the skill in that? I much prefer to do song moments as they happened in 1MC!, with the lyrics just supporting a moment or scene in the story proper.

      This has nothing to do with the post, but I found it interesting that you referred to them as “Stoll and the Runaways.” In my mind, Lelie is their leader, even though she doesn’t exhibit typical leader traits. But, they’re not a typical group, either.

      I listed to sci-fi-influenced music while I wrote “Anywhere but Here.” Almost exclusively Coheed and Cambria, actually. If you’re not familiar, they’re an incredibly nerdy progrock/punk/alt/rock group whose songs follow this weird and convoluted science fiction mythology. It’s nearly nonsensical from a lyrical standpoint, but there are some sweet riffs in there. “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3” always makes me think of the Runaways as a whole. I’ll have to think on Ardess and Aral….

      Thanks for commenting!

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    • Yes, the playlist has pulled me up from many a staggering point in my stories. They don’t always go to where they should, but they do help me start writing again. 🙂

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