Yep, we’re back to music. Because music is awesome, and it can actually be a really cool storytelling tool. Yes, this post is different than my “Music and Writing” post. That post was about listening to music while you write, while this one is about actually putting music in your writing and using it as a tool. It was also supposed to go up yesterday, but I got distracted by music while I was writing it and didn’t get it finished when I meant to and then forgot about it. Oops. But it’s here now, and only a day late, so I consider that something of a win, at least.
Music for character development
This one’s possibly the most obvious. I only have playlists for a couple of my characters (mostly because I have a jillion playlists anyway, so unless something strikes me as particularly perfect I don’t start a playlist), but the ones I do have were a lot of fun to put together and give a lot of insight into the characters behind them. And having them opens up your ears to other things to add. The two character playlists I have belong to Livi Brooklyn, a peppy character from my Memories & Photographs short story series, and the other belongs to Clissa Hiara, a seductress villain from my pending novel Dark Queen Rising. Total opposites, and both super fun characters to write and make playlists and Pinterest boards for.
Livi’s almost doesn’t count as a character playlist I suppose, since it’s more songs that she would listen to than songs that fit her as a character super well (though there are certainly some of those), but even that is a big eye-opener to character. When making a character, consider thinking about what music they might listen to. Livi likes Christian pop, pop, and alternative rock. Clissa likes classical music.
Something that could be a good window into background could be how broad their musical repertoire is. I, for instance, like just about any kind of music under the sun (and yet somehow I’m still super picky about my music? I’m weird.) I listen to classical, instrumental, a cappella, some pop and alternative rock, pretty much anything Christian (hymns, contemporary, rap, pop, rock, etc.), etc. I inherited the classical and pop from my dad; I inherited the Christian anything, instrumental, and a cappella from both parents. I inherited the alternative rock from friends. Oh, and there’s also some electronic stuff thrown in there thanks to Spotify’s stations. (Spotify is awesome, BTW. I highly recommend it.) Where did your characters get their taste in music from? Was it something they found on their own? Family members? Friends? Whatever’s popular?
In a new story I’ll be working on soon, the main character lives far in the future, but she listens to songs like “The Sound of Silence” and “American Pie.” (I have yet to figure out how she got to listening to those, but I’ll figure it out.)
Also, how does your character like to listen to their music? Livi loves vinyl and her MP3 player. She has, like, ten pairs of headphones/earbuds. The character mentioned above, Christine, listens on the radio. This can also tie into my next point about using music in the plot.
Music can be a huge key to character development.
Music for foreshadowing/plot
Music can be a great tool for foreshadowing or to support a plot. For instance, Christine is listening to a certain song which ends up foreshadowing the plot. I plan on having several similar songs played throughout the story, or mentioned, or something. I’m not 100% sure yet, I just know I’m going to be doing a lot with music in that story.
You can also use music as a main plot point, which I’m doing with the above story and which I did with my short story Charming. Your character might be a musician, a singer, or just a music-lover. Or maybe they don’t even like music, but they hear it a lot in the story in opportune places or something. Which is not a suggestion to use it as a crutch. If you use it that way, make it subtle.
You can also make playlists for your stories, to help you get a feel for the story and its characters. I was able to do this really effectively (with some help from my friend Ruby. Thank you. :) ) with my Wonderland playlist. I like the mix of pop with the classic Wonderland music because I think it blends the two worlds together, as does the story itself. And the whole thing is just fun to listen to. (Plus it’s 71 songs, so it’ll play for a while.)
Music for worldbuilding
This one is a bit harder than the others, because you can’t necessarily just grab existing music. Figure out what music there would be in your world. In some cases this doesn’t mean writing out lyrics or anything, it just means deciding what instruments are common and that sort of thing, but in other cases – like my short story Charming – you have to come up with lyrics and artist names and stuff like that. It depends a lot on your world. And depending on how much you want to get into this, it could be fun to write a song for each of your story worlds, even if you don’t necessarily put them into the story. It could help give you a feel for the world and what they value and stuff like that. Music tells a lot about values, which is why I’m so careful about it in most cases. I don’t want to be putting things into my head that will repeat themselves, and a lot of music is fun to listen to. It’s music, after all. Since I almost always have something playing through my head, I like it to be something wholesome and uplifting. But that was off-topic, and it’s something I cover more in another post, so I’ll stop now.
Music can be an incredibly powerful storytelling tool, and it’s fun in the process, so consider what you could do with it. :)