Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

Listening to Find Your Characters

with 2 comments

I don’t generally attribute specific sources of inspiration to my writing, but occasionally, something grabs my attention and says, “Hey! You need me!”

That’s how I had a theme song for a novel before I even started writing.

Here’s what happened. I was just in the beginning stages of outlining a novel, when, on a long commute, I was listening to a Radio Lab podcast. The whole episode was devoted to Zoë Keating, who’s a great musician and cellist. At one point, she played a then-unnamed tune (later named Escape Artist, but I still have my own name for it) and I thought, holy bollocks … the entire tune just screamed my character’s name, as if it’d been written to reflect him. If the novel were turned into a movie, variations on this theme would blast out every single time this guy came on screen. Here it is:

It happened like this only one other time with a very different novel I have yet to write.

The lyrics in this Gaelic Storm song are great, and I love the story, but that’s not what got me. There was a timbre and a feel to it that helped solidify a different character. I heard this song and thought, this is the character, if things had gone differently for him.

You see, I’m pretty sure every single writer has been asked, “Where do you get your ideas?

And everybody words their answers differently, but it usually boils down to “everywhere.” The news gives you an interesting plot line. Overheard conversations at the ball game give you back story to a character. Someone’s weird body language in a bar makes you wonder what if?

Inspiration is everywhere once you open your eyes to it, and usually it’s so subtle that it just trickles in, one piece at a time, until it builds to a story. Only occasionally (for me, at least) does one thing in particular carry this much weight.

So, how about you? Anyone inspired by music? How do you flesh out your characters?

P.S. I highly recommend Zoë Keating’s Into the Trees and Gaelic Storm’s What’s the Rumpus? — both are great albums.

Written by Nathanael Green

July 13, 2011 at 8:36 pm

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Nater –

    When writing important scenes, I very often have some piece of music from a movie playing in my head. It’s usually the scene that comes first, but then the music I’ve got playing in my head will get me in the right frame of mind and help me set the mood. Not sure if that makes any sense.

    Brian O'Rourke

    July 14, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    • Sure, that makes sense. It’s interesting how differently people write. So, I’m not asking for spoilers, but what music’s running through your head these days?

      Nathanael Green

      July 15, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: