In my earlier post I illustrated how mood boards and visualising character attributes can help with writing inspiration. In this post, I’ll explain how music can also help with writer’s block and an achilles heel in your main character is necessary to keep your reader invested.
Music: Create a Playlist
Some people believe they need silence to concentrate, I suggest utilising unobtrusive music. For tricky stuff, I have created several playlists of songs I like, but which are familiar to me. If I work and I listen to them, they influence my mood without breaking into my thoughts.
To set the tone for writing, I suggest creating a playlist tailored to your work in progress. Find music which evokes the mood, theme or genre of the fiction you are writing. A banging string of dance music could be great for contemporary writing with a dating / hook-up vibe. If your story is packed with high drama and adventure – choosing tracks which evoke that feeling in you will keep your thoughts in the zone while you write. If your story is set in a bygone era, track down music from that century / decade to shape your mood and keep your brain sparking.
Stephanie Meyer has admitted she listened to a lot of music by Muse when she was writing the Twilight Saga. I read Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine and was delighted to find in the footnotes a Spotify playlist of the dark songs the author enjoyed while crafting her thriller. The power of music to enhance mood and imagination is undisputed. If popular music isn’t your thing, soundtracks from films or classical music may be a better fit.
I’ve mentioned Spotify because it’s popular, but there are many others places to download music into a playlist:
- LiveXLive (Slacker)
- Apple Music.
- YouTube Music.
- Pandora Radio.
- Amazon Prime Music.
Give your Hero / Heroine a flaw
An old rule about writing says readers won’t care about a story if they don’t care WHO it happens to.
Not only does the rule illustrate how plot and characters go hand in hand, it emphasises the importance of making your character likeable, and for this your protagonist needs to be imperfect.
I’m not trying to confuse you by stating that your characters must be likeable while advising that you make them flawed, but honestly we all have our faults or bad habits. To make a player in your fiction fully rounded and believable, they need to have something about them that needs improvement / therapy.
- Bad manners / bad attitude
- Casual clumsiness
- Inability to read the room
- Jumping to conclusions
- Quitting too easily
- Showing off
- Tardiness / no concept of time
- Vulgarity / unguarded speech
Just a few examples of faults you can weave into a character’s whole without turning a good person into a bad guy. Attributing your hero / heroine with one or two of these faults also helps introduce conflict into the action – because every scene needs conflict.
Cast your mind back to books or media you’ve enjoyed – are you rooting for the perfectly mannered, chaste, shining-example type in the cast? I suggest most consumers find the one who is naughty, who slips up, more engaging. There’s no disputing the popularity of characters such as Just William and Horrid Henry in children’s fiction. They are far from role models but we can relate to them, so we make allowances. Rebecca and her shopaholic ways bring me out in a hot sweat, similarly Bridget Jones and her terrible blurting, but these quirks are what make these protagonists seem real.
Endearing faults spice up the action, introducing conflict in large and small measures -they help you with your task as a writer
An achilles’ heel
This has more impact than a fault. It is something irrational in a person’s makeup, a weakness despite their overall strength. As a literary example, I cite Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy [fictional characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice] – both are quick to judge which, compounded with Darcy’s pride, becomes the chink in his armour. In the Back to the Future trilogy of films, Marty McFly cannot bear to be called ‘chicken’. Goaded in this way, Marty will take risks and act out of character. James Bond [fictional intelligence officer from Ian Fleming’s books & later blockbuster films] is unable to resist charming pretty women into the bedroom. It’s a downfall, despite his overall sharp thinking, which frequently puts the female and him in greater danger.
Use the visual tools I’ve described to assist you when writer’s block strikes, then you won’t sit looking at the screen, feeling nagged by the incessant blink of the cursor. Open a new tab or browser to create mood boards for your characters, or music playlists which will keep you on task, while tricking your brain into thinking it’s taking a break!
Anytime you are watching films or shows, or socialising with friends and relatives, you can calm your anxious conscience – you are researching character development! Maybe now you’ll notice these tools when other writers use them, such as speech tags or chinks in the protagonist’s armour.
Now you’ve unlocked the secret of mood enhancement via music you’ll begin to view songs in a different way, hearing tracks and thinking how you could use them for your own purposes. Music in films and shows is not thrown together, which of course you knew, but occasionally ask yourself, “if I was watching this on mute, would the action on screen be as chilling / thrilling / poignant?”
My final question to you: “What tunes invoke a positive, productive attitude?” Now go and make yourself a long playlist in that genre!