HOW MUSIC DEFINES CHARACTERS
Think back to your teen years. Isn’t there a song or two from the time period that sticks with you and helps you relive those magical moments? I was recently tasked with creating a playlist for the main characters in my new book Wear White to Your Funeral. Going through the process, I realized how music helps an author define characters above and beyond the way classic characterization works and gives the readers a way to relate to unfamiliar situations.
A musically gifted coworker helped me choose the correct songs for Bowen, my teenage, male protagonist. I had two songs with the word “kiss” in the title and he told me to remove them. No self-respecting teenage boy would have a playlist with them on it. On the other hand, I disagreed with his recommendation of Taylor Swift for Rory, the female, teenage protagonist, believing Swift’s music too young for her. In both cases, using music added depth and layers to my characters and helped me envision them in ways I had not prior to putting my playlist together.
But this is not new. Authors have and continue to use music in creative ways. Music defines characters, creates symbols and motifs, connects readers to characters and situations, and expresses mood in ways words cannot.
Music provides readers with insight into what motivates and sustains a character. In A Streetcar Named Desire, the main character, Blanche, sings “Paper Moon” in the bathtub. The song, about turning what is real into a lush fantasy, helps clarify how Blanche is unable to deal with and accept her current, less than prosperous situation. Polka music and jazz are also used to set the mood and juxtapose Blanche’s past and guilt over her husband’s death with her present, gritty reality in the city.
Similarly, music connects readers to characters and themes in literature. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, humans are believed to be more empathetic than their android counterparts and, therefore, able to appreciate the beauty in art and music. Luba Luft, an android who sings opera, comes across with more empathy than the human whose job it is to destroy her. This is due to Luft’s pure joy when discussing the music she sings.
Typically, authors consider how characters look, what they say, what they do, what they think, and what others say about them. Music can add insight into the inner workings of a character, including emotions, likes and dislikes, and even their stance on love, life, and politics while helping connect an audience to them.