Monday, July 26, 2010

How Characterization and Voice is Like...Songwriting

Quick Update: Every book-review blog I know is spazzing out about the new "Mockingjay" book eerie reminder that I'm probably the only YA reader in the world who has yet to read Suzanne Collin's "The Hunger Games" I get points for being obsessed with the Uglies trilogy?

So, today, I am going to give you my own, personal tip on how to master the tyranny of first-person narratives, or character voices in general. One thing authors do wish to avoid like the swine flu, after all, are having well-written and humorous role-players...that sound exactly the same.

Unless your novel happens to be about an army of clones, of course...

Authors, I want you to think of a song. No, not some catchy one you accidentally heard at the store earlier and have stuck in your head still. Think of a song with lyrics, tone, or theme that you relate to, that whenever you hear it you ponder, "Oh, how flawlessly this describes moi!". And yes, that is French.

Easy, right? We all have songs who lyrics or atmosphere we relate to, it's the joy of music.

I want you to think of different character voices as song lyrics, tone, and theme. Do not gawk at me like that, did you really think I'd let you escape without explanations and examples? Dream big!

Think of how lyrics are similar to other song lyrics. They all tell stories, or rants, or opinions on the world. They vary from chipper and peaceful tones to angst-y and heartbroken. And usually, they're easy to relate to, we can see a whole new perspective through words.

Really intense songs can spark a variety of emotions!

Now, think of how they are different. Songwriters all have different perspectives, as well as experiences to focus on. A song could have more than one tone, and express amounts of emotion, or be pretty average and neutral. Sometimes, they are just stories, something to maybe see an inch of ourselves in but mainly listen to for entertainment.

In a way, song lyrics and songwriting is EXACTLY like writing characters and distinguishing their voices: you tell a story through their words, whether they speak articulately or bluntly, whether they are optimistic or a little on the negative side. You tell their story, and hope that everyone will either say "yep, that's MY life, exactly" or be amazed by it.

So, here's my tip: think of three songs that would match your character. One to match their grammar and voice, or how they talk. Do they use metaphors, ask a lot of questions, have a favorite word they say in every few sentences? Another way is to match their personality mood-wise. Someone like Kesha and Lady Gaga would be the life of the party, always wanting to dance. Someone more AC/DC or Metallica is charged up and easily ticked off. The last is how they share things. If your character is like Taylor Swift, which I'd say is more first-person, then be ready to have a narrator who's willing to fess up EVERYTHING, and not leave details out. Then you can have someone more, say, third-person (Green Day anyone? Wow, I'm such a teenage girl...) who tells others stories, and leaves out a lot but does get across the emotional impact. See the album "American Idiot" for more.

Hopefully the only time I'll ever compare St. Jimmy and Taylor Swift...

I'll give my own example: in my series, the main character is a sorta sarcastic, distressed girl with many issues (PTSD and nightmarish monsters to be exact). I'd say the way she speaks is sorta offensive towards others, but she's just curious most of the time, and asking why. Sorta Katy Perry's not-so-popular song "Ur So Gay". When it comes to tone, it's sad and regretful, but trying to force herself to move on...very Three Days Grace or Sick Puppies. And when it comes to her perspective, she's Avril Lavigne, focusing on herself more but doing her best to not expose much of her life's experience, but instead talking around it. Not many words, but just enough.

The coolest part of my examples? They were all my musical influences while writing. ;)

Hope this helps, and that you understand your character more. Do you know songs that would describe your MC's, or any of your characters really, in these ways? Oh, and if I don't commant back like I usually do...again, blame the ethernet. :/


  1. Really cool post! I never thought about it this way, but it's a neat idea. I'll definitely give it a try. :D

  2. PS Dog/puppies/cloning pic = so adorable I could die :D

  3. Gasp! You need to read Hunger Games--it's my favorite.
    But a Mockingjay book trailer? Where? Where? Can't find it!

    Fun blog post! I like the analogy. I'll have to think what songs would be fitting for my characters... and maybe blog about it some time.

  4. Exactly! I piggybacked on your post over at my blog. I've been wanting to write a post on music and voice and yours kicked me in the butt and made me do it. :-)

    And, um, I haven't read the Hunger Games or anything by Scott Westerfield. *hides*

  5. That's a really good idea, hehe. I'll try it.

    ... *looks around, sheepishly* I haven't read the Hunger Games series either. heh. I want to, and it's at my school for me to read when school starts up again, but I just haven't read it yet...