Thursday, March 10, 2011

You Learn A Lot From A Person's Playlist

I must apologize.  I was unable to crank out a Wednesday feature this week, and sadly, it may be a few weeks before I get back in the swing of that tradition.  Please know I did not randomly decide to axe my features, nor am I tired of doing them.  It's just that, as the weeks progress, they take more and more time away from the manuscript.  Likewise, I would never forgive myself for writing something less than the individual deserves.  So for now, I'm curtailing the weekly spotlight, but promise they shall return - just as soon as draft one becomes a thing of the past.

Michael, the protagonist in my novel, stopped in for a visit last night.  Well, he didn't "stop in", but you know what I mean.  Anyway, we were amid an intense conversation when, accidentally, I hit play on my iPod.  For a second, I felt bad.  I mean, Michael doesn't really get to listen to music where he is.  He earns "electronic time" for good behavior, but I'm told that only entitles him to, at most, two hours per week of uninterrupted listening time.  And Michael loves music.

You learn a lot about a person by the songs on their playlist.  If there was ever any doubt of the strange, abnormal DNA pumping through my veins, just shuffle my music collection for confirmation.  But Michael and I have not discussed music to the extent I would like.  So, knowing today was the tenth, and knowing I post a monthly top ten list of some sort on this day, I asked him what ten songs were at the top of his playlist.  I also asked if I could share them as an opportunity for my readers to get to know him a bit.  Because as I said, you learn a great deal about a person from the music on their playlist.

The Top Ten Songs From The Playlist of Michael Ryan Kearns:

1.  All By Myself (Celine Dion)

2.  Fix You (Coldplay)

3.  Lithium (Evanescence)

4.  Speechless (Lady Gaga)

5.  Broken (Seether ft. Amy Lee)

6.  Love Song (311)

7.  I Need A Doctor (Eminem ft. Dr. Dre & Skylar Grey)

8.  Effin' Perfect (P!nk)

9.  Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John)

10.  Sing (My Chemical Romance)

Kidding aside, this was a cool writing exercise.  The songs, the lyrics, and the artists singing them all helped me get to know my character better.  Each song represents a stage in Michael's journey. I attempted to list them in an order that, if listened to chronologically, takes one through that journey. 

Music is perhaps my favorite tool for getting inside a character's head.  You can listen to it just about anywhere - before, during, and after writing.  In the car.  At the gym.  While you're eating.  And the best part for me is, I never get tired of my writing playlist.  It isn't about the song; it's about the mood and creativity unleashed through the song.  Of course, it always helps when the song is enjoyable for the writer as well.

If anyone finds themselves 'stuck' in the creative process, I recommend this or a similar exercise to get you back in the game.  And if you attempt it, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how it worked out.  I'll be listening to the above songs, along with a few others, until my project is complete.  They are spot-on for my character, and I've never felt more 'in his head' than I do right now.


  1. Nice post! The creative writing teachers at my school should do this exercise.

  2. By the way, I think "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" is one of the best and perhaps under appreciated Elton John songs out there. Thank you for putting this on Michael's list instead of "Tiny Dancer."

  3. I absolutely have playlists for specific story lines, or for certain types of chapters. Just like, when I was a kid, I'd obsessively listen to the same album again and again while reading. I hear Journey now and automatically think of Stephenson's Thomas Covenant series.

    ..and have now dated myself irrevocably.

  4. Or Donaldson's series. Stephen R. Donaldson. There may be some sleep deprivation at work here.

  5. Feeling like I know Michael (or at least we can say I've been introduced) I think these songs really fit PER-FECT-LY with what happens to him. There were a few I wasn't familiar with, and I youtubed them. Specifically numbers 9 & 10 for lyrics because I know they can be hints to me of what can come next. This was a super creative idea to extend this to your character. I used to make mixed cds religiously and date them, and now when I listen to them it is like a time portal straight back to what was going on in my head at that time [For fun, I listened to one tonight and was hit with some Deftones - Far Away. Hello end of middle school!]. Good post.

  6. Pandora, take me away. I find myself wondering if Michael would like Escala.

  7. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" always makes me think of the end. Well, that and the Simpsons (ie: "The Way We Was" season 2). My take-away from this: I haven't enough time getting to know my characters as I should. Thanks for the reminder Paul!

  8. All my characters have songs and they sing songs to me!

    Breakfast Every Hour

  9. I have to admit this play list had me scratchin' my head. Michael's a unique kid.

    I loved the personableness of this post. I could tell that your relationship with Michael is more than just surface level. It's deep. I haven't had that kind of intimacy with my characters like that. It made me open up Ivanhardt's file, and talk to him some tonight.

    We talked about the world he's from, the culture of his people, and what day to day life is like. Thanks, Paul. I haven't been ignoring my characters, but I haven't asked my characters many questions about themselves. I've done a lot of telling. Telling them how I believe they think and feel and what they're like. Tonight I let Ivan tell me how he thinks and feels and what he's like.

    We needed that.

  10. Interesting dude, that Michael! Many layers to him. Another great way to find out more about your characters is to interview them at a crime scene or an accident, for example... Or ask them questions about their jobs, family etc. I also have a playlist for my characters, but mostly it's inspiration for me to write their true emotions. Happy writing!

  11. That's an eclectic collection of songs! I write to music all the time, although my list would have lots of In Flames, Rush, and Pantera.

  12. I'm deaf so people often wonder why I participate in these soundtrack discussions. Easy enough at one time I could hear and in that time I followed a great many bands. Today I still do even newer bands I've never heard. If someone gives me an older band to compare the sound to, how much bass, acoustic or electric guitars, etc., I can pretty much imagine the sound.

    As for a soundtrack - I've got a folder of lyrics I keep on hand. Whenever I need inspiration I just dumpster dive between the words of a favorite song. Trouble is I tend to like more heartbreak, than

    The one song that reminds me of my current WIP the most is, The Morning Benders 'Mason Jar'. All time favorite that works for anything is Kansas 'Dust in the Wind'. Then of course there is Life in Agony 'Soul searching sun', Beatles 'Blackbirds', or Aerosmith's 'I Don't Want to Miss A Thing'...I could go on.

    There are so many great songs we can give our characters. (Hugs)Indigo

  13. I haven't tried playlists for my characters--other than one from many years ago. I should try to incorporate more musical thought in the fiction I write. Michael's list seems kind of sad from the songs that I know.

    Tossing It Out

  14. Cool idea! I've never tried this, but I plan to now:)

  15. What a fun idea! Effective, too--I get a real idea of who that character is from reading that playlist.

  16. Amen about music. I've got playlists for my characters.

  17. I need to do this; it's definitely a great exercise. For me, though, I always have an entrance song in my head for a character, i.e. what is playing on the movie soundtrack the first time they walk into my book.

    I love that Led Zep song they're using in the Sucker Punch previews about the Levee; almost always the bad guy or gal in my book walks in with the opening thump of that song playing on my internal soundtrack.

    It's just a great swaggering song, as bad guys/gals tend to do. Anyway, my two cents; great post, as always!!!


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