I have always had a strong appreciation for music that I attribute to not just hearing the music, but feeling it. For me, music comes together in a melodic, sometimes chaotic, reveal in my very being. It energizes me from the inside out. So when it comes creating works of fiction, I find that writing while listening to music inspires creativity. It also allows me to connect more deeply to my work, revealing more robust character development.
In my experience, even though I may create a character, at some point my characters start writing themselves. It’s an occurrence I’ve also heard other writers express. In this respect, perhaps writing fiction and making characters come to life on the page is no different than birthing children. You only keep them so long before they take off on their own.
I’ve written entire books to particular genre music. In my book, Truth Runs Deep, I listened to sacred music to help me connect with the religious aspects of my characters. I was especially moved by the voices of Libera; boys aged seven to sixteen from South London, whose music is both ethereal and mystic and helped me evoke the desolate past of a conflicted priest. In the same book, the police chief was a big blues fan. Listening to Albert King was perfect for helping me connect (and reveal) this character’s personality. In my recently published young adult trilogy, Wells Worthy, I wrote all three books listening to music from the Middle East and Africa, which added to the creation of the Egyptian setting. As a result, I’ve become particularly fond of several musicians that I previously had not known, including Algerian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Khaled and African singer, percussionist, songwriter, composer Youssou N’dour.
Whether or not you’ve written to music before, writers find this 30-minute experiential exercise worthwhile. The idea is to experience the music as fully as possible, allowing it to inspire your writing.
- Select three different kinds of music (i.e., classical, soft rock, country).
- Set a timer for 10 minutes and begin playing the first type of music. Close your eyes and listen to the notes. Imagine the notes are different colors (think of the movie Fantasia) and they are dancing around in front of your eyes.
- Now imagine the notes float into your body, and you feel the music vibrating inside of you. How does it make you feel? What thoughts pop into your mind? If you have a character in mind, imagine that you are that character. How does the music make him/her feel?
- In the time remaining, write about your thoughts and feelings. If you were experiencing the music as one of your characters, write about their experience. How did they feel? What were they doing?
- When the timer goes off, repeat the process with the next type of music. Once you have completed the exercise with all three types of music, reflect on your writing. Did one type of music inspire you more so than another? How might you use music to inspire your writing further? If you were writing with a character in mind, was your character easier to express with a particular type of music? If so, what does that say about your character? More importantly, how can you leverage this revelation as you continue working with your character? How might music help you deepen your reveal of other characters?
If you love music, I think you’ll find this exercise helpful when writing your characters into reality. Not only might it benefit your writing, but also you may discover new artists who become a part of your musical repertoire.