What We Can Learn: Music

Hi everybody! I say this tentatively…but this might be the last post in this series. We’ll see. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

One of my favorite things to do is to connect songs with characters from books, movies, and TV shows I like. I enjoy having context for a song, and finding the perfect one for a character. You could try doing this with your own characters. Listen to some music, and look up the lyrics if you need too. Music adds a whole other dimension to writing and characters, and it can really make you feel more for the people you are writing about.

You could also do it the other way around. Find an interesting song, and see if you can make up a character for it. Try to be specific. For example, one character from a Rick Riordan book fits well with the chorus of “Try” by Pink (Where there is desire there is gonna be a flame, where there is a flame someone’s bound to get burned, but just because you’re burned doesn’t mean you’re gonna die, you’ve gotta get up and try, try, try). This connection works because the character is “fireproof” so to speak; he can produce fire and it won’t hurt him. He’s had a hard childhood too, so some fans of the book imagine his mom singing this to him, encouraging him to keep going. See what I mean? The song doesn’t have to mean a literal flame, but it can be interpreted that way as an interesting trait for a character. See if you can use things like that, single words or phrases, to create a unique character.

Some songs may even suggest a plot. I like songs that seem to tell a story through the lyrics, or that have “characters” of sorts. An example would be “Cinderella” by Steven Curtis Chapman. This song is also a good example of one that evokes emotion.

I also know that some people have specific music they listen to while writing, for inspiration or background noise. I’ve never done this, but I know some people work better with music. I believe Elizabeth did a post here once about her novel’s playlist. I think this would be interesting to try, getting songs that match the themes or plot of the story.

What about you? Do you match songs to characters? Has a song ever inspired you?


What We Can Learn: People

Hey guys!

This post was inspired by an Instagram account I follow called Humans of New York (username: humansofny). I think they have a Facebook too. Anyway, the account owner goes around New York (and some other places too) and talks to people about various things (aspects of their lives, etc.). Then he posts a picture of them and captions it with part of their conversation. Their bio is “New York City, one story at a time.” I think this is so cool! Because who are we writing about anyway? People! And it’s so cool to see diverse people with their diverse stories.

Here’s an example: “My father came from Nicaragua and got a job as a construction worker. My mother immigrated from Puerto Rico and got a job as a cleaning woman. One day he was working high up on some scaffolding at an office building, and he saw her cleaning inside, so he knocked on the window. And here I am.”

I mean how cool and sweet is that?! Real life people can be story opportunities waiting to happen.

(Quick note: This account is super cool, but I can’t guarantee it’s always appropriate/happy. Not everybody has cute stories like this one, and some people’s struggles and experiences are pretty rough. There’s the occasional curse word too. Just saying so y’all know what to expect if you check it out )

Also: talk to people. Watch them. Listen to how they speak. What phrases do they use often? Do they pronounce certain things differently? What about using different words for common things? My classmates were talking to my math teacher about this once. She’s originally from another state, and we were talking about how there, people have different words for things (buggy vs. shopping cart, etc.). Things like that would be really fun to include in a character’s dialogue!

Talk to older relatives or friends. Ask about their childhood. Ask about your family history. My dad has been researching our family tree lately, and he found an old church record (in Latin!) that has one of my distant relatives’ baptism recorded on it. He also found the house where that relative grew up (we think). It’s pretty cool, to see the early parts of your family’s story. Let these things inspire you.

Have you ever been inspired by someone from real life?

What We Can Learn: Classics

Hey everyone! Today we’re talking about classics (be prepared for a small rant).

So I go to a classical school, which means, obviously, that we read a lot of classic books. I know that classics are not always everyone’s favorite books. They can be quite wordy, full of telling instead of showing, confusing, etc. Full of today’s “writing faux pas,” so to speak. So why are they considered classics? Why do we still read them today? Why are we subjected to them in school?

There are likely more reasons than just this. But in my opinion, it is because they display human nature in an intense form. They contain emotion, and even today, we can connect with them. Or in Italo Calvino’s opinion, “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” I think that is so true. So let’s look at a couple classics.

1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Suffering. Injustice. Revolt. Resurrection. Guilt. Sacrificial Love. I hope that these simple words have made you think of specific people or feelings. These are big, broad topics, so even though A Tale of Two Cities was set around the time of the French revolution, they are still relevant today. We still see suffering and injustice. We still sacrifice for those that we love. Combined with sympathetic, memorable characters, they make for an amazing, classic story.

2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Corruption. Brainwashing Media. Destruction. Again, broad subjects. This story is about a society entirely brainwashed by media and obsessed with pleasure, where books are illegal. And though today books are, of course, legal, this story still conveys relevant elements of human nature. The love of anything pleasurable and the allure of technology. The tendency to crave the things that are taken away. Out of context, they don’t mean nearly as much. But applied to characters, you get a realistic, emotional sample of human nature.

There are many more examples, of course. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings just to name a few. So what can we writers learn from such stories?

1. Try using big ideas/themes/feelings. Think of some of the ones I mentioned above. Try to find something that fires you up, that evokes emotion in you. These are things that resonate within people. Things that we can identify with. I’m not saying to turn your story into a huge allegory or anything. But your characters are human, and they experience big human emotions (guilt, righteous anger, strong love, etc.).

2. Use these subjects and emotions alongside strong characters. Innocence, for example, is just an abstract term. But pair the quality of innocence with a character who embodies it, and you have something tangible, sympathetic, and emotional, like the character Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Or take righteous anger and give a character that trait. Show us a real person who has that emotion.

3. Apply conflict. In the example of Scout, her innocence doesn’t mean a lot if there is no conflict or tension. Threaten her innocence, and you have emotion. Or show us the character with righteous anger. Let us see her in tears over the oppressed people she longs to help but, for whatever reason, can’t. Use the story events and characters to display the big ideas.

So those are some of my ideas when it comes to classics. Emotion is a common factor here, I feel like. Emotion is so big to me in stories (I have cried over To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Rings, and Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities). To be honest, I love stories that make me feel to that degree.

How do you all feel about classics? Anyone care to flail/cry with me over Sydney Carton and/or other characters and books L?

What We Can Learn: Movies

Hi guys! Sorry I missed last week. Today, I’ll be starting a series called What We Can Learn. This will focus on what we as writers can get out of other people’s work. Today we’ll be looking at the value of movies.

1. Description and Language. Okay, I hope I’m not the only one who sort of “narrates” movies in my head as they play on the screen. You know, think things like “so-and-so collapsed on the stone floor and so-and-so threw herself down beside him,” etc. If you start thinking like this during movies, you’ll realize that there is SO much you can say, so many rich images, so many “cool” ways you can put what you’re seeing into words. It’s interesting how sometimes, the camera focuses on the smallest details, things that we maybe wouldn’t think to add to our descriptions. Use movies to help you describe images and action, to help hone your language skills. Watch a clip, and then pause it and try to describe what you just saw in words, being as precise and detailed as possible. Movies can also be helpful for describing certain things we likely wouldn’t see in real life, like explosions, wounds, certain types of terrain, etc.

2. Scenes. The next time you watch a movie, pay attention to the different scenes. Where they start, where they end, how they’re laid out in relation to each other. A technique I’ve heard of is to bring the reader into the scene late and take them out early (thank you goteenwriters.com). Pay attention to this in movies.
​Another thing movies can show us is which scenes are necessary to the story and which are not. Watch a movie that has deleted scenes included on the disk. Try to decide why the scene was deleted. Do you think it should have been left in? Did the plot or characters suffer because it was deleted, or were they better off for it? A good example is the deleted scene on the disk of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (I’m sort of a Marvel geek if you couldn’t tell). I won’t give spoilers, but to me, the deleted scene was deleted for a good reason. It was just another, very fleeting burst of action that didn’t need to be there. Nothing overly vital came out of it, and the action moved on without it just fine. See what you can learn from various movies’ deleted scenes.

Well, that’s all for today! What other aspects of movies could help us as writers?