Tag: Characters

On Writing, Music & Character Playlists

Friedrich Nietzsche once said that “without music, life would be a mistake.” I believe there’s a lot of truth in that. Music has done its part in getting me through plenty in life so far. But as important as music may be to my life, it’s just as important to my writing.

Every character I’ve ever written (every main character, I should say) has had his or her own playlist. These playlists go through changes and are always evolving as I write through a story and develop the character. I’ve found, over the years, that it’s difficult to develop a character without taking his or her favorite music into account, and I attribute this to my own borderline obsession with music. It’s truly a lifesaver, and while that’s another story for a different day, that same life-saving music obsession is found in every one of my main characters. The process of developing characters and their playlists is one I very much enjoy, even when the process is at its most meticulous stage.

My Process for Character Playlist Creation

Depending on your own process and such, the process I’m about to lay out may seem convoluted or complex, but I assure you that it really isn’t as bad as it may look. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I tend to devote a lot of time to early details to ensure the later steps go as planned.

And so, here we go.

1. Conduct a Character Interview

While this is technically a character development step, it’s an important part of character playlist creation, too. Conducting this interview allows me to learn every little thing about my character, and those little details are what influences the character’s musical tastes. Details like ancestry, background, where he or she grew up and what he or she is interested in — all of these things are incredibly important. If you’re curious about the questions I use for character interviews, look here.

2. Create a Basic Character Profile

This step is pretty self-explanatory. I take the answers I get from the interview and create a basic character profile. I try to find a photo that embodies what my character looks like (sometimes i’ll sketch one myself). It’s important for me to really dig in and understand who my character is. When I’m able to understand a character’s psyche, it’s pretty easy to establish musical tastes and a playlist.

3. Pinpoint Artists

This is always the fun part for me. I love searching through the music I own and the music I’ve saved and liked on platforms like Pandora and Spotify to nail down the artists I think my character would listen to. If I can pinpoint a favorite artists for my character, that’s great. I love adding little details like that wherever I can. There’s no limit to this listeither. Some character only like a handful of artists, whereas others claim a whole genre.

4. Take Those Artists/Genres and Create a Playlist

This is the step that typically takes the longest for me, and that’s because it never really ends. I’ll listen to songs and if they fit into the life of my character and/or his or her story, it gets put in the playlist. Because music and musical tastes evolve, just like the story typically does, my playlists tend to change as I write further into the story.

Below is part of the playlist I created for the main character in the novel I’m currently working on. This one is mostly rock, but it’s also the playlist that the character (Bryna) listens to before she fights. I thought I’d share it, just so you get a general idea.

And that’s really it as far as process goes. I love doing it this way, and I don’t think my characters would be as detailed or as well-rounded if I didn’t do it.


Featured Image Credit: Brett Levin Photography via Flickr.com.




This Week in Links: 2/5/2012 – 2/11/2012

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

I subscribe to quite a few interesting RSS feeds in the book/writing niches. Perhaps you do as well, but in any case, I’d like to share my starred links from this week:

Monday, February 6, 2012:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012:
Wednesday, February 8, 2012:
Thursday, February 9, 2012:
Happy Writing,

This Week in Links: 12/12/2010 – 12/18/2010

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

I subscribe to quite a few interesting RSS feeds in the book/writing niches. Perhaps you do as well, but in any case, I’d like to share my starred links from this week:

Monday, December 13, 2010:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010:

Friday, December 17, 2010:

Happy Writing,

Characters: What’s in a Name?

When writing fiction, naming your characters can be a daunting, and sometimes stressful, undertaking. The name you choose should reflect your characters and fit them as well as possible. There are endless ways to choose names, but the most common seems to be flipping through the pages of a book of baby names (or clicking through a web site). This method is a good idea for a few different reasons:

  1. If you have an idea of the personality of the character you’re trying to name, you can match that to meanings of names, making the narrowing and choosing of names a little easier.
  2. You’re guaranteed to find unconventional names (at least one of which you’ll like), keeping you from using all of the popular names that are found in so many other books.
  3. Meanings of names can help develop your characters in ways you wouldn’t normally use.

Some writers just wait until the right name strikes them. Others use etymology web sites. The following two seem to be the most popular:

The best advice I ever received about naming my characters was to only dwell on it if the name is really important to the story, otherwise, just pick something and move on. I keep this mind, but much of the time, I still take a day to find the names I feel fit my characters well. It could be because I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I don’t know. Sometimes, I’ll just use names that I really like (or like the sound of).

[What about you? How do you name your characters? Is it a process or a quick decision?]

Happy Writing,

NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up: I Won…What Now?

There you have it, folks. My winner badge (or, one of them). It feels good, I will admit that. Anyway, let’s delve into this a little further, shall we?


As you already know, especially if you’ve been reading this blog or if you follow me on Twitter, that this was my first year participating in NaNoWriMo. I signed up back at the beginning of October and I won’t lie—the idea of writing 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days was downright frightening, especially since I’m also carrying a full graduate course load. I had been putting NaNoWriMo off for years, content to watch everyone else’s successes or “failures” (that’s in quotes for a reason, which I will get to a bit later on). This year was different. It only tok a few days at the end of September for me to decide that I wasn’t going to just sit back and watch everyone else this year. I was going to do it, even if I didn’t get to the 50,000-word mark, even if it killed me.

I had a busy October, and when November 1st arrived, I had three items ready for my story: the title and names for two of my characters. Throughout October, I kept convincing myself that Id sit down and come up with some sort of outline. It never happened. I knew how I wanted to start the story and had a vague idea of how I wanted to end it, but that was all. On November 1st, I dug in, writing just over the suggested 1,667-word daily limit. I didn’t even hit that on the second day and that was when I began to wonder if I’d even make it to 15,000 words, let alone 50,000.

After those first two days, though, the story exploded. The characters came to life and did what they wanted to, driving the story in directions I didn’t think it would go. I managed to write at least 2,500 words almost every day after that. I had a few yellow days and a few red ones (excluding the string of them after I quit writing on 20th-21st). Some days it was hard to keep writing, especially with schoolwork constantly calling. There were days when I just didn’t want to write. At all. But I did it anyway. Discipline, folks.

In the afternoon of November 20th, I crossed the 50,000-word mark. The next day, I wrote nearly a thousand more words. After that, I knew I’d have to stop and work on school things again, so that’s what I did. I finished my first NaNoWriMo with 50,801 words. The story isn’t finished yet, but I feel that it’s just under three-quarters of the way done. On November 26th, I uploaded and verified my word count for the win.

The Story

If any of you have read any of my work, you should know that I don’t typically write “happy” stories. Nearly all of them have sad endings and/or someone dies, etc. This story was no different. Here’s the banner I came up with for the NaNoWriMo forums:

The basic premise of the story goes something like this: Symon, my main character, learns along with the rest of the family, that his sister, Sia, is gay. Their parents don’t agree with this and kick her out of the house. Symon is accepting of his sister and her lifestyle and tries to talk to his father, with no luck. After some time of talking with Sia and after help from Symon’s best friend Sam (whom is also gay), Symon’s mother comes around and admits that she really is okay with her daughter’s lifestyle. Convincing her husband is another story. After Sia agrees to come back to the house for a visit, the father again kicks her out. Symon and his mother move out and the parents get a divorce. Symon grapples with the changes and just as he gets straightened out, Sia commits suicide at school in California.

I can’t explain much more than that, because that’s as far as I’ve written to this point. I like how it’s come along thus far, though, I have no doubt it’ll need a lot of edits and changes.

I Won…What Now?

My story has been uploaded and verified. I’ve been declared a “winner” and have collected my “winner goodies.” What now? Well, I’ve sent my story to one person (my boyfriend). It’ll be put away for now, as I’ve got finals to work on. After those finals, I have to shift back to resume work on “Forward Together,” since it’s going to be my master’s thesis next fall. So much needs to be done with it! I will finish the NaNoWriMo novel, though, I can’t say when. I’ll work on it here and there. I can’t just drop it completely, especially since the story was so cooperative for the twenty days it took me to get as far as I did with it.

NaNoWriMo is done. I feel good about what I’ve done. Many people won’t get to 50k and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. If you’re participating, you’re already a writer and you don’t need NaNoWriMo to confirm that. You write about what you want, when you want, and on your own terms. NaNoWriMo is not mandatory. It’s a fun challenge and nothing more, so if you weren’t declared a “winner,” don’t beat yourself up over it.

What’s on the docket now? First and foremost, my finals that are due next week. After that? Well, I believe I’ll work on “Forward Together” some more (that chapter seven needs some work). I’ll have six weeks off before the spring semester starts, so I’m hoping to be able to get a good amount of writing done. And as always, I’ll be reading, too. The possibilities are endless, really.

[Tell me, how is writing coming along for all of you? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? How is that coming along?]

Happy Writing!

Characters: A Checklist

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & karindalziel.

Last spring when I was taking my workshop in novel writing, one of our required books was “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass. As you’d expect, there’s a chapter about characters. They need to be out of the ordinary; characters are what makes your plot interesting

At the end of the chapter (at the end of every chapter, actually), Maass has a checklist. Because Raising the stakes in your writing is such an important part of the writing process, I wanted to post it here. Not everyone has read the book (I do recommend picking it up), and the checklist is an important one.

BREAKOUT Checklist: Characters

  • All stories are character driven.
  • Engrossing characters are out of the ordinary.
  • Readers’ sympathy for characters comes from characters’ strengths.
  • Larger-than-life characters say what we cannot say, do what we cannot do, change in ways that we cannot change.
  • Larger-than-life characters have conflicting sides and are conscious of self.
  • Dark protagonists appeal only when they have sympathetic sides; e.g., they struggle to change or have hidden sensitivity.
  • The highest character qualities are self-sacrifice and forgiveness.
  • Build a cast for contrast.
  • Build complex character relationships by combining roles.
  • Choose a narrator based on who is changed most by the story’s events.
  • Build depth of character with tools like character biographies, author-character dialogues, etc.
  • Differentiate characters with character charts.
  • Breakout characters are deep and many-sided.

[Was this post helpful? Would you like to see more of these checklists in the future? How do you raise the stakes in your own writing? Let’s discuss it in the comments!]