Getting Into Your Characters’ Heads: Building Character Soundtracks

Currently listening to: Heaven Knows, by The Pretty Reckless

When I create a new character, one of the first things I do is dig up some songs that I feel correspond to that character. Actually, sometimes I hear a song first, and the idea of the character hits me. That song up there, “Heaven Knows”, is actually an example. In one of my WIPs, I knew I wanted the protagonist to be more of a villain. “Heaven Knows” was the song I currently had on repeat on my iPod, and as I was commuting to work one morning, it hit me. That song embodies the character I wanted to write. There’s a certain irreverence in it, a kind of “fuck it all” vibe, and that’s my protagonist. She’s in a situation that she freely admits sucks, and she knows the role she’s expected to fill. She doesn’t like it much, doesn’t necessarily want to do it…but she will, and she’ll damn well do it her way. If that makes her the villain, so be it; she’s probably going to Hell, anyway. The song gave me the initial burst of inspiration; I can see her singing it, or blasting it through headphones as she walks down the street. Without that first burst, I never would have managed to write that character at all and my WIP featuring her as the protagonist would have been scrapped long ago.

I also have songs that “represent” most of my other characters. Some of them have very little to do with the characters, thematically, but the tune reminds me of the characters. Others, it’s the lyrics that draw the comparison for me.

Then there are songs that represent moments between characters, or specific moments of conflict in the story. Whenever I get ready to write those scenes, I blast the songs I’ve picked. And it really, really helps.

For one WIP I’ve been sadly neglecting, I’ve even got a full playlist that sketches out the plot. Which is really odd for me, since I’m not one for plotting, generally (if you participate in NaNoWriMo, I’m a “pantser”). I don’t plan much before I write, if at all. I just grab a pen or open a Word document or my phone, and I start writing. And I hope that what I write ends up being coherent when I review it later.

So how about you? Do you have “theme songs” for your characters? Or maybe some other exercises help you get into your characters’ headspace?



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