Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Emotions in a Can

By Elayna Finley
Elayna Finley

Do you have a favorite CD? Is it playing right now?

Many authors respond to music. Some of us like to write with our eyes half-closed while the music washes over us. Others prefer silence to contemplate. Whether you like music on or off during writing, you can use it to enrich your story ideas and characters.

You likely chose your music because it makes you feel. It creates an emotional response in you, whether it's happy, sad, angry, or excited.

What does this have to do with your story? A good story resonates with the reader. It makes him feel with and for the characters. In order to write a story you must know your characters intimately. How can you create an emotional response in your readers if you haven't first felt it yourself? The following is my method for learning not only the emotional motivations of my characters, but what it feels like to be in the grip of those emotions.

Get comfortable with your favorite CD. It works best for me when I'm driving down a familiar stretch of highway, my brain switched to autopilot with my favorite song on repeat. You could also stretch out on the couch with headphones, but you're more likely to be interrupted.

Listen to your favorite song. Let it move you. Feel it as fully as you can. Now play it again, only this time imagine that the words are the thoughts of one of your characters. Which one would be most likely to feel this way? If only parts of the song fit a character, how might you interpret the rest to fit him? Are there things he may have done or felt that you don't know about? Maybe some parts of the song fit one character and some fit another. Are these characters on the same side, or opposed? If they are opposed, do they have something in common that causes the same song to resonate with both of them? Even if the words don't fit at all, the basic emotion of the song might set the mood to look at a character in a different way.

Most characters, good or evil, possess the full range of human emotions. In addition to the songs that fit your character, run him through a few that clash with his temperament. Maybe you can't see how a love song applies to your villain, but try it. Feel it with her. Given her current personality and situation can she feel this way about anyone? Has she ever? Does she want to? Maybe it doesn't fit at all; why not? How does she view others who feel this way? Asking these questions usually generates a lot of new ideas about character backstory, creating depth and possibly the answers to some plot kinks.

Music also aids in creating believable reactions and physical responses, freeing and magnifying emotions that we normally suppress. Have you heard a song that makes you cry? Play it. Close your eyes. Squeeze your character's tears out onto your cheeks. Notice how they burn, your breath thickens, your chest aches.

When music is your tool, strong emotion is always close, waiting for you to call it into use. Today your angry song is her indignation, tomorrow his bitterness.