Writing Characters that Sing (without Actually Singing)

Darker PagesIf you haven’t seen the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Once More With Feeling, you should really check it out. In a nutshell, a demon arrives in Sunnydale and infects everyone in town with the need to sing about their innermost feelings. Buffy’s opening song is a example of what I’m talking about in this post: giving each of your characters a song.

Here’s Buffy’s song, Going Through the Motions:

Going through the motions – Legendado PTBR from Sith BR on Vimeo.

The idea here is that everyone in your story should have something buried beneath the surface: a secret longing, a desperate need, or perhaps a guilty memory. These hidden feelings and thoughts should drive your characters’ actions.

I like to think of this as each character’s song. They don’t literally need to sing these songs in the story, but you as the author should know the song by heart. The song is the character’s emotional context. It’s where they’re coming from and where they’re going. So before you start writing your next story or your next scene, consider each character and see if you know their song.

If I’m going to write a chapter in which Randy has dinner with a merman and a mime, sure, I want to know his thoughts on mermen and mimes. But I also want to know what’s going on deeper inside him. What long-term path is he traveling? What scars are hurting him? What hidden desire is he longing for? Has he gotten over killing his werewolf brother with a spatula?

And keep in mind that by the end of your story, your main character should most likely have a new song to sing. Or—at the very least—a new refrain.

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