Q: Do My Characters Have Playlists?
A question I see on author interviews fairly often is-do they listen to music while they write? The majority answer that they do. I have five playlists made and two more in my head waiting for me to put them together. I almost always have one of my lists playing in the background as I write. The music is there but I may not be aware of a particular song or songs playing, if I’m really concentrating on a scene. On the flipside, there are times the music helps me through a scene. It can establish a sense of setting for me or many days, a mood for both the story and the characters.
In my latest book, The Ack Ack Girl, the heroine, Ava Armstrong, was in London during a German bomber attack during the Battle for Britain (1940). She is determined to help the war effort and defend her country. Ava joins one of the brand-new anti-aircraft teams of women. Her unit is close to an RAF airfield where she meets and falls in love with a Spitfire pilot, Chris Fairfield. Before I started the story, I made a playlist of Big Band Music, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Artie Shaw are a few I chose. It is the music of my character’s time. My favorite songs became theirs. Songs like In the Mood, String of Pearls, Moonlight Serenade and of course, the poignant, I’ll Be Home for Christmas-if only in my dreams.
One song was particularly special to Chris, The White Cliffs of Dover, Vera Lynn’s sentimental and touching WW2 ballad. Chris hums the tune a lot and when Ava asks why, he explains that after a mission fighting the enemy, seeing the white cliffs is a relief, it means he’s made it home once more.
In my first book, “Heroes Live Forever,” Elinor, the heroine, has inherited a house haunted by two medieval knights– Basil, the hero, and Guy, his friend. The story begins in 1980. While Elinor is unpacking, she’s dancing along to an album she’s listening to. Taking into consideration the year and bands that were popular in the late 60’s and 70’s, one of the first groups who came to mind for Elinor to dance to was Fleetwood Mac. I thought of Stevie Nicks and her gypsy-like outfits and how she danced around on stage. As Elinor hums along to Rhiannon, she’s dancing and spinning from box to box, doing her version of Stevie Nicks. Watching and thoroughly enjoying the show is her unseen audience, Basil and Guy.
Throughout the story, Guy has a keen interest in music. Even as a ghost, he’s very outgoing, more so than Basil who was raised to be more reserved. One of Guy’s favorite songs when he was feeling cheerful was Born to be Wild, by Steppenwolf. In a pensive moment, he listened to Dust in the Wind, by Kansas.
As the story shifts to the current year, Basil is living a new life as Ian Cherlein and in love with Miranda Coltrane. Miranda is a Sarah Brightman fan. Ian has no ear for music but dances to Brightman to please Miranda. The situation turns comical when, unaware of the lyrics, Ian plays, “Time to Say Goodbye.”
You never know how something simple–like giving your characters favorite songs might turnout better than you imagine. In the sequel, “Journey in Time,” Guy, who has been given another chance at life is now Alex Lancaster, a successful music producer. Shakira, the heroine, is a London attorney but plays second lead guitar in a weekend cover band. She loves to take songs she likes and dabble with other arrangements. Alex has a cottage in the English countryside where he’s converted a bedroom to a mini music studio. He also dabbles with arrangements. Their mutual love of music plays a substantial role in the relationship and the story.
In “Journey in Time,” Shakira and Alex are caught in a time warp and thrown back to medieval England in the 14th century. At one point in the story, it’s Alex’s birthday and Shakira wants to do something special. She brings together a group of musicians and arranges Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk and Cole Porter’s The Way You Look Tonight, using the instruments of the period. It took my listening to loads of songs and trying to mentally hear how they’d sound with the limited choice of instruments Shakira had to work with, but I think it turned out well, and I had fun with the scene.
Again, you never know where giving your characters songs for them to love will lead. Shakira’s choice of the Cole Porter song allowed one of the knights at the castle to sing to the ladies at the banquet. That knight is the hero of “Knight Blindness,” the next book in that series.