Show Tunes and Character Voice

I grew up playing piano. And there was a very long stretch of time where “practicing” meant resentfully plopping down on the bench and plunking out whatever notes I’d been assigned from my method books that week.

Thankfully, my mother was more persistent than I was stubborn, and I eventually reached a point where I could play the songs I wanted to play, rather than those I had been assigned. One of those songs was “All I Ask of You,” from Phantom of the Opera.

I learned the notes, and I could play them fast. That meant I had learned the song, right?


My fabulous, long-suffering piano teacher pointed out that the song was a duet sung by two very different characters. She challenged me to play the song so that she could tell who was singing without looking at the words on the page.

Something clicked. I realized that all those circles and lines and dots and swirls were not just blobs of ink on a page. They told a story, as much as letters in a book did. I went through that entire Phantom of the Opera book, experimenting and learning how to make the piano speak for the characters.

I was already a writing addict at that point, and I started thinking about how my newfound insight applied to my love of words. I looked at books I loved, and I looked at what I had written, and I realized:

Characters are not supposed to sound the same!

But my characters did. And I wasn’t sure how to fix it. So I took a long hard look at my favorite books–specifically, Harry Potter. There were big long segments of dialogue with absolutely no tags, sometimes between three characters, and you know what? I could tell exactly which character was talking, because they were so distinct.

How did she do that? And how could I manage that?

I decided to take the same tack I’d used with Phantom of the Opera. I took Harry Potter, the characters that were so well developed and so distinct, and I experimented with them. I tried to imitate their set voices in new situations, to get a handle on who the characters were, how they sounded different, why they sounded different.

Fanfiction gets a bad rap, but I’m here to tell you that it’s one of the most useful ways to learn the art of writing. With a good example to study and follow, a writer can pick up and practice subtleties and intricacies that eventually get translated from imitation to original stories and characters.

Writing, like anything else, takes practice and study. The difference is, our textbooks are novels, essays, poetry, picture books–whatever it is we’re seeking to write. Writers learn so much more from a well-written book from their intended genre than they could ever learn from an instruction book on the writing craft.

So go forth and study the books that stick with you. See what it is about those books that make them stand out, and then indulge in a little fanfiction. Absorb. Emulate. Then take those lessons and bring them back into your own work.

What books have taught you the most about writing? Have you done fanfiction?


Something new

I’ve been contemplating doing something new on Mondays for a while. Writing prompts are fun, but I’m getting less response on them, and I like changing things up now and again.

Since I’m on a quote high after my three-day challenge, Mondays are now Quote Day! After all, you can never have too many good quotes.

I may have mentioned before that I teach piano, when I’m not scribbling stories or chasing down my little monkey. Since I was young, I’ve had a great respect and appreciation for the power of music, and it’s something that I’m working hard to pass on to as many young people as possible.

And thus today’s quote:

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” (Victor Hugo)

As much as I love words, music is a different plane of communication that tells stories words can never express.

What are some of the songs that have spoken to you?

Is it Fall already?

Yesterday was summer–sunny and warm and beautiful. Today is gray and cold, with rain forecasted for the whole weekend. Isn’t it August still?

I’m not complaining, though. I’ve never been a huge fan of hot weather, and I like getting these little breaks. It does make me feel like fall, though, so I’m taking advantage of a temporarily quiet house to listen to Harry Connick Jr.’s “When My Heart Finds Christmas” and get some serious plotting done.

What are you listening to and working on today?

A Special Kind of Productivity

Today was a Monday sort of Wednesday. As a result, I spent one of my daughter’s naps finishing Sense and Sensibility, and the other nap making a Demon’s Heart playlist, which turned out to be a lot more fun than I was expecting. As such, I decided it was worth sharing with the world. Enjoy a peek at my eclectic music tastes!

1. I’m Still Here (John Rzeznik, Treasure Planet)
2. Nothing in My Way (Keane, Under the Iron Sea)
3. Ein Elefant für dich (Wir sind Helden, Von Hier An Blind) (*I laughed the first time I saw the title of this song–“An elephant for you.” But it’s sweet and pretty and one of my favorites from Wir sind Helden. Who’da thunk a song about elephants could be sweet and pretty?*)
4. I’m Happy Just to Dance with You (The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night)
5. Tempus Vernum (Enya, A Day Without Rain)
6. We Might as Well Be Strangers (Keane, Hopes and Fears)
7. Home (Michael Buble, It’s Time)
8. The Fields of Pelennor (Howard Shore, Return of the King)
9. A Man I’ll Never Be (Boston, Don’t Look Back)
10. Iris (Goo Goo Dolls, Greatest Hits Volume One) (*Another fun name story: I flatly refused to listen to Goo Goo Dolls for years because I thought their name was so stupid. I still think so.*)
11. Day Will Come (Keane, Strangeland)
12. The Call (Regina Spektor, Prince Caspian) (*Probably the only good thing to come out of that movie.*)
13. Stand (Rascal Flatts, Me and My Gang)

What do you think? Have you ever made a playlist for your book?