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Creating the Perfect Playlist for Your Fictional Characters


Anyone who’s read my writing knows that I love music. After all, my novel in stories, The Goodbye-Love Generation, is about a rock band based out of Kent, Ohio (my hometown) in the 1970s. Maybe it comes from having a dad who’s a musician and growing up well-versed (no pun intended) in the Beatles, Zeppelin, Bowie, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and many more.


It’s not just about the content, however. Music is an integral part of my process. Every big project I’ve worked on (including those that haven’t been published) involves curating playlists to help me better understand my fictional characters and, for nonfiction, my life.


Any writer knows that creating well-rounded and dynamic fictional characters is both essential for your story to succeed, but also challenging. This playlist strategy can capture the essence of your characters and inspire your storytelling.


So, let’s dive into my tips for using playlists to learn more about your stories and characters. Music can help your characters become more authentic, making them relatable and powerful.


Understand Your Character's Personality and Preferences


Before you start curating a playlist for your fictional character, it's important to have a deep understanding of their personality and preferences. Consider their background, interests, and motivations. Are they introverted or extroverted?


Understanding these aspects will help you choose the right songs and genres that align with your character's traits. Additionally, think about the emotions and moods you want to convey through the playlist. Are they upbeat and energetic, or melancholic and introspective?


You can also consider the character’s musical tastes within the story's scope. I have a YA novel on my hard drive that I’ve never done anything with, and the main character has a major thing for Crowded House, The Clash, and, oddly, Adele. She has a huge vinyl collection, a trait that may or may not be autobiographical.


Consider the Time Period and Setting of Your Story


When creating a playlist for your fictional characters, it's important to consider your story's time period and setting. The music of a specific era can significantly influence a character's personality, preferences, and experiences. For example, if your story is set in a particular period, you might include that era’s music to evoke a sense of nostalgia and capture the cultural atmosphere.


If you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, you can always go for instrumental music that echoes the world of your story, or you can go for songs that may not necessarily reflect the setting but still demonstrate significant themes in your story.


Experiment with Different Genres and Styles to Capture Different Aspects of Your Character


In preparation for this blog, I did an experiment. As part of my original promotion for The Goodbye-Love Generation, I made a playlist composed of all the 1970s songs mentioned or alluded to in the book, as well as playlists for each character.


The original playlist for Maddy, the charismatic lead singer of my fictional rock band The Purple Orange, includes a lot of girl power—Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt by way of the Stone Ponys, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin.


However, I decided to do a little “era” jumping by making a Maddy playlist of Taylor Swift songs.


I’m working on a sequel to The Goodbye-Love Generation, and this exercise showed me some new things about Maddy’s character arc.


So, when creating a playlist for your fictional characters, don't be afraid to explore different genres and styles of music. Each genre has its own unique sound and mood, which can help capture different aspects of your character's personality and experiences.


Experiment with Different Genres and Styles to Capture Different Aspects of Your Character


In preparation for this blog, I did an experiment. As part of my original promotion for The Goodbye-Love Generation, I made a playlist composed of all the 1970s songs mentioned or alluded to in the book, as well as playlists for each character.


The original playlist for Maddy, the charismatic lead singer of my fictional rock band The Purple Orange, includes a lot of girl power—Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt by way of the Stone Ponys, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin.


However, I decided to do a little “era” jumping by making a Maddy playlist of Taylor Swift songs.


I’m working on a sequel to The Goodbye-Love Generation, and this exercise showed me some new things about Maddy’s character arc.


So, when creating a playlist for your fictional characters, don't be afraid to explore different genres and styles of music. Each genre has its own unique sound and mood, which can help capture different aspects of your character's personality and experiences.


Choose Music that Reflects Their Background and Culture


When curating a playlist for your fictional character, it's important to consider their background and culture. Music can be a powerful tool for conveying a character's heritage, upbringing, and experiences.

Research the music associated with their cultural background and incorporate those elements into the playlist. For example, if your character is from a specific region or country, explore the traditional music genres and artists from that area.


This also applies to people writing fantasy. Think about what physical countries or places in the real world are similar to the world you’re building and create a playlist based on the music in those regions. Even though you are creating original settings, inspiration from real-life locations and cultures can help inform your work and make your story more authentic.



Use Music to Enhance Emotional Scenes and Character Development


Music has the power to evoke emotions and enhance the impact of emotional scenes in your storytelling. When creating a playlist for your fictional characters, consider the emotions you want to convey in specific scenes or moments of character development. For example, if you have a heart-wrenching breakup scene, you might choose melancholic or heartbreak-themed songs to intensify the emotions felt by your characters and resonate with your audience.


In The Goodbye-Love Generation, Maddy goes through the loss of her music career (spoiler alert) and a messy divorce from her partner of fifteen years. Considering that I chose a Taylor Swift theme for my playlist, you better believe “Castles Crumbling” and “All Too Well” were included.


On the other hand, if you have a triumphant moment of personal growth for a character, you might select uplifting or empowering songs to amplify the sense of achievement and inspire your audience. By carefully selecting music that aligns with the emotional tone of your scenes, you can create a more immersive storytelling experience for your readers.


Want to Learn More About Using Music in Your Writing?


First, allow me to give a shameless plug for The Goodbye-Love Generation. If you love historical fiction, particularly stories centered on pop culture and social movements, you’ll enjoy the Vietnam-era and counter-culture setting. You’ll also appreciate it if you love Daisy Jones and the Six, which is about another ‘70s rock band.




I also offer complimentary 30-minute writing consultations on Zoom! Get access to a professional writer’s brain, where we’ll discuss any burning questions or thoughts about writing that you might be dealing with.


It’s the first step toward reaching your full creative potential so you can impact and inspire readers.


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