As with just about everything else when it comes to writing, there isn't one right way to create a character. (I can't tell you how often I've wished that entire sentence weren't true.) Heck, I don't think I've ever used the same technique twice myself. Well, with one exception.
For some reason, when I really start getting into the heads of my characters—when they truly become real to me—I start seeing them in my head when I listen to music. Not every song, mind, but I suspect I unconsciously search for songs that fit. When I've found enough songs for a decent playlist, say 20 to 30, I feel like I've found the emotional key to my story and my characters.
Sometimes I'll listen to the playlist while I'm writing, but not always. Sometimes it's enough to listen to a few songs before I start writing, just to evoke the mood I'm seeking. I'll listen in the car to spark ideas for upcoming scenes. Or I'll listen late at night before going to bed, to let new ideas germinate overnight.
I don't look for songs that tell the exact story I want to write. It's enough if a phrase or line of melody resonates strongly. Several of the songs on my current playlist are instrumental only. That doesn't always happen, but this time—oh, this time—so many of the songs I've chosen are jazz and they make me see and feel the magic and how the various characters feel about using it. Having so many instrumental songs also makes it a bit easier to listen to the playlist while writing.
If you're curious, here are the songs on my current character playlist (the order is random). I wish I could provide the actual songs for you, but I've found links to listen to (most of) them online.
Pick Up the Pieces — Avenue Blue Feat.Jeff Golub
Ever Returning — Bernward Koch
Song for Olabi — Bliss
Trinidad — Boney James
Caribbean Dream — Bryan Savage
Spontaneous Combustion — Fishbelly Black
Nothing But You — Kim Ferron
Harlem Nocturne — Kofi
Madrid — Marc Antoine
Give It Away — Zero 7
Head Over Feet — Alanis Morissette
Chain of Fools — The Commitments
Just My Luck — Kim Richey
Krafty — New Order
Zombie Jamboree — Rockapella
In Too Deep — Genesis
You Tell Me That I'm Falling Down — Linda Ronstadt
Reference Point — Acoustic Alchemy
Running on Faith — Eric Clapton (unplugged)
Foreplay — Fourplay
Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On — Jimmy Buffett
Fever — Michael Buble
Regrets (Duo Avec Jean-Louis Murat) — Mylene Farmer
Unbound — Robbie Robertson
King of Wishful Thinking — Go West
So, that's it. As you can see, it's a bit of an eclectic mix. I'm sure it says as much about me as it does about my characters. But the right music makes my characters and my story come alive for me. How about you? Do you use music when you create your characters or when you write? I'm all ears. :-)
Catch you on the flip side...
* Title from: "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." — Aldous Huxley