Saturday, January 12, 2019

Pure emotion songs

I know, I know, you disagree! Maybe with all five. But don’t blame me. These are Indio’s “pure emotion” songs, meaning, according to him, they bypass the cerebral cortex and drive directly into the brainstem. The list is guitar-heavy because he’s guitar-heavy.

These songs aren't my "songlist" for writing to—I prefer instrumental music for that. Indio is the middle child, a musician and songwriter who also expresses himself through art. When his sister Wynter shows up with her half-formed musical talent and non-standard interpretations, he teaches her what he knows—starting with the blues turnaround, of course. For a short period in her childhood she had access to a radio and listened to classic rock stations. These five classic songs (and bonus), aren’t radio-friendly for various reasons, so she’s never heard them before but Indio considers them essential listening. (Song squares by me.)

1. Gimme ShelterThe Rolling Stones (1969). Come for the apocalyptic imagery, stay for soul singer Melissa Block’s incredible emotional vocal performance, which Mick Jagger talks about in this 2012 NPR interview. At 3:01 on the track, you can hear her voice crack and a whoop of appreciation from the control room.

2. Closer—Kings of Leon (2008). I read somewhere that according to the band, it’s about a lovesick vampire. Okaaaay. Wynter says that Van Gogh’s Starry Night is a painting she can fall into. This is a song you can fall into.

3. Cocaine—J J Cale (1976). Here’s a live version showcasing that awesome guitar riff. Listen to J J Cale and Eric Clapton (who later covered the song) play it together at soundcheck here. Or click below for the original.

4. Whole Lotta Love—Led Zeppelin (1969). BBC Radio 2 listeners a few years ago voted this as the all-time greatest guitar riff. From Wikipedia: “[Jimmy] Page came up with the guitar riff ... in the summer of 1968, on his houseboat on the River Thames” on a Sunburst 1958 Les Paul Standard guitar (Indio’s dream guitar).
5. I’m Not in Love10CC (1975). This fascinating BBC documentary explores the making of the song (originally written with a bossa nova beat), which layered a “tsunami” of 624 voices that were then mixed live. Like Gimme Shelter, this song includes a “random” female voice (secretary Kathy Redfern whispering "Big boys don't cry") added at the last minute. As she says, the song “stops you in your tracks.” One of my all-time favorites, too! 

Bonus #1! This one is not guitar-heavy and is more pure sex than pure emotion, but close enough.
RelaxFrankie Goes To Hollywood (1983, charted in 1985 in the USA). Wikipedia calls it “one of the most controversial and most commercially successful records of the decade”. The record company “intentionally courted scandal with the promotion” of the song with a tag line in print ads reading “ALL THE NICE BOYS LOVE SEA MEN”. BBC Radio and eventually TV refused to play the song (although it was played on commercial stations), after which it hit number one for five weeks in the UK.

Bonus #2!
Just for fun there’s a babies’ version of Whole Lotta Love by Sweet Little Band—check it out on Spotify.

Which songs give you the feels?

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Ignore this tip: Cast your novel with actors

"Fan casting" is an obsessive pastime of all authors, right?

Many authors.

Some authors.

Only me? No, I know you all do it. I've seen the blogs. And this blog post isn't exactly a writing tip, but rather something useful and slightly creepy that helps me with my characters.

Years ago I read a blog by an author listing which actors she would cast in her book series. That phenomenally successful series did in fact make it to the screen, and for all I know the phenomenally famous author had already signed the movie deal when she started publicly talking about actors. So she had a professional reason to think about these things.

For us merely mortal authors, casting famous faces is a fun fantasy. It can also be something more: a way to visualize and experience our characters to make them easier to get a handle on, easier to write.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Personality Typing for Made-Up People

I became fascinated by personality typing years ago. I see personality typing as a model of actual humans, meaning it's a structure we've imposed on the messy natural world in order to understand it, rather than a real thing. For this reason, I think it probably works better on fictional characterization than actual humans.

In the past I've typed characters at the start of the writing process. Whether or not you have a large cast, it helps to keep personalities distinct. You probably already have broad characters in mind at that point. Reading through personality types to find ones that "match" can help hone the characters.

A few systems to try (I've provided a link for each, but there's loads more info available by Googling, including zodiac signs if you're looking for more arbitrary ideas):

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

How do you feel? Writing Emotion

Overusing the ol' hammering heart? I write that way too. But recently I took a deeper dive into writing emotion via your characters' thoughts and reactions, rather than via bodily sensations. The Emotion Thesaurus is a wonderful resource and a good starting point, but too much hand-trembling, knee-shaking, and trickling beads of sweat can become exhausting to read.

There are several ways to approach the writing of emotions and I tend to be minimalist. Too minimalist! I'm still learning.

I wanted to share a few more links that have helped me get a handle on this. Bear in mind that point-of-view characters are going to narrate their experiences differently on the page, depending on all sorts of factors like personality and level of self-awareness, as well as the specific situation they find themselves in.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

You're writing about WHAT?

There's so much pressure today on writing for the market, writing for your ideal reader, writing for a genre so the publisher feels secure in how to market the book and the bookseller knows where to shelve it.

All this is important but let's not lose sight of why most of us write in the first place. I think writers write for much the same reason as readers read. A reader picks up a book, and sticks with it, in order to escape to that world for a while. A writer writes in order to create that world.

Writers are generally imaginative people and we like to escape for a while into the worlds we created, too! Given the hundreds of hours it takes to write a novel, it had better be a world that captures our heart. Writing the book of your heart doesn't mean abandoning marketing concerns and the rest of it, but it does require some emotional investmentit requires heart.

So don't let anyone get away with asking, incredulously, You're writing about WHAT?

Friday, December 28, 2018

Ignore this tip: Don't waste words

Don’t waste words!

I’ve seen this writing tip thrown around as if anything but minimalist sentence structure and short words is the equivalent of purple prose.

I’m setting poetry and short stories and non-fiction aside, because they’re a different breed. In novel writing, I think it’s okay to linger sometimes.

I’m not talking only about description. I tend to skim lengthy descriptions just like you probably do. An effective description of, say, a location, is done by taking into account two things: the perspective of the character experiencing it (what they notice depends on who they are), and the focus on extraordinary details. A bus station has seats, restrooms, a ticket counter, and buses. Everyone knows this, so you don’t need to describe them unless there’s something unusual about either those items or the character experiencing them. For example, my main character Wynter grew up on an isolated commune and has never been to a bus station before. So, for her, the vending machine is unusual and also incomprehensible—a “big, brightly lit cupboard” full of locked-up snacks she’s never seen or tasted.

So, when is it okay to waste words?