3.23.2011

GUEST POST: Using my powers for Good, not Emo

We have a SUPER SPECIAL post today. The adorably awesome and multi-talented Sophia of Sophia the Writer  (who we met in REAL LIFE last week, btw) wrote a stupendous somethin' somethin' for you all on MUSIC and WRITING and even music IN writing.

So without further ado, on to our first guest post! (Thanks, Sophia!)


How I Learned to Use My Powers for Good, Not Emo
By Sophia Chang

My trusty Casio with the broken C below middle. 
I call it an In The Body experience. Composing characters, that is.

Krispy and Alz asked me to guest blog about writing music for my novels. I'll take it, as they say, from the top.

Like thousands of other Chinese kids in America, I had to play the piano and violin as soon as I could tell my fingers apart.

I taught myself to play the guitar when I was 12 and started writing folksy songs that could give emo kids of today a run for their angst-soaked money. (Songs called, "When You Hate The One You Love." Hey, at least the title tells you what the song's about up front.)

Luckily, I grew out of the Courtney Love phase (even Courtney Love grew out of that - for a while at least) and now I use my music-writing for good, not emo.

I've continued to write songs, and to listen to music while I write novels. In my latest YA Fantasy WIP, I finally brought the two loves together.

My heroine sings a verse from a farm song she's known since childhood. The problem is, the world she lives in exists in my head. I reaaaalllly needed to hear that song in order to connect with her fully.

So I stood up from my computer chair, turned, took two steps, and sat on my piano chair. Cued up the keyboard to "old-fashioned" (actually "clavi") and wrote the song.

Now when I play it, I can instantly hook myself into the mood of that scene. I can picture her in it, feel her longing in my chest when I sing the melody.

You don't have to be a former angsty-girl-with-guitar to do the same. Just hum. Or get up and dance a few steps the way your character would. Maybe draw the way they would, order food and eat it like them. Dress like them. Look at websites they would visit. Covet the kind of boys or girls they would.

For this same heroine, when I wrote one of her character sheets (yes, I did more than one and almost died), I did it in her handwriting. I frickin' hate her handwriting (it's better than mine), but I sure learned a lot writing a page in her hand.

Any sort of embodiment you do for your character has the power to tug you out of your own vessel and into theirs so strongly and immediately it will steal your breath. And that's what you want to do for your reader.

So what angsty music does your character like?


ABOUT: Sophia Chang is a lifelong dancer and singer who has appeared in films including Across the Universe and First Daughter. She performs with the Harvard Yardbirds, an alumni a capella group and has recorded for Hepnova, a mixed media band. She now writes Young Adult fiction.

10 comments:

David de Beer said...

Courtney Love - Hole - wow, old memories:)
of course, I went the "perennially conflicted but trying to be broodily angry young man" route of Metallica, Guns 'n' Roses, Black Sabbath, etc. Still some of the best music ever, late 80's to middle 90's hard rock, but somewhere along the way you grow up and it kind of fades to a fond memory.

>Like thousands of other Chinese kids in America, I had to play the piano and violin as soon as I could tell my fingers apart.

ok, this is news to me, and rather intriguing. can someone expand on that? as in, why? why press the kids to learn music, and why specifically the piano and violin? was/ is this peculiar only to chinese kids growing up in America, or is it for chinese kids anywhere? boys and girls, or only girls?

so, Sophia -- along with your books you're also going to include a CD with each character's personalized theme song, written and performed by yourself? that would be pretty cool and unique if you could do that:)

music and writing has a long partnership, altough it's surprisingly not that well publicly documented that I'm aware of. Yet, almost every single writer I know of, whether starting out or moderately to very succesful, invests heavily in music while writing, and some even religiously listen to only certain types of music or songs while writing specific books. Music sets the mood so well, it is kind of like a trance drug in its own way.

Music is awesome for me when I'm thinking on a story, or basically not writing. if music is playing, it'll let me drift off [provided no one bothers me], and I'll step into storyland, the music acting as the catalyst to get me into the rhythm adn mood.
funnily enough, though, when actually writing I need complete silence so I can hear the characters speak.
When I hear a character, I can write them. Everything flows from that. When I can't hear them, I can still write them, it just becomes . . . work. and really, that's often not my better work.

interesting post, thank you.

Angela Felsted said...

I'm so glad you've found a way to use your music to help with your writing. I wish I could say I've learned to do the same, but I prefer silence.

Sophia the Writer said...

David - I would love that! Along with the maps I've drawn for other novels and all that ephemera :)

And it's all Chinese everywhere, but the poor ones can't afford lessons.

Preeeety violin Angela!

Connie said...

My daughter plays the violin and piano--seems to be a theme lately. Late at night, she sits at the piano and composes these heart-rending minor compositions. For my current novel, the whole mood of the book was her music. Every time I hit a snag in the book, I'd ask my daughter to play and the answer to my problem would appear.

stickynotestories said...

I got my hair cut like my character once. It was a huge disaster. Six months later I looked sort of like her (I actually looked more like a different character, but they are related, so whatever). Now I stick to everything Except haircuts :)

(also, I cannot write in silence. I MUST have music. That's so awesome that you write your own music!)

Slow Panic said...

this is wonderful. i love that composing helps you write fiction. i love knowing this about you.

Lydia K said...

The title of this post alone is just fabulous!

Great post. Love seeing how music became a part of your world.
:)

Juliana L. Brandt said...

What a great post, Sophia! I definitely agree, a CD should come wiht your book so we can all hear the songs :)

I can't believe I've never thought of doing this, thanks for the inspiration!

Elle Strauss said...

Thanks for a great interview! It's great to get to know Sophia better. I envy anyone with such an ability to connect with music. But she makes an interesting point--why do so many Chinese-American kids get plopped down in front of a piano at such an early age?

Unknown said...

This is such a good idea! I'm going to try the suggestions about writing music for characters and really embodying the characters, even writing in their hand. Awesome post!! Thanks for this : )