Character psychology, stimulus for development

Landon Erp's picture
Submitted by Landon Erp on Sat, 2006-04-08 23:42

I started this topic on Objectivist Living (and later moved it to Rebirth of Reason)


I've been rereading a book I bought quite a while ago lately. It's called "Comic Writers on Scriptwriting" and it has about a dozen or so interviews with a number of writers.

The writers in this book discuss the particular tricks different writers use. Some go out of their way to bounce ideas off people, others purposely hole themselves up like a hermit while in the creative process etc. But one thing that caught my attention was an interview with former Bat-Title writer Devin Grayson.

Since to make a living as a comic writer you have to write several titles at once (it usually averages out to having to write one or two issues a week of various titles) she has a lot of characters operating in her head. Not in the literal sense mind you, but a big part of her writing is just partitioning part of her mind off to BECOME the characters she's writing, they have their favorite spots to write in and more importantly their favorite music. This works in the sense that in order to be fully functioning as Dick Grayson, Selina Kyle, Natasha Romanav (etc...) she has to follow their musical tastes. She specifically listed how Selina (Catwoman) is kind of a suave smooth sophisticated person who just emanates grace, but oddly she has rather loud tastes in music. You see Selina likes music like Garbage, Alanis Morisette and "all those other rock chics."

The weird thing is after I read this I kind of applied it to my own writing and it seemed to help.

I always tend to listen to music when I write because silence distracts me and I need a little bit of noise to keep myself focused (it helps if it's the type of noise that focuses me in the right direction).

I've recently started applying it again more heavily and it's had good results. Recently I picked up an Ozzy Osbourne cassette that I haven't listened to since the mid-90's. As I was listening I became amazed at how what used to impress me no just reminds me of what was wrong with a huge segment of my life. But as I kept listening I realized one of my characters was enjoying it... so much so he was telling me a part of his story I hadn't yet been able to figure out yet.

Oddly enough part of what made me want to listen to the Ozzy tape was a back and forth I was having with Joe on this forum (Solo/RoR Music) about the psycho-epistemology of heavy metal fans. I'd been reading some biographies of serial killers for the project I'm writing now and I found it kind of weird that a few were actually heavy metal fans (most notably Jeffery Dahmer). I found it kind of ironic that this sad lonely guy did a few really horrible things and since his arrest probably more than a few of his favorite bands have written songs about him (one band did a whole album about him). The weird thing is I think he might've got some solace out of that.

But it kind of goes back to what Rand said about music and sense of life. If you really want to understand/become another person you need to understand their music. Like just stepping out of yourself and your mindset momentarily and then figuring out "what would make this appeal to someone?" and "what would that appeal mean." I don't have my characters tastes as defined as I once did, but the one's that are defined speak so much clearer.

Raven (one of my lead characters) has this strong nihilistic/Nietzchean streak, but she also has a tenderness and vunerability to her to her. When I'm listening to the Cure, Type O Negative, Marilyn Manson and Jack off Jill I can tap into her. It's representative of this strong lashing out and trying to create a monstrous appearance that's really justa cover for someone who's been hurt once too often trying to keep that from happening again. "If they're scared of me, they can't hurt me."

And I have another character named Jen who I had a lot of trouble getting for a long time. She's seems a little shy and cold on the surface, but when she falls for someone she jumps in heart first. It takes her a while to get to the point of opening up and letting someone in, but once she does there's no turning back for her. She loves 50's do-wap (sp) and ballads. There's a kind of purity to those old love songs, like there had been a lot building up to the love but by the time you were finally hearing the end product in the form of the song, there was no turning back for the singer. Each one was desperately in love and there was nothing that could be done about it.

But it's just kind of interesting the things that come to you when you orient your mind in this fashion.

The principle here is keeping a smaller portion of your mind occupied with music for a purposeful direction of your thought and emotion to a directed purpose within the context of writing. Some recent thoughts I've had on the subject lead me to wonder if it would only work with simpler compositions. When I use this tactic myself I tend to rotate between different types of rock and pop music, this is largely because I don't want to take on more musically than I'm capable of bringing to it at the time. I don't listen to classical or opera at these times because pieces like this take much more attention than say a Madonna song, a punk rock song or a heavy metal tune. In order to receive the desired effect it takes a deep level of integration, getting pulled along by a central melody or theme through the piece to the mental area needed. If I haven't already built a strong connection/integration to the piece I don't get the desired effect. (Joe's recent Gesault theory article got me thinking about this particular).

Another piece of writing got me thinking about why Rock and pop-music may be more conducive to this process. There is a section in the Romantic Manifesto where Rand compares two descriptions of New York from different writers. The first was by Micky Spillane... it featured a series of particular images objectively which if read with total focus give a strong feeling of loneliness on a dark night. The second was from Thomas Wolfe: it featured a series of emotional descriptions with no concretes attached to them. If read out of focus it seems profound but at full attention it's just a series of floating emotions.

Along these lines I think music guided thought can work best with simpler and more superficial music than complex pieces of work. With pop and rock songs the themes are simpler, the moods developed more blunt and to top it off there are lyrics. A dark melody with some sludgy bottom and some depressing lyrics can lead you quickly in the direction of a darker character while this would be more difficult with a more complex composition that had not previously been thoroughly integrated might be too complicated to get the desired effect with the amount of attention that can be given to it. There are of course other variations of this in the realm of rock and pop music (in different directions lighter, thoughtful, humorous etc.)

I think Joe Maurone is probably on to something with the entrainment theory (he brought it up in two posts on the topic @ RoR). My main issue is I don't have a big enough stockpile of music already "entrained." If the connection isn't already there and strong I don't get the effect... and I have a hard time finding time to open up to new stuff. And I'm also aware complex pieces would take longer.

Up until about 2 years before I became an Objectivist (5-6 years ago) I listened primarily to heavy metal. Since then my tastes changed drastically. I'm still (strongly) into about 1-10% of the stuff I was listening to then but around the time my tastes changed I was still in a band. My new tastes became something to be tolerated by my bandmates but I couldn't really discuss anything with them. As opposed to before that where we were constantly recomending new bands to each other and picking apart what we liked about them (in order to develop our own music). Now I don't get exposed to enough new stuff that "sticks" to further my repertoire of music that furthers my thinking.

The werid thing is the stuff that has caught lately is either something I just happened onto and caught immediately or new takes on stuff I don't really like anymore (such as Ozzy Osbourne in the example) but passionately loved at one point.

So I guess a big question I have now is where and how I can find a larger amount of music that "sticks." And what is it exactly that makes a new piece "stick" (and I guess by "stick" I mean find a strong and immediate connection with something within my mind).

I realize it's fairly personal, but I think there might be something in there for other people in the methodology

I'm not so sure I know where I'm leading with this (Ok I'm a little more aware now than I was when I first posted it) but I am kind of curious if anyone else has any thoughts on the topic.


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I totally agree. It always

Landon Erp's picture

I totally agree. It always helps me for fleshing out characters most though. When you know what someone is really like you know more of what they want and what they can do.

For me I usually get hooked on vocal runs against certain guitar riffs or backbeats. For me it serves the dual purpose of keeping my mind and the events of the story focused and especially the mind of actors focused within my mind.


It all basically comes back to fight or flight.

Music just doesn't stimulate

Ross Elliot's picture

Music just doesn't stimulate character development, it's essential for action as well. At least from my point of view. I've written entire script sequences to whole albums; for propulsive action Boston's eponymous effort is a favorite.

A single riff or drum fill can propel your thoughts in a totally different direction. If you know a piece of music very well, and play your story through the projector in your head, you can *edit* the action and characters on the fly, in anticipation of an upcoming change.

It's fascinating and powerful. As I said, I think it's essential to get the juices flowing. The evocation and inspiration that music provides are just two of it's many gifts, especially for writers.

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