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Linger Song & Purposeful Characterization

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Okay, so it’s Friday, and just over 11 weeks until LINGER comes out, so it’s time for me to put up another song from the LINGER playlist (well, two, since I’m putting up one from the Sam/ Grace list and one from the Isabel/ Cole list).

Last week I yammered on about how I work with music when I’m writing, and why it’s so important to me. I thought this week I’d blather about how the musical selections really emphasize how I’ve come to choose who my characters are. I’m going to try to be coherent, but it might be impossible. In my head, music and art and writing are really hopelessly tangled. I use principles that I’ve learned in one on another one all the time, and sometimes I can’t remember where I learned it first or even figure out how to describe my thought process, since sometimes it’s a sound or an image.

But, this: opposites.

When I was a portrait artist, doing my thing, one of the things that I learned way back when, while I was studying John Singer Sargent (<3), was that if you wanted to draw the viewer’s eye to your subject, you made that area your point of greatest contrast. It’s something you see in a lot of traditional portraits. A very dark background, dark clothing, and then — suddenly, the face, brightly lit from the side. So you have pale, pale skin, and stark shadow next to it, any your eye immediately goes to that difference. And another thing that I picked up along the way is that the focal point gets the most attention, the most detail. And everything else gets blotchier and less specific the further away from the focal point. You want everything to shout to the viewer, look here LOOK HERE NO HERE REALLY!!!

And they do. I sort of use the same principle when I’m coming up with characters for my novels. The detail thing, first, of course. The reader knows far more about Sam and Grace than Sam’s foster family or Grace’s parents, or Grace’s friends. In my head, the focus is drawn tightly in upon them. They are the detailed bit of the portrait. Everything else is just context.

And then, the contrast bit. (I am slowly, slowly bringing this back around to, you know, the point of this blog post) The point of greatest contrast being where you look. In my writing, I think of this as opposites. Complementary opposites. When I’m choosing a co-narrator, I want them to be quite, quite different from my original narrator. To emphasize the personality traits. To draw attention. To create instant tension. So where Sam is soft, Grace is hard. Where he is uncertain, she is certain. Where he sees beauty, she sees facts.

So. LINGER. (see, I told you I was bringing it back around). I knew I wanted another narrator, and I knew I wanted this narrator to show us things about Sam. By not being those things. Like standing next to a really tall guy on the subway and realizing, suddenly, that you are very short. I didn’t want this narrator to be just interesting on his own. I wanted him to be interesting in such a way that he heightened the stakes and character of Sam. So that is Cole’s baby origin story.

And I think the music reflects that. The playlists, I mean. They are night and day — complementary opposites. Does that even make sense to you guys as readers and writers? Or is it only in my strange head that that works out?

Anyway, for this week’s tunes off the Linger playlist, I pulled the ones that most embody Sam and Cole, respectively. The lyrics for both of them are really appropriate too (they aren’t always — I often have a song on the playlist just for the sound of it). Here ya go.

(as usual, if you love a track, please go buy it from iTunes, Amazon, your local indie music store that smells like old sweat pants, or wherever you buy music. show the artists some love.)

"A Message" – Coldplay

"Coming Undone" – Korn

Maggie Stiefvater
Hi, I'm Maggie Stiefvater

Professional novelist by day and artist by night. I live an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with my charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, and neurotic dogs. I’m the author of the Books of Faerie (LAMENT and BALLAD); the bestselling SHIVER trilogy (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER), and THE SCORPIO RACES.

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