Music Stirs the Soul of a Novel
As I write this, I’m listening to Antonio Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto for Violin, Strings and Continuo. I have a hard time writing to music with lyrics – the words tend to wind up on my page — so I opt for background music, usually classical.
Music is a terrific way to bring your characters to life. Let’s take a peek at a fictional guy, Ray Salvo. He’s eighty-five, fought in two wars, a widower with four kids, nine grandkids and two great grandkids.
Ray’s at home now, a small craftsman in southern California, dusty, threadbare, mostly because he can’t see well enough to care. He’s alone, as he often is. How can we paint a more vivid picture of Ray? Use music.
He rises stiffly from his old recliner, ambles to the record player, an old Kenwood turntable, and his large assortment of record albums. His kids want to get him a CD player, his grandkids, an iPod. He’ll stick with vinyl. As he sorts through his albums, memories blow in and out of his mind. Is he thinking of his dead wife? Good place for a flashback.
The albums are sorted by date, decade, actually. The 30s and 40s, when Ray was a kid, he was one of the lucky ones to have a radio. The sweet sounds of Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. Maybe Ray’s picturing his old family home in his mind?
The 50s. Elvis and Buddy Holly. The Isley Brothers, twistin’ and shoutin’. Ray picks up a photograph of his wife – ahh, she could dance the lindy.
The 70s brought the Disco craze: Bee Gees, Gloria Gaynor and the Village People. Ray gives a few hip lurches as he hums “Y.M.C.A.” Ouch. He remembers watching Saturday Night Fever with his kids.
He flips some more. Classical albums: Ravel’s “Bolero,” hmmm. “Scheherazade,” by Rimsky-Korsakoff. Mozart, not his favorite, actually. He loves the Russian composers better. But classical is not the choice for today. Too maudlin. Good opportunity for description here. Maybe Ray’s worried about his finances, his son’s cancer?
He smiles when he gets to some newer recordings stacked on a side table — CDs that his grandkids have given him, in hopes he’ll upgrade from his turntable. He reads a jewel case label: “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons. Or is it “Imagine Dragons” by Radioactive? Argh. Now he really feels old
Which record will it be? This is the defining moment for the character. Is he locked in the nostalgic 40s? 50’s? What does he want to listen to? What is he thinking about, what is his mood?
Ray flips back to earlier albums and after a few seconds finds exactly what he’s looking for. Not swing or jazz or blues. His fingers grasp the music he loves best. Classic Rock. The Rolling Stones. Yea. Now, he can get some satisfaction. So can you. You have a better handle on this character, solely through his music.