Your pulse in the pages: music to inspire your writing

Bastille

Do you find it helpful to listen to music whilst writing? I know some people do I tend not to as it doesn’t always help me concentrate, unless I’m doing something particularly monotonous that only requires half my brain. Particularly if the song has lyrics, I find myself listening to them rather than focussing all my mental energy on trying to squeeze something creative from my reluctant brain.

However I’ve recently come across a track with very interesting lyrics. It’s called Poet, from CD2 of Bastille’s double album All This Bad Blood. (I’ve got into Bastille big time recently and am in grave danger of wearing out the CD.) The song is about a slightly obsessive writer and the object of his affections. Take a look at the excerpt below:

I have written you down Now you will live forever And all the world will read you And you will live forever In eyes not yet created On tongues that are not born I have written you down Now you will live forever … Your body lies upon the sheet, Of paper and words so sweet. I can’t say the words, so I wrote you into my verse. Now you’ll live through the ages, I can feel your pulse in the pages.

OK, on one level it’s a bit creepy (the first lines of the song, not reproduced above, are: Obsession it takes control / Obsession it eats me whole … I prefer to believe this is a sweet shy guy. It would spoil the poetic ambience somewhat if he turned out to be a serial killer.

But as a hymn to the power of the written word, it’s pretty good: In eyes not yet created / On tongues that are not born / I have written you down /  Now you will live forever …  a reflection on the fact that good fiction can confer of kind of immortality upon its subjects.

And, even better: Now you’ll live through the ages / I can feel your pulse in the pages … as a writer I want my characters to live and breathe, to be real. To ‘jump off the page’ as the saying goes. Can you feel their pulse in the pages? If you can write a character like that, you‘ve created something truly special.

Are men idiots?

A rhetorical question, you might say! Today I came across this article in a UK newspaper, and it got me thinking. (I usually blog about books or writing, but there is a connection – bear with me.)

The article contends that in modern, Western popular culture – in this case, television specifically – it has become commonplace for men to be portrayed in less than flattering ways. Certainly this can be seen in some advertising, where the male of the species are often seen to be shallow, simple and/or sex-obsessed, and frequently outwitted with ease by sassy, self-confident women.

Perhaps it’s the case that, quite rightly shy of overt sexism or racism, and possibly over-compensating for the overt gender stereotyping of the past (see below), mainstream advertisers have started to regard men as the easiest target.

Roles

For myself, as a man, I can see the article’s point, and I do think that some advertising is guilty of this. TV programmes, probably less so. (I don’t, for example, especially agree with his view about Outnumbered – yes, the dad in that show can be a bit wet, but so can the mum.) But equally I’m well aware that I live in a society where men still have it pretty good. Most top politicians, business executives and high earners still tend to be male – that’s changing, but slower than it ought to be. And it’s important to be able to laugh at ourselves – and let’s face it, most stereotypes have at least some basis in reality …

Anyway – how does this link to writing? Just the thought that it’s important to avoid lazy stereotypes when creating characters – because it’s very easy to do. Specifically, as we strive to draw strong, compelling and authentic female characters in our stories, we should beware of the temptation to short-change the males. Especially the older ones. This may be especially a risk in teen / YA fiction, in which the younger characters are centre-stage and the older ones tend to be in the background and therefore in danger of being merely one-dimensional and under-developed – and if they’re also men, the risk may be higher.

One adult male character, Rob Black, appears in both my novels Falling Girl and BASIC Boy (though in the latter he’s a teenager half the time too). He’s middle-aged and male – the kind of character who, in YA fiction, might not come across in a very positive way. I’ve tried to avoid that, and I hope I’ve succeeded. He’s certainly flawed, and many of this shortcomings are brought into sharp focus as the stories unfold, but so is a deep courage and determination. In the end it’s the kids who really save the day of course, but he helps and he’s clearly there to support them. He’s certainly not an idiot – not entirely anyway. Or at least I hope not.