Once upon a time, one of the agents I followed on social media said something that upset me. This was not because she was dissing something in my writing, but because she was dissing teen-me. Her complaint revolved around the number of teens in submissions who listened to whatever music was popular during the author’s youth. “What kind of teen listens to decades old music?” she asked.
Immediately, my mind went back to my childhood, when people made fun of me for listening to decades old music. I listened to my parents’ music, to their parents’ music, to my older cousin’s music, to the music that came in between. Yes, I listened to some of my generation’s offerings too, but if you’d asked me if I’d rather see a current chart topper or the Eagles, teen-me would have launched into Hotel California. My biggest regret when I was thirteen was being born after the Beatles broke up, and my most prized possession was the LP collection I’d stolen from my dad.
So, while the agent may have had a point in maintaining that the music of your teen MC shouldn’t automatically be the music you grew up listening to, I still feel that she went overboard implying that there was something wrong with teens who listen to music other than what’s current. The first music most of us are exposed to is the music our families play, and many of us are still fond of it come adolescence, without that making us freaks.
My characters all have different musical tastes. Sometimes this makes it into the writing, but sometimes it doesn’t. Most often, there will be a scene like the one in Pride, Prejudice and Curling Rocks were Darcy is listening to her favorite band play a song. I said niether what the band nor the song is, because I didn’t want to add confusion to people who hadn’t heard it, but I most certainly knew which song I meant. (It was Great Expectations by The Gaslight Anthem, a band Darcy knows because her cousin in New York City turned her on to them.) The entire novel was fueled by The Gaslight Anthem, even though they aren’t actually mentioned directly anywhere in the text.
On a similar note, I’d Rather Not Be Dead was powered by Social Distortion. They do get a mention in the text, as does Marilyn Manson and the Sex Pistols, all mentioned with a context to help people who have never heard of them understand what kind of music they are. The music is all old for Drew, but at her core Drew rejects anything popular to the masses around her, so she obviously wouldn’t be listening to anything in the popular charts.
The still unnamed sequel to Of Fur and Ice features a young woman with tastes that would be old for not only me but my parents. She likes black-and-white movies and the music of the Rat Pack. Why? Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s just what Rina likes, even though people have always made fun of her for it.
I have another project I’m working ever-so-slowly on, and writing by hand. It’s set in the future, on a space station, and the MC loves classic music. You know, like Elvis. So does her grandmother, who got the taste from her grandmother. This isn’t to say that Selene doesn’t like The Orbital Orchestra, Tommi Saluki, and the other bands kids are age are into. It’s just that her tastes aren’t two deminsional.
Music is important to a lot of writers, and it’s important a lot of our characters. Just like real people, they all have different tastes and predilictions. Rather than asking what’s wrong with a kid who listens to non-popular music, I personally pity the one who listens only to what’s peer-approved. Yet, that describes Michaela from Of Fur and Ice, and I love her anyway.
I think it’s vital to know what sort of things your characters respond to, in music and in other forms of entertainment. For me, trying to fully bring a character to life without knowing their music of choice is incredibly difficult. Sometimes it’s music that I don’t particularly care for myself, but it still needs to find its way into the writing process.
To close, I’m going to give you a little play list of music from my published and unpublished works.
For Darcy, from Pride, Prejudice, and Curling Rocks:
For Drew and Finn, from I’d Rather Not Be Dead:
For Micheala, from Of Fur and Ice:
For Warren, from Of Fur and Ice:
For Rina, from Untitled Snow Leopard Novel (upcoming):
For Selene, from Untitled Space Girl Novel (upcoming):
For Maggie, from Fairy Story (trunked, for now):