Forgive This Emo Moment: The Lumineers and Character Psychology

Fiction writing is a strange process, and fiction writers, strange for it. For me, story writing is largely an analytical process of thinking through cause and effect:

If this happens, then this happens next.

If this character meets with these circumstances, how would this character react? As opposed to that character?

I always have characters A and B together. What would happen if I put A and C together? Or B and C? A and D?

The pacing of this scene is off. Where do I introduce conflict? At what rate did I build it up? Did the scene reach a crisis point? Did the character make a choice? Was their an unexpected twist as a result of that choice?

And so on. But every so often my right brain shuts up, my left brain takes over, and I’ll have an unexpected and almost always dramatic emotional breakthrough that pushes the story forward in ways my right brain never anticipated.

The source of these breakthroughs also always surprises me. Once upon a time, many years and many stories ago, I had a breakthrough while typing on my computer in the middle of McDonald’s Playland. I was seven months pregnant, my oldest was playing with other kids, Hootie and the Blowfish was blaring from the speakers… and my main character decided that this was the exact right moment to tell me her deepest, darkest secret.

Have you ever blubbered like a baby while typing frenetically against the backdrop of squealing kids and “Order 294!” and I only want to be with yooooo-oooo-oooo-uuuuu and that Mickey D’s french fry smell? Well, I have. Just another crazy writer. Don’t mind me.

I’ve had several of these emo moments while working on my current project. One of them came while listening to this song:

I don’t follow popular music. All I know about Stubborn Love was that it hit the top of the charts some years back. My husband and I had listened to the album a few times and liked it, but I hadn’t thought much about it until after I began working on my current project, in which I have a 23 year old male character who is in love, and has been in love for many years, with his childhood friend.

Stubborn Love was the song that gave me an emotional insight into the dynamics of that kind of love.

How? Not entirely sure. Perhaps because Stubborn Love has a male protagonist. Perhaps because the lyrics speak to childhood affection and unrequited love. Perhaps because the beloved in the song is a girl on the run. Perhaps because the lover is faithful to her, regardless of the pain she causes him. Perhaps because the lover is, in fact, stubborn.

All these dynamics are at play in my story. But only when I happened to hear the song again, about four chapters into the story process, did I have the cathartic moment that allowed me to understand my character.

Of all things to help me understand the emotional workings of an eighteenth century man… contemporary folk pop rock.

As I said before, don’t mind me. Just another crazy writer.

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