Fix 14: Pitch-Perfect

Yeah for putting off good things like sleep to write, and good things like writing to sleep. In any case, let’s talk about a common Mary-Sue trait: the perfect singing voice, the extreme proficiency in a musical instrument, being able to play a violin, a piano, and a guitar. This isn’t as common a trait as it used to be when I first started out, but it’s not uncommon even still.

 

Here’s what I’ll admit, I have about three ‘generations’ of characters, and in every one I have characters who can sing/dance really well. Why? Because one of the main functions I use my characters for it to mentally create music videos, or routines for my characters. Why? Because I can’t do anything else by talk or listen to music during long automobiles trips because I’m very sensitive to motion sickness. I enjoy coming up with a reason for my characters to interact with others and then burst into song (I also really like musicals). It’s come to the point that I pick out characters who ‘sing similarly’ to certain groups or genres. I have one girl who covers all Lady Gaga songs and Lea Michelle’s songs from Glee.

 

You know that entire last paragraph you just read? Well, for everything I wrote 1) not even would close friends be able to connect exactly which characters to what genre, not even the girl I specifically mentioned, 2) I never write any of this down where anyone can read. These are inner fantasies that I exercise for my own enjoyment, and that I love. Even still, I tend to follow a few rules that are important for characters who are singers: 1) when listening to a specific song I imagine a character or group of characters doing a cover of said song. 2) I imagine the characters doing their own version. 3) if the characters in their story actually make music they’re known for things besides their covers.

 

Those last three that I just listed… not important for what I’m imagining, but pretty damn important for a character who functions as a musician. Truthfully, it’s not bad for characters to have varying levels of proficiency in singing/instruments.  I have a character who specifically does not sing well, but she’s relatively proficient (as in can read sheet music and figure out how to play it with some work, and remembers about three simple songs) for Piano and Violin. In her case there was a certain amount of parental pressure involved, and she’s an heiress. Her singing voice though… really not something any sane person would want to hear.

 

I have one character who falls into the pop star range, but she’s 1)demon 2)very beautiful 3)has no other real abilities aside from being pretty and singing well, and this is after coming from a race that is normally naturally very good at magic. Really, she needed to have something, and I play her almost never except in my own mind or as a minor plot device to answer phones or play tour guide.

 

I have one character who is very talented in the music area. He writes music, sings, and plays five instruments with a good level of skill (Guitar, Bass, Drums, Violin, Piano). He’s also completely focused on making music in that outside of his daughter his whole world is music, and even she can be neglected when he’s suddenly struck by a tune and starts writing music. He’s brilliant, but outside of a few connections (a sister, a daughter, and two best friends) and a pleasant public manner he’s unable to connect to be unless it’s through music.  For the record his two friends also sing and can play three instruments because their leader singer/music writer needs them to do different things at different times, but they all also have a main instrument they prefer.

 

These characters aren’t unrealistic. I know I guy who in high school have a very high proficiency is about seven instruments, plus singing and low to mid-range proficiency in a number of others. Why? Because he liked knowing so many instruments, wanted to go into music, had a natural talent, and practiced all the time.  The band I mentioned above has two characters in my top ten list (including my number one favorite, who’s the bassist, not the lead singer). I’ve also put a lot of work into their pasts, personality, and abilities. Trust me, they practice a lot to be good.

 

What about the girl I mentioned earlier? The one who covers Lady Gaga and Lea Michelle? Well, one of her main functions is that she’s a borderline con-artist/borderline entertainer. I won’t go into her who back story, because it’s very long, but she and her little group travel around pretending to be different people they’re not to survive and earn some money for resources. One of the ways they do this is to provide shows for people. Actually one of the ways they do this is to since Lady Gaga songs in other fantasy dimensions to people who’ve never heard of Lady Gaga before… Shut up, this is the stuff that doesn’t leave my head!

 

Truthfully the characters singing cover songs never becomes a thing in her normal story because I don’t talk about it. What does become a part of her character is that attitude of showmanship (which aids her cons and lying), and how she reaches a feeling of redemption with her dead father (who was an actor) through her show work that allows her and her friends to scrape by (not so much in the starving artist manner, more in the general poverty of peasants kind of way).

 

So, what’s the difference between what I’m talking about and what a Mary-Sue has? Okay, so here are the questions you need to answer regarding your characters musical abilities:

1)      Is their music an integral part of their character?

2)      Does your character sing like/because *insert favorite singer here*?

3)      Does your character’s musical abilities only show up in relation to a (suddenly) important talent show/cultural fair/play, especially when such a thing has never been mentioned to happen before in cannon, or if it does is normally glossed over or irregular?

4)      Is your character’s musical abilities simply to impress and or make an impact on a love interest/hate interest?

 

Let’s break these down one at a time.

 

1)      Truthfully, musical ability doesn’t have to be an integral part of a character for them to be good at it. Honestly, I haven’t even defined musical ability very well. Personally I can sing okay in a Tenor range (yes I am female, and I also sing Soprano, though I think it sounds reedy, and somehow my Alto range is even more awkward). My dad had a very wonderful voice, and my mom also has a good voice. I have an acceptable voice, and if I had training or cared I could probably coax a pretty good sound out of it. I also used to play the viola when I was younger. Truthfully I’m just not interested in making music, but I have a ridiculous talent of picking out what’s good and bad in music, being about to identify composers/groups/singers with ease (which is something I’ve been doing since I was a toddler, when I connected the composer of a favorite childhood movie to the composer for Victor Victoria after just walking through the room). Truthfully my talent lies in being a music critic, like how my talent for theatre lies in being a theatre critic. I know what’s good and I know what works and I know what I like and I know how to express it.

 

I said all that, but I honestly don’t have an interest in going into music. I enjoy listening and giving my opinion to people, but I don’t want to be a professional. The heiress character from before can play the piano and violin, but the only time it ever comes up naturally is when she plays accompaniment for her siblings. Even still the only time it would come up in a story would be as a way to get a character who doesn’t like her in a room to talk to her, but even that isn’t likely when I have so many other great excuses.

 

Characters can have interests/talents in music without it being what they want to do. There are people with amazing musical genius who never make anything of it, sometimes for no reason except they just don’t care. It may or may not affect their character, or it may just be something the author knows that never gets mentioned in story. The point is that a character probably has some relation to music even if they are brilliant or terrible, you just have to consider whether or not it helps the plot or characterization to include it in the story.

 

2)      Again, this doesn’t have to be bad. Most people have a hero, or an inspiration. My favorite writer is Aaron Sorkin, and his writing ability is my goal.  I write because I realized I could make money making up stories all day when all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a little girl was create adventures and stories. For some people they see/read/hear something that touches their life and that person/place/thing is forever their inspiration. Sometimes it’s a singer who inspires them to be a musician. A lot of musicians are inspired by older singer. A lot of artists are inspired by old artists. A lot of film makers and inspired by old film makers. A lot of writers are inspired by old writers. It’s how life goes. It’s normal.

 

What’s painful is that you write your character to be able to sing like Lady Gaga because you want to include her songs in your fanfic, or just because you like her. It doesn’t really feel natural, especially if your character is also the love interest of Harry Potter (especially because the time lines don’t match at all).  Maybe it can work, but probably not.

 

Here’s what will work: the band I mentioned before originally was heavily influenced by Nickleback, at least their songs were. The lead singer’s daughter is actually from a story I derived for him to make his story fit “Photograph”. The fact that one of the few meaningful relationships the character has is his child and that he hasn’t had a relationship since the girl’s mother left them both came from a song that I came to realize is actually only okay. Don’t get me wrong, I like the group, and I kind of admire any rock group that can be so popular in spite of how much critic hate they get. The group I mentioned now probably is more similar in sound/feel to groups like Stone Sour or Foo Fighters, not my favorite groups, but ones that fit with the idea of their music a lot better.

 

I have another group that I mentally formed just to have something to think about when I listened to one of my new favorite groups: Five Finger Death Punch. Again, this is only mental; but even in my head I feel less like it’s the group creating those songs, and more like it’s the group covering those songs, and I don’t think their sound matches up right, it’s more like the passion is similar.  I used preformed characters for this little experiment, and honestly it was interesting to see how it affected the dynamic of their little group of friends. Even though it’ll never make it into their real plot it’ll affect the characters. One of the main problems with basing a character on a pre-existing group/singer is that it’s more that the character is showing off how cool they are, and the music their sing is never used to help their character grow.

 

3)      This one, I’m not going to lie, is the hardest to overcome. Really, the problem is the suddenness of it, especially if it’s in a fanfic. It’s like Hogwarts suddenly putting on a school wide play, or Yusuke suddenly having to do a cultural fair so he can see your OC singing, fall in love with her and dump Keiko. You see how this progresses? If the event only shows up to have your character show off, and if it’s not let up to or doesn’t fit the normal series it’s from then it’s really hard to see your character’s amazing musical abilities as anything but trite and annoying.

 

You can include a school festival/play, even in a series that doesn’t normally have one (especially if it’s set in Japan), but you need to set it up first, and why we haven’t seen it before in series? Is it cause no one cares? Or because the main cast has the luck of Harry missing the sorting his first three years? You just need to really think it out if you’re going to do this, and I urge you not to do it just to have your character impress another.

 

4)      But what is your character does go into music just to impress someone else? Two words: Skip Beat! This is a series about a girl who follows her ex-love interest into show business so that she can get so good that she over shadows her ex to take revenge. She starts to learn acting because of the guy she hates but soon comes to love it by her own power. Okay, it’s not about music, but it fits the mold. It’s a common shojo idea of manga, but it works and can work beautifully. The girl followed her lover interest into music, then what? Does she learn to love it on her own? Does he ever come to have feelings for her back? How does he react when he finds out what she started?  It can work, but again, think it out!

 

Okay, now that I’ve over used and abused the number and parenthesis combination as well as the list making part of my brain I must sleep. All I can say now is that your character can be wonderfully musical and very attractive and popular, but you have to realize that they give up things in return.   A character can’t be perfect and as such they desperately need flaws. If you use some common Mary-Sue traits then you should use only a few and otherwise use them sparingly.

 

Goodnight all!

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