Discovering Character through Music: What’s Playing on Your Protagonist’s iPod?


The Revenge Artist contains many references to songs. There is a kind of soundtrack to the novel that follows the main character’s moods at times, which is literally the music playing in Evelyn’s ears when she slips in her ear buds at school. When I started writing the novel, I relied on specific music to help me better see the world from Evelyn’s perspective.

Sometimes we turn to music as a way of shifting our moods, maybe to calm us or as a motivational tool, to help lift us up. But just as often—maybe more often—we seek out music that is in tune with our emotions. We identify with songs and artists that seem to express exactly what we are feeling, only more intensely, more precisely, as if they understood completely what we are going through, as if they could speak for us.

So I asked myself, who is Evelyn into right now? Which artists sooth, inspire, or provide the emotional empathy she needs? Who does she turn to when she’s happy, when she’s hurting, or when she’s angry or confused?

One of the bands I found myself listening to was Le Butcherettes, led by Theresa "Teri Gender Bender" Suarez. She had recently played at the Coachella Fest and was getting attention for her girl-power, punk-rock sound and her theatrically intense and bloody stage act. I read an interview in which she described herself as a meek, soft-spoken little girl who completely transformed into her aggressive alter ego on stage. Then I saw a picture of this beautiful young woman dressed in a floral print, nineteen-fifties’ house dress, covered in blood, and wielding an electric guitar like a chainsaw…and I just knew Evelyn would be into her.

She would also be listening to a diversity of bands like San Antonio based fem-trio Girl in a Coma, the ska-infused rock-n-roll craziness of The Howlies, and the pulsing electro consonance of Mstkrft; as well as reggae classics like Peter Tosh, and thrumming post-hardcore like Fugazi.

The following ten songs sample the emotional arc of Evelyn’s character in The Revenge Artist:

  1. “Smart” by Girl in a Coma on Exits & All the Rest.
  2. “Dirty Woman” by The Howlies on Trippin’ with Howlies.
  3. “You! Me! Dancing!” by Los Campesinos on Hold on Now, Youngster.
  4. “Street Justice” by Mstrkrft on The Looks.
  5. “I'm The Man, That Will Find You” by Connan Mockasin on Caramel.
  6. “All You See in Me Is Death” by Le Butcherettes on Sin Sin Sin.
  7. “Animal (Mark Ronson Remix)” by Miike Snow on Animal (Remixes).
  8. “Epic Problem” by Fugazi on The Argument. Dischord, 2001.
  9. “Breaking the Girl” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers on Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
  10. “Tears for Animals” by CocoRosie, featuring Antony Hegarty, on Tales of a GrassWidow.

Besides having an eclectic taste in music, Evelyn is also a voracious reader. She will occasionally let slip a line from an Emily Dickenson poem or a Shakespeare play, not really caring if anyone gets them or not. In the classroom, she and her classmates are acting out The Crucible by Arthur Miller. And movie references appear in conversations as characters riff lines from popular films or have philosophical debates on superheroes and the balance of good and evil in the universe.

--Philip Hoy

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