Writing Honest Reactions (and Ed Sheeran, because he released two singles this week!)

Ed Sheeran released two new singles this past week, which salvaged my dismal spirits for the expected path of 2017. The first day of their release, I listened to each song over thirty times. Since then, I’ve listened to them at least a handful of times.

This might sound a little obsessive. You’d be right. (But I promise, there’s reason behind the madness.)

“Shape of You” and “Castle On The Hill” are strong selections for singles in my fan-based opinion because they each resonate with and represent the different styles Ed Sheeran seems to favor in his own creations. His musical influences vary in style and genre, so it makes sense that his sound would carry particular elements that ordinarily don’t appear together to create a unique composite. I’ve enjoyed his previous albums, + and x, for this very reason. You can listen through the tracks and experience a diversity of tone, harmonized of course by the expressions of the artist that create a unifying thread through the entire discography.

There is a secondary enjoyment though that can be derived from tracking and analyzing the changes artists demonstrate through subsequent projects. My anticipation for the release of ÷ is all the more potent because I want to see how it compares with his previous albums. I’m itching to hear the tenor of this new album, the new stories Ed Sheeran will reveal. (He just released the album track list! The teasers are killing me!)

This opportunity creates an interesting writer exercise. I would venture to say most narratives lean on character growth to add dynamic energy to a story, even in episodic narratives. Change is inevitable, a product of experiencing linear time. It’s part of human nature to interpret and react to the present using the experiences of the past as a baseline. If that doesn’t happen in a story, if a character essentially doesn’t learn or remember, something rings a little off (excepting of course, any sort of amnesia story).

I’ve found this exercise best done with first person point-of-view stories because its a more direct link to the personal monologue or speaking voice of a character, but just like 4th grade language arts class, the basic questions can be applied to any character.

Who is the character when we first meet them?

How does the character react to events/conflicts?

How does the character feel about those reactions?

How does the character change? Do they adjust their behavior based on the conflict or self-analysis? Do they rationalize, explain, apologize, reject, ignore any part of the conflict or their reaction?

These questions sound incredibly boring when typed out (or read for that matter-sorry).

To add a bit of spice, I try to imagine the character as someone I actually know personally and intimately. i.e. Ed Sheeran’s music persona. When I listen to his songs and the stories they contain, I imagine this person existing in my own life. I wonder, how would this person and I talk about the moment they’re experiencing. What would it be like if we shared the same moment. How would our experiences differ and mirror each other?

The sense of a personal connection gives the mental exercise a labyrinthine and almost romantic overtone. I’m sure it falls into some category of wish-fulfillment, but more importantly, it forces me to consider both the logical and the emotional facets of a reaction, which strengthens my own skills at rendering these reactions on the page. This skill is one more way I can make my own writing resonate with my readers and elevate the story from an isolated book to a shared experience.

And now of course, the singles, presented in their super fun lyric video formats!


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