Having just written a book where the most important character is an artist’s muse, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about muses—how they work, what they do, and when it’s time to set them aside.
I am, I admit, a writer driven by muses. I’m a bit obsessive (my friends would say more than a bit). I often (read that: almost always) use pictures of actors/singers, etc. for the characters in my novel. Some of those actors have served double and triple duty. I’ve given my characters qualities based on the way these people move and speak, their little habitual gestures, the things I tell myself I see in their eyes. Most of the time, this works pretty well. I imagine these people striding through my story in all their 3-dimensional, cinematic glory. I believe they make my writing richer and more complex, and besides, if I’m using an actor’s picture, I’m probably not going to make the mistake of forgetting the eye color I’ve given a character halfway through the manuscript.
I’ve also made muses of songs, of movies, of illustrations or photographs. These things are important to writer—they illustrate the landscape in your head, the colors you want to give it, the emotions you wish to convey.
But they are a tool, like any other tool, and there comes a time when your muses begin to hamper the way you see something.
I used to listen to music a great deal while I was writing, until one day I realized that the emotional drama in the story was being driven by whatever song I was listening to. A scene would be sad if the song was sad, regardless of whether it SHOULD be sad. When I realized what was going on, I reluctantly gave up the music muse. Now, I only listen to music when I’m not working, and I let the emotions of the music drive my ideas and my subconscious brain. I let them inspire me rather than dictate to me.
It works the same way with actors. They tend to suggest a certain persona to me, and if I use that actor more than once for different characters, those characters are almost always reflections of a basic personality. There comes a time when that too dictates a character rather than creating someone organic to the story. When I find myself trying to shoehorn an actor into a character simply because I don’t want to stop looking at his picture, it’s time to take it down.
Photographs always evoke tones and emotions. But sometimes a story doesn’t need or want a melancholy tone, or a happy one, or a sad one. At some point, muses get in the way. To use them to inspire is one thing, to let them dictate your work is something entirely different. Muses have their place—they can be great tools. But in the end they are only tools—to be used, sharpened, cleaned … or put away.
Megan Chance is the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of several novels. The Best Reviews has said she writes “Fascinating historical fiction.” Her books have been chosen for the Borders Original Voices program and IndiBound’s Booksense. A former television news photographer with a BA from Western Washington University, Megan Chance lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters. Find her at: http://www.MeganChance.com.