If your character were in a movie and there was one of those "doing work" montages, what work would your character be doing?
More importantly, what music would the montage be set to?
These are key questions for me in playing a character and developing them, both in games and writing.
For example, Cole Mercer, one of the main characters in my recently released novel Fall Guys, is indelibly linked in my mind with the OneRepublic song, "Good Life" (click here for the link to Amazon to listen to a sample), particularly the part that goes: "Sometimes there's airplanes I can't jump out / Sometimes there's bullshit that don't work now / We all got our stories but please tell me-e-e-e / What there is to complain about." I don't know what the boys at OneRepublic were thinking about when they wrote it, but to me it's perfect for Cole, the daredevil teenager who tries the hardest things possible, doesn't always succeed, but is totally laid back about it. So there's Cole, jumping out of an airplane with a snowboard strapped to his feet and a parachute on his back, but it's not some high powered techno music that would suit him, because he's just not that kind of guy.
Then, on the other hand, you have Carl Grueber, a more minor character. He has a sort of emo, I-hate-everything vibe going, mixed with some badass martial arts and hardcore motorcycle driving skills. And yet for some reason it's Britney Spears's "Till the World Ends" that runs through my head when I think about him. I see an underground fight scene in slow motion, with that heavy, sweaty Britney beat and it just fits him perfectly.
Sometimes I reinterpret some of the lyrics, but it's more than just lyrics or the sentiment - it's that ineffable feeling you get when you listen to a song for the first time and you think, "Oh my god, Selena Gomez is singing about my character."
It does also help to get away from pop music and have a good, wide variety of musical sampling. For a couple years, I played an armiger in an Iron Heroes game. Rory practically lived in his spiked plate mail, could withstand onslaughts from dragons, yetis, and ice monsters, but at the same time he still had his country boy charm. I was thinking about him this morning when I was contemplating this post, and for some reason "Gaston" from Beauty and the Beast was what popped into my head ("No one's neck's as incredibly thick as Gaston's / For there's no man in town half as manly"). Don't know why. But now, it's the only thing I can think of for him.
I don't think I can ever play him again, now.