Tag Archives: bird by bird

By the Pale Moonlight–another look at characters

Hey, so last week I shared some thoughts about character perspectives in books vs. movies, and a funny story from Anne Lamott’s book, ‘Bird by Bird’.

A song I wrote recently (‘By the Pale Moonlight’) has an interesting character perspective switch half-way through that I wanted to share with you. I based the song on the well-known French song “Au Claire de la Lune”.

“Au Clair de la Lune” is a common French folk song that dates back to at least the mid-18th Century. In 2008, the earliest known recording of the human voice was digitized, and the unknown singer on the recording is singing a small snippet of “Au Clair de la Lune”.

In this song, the story begins from the perspective of a lonely poet/author, who is knocking on his friend’s door so he can borrow a pen and light his candle in the middle of the night.

Back in those days, if you wanted to stay up all night with creative ideas or wake up at 3 in the morning and write something down, you’d better hope you have ink for your pen and some coals left in the fireplace to light your candle with!

A couple verses in, the perspective changes.

Is it from his friend’s perspective as he watches from his window, or just an omnipotent perspective?

Here’s how my english version of the song goes:

At your door I’m knocking

By the pale moonlight

Lend a pen I beg you

I’ve a word to writecandle

Dark now is my candle

My fire burns no more

For the love of heaven

Open up your door


My friend cries in answer

By the pale moonlight

“In my bed I’m lying

Late and chill’s the night

Yonder at the neighbor’s

Someone is astir

Fire’s freshly kindled

Oh get a light from her.”


To the neighbor’s house then

By the pale moonlight

Goes our lonely author

To beg a pen to write

“Who knocks there so softly?”

Calls a voice above

“Open wide your door now

It is the God of Love.”


Seek they pen and candle

By the pale moonlight

They can see so little

Dark is now the night

What they find in seeking

That is not revealed

All behind her door 

Is carefully concealed


And in my version of this song, I finish up by singing the first line in French (what they are saying in French is a bit different from the English version):

Au clair de la lune
Mon ami Pierrot
Prete-moi ta plume
Pour écrire un mot

Ma chandelle est morte
Je n’ai plus de feu
Ouvre-moi ta porte
Pour l’amour de Dieu


If you want to hear me play the full song, just click here! (the song starts at around 4:40 in the video)

I hope you enjoyed reading this post. 🙂

Please comment below to share your thoughts about writing, characters, or song-writing (or anything else this topic made you think of!)…

A perspective on characters

claude_monet_PortraitThe writing project I’m in the middle of right now has caused me to examine characters and their perspectives in a deep, inquisitive and sometimes confounded way.

(I can’t tell you what the project is exactly, because I’m ghostwriting and that’s just the way it is when you ghostwrite)

When you watch a movie, unless someone is narrating during the scenes, than you need to base what the character is thinking by their actions.

But when you read a book, the author has the ability to paint inter-weaving stories and perspectives for you. In one scene you can see the world from the perspective of the main character, while in the next scene you’re seeing everything from their arch-nemesis’s perspective. And who knows, maybe the following scene will be from the perspective of the detective’s hairbrush lying on the bathroom counter. Or an omnipotent perspective that sees and knows all.

Having options is great, but they can sometimes be overwhelming as well.

Learning more about who my characters are, without judgement or a need to change them, is a good place to start.

So I opened up Anne Lamott’s book on writing called ‘Bird by Bird’, and found a section where she talks about characters. The story she shares at the end of the section made me laugh out loud, as well as left me feeling better informed and inspired.

Here’s the lead up to the story:

“You are going to love some of your characters, because they are you or some facet of you, and you are going to hate some of your characters for the same reason.

But no matter what, you are probably going to have to let bad things happen to some of the characters you love or you won’t have much of a story.

Bad things happen to good characters, because our actions have consequences, and we do not all behave perfectly all the time. As soon as you start protecting your characters, from the ramifications of their less-than-lofty behavior, your story will start to feel flat and pointless, just like in real life.

Get to know your characters as well as you can, let there be something at stake, and then let the chips fall where they may.”

Here’s the story:

“My Al-Anon friend told me about the frazzled, defeated wife of an alcoholic man who kept passing out on the front lawn in the middle of the night. The wife kept dragging him in before dawn so that the neighbors wouldn’t see him, until finally an old black woman from the South came up to her one day after a meeting and said, “Honey? Leave him lay where Jesus flang him.”

And I am slowly, slowly in my work–and even more slowly in real life–learning to do this.”

–Anne Lamott (author of Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies)

I’d love to hear your perspective on characters and your experience with bringing them to life–gam-of-thrones-finale

(or killing them off, if you’re more of a George R.R. Martin kind of author) 🙂

–Just fill out a comment below…