Monday, October 11, 2010

Basing Prose on Songs, My Observations

As you know, I've been writing short stories based on songs and since I've already written a few posts on character development and their creative history, I decided to write a post on basing prose on music and lyrics. I've only written three pieces [well four, if I include the one, which became a blueprint for a brand new world] in between longer projects, which is far from qualifying me as an expert, but I've made some interesting observations. I'd like to share them and see, if you agree with me.

It's obvious, but the actual music [instruments, sound, composition] sets the mood and hints towards the genre and possibly the type of story that will be told. A lot of my writer friends use soundtracks [without lyrics] to help with their stories. Sad strings for intense emotions such as heartbreak, death, abandonment. Horns and big orchestra pieces for epic scenes and electric guitars for hard-core, gritty action.

Music is potent when it comes to the fine tuning of the heart and then conveying emotions on paper. It acts like a lens, a natural amplifier. What a writer should do is trust the music to find the right direction for how to adapt a song into a story. The lyrics are guidelines and not law. Ultimately, the sound should decide whether you'll write a joyful tale or one filled with sorrow. Words lie, sounds never do. For instance, I tried to fit 'Hurricane Drunk' [my crazy Dororthy/Baba Yaga mash-up] into a story about betrayal and a love triangle during a ball. On its own, this is not a bad idea [for the record, it was a supernatural ball], but in the context of the composition it didn't work. Why? Because the song is rather primal in its self-expression, while the ball is rather restraint.

Another observation that I've made is that a writer should choose a song that tells a story. It may seem easy, but it's actually very rare these days [unless you listen to country music or gothic], because current mainstream music worships choruses played on a constant loop for about 70% of the actual single. What is even worse is that the chorus itself is the repetition of one word or a short phrase. In this regard, I'm lucky, because I've chosen 'Florence + the Machine', whose album can be viewed as an anthology. For instance, 'Drumming' is about love so passionate that whatever the lyrical heroine tries is futile and she does try. 'Howl' is about love transforms its recipient into a primal monster. Definitely story material.

Music in My Soul by Qinni [I needed something fantasy related]

One final observation. Lyrics are not the plot. Following a song verse by verse a story does not make. It's limiting. What may work for the purposes of the song will most likely be of no use when dealing with prose. I think that art is born, when you take something that works best for your needs and then modify it to suit your taste and satisfy your desire. Anything great is born, because people wanted something that they like, but that hasn't been done yet. At least such is my logic about making art your own. Otherwise, we'd all be stagnant.

Anyway, the things I experienced from basing short stories on songs is that the obvious isn't always the best route to get the job done. It's not easy as you might and there are subtleties once you get your hands dirty as they say.

So tell me, have you based your work on short stories? If yes, what has your experience been? Do you agree or disagree? If no, are you willing to try?


Charles Gramlich said...

I used to write battle scenes while listening to heavy metal, and on occassion a snatch of musical lyric will give me an idea. I didn't realize until years later that "cold in the Light" as a title may have come originally by a song from the band WASP. I've never based a piece of writing specifically on a song, though. My story The lady wore black jumped off from a song by that title by Queensryche but then went in a completely different direction.

Harry Markov said...

I do battle scenes with hard rock as it is very energizing for me and I can listen longer to it.

Even though you haven't consciously done that, it's still interesting to see how music affects creativity in all degrees.