If you are a storyteller, you have probably already read a post or two about how music can help you while writing. Music can be an inspiration or it can help you keeping focused. Everyone knows that.
Likewise, stories have always been present in music. In fact, I have noticed that songs that tell stories are quite popular right now, as you can see by the success reached, for example, by Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” or by Ed Sheeran’s newest hit, “Castle On The Hill”.
But today I want you to think about something different. I want you to think about what your story sounds like. Not about which songs have inspired you to write it or which songs you’d like to see in the soundtrack of the movie created based on it (wouldn’t that be cool, tho?).
Here’s what I want to know: if your story was turned into a song, what would it sound like?
I have been asking myself this question since I watched Niall Horan’s interview for SiriusXm. When asked about his favorite thing about writing a song, the Irish singer explained his writing process. And guess what? It involves storytelling! Here’s a transcription of what Niall said:
The way I write is I write a story. At the back of a book. […] I went to a Lumineers concert and they’ve got a song called “Charlie Boy”, and it’s about– he explained on stage that it was about his uncle that he never got to meet that went to war and never returned. And I just then sparkled an idea in my head: I should write a song about, like, a family thing. So I wrote a song about my grandad. Like, my granny died before I was born and it kinda changed him, like he, you know, became, like, an introvert, like, stayed in the house all the time and just became, like, an old man, basically. And so I kinda wrote about that and from that — that’s where I got the idea, from when I’m going to a Lumineers concert, and I wrote that story at the back of a book, and then three weeks later I was in Nashville, and then… I just… Picked the lines out of the story that I wrote then and tried to make them into a song, and… That’s basically what I did.
The song he mentions, about his grandfather, has not been released to date. This interview took place a few weeks after Niall released his first solo single, “This Town”. Its lyrics do not tell a story either, at least not in the molds of “7 years”, with a clear plotline and all.
But it is interesting to think about Horan’s way of creating songs. By beginning with a story, he captures its emotions rather than (just) its plot, then turns them into a melody and into lyrics. (Watch this short video to see him explaining what “This Town” is about. You’ll understand better how he works with emotion.)
That made me ask: if my current work in progress was turned into a song, what kind of melody would it inspire? And what would the lyrics be about?
I am currently working on a YA dystopian novel about the power of knowledge and about fighting for what is right. I like to think that it would make a great rock song. Not only because rock is my favorite musical genre, but also because every time I think of my story, I think of young “rebels”, of people wanting to know everything and to change society. I think good ol’ rock n’ roll suits that spirit very well. I’m thinking of a sound like Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Nirvana or Guns N’ Roses. Something like that. A song that people would sing at the top of their lungs, practically screaming.
As for the lyrics, I think it would be something like Nickelback’s “Edge of a Revolution”. Something like “we know you are lying to us, government; we know the truth and we are going to fight for it”. I’m not a songwriter (I wish!), but I’d like the lyrics to capture that general message. Maybe I’ll risk writing a few lines later.
The point is, this exercise helped me thinking about what kind of emotion I want people to feel while they are reading my story. The reaction I’d like people to have to my story’s song is the reaction I want people to have while reading my book. I wanted the song to be one that would make people stand up and sing with all their hearts. One that would allow them to free their negative emotions about our society, and at the same time inspire them to take action to change what they think is wrong. I want my book to cause that very same reaction — though obviously at a more psychological level.
What about you? If your current work in progress was turned into a song, what would it sound like? Would it be a rock song? A pop one? Maybe blues? Would it make people dance or more likely would it make them cry? What does that tell you about your story? Share your thoughts in the comments bellow!