Day 5: The Story Inside a Song

Day five, man alive! 

Today is a musical day so get out your gramophone or fire up Spotify and let’s get some tunes up in here. 

Gif from Wayne's World showing Wayne, Garth and friends rockin out to Bohemian Rhapsody in the car.

Don’t you just love a song that tells a story? It’s as if you’ve been invited into a tiny imaginary melodical world for a while. And the very best of them manage to conjure up character and setting and emotion in the space of three-ish minutes—just like a perfect little short story.

You’re probably already familiar with some famous ones, like: 

  • Fast Car by Tracy Chapman
  • Space Oddity by David Bowie
  • Son of a Preacher Man by Aretha Franklin
  • I Hung My Head by Johnny Cash
  • Or Hold Up by Beyonce

Each of these songs show us a character who wants something, loses something, goes somewhere, does something, feeeeeels something.

And I’m sure there are a whoooole lot more in your own music collection, so take a minute to do a little digging or googling and find a handful of story songs you love.

Or if you wanna get festive about it, most Christmas songs have some sort of story.

Last Christmas I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away...” oh honey.

A Spaceman Came Travelling? Ok, sure, why not bring aliens into it?

All I Want for Christmas is You? ANTHEM.

Driving Home for Christmas? Hope you get there in time, Chris.

And no one can ever quite decide whether Baby, It’s Cold Outside is a subversive work of feminist genius or predatory and creepy af.

(Fair warning: this exercise has the potential to derail your entire day going down a glorious musical rabbit hole – sorry/notsorry). 

Do some listening. Maybe a lil’ dancing/singing. Then pick your favourite, give it a couple of playthroughs, perhaps look up the lyrics, watch the music video if there is one, and immerse yourself in the atmosphere and feeling of your chosen story song for a while.

Write down some notes if you find it useful, eg:

  • Who’s it about?
  • What happens to them or what do they do?
  • How do they feel ? (And/or how does the song make you feel?)
  • Where does the story begin and end?
  • Is the story resolved or is it open ended?

Then set your timer for 20 minutes and write your own version of the story. It doesn’t have to follow the original at all. It could be a brand new interpretation with new characters, or you could take the central character and lead them off into a totally different situation. Or perhaps you’re inspired to write what happened before the song, or the aftermath, or the spaces between the lines.

The song is just the springboard. What you end up writing is up to your own brilliant brain. 

Gif of a man dressed in church choir robes popping up and stretching out his arms as he sings. Animated musical notes come out of his mouth and animated stars appear behind him.

Drawing a blank on a story song? Google “songs that tell a story” or try one of the following songs I dug out of my Spotify archives:

  • Passenger by Lisa Hannigan (a meaningful journey with a special passenger) 
  • Don’t Look Down by The Divine Comedy (a day at the fairground turns unexpectedly spiritual)
  • Fatima by K’NAAN (a song about a lost love from the singer’s childhood)
  • Another New World by Josh Ritter (an explorative expedition to the Arctic goes horribly wrong) 
  • Children’s Story by Slick Rick (two kids get wrapped up in a life of crime)
  • Alibi by Dessa (a song about offering help to a friend in trouble)
  • Eyes on You by Sara Bareilles (a collection of small town characters and their lives)
  • Kick, Push by Lupe Fiasco (a story about a boy, his skateboard, and the passing of time)
  • No Body, No Crime by Taylor Swift and HAIM (a murder mystery…)
  • Chemo Limo by Regina Spektor (a woman dreams about her cancer diagnosis) 
  • And the entire album Undun by The Roots which tells the life story of semi-fictional Redford Stephens

Get to it. And then wander around singing your chosen song for the rest of the day… (sorry/not sorry)

Oh, and don’t forget to come and tell us all about your story song / song story in the advent forum

BONUS! Because it’s day 5 and you have been writing your socks (stockings) off all week and in the writing of this particular exercise I came across this utterly delightful and ridiculous meme format and it made me snort so I am hereby sharing with you in case you have a mighty need to procrastinate a little longer and make your own playlist that tells a stupid story:

image of a spotify playlist named POV: you're a cicada. The list of song titles make the following story: Just woke up. Woah. It's been 17 years. I'm gonna scream. All day. Fuck a lot. Then. I'm gonna die. Goodbye.

Useful Stuff & Things:

But seriously, storycraft is a magical thing, and you can learn so much from all kinds of art: from songs to novels to films to plays. The trick is all in the telling… Read this to find out more: Storycraft #1: Telling a Story

And if you’ve got the story bug and wanna learn how to develop your ideas into a piece of short fiction, step by step, check out our Short Fiction Mini Masterclass!

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