Stories based on songs

Ever since a Scribophile writing contest a year or two ago, which asked us to write a story based on the song “The Riddle” by Nik Kershaw, I’ve developed a bit of a crush on the guy and his music.  I’m not sure why, exactly – everything I’d heard by him was early 80’s pop, which isn’t the most remarkable music.  And let’s not even mention his hair.

As I listened to more of his songs – really listened, paying attention not just to the sound but the lyrics and themes – I decided it would be fun to write a story based on each one of them.  Maybe stick them in their own collection someday.

I mentioned it in my writing group, and the other day I received an email about the project:

I was wondering if you would be able to give me some answers re writing stories based on songs.

You said in a thread not too long that you’re currently attempting to write a story for every song Nik Kershaw has ever released. (That’s so cool, btw). That’s something I’ve been intrigued by (with?) for quite some time and I’ve also attempted something similar for NaNo 2010. So, the questions:

  1. What about those songs that don’t tell a story you can use or don’t inspire one? Do you just keep listening to the song until you think of something?
  2. Do you listen to the song while writing the story? 
  3. In your opinion, how much does the song has to affect the story? For example, a story having just the same theme/atmosphere as a song… would that qualify? 

Rather than just email him back, I thought I’d share my answers here.

  1. I planned to listen to each song multiple times, write a story, and then move onto the next song.  I started with his first album, The Riddle.  I listened to “Don Quixote,” and I wrote a story.  Then I moved onto the next song, “Know How.”  I had an idea for a story, and characters, but not enough of a plot.  So I stopped listening to that album.  Then the car adapter for my iPod died and all I had to listen to was the same songs on the radio, or the same songs on his 15 Minutes album.  A couple songs gave me ideas right away, and others after listening several times.  Some I’m still not sure about.
    As this is a project that’ll probably take forever to finish, and there are over 100 songs to listen to, I think it’s better to just write as inspiration hits, since forcing myself to write results in crap.

  2. I have a hard time writing when I don’t have complete silence, which is why I tend to do most of my writing late at night when no one’s awake.  I’ll listen to the song several times before I start writing, as well as look at the lyrics.  And it might take me several times of listening before I get a story idea.
  3. The first story I wrote, “Wise Men Fold,” was based on a song that Kershaw admits makes no sense.  So for that one, I just pulled out a few pieces.  For “Don Quixote,” the second one, I tried to stick with the theme of the song – a guy who considers himself a hero but is actually pathetic.  And I threw in details from the song.  For another I’m currently writing, “Billy,” about a guy who’s been emasculated by his wife, the story is what happens after his drinking buddies convince him he’s whipped.  Another, “God Bless,” pulls out just one line – “Praise be this coffee machine” – to become a satirical prayer to the almighty coffee god. 

    I think with over 100 songs, there’s a lot of room to change things up.  And, of course, the fact that no one I know has ever heard of Nik Kershaw, let alone his songs other than maybe “Wouldn’t It Be Good.”

Have you ever written stories based on songs?  Any tips you’d like to share?

1 Comment

  1. I am often inspired by music when writing. There are many stories I’ve written that were directly related to the theme of the song. Great post! This has given me an idea for a short story collection 🙂

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