Usually, I take a music video and dissect the lyrics to look for writing insights, which is interesting and fun.
Click with your mousity mouse to see what I did to the music video and lyrics for ELECTRIC AVENUE, because it is not only fun, but educational.
Then go see what I did with Vanilla Ice and ICE, ICE BABY.
OK. Now we get all serious. Because I am using the lyrics to a country song, and I’m not making fun of it, despite my severe twang allergy.
Good music — and good writing — have the same patterns. Songs start slow, build up, bridge to the chorus, return to the melody and build to a crescendo. They bring the audience on a journey.
The greatest guitarist in the world would bore you into a coma if he repeated the same riffs.
Variety is good.
Repetition can be powerfully boring, or powerfully good, depending on how you use it. If you do use repetition, it must have a purpose.
Country songs like this are great study for writers. Why? Not because they’re all sad songs where your pickup truck died, your wife left you for your best friend and your dog hates you. They’re useful because country songs tell a story in about 200 words, a story you can understand and dissect. I can point out the setups and payoffs. You can see the heroes and villains, the reversals and the climax.
By contrast, most pop songs feature lyrics that don’t have any real structure or story.
Also, you can hear and understand country lyrics without a cheat sheet.
Three other good examples of country songs with great lyrics and minimal twang, if you are also allergic like me: LOVE STORY by Taylor Swift, Traveling Soldier by the Dixie Chicks and damn near anything by Lady Antebellum, who are flipping brilliant.
No matter what you write–novels or newspaper stories, screenplays or speeches–it’s worth remembering that writing needs to be like music. You need an interesting intro, a melody, a chorus and a crescendo. You need variety AND repetition.
So: watch this cheesy home-made music video. Listen to the lyrics, and read them on your magical screen that shows you words and moving pictures from anywhere on the planet.
See how Bucky the Covington has clear setups and payoff, and how he cleverly, and beautifully, uses repetition with a purpose.
The words in the chorus change slightly each time, yet the meaning is quite different. And while the writing itself is a tad clunky, my God, the structure, it is glorious. My only wish is that I owned a cowboy hat so I could take it off and salute you, Bucky.
I’LL WALK by Bucky Covington
We were 18, it was prom night.
We had our first big fight.
She said, Pull this car over.
I did and then I told her, I don’t know what you are crying for.
I grabbed her hand, as she reached for the door.
She said …
Let go of my hand.
Right now I’m hurt, and you don’t understand.
So just be quiet.
And later we will talk.
Just leave, don’t worry.
It was a dark night, a black dress.
Driver never saw her, around the bend.
I never will forget the call,
or driving to the hospital,
when they told me her legs still wouldn’t move.
I cried, when I walked into her room.
She said …
Please come and hold my hand.
Right now I’m hurt, and I don’t understand.
Lets just be quiet, and later we can talk.
Please stay, don’t worry.
I held her hand through everything.
The weeks and months of therapy.
And I held her hand and asked her to be my bride.
She’s dreamed from a little girl,
to have her daddy bring her down the isle.
So from her wheelchair, she looks up to him and smiles.
And says …
Please hold my hand.
I know that this will hurt, I know you understand.
Please daddy don’t cry.
This is already hard.
Let’s go, don’t worry.
16 thoughts on “Writing insights revealed by country twang”
My twin daughters, eight years old, are learning the proper way to tell a story by listening to Lady Antebellum. The latest is Dancin Away with My Heart. They went home after listening to this song and wrote their own stories about dancing with boys. Love the story told in Lady A songs.
Another Johnny Cash fan here. The man in black had depth of soul in his lyrics. Faves of mine include Folsom Prison Blues, I Walk the Line, Ring of Fire, and his remake of the Trent Reznor song, Hurt.
The delivery is chilling and somber when performed by Cash.
One of my favorite story-songs is also from the Dixie Chicks: Goodbye Earl.
Dixie Chicks knows what they’re doing. A real story in most of their songs.
From a country storytelling perspective, I would agree with the Johnny Cash comment, but I gotta’ go with Willie’s “The Red Headed Stranger” album.
Don’t listen to much country these days, but I like the lyrics of the Bucky Covington song.
Entertaining post. I try to shoot for that variety in pacing in my own stuff. Hoping it works.
Paul D. Dail
http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog
Johnny the Cash was, and always will be, the Man.
Anybody who can do an acapella cover of HURT by NIN is automatically awesomesauce.
The Seattle stalker here. Really like this post better than the music videos, which are admittedly fun, silly, et. al but… This one makes the link between writing and story telling which is why I subscribe to your blog (in addition to the PR advice). Good job. I just read a bunch of romane (!!!) novels by Susan Eliz. Phillips and learned a great lesson on pacing (skip the formulaic sex scenes, they’re required for that genre). Anyway, romance is another great target but one that can teach too. And I can’t believe you forgot to mention, “Take This Job and Shove It.”
Glad you liked this one. I was impressed by the structure of each chorus. Smart.
You are reading romances? I read OUTLANDER and blogged about it on my old shebang. Maybe it’s time to post that sucker…
I’m reminded of a Dave Matthews song, “Oh,” which carefully reveals a heartbreaking story underneath a cheery little tune. I long to do in fiction what he does there in so very few words. That’s writing at its finest.
There’s a live AOL Sessions version on YouTube that’s very nice. Damn song breaks my heart every time I hear it.
Have never heard that song – will look to up.
The Decemberists do a bang up job of this sort of storytelling with songs like The Mariner’s Revenge Song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Sw61oITuts
The Decemberists should tour with a beer-obsessed polka band from Munich named the Oktoberfesterists.
Johnny Cash is almost always playing in my car if it isn’t NPR, and I can’t get enough of his storytelling. Don’t Take Your Guns to Town, Tennessee Stud, Delia… Fantastic songs and stories. The easy-to-understand words can be an issue with little kids in the car, though. Delia’s my favorite, but my husband thinks the violence is inappropriate now that they’re starting to sing along. Sheesh.