The Creation Process: How a Song Can Shape a Short Story

The Creation Process: How a Song Can Shape a Short Story

I am inspired by music much the same way background music in a movie or TV show cues you to feel a certain way. When you hear gentle, sentimental music you’re being prepped for an emotional scene. Likewise, if you hear upbeat, exciting music chances are you’re watching an action scene and you’re heart is racing. The better and more accurate the music, the more impact it has. That’s why producers pay big bucks to get big name artists to make memorable music for their scenes. If nothing else, they may pay big bucks to use an existing, highly recognized song for a trailer or other promotional purposes.

Sometimes it works the other way around. Rather than add to a scene, a song or music will create a scene out of thin air (well, in a person’s mind). Who hasn’t had psychedelic images roaming through their head when listening to a Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd song? While working at my laptop, iTunes playing in the background, my playlist will fabricate all kinds of movie scenes against the projector screen of my brain. “Ooh, that music would be EPIC for a cavalry charge,” I’d think to myself, for example.

Such was the case when listening to a mournful ballad called “Spanish Doll” by the artist Poe (who is more known for the song “Hey Pretty”). The lyrics and the haunting tune evoke images of sadness, suffering and longing. A desperate desire to reunite and make amends:

“A stranger in this world without you is all that I can ever be,
All I know that is pure and clear,
You left with me here,
In this souvenir
…Spanish…Doll..”

The context of the song easily could be taken for a lover mourning the loss of a relationship. A little research, however, shows that the entire album from which “Spanish Doll” comes from is an ode to the singer’s deceased father and unresolved feelings.  A state that has left her feeling like a worn child’s toy.

Every piece of art, however, is seen from a different perspective by different people. From my vantage, the movie projector in my head was telling a different story. A story of a father missing his deceased daughter. A father with his own unresolved issues which come to head when he comes across a music-playing doll in an antique shop (the same music that inspired the story from the get-go). Add my penchant for the supernatural, add a dash of hope and…voila!…you have Adam Copeland’s bittersweet version of “Spanish Doll.”

Here is the inspiring song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SS4Be92cFl4 and the resulting story: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/268853-spanish-doll

Enjoy them both.

The Craft of Writing: Shadowplay

The Craft of Writing: Shadowplay

Writing is about communication. Communication is about expression…and entertainment. Even when communication is merely about the transfer of information it is still about entertainment. Human beings are complex and deep thinking creatures who need to be intellectually stimulated. That is why as a writer you should use various techniques throughout your work to stimulate the mind. You should add seasoning to your dishes to give them flavor. One of these techniques is to add a little mystery to your creation. Because as a species, we love mysteries, riddles, crossword puzzles and episodes of “Lost”. The only thing we love more than solving mysteries is finding mysteries to solve.

So how do you add a little mystery to your story that is not a mystery? How do you add a little drama to your story that is not a drama? You use foreshadowing.

A shadow precedes you and announces your arrival. Similarly, the literary device of foreshadowing announces events before they happen. Sometimes right away, sometimes much later in the story. It drops hints of things to come. It is in effect teasing the reader. Why tease your readers? Because they want to fulfill that human need for stimulation. They want to solve the mystery, and to solve a mystery you need clues. That is what foreshadowing provides: Clues. Every bit of information an episode of foreshadowing provides brings them closer to finding the answer. They want to test their intellectual prowess and arrive at the answer before others do. As a writer, you want to keep the reader hooked and coming back for more, or better yet, not able to put your writing down in the first place.

Foreshadowing can come as a statement made by a character, it can be imagery, or it can be an entire scene that portends things to come.

Though everybody may like to have their curiosity piqued by a mystery, not everybody likes to be brutally teased. To use food seasoning again as analogy, not everyone likes the same amount of spice on their food. Too much foreshadowing may leave your story vague, ambiguous, and cluttered with seemingly meaningless information that only serves to confuse. Too little and you may as well be reading the back of a carton of milk for entertainment.

Therefore, there is a range involving the different types of foreshadowing that can be either explicit or implicit, direct or subtle. There is a form of foreshadowing that appeals to all palates.

Shakespeare was excellent at using foreshadowing that was straightforward, but nonetheless engaging. The title character in Macbeth states, “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,” which is not very subtle, but we are still quoting that line to this day. Entire books and movies have been titled after it. Similarly, in Julius Caesar the soothsayer tells Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March!” Again, not very subtle, but memorable. Direct foreshadowing like this can be made even more interesting by wrapping it in layers of poetry. In The Old Testament the prophet Nathan plainly declares to King David, “Because you have sinned and have offended the Lord your God, the sword shall never leave your house.” Nathan straightforward tells David that from now on you will have a whole lot of family problems, but uses poetic imagery to do so.

To get the most out of foreshadowing, however, one should employ the full power of mystery. When a scene is subtle enough that it leaves you scratching your head, but then gives you that “ah-ha” or “light bulb” moment later on…that is magic. The Bible has plenty of these moments as well. After scourging Jesus, the centurions go to mock him by wrapping him in a purple robe and crowning him with thorns. Little do they know they are foreshadowing the eventual crowning glory of Jesus.

Take foreshadowing even deeper and the imagery and prophetic utterances become open to interpretation and even debate…which is itself entertaining. Well, stimulating in any case. The Book of Revelation is an entire work of foreshadowing that boggles the mind. In the Lord of the Flies, a pig’s head is impaled on a stick which subsequently becomes covered with flies, leaving to discussion just what is implied. The very title of that literary classic foreshadows what lies within its pages.

There is no question you should add flavor to your writing. If you want to entertain, stimulate, or just plain tease your readers, spice your creation with foreshadowing. The only question is: How spicy do you like it?