A number of years ago I was at a concert. About halfway through, the stage went dark. A few minutes later, a spotlight came up, illuminating Paul McCartney. He was sitting on a stool, holding an acoustic guitar. I took a breath and waited. The familiar short guitar introduction wafted through the air and then I was watching and listening to the composer, the singer and lyricist sing “Yesterday.” Amazing. No string accompaniment, just a poet and his guitar.
Some years later I sat in another concert. The stage had gone dark again, and this time a blue spot came up, showing Billy Joel at his piano. And then he sang “And so it Goes.” Again, no other instruments, just the man and his piano.
They both sang songs about the joy and pain of love. They were familiar songs and familiar emotions. The poetry was so powerful that it almost stood on its own, needing only the barest musical support.
Last concert example. A few years ago, my wife and I went to go see Fleetwood Mac. It was a summer night and we sat outside on the grass. The music started and they played all the great old songs. At a certain point in the concert another song began, their newest hit; Say You Will. It was fantastic to hear it in concert. This afternoon I was listening to my IPod and that song began again. Away from the concert arena it was a different experience.
It’s a catchy song, but the lyrics are not profound. Listen carefully on the IPod. Maybe at a concert the song just sort of overwhelms you, but with those ear buds in, you really hear what the song is about. There’s an acoustic guitar playing, and not one electric guitar, but two, perhaps even a third, playing a different part. After the beginning, Stevie Nicks voice comes in again, doubled. The bass and the drums are there of course, but listen, there’s the organ – Sheyl Crow. (By the way, she’s also doing background vocals on this song). There are other singers in the background too, and it all comes together in that lush soaring trademark sound.
That’s the way most songs are, not just the lyrics, but all the pieces working together to take you away for 3:30, maybe a bit longer. The words and sound give you an experience that keeps you going back for more.
Your story is like a song. Oh, you can just tell a story, but it’s the texture, the extra layers that make it rich and full. An intriguing subplot, symbolism, the right metaphor, an original idea, great characters. Now its not just a story, but something people can relate to in many ways, each one unique.
Unlike a song, you don’t have just three and a half minutes. You get a few hours with the reader; you get thousands of words to weave your magic. But the expectation is much higher, your responsibility is greater. You’re not layering sounds, but words.
Your imagination and emotions are transposed into black marks on a white page. Light takes those images into the brain of your reader. If you’ve done it right, the reader has caught your vision, laughing where you did; the lump you had in your throat when you wrote a passage becomes a tear in the eye of the reader. The satisfaction you had upon finishing your story brings a smile to the face of your reader when they reach the end with you. Consciously, you take that journey in writing the story, but everyone who reads what you have written takes you again on that odyssey with them. If you have sung your song well, your words, in some small way, will always stay in the heart of your reader. To write; it’s an amazing thing, a magical experience.
So; sing your song.
Tell your story.