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DRAWING IDEAS FOR STORIES FROM SONGS

May 8, 2019

The idea for this article came from a thread on a recent forum. The question was asked about quoting song lyrics in your book and the legalities.

I zoned out on the answers because mine was simple. I don’t listen to lyrics unless they’re dirty or funny. I haven’t seen much of either since Frank Zappa and especially the early Mothers Of Invention. Well…there is GWAR…but who’s counting?

The fact is that I listen to a lot of extreme metal where the vocalist sounds like a toilet flushing. How are you supposed to even understand something like that without a lyric sheet? I also listen to a lot of foreign bands and whether they sing clear, scream, shout or whatever, it’s in a foreign language like Swedish, Finnish, Maltese, Russian, Gaelic, or what have you. Even the lyrics are printed in said language, so that’s no help!

Truth be told, I don’t CARE about whatever candyrock psychedelic profundities (thanks, Zappa) they’re going on about. It’s about the singer’s voice, like another instrument in the band. If the voice sucks, that ruins it for the rest of the band. That’s why I’m particular about what metal bands I like. I’m no fan of screaming and shouting which rules out most of the bands on Sirius XM Liquid Metal. That also doesn’t rule out every band with a clean vocalist, because there are still plenty of those with vocalists I don’t like.

I’m one guy, with very particular tastes.

Most people can quote lyrics, know them line-by-line, and interpret them down to the most subtle nuances, whether the band meant them that way, or not.

Can that inspire a story?

While I can’t speak in absolutes, but…

MY BIG EXAMPLE

Some may think I’d be embarrassed by this, but I’m not.

I once wrote a fan fiction short story based on a song by British band The Groundhogs.

It was a fantasy piece inspired by a song off their album Who Will Save The World?

The song was Bog Roll Blues.

I never really listened to the lyrics, even though I could understand everything Tony McPhee was singing. I just chose not to. Instead, I drew an entirely different picture based on the sound of the music and the album graphics, which I also misinterpreted, though in a lot more nuanced fashion.

In the story, the heroes, the three band members, travel across a bog to vanquish a demon.

Bog Roll Blues.

I sent the story to Tony and his partner Joanna Deacon.

They loved it, or so they said, yet the story never appeared on their web site. My intention, a bit of fan fiction. Their reasoning, they didn’t have a section or place for fan fiction, which was true, and still is, to this day.

What I didn’t realize way back in 2012 when I wrote the story, was what a bog roll was in British slang. Maybe Tony and Joanna were just being polite by never telling me the truth!

A bog roll is a roll of toilet paper!

Yup. I wrote this fantasy story about the three band members, superheroes travelling across a bog to vanquish a demon, based on a song about toilet paper and industrial waste!

I didn’t have a clue until years later (okay, last year as in 2018) when I saw an article on British slang and right there, about halfway down the list, was the term and definition!

THEN, I went back and read the lyrics to the song Bog Roll Blues.

Oh boy…

STORIES INSPIRED BY SONGS – ARE THEY REALLY YOURS?

While my story was clearly misinterpreted fan fiction, what about you? Are you piggybacking off some song and basing a story off that? Did the inspiration come from your interpretation of a song written by someone else? Is the idea really yours?

Maybe the idea really IS yours because the writer of the song had something entirely different in mind.

Then again, if you and the songwriter were on the same page, are YOU stealing or copying their idea?

It would have to be one hell of a song for me to be that impressed to dedicate my time and effort to write an entire novel on it!

A short story is one thing. Bog took me about an hour and it was done. The embarrassment could last a lifetime, but then again, I have a tough skin, otherwise it would never have been an example in this article!

One day, I still may publish that story because to tell the truth, I like it. Why not?

Someone, especially Brits, may get a laugh out of it.

SOMEONE’S SURELY DONE IT

There are novels out there based on songs. I can’t think of specific names right now, but I HAVE seen it before. I have to wonder about the legal ramifications. Also, I have to wonder about the originality of it all.

I’d rather come up with my own ideas, of which I have way too many to worry about copping them from others. If one day, my list ever gets that short, well…not likely.

I mean, if you’re inspired to write something, you should do it, but wouldn’t it be safer to make it entirely original?

Quoting song lyrics as part of the story is the same thing. Maybe you want to honor a song and use it in the story line. Are you up for liability issues? Are you piggybacking off someone else’s creativity? Or, like me, are you completely misinterpreting the intent of those lyrics? Will you look like a fool, or can you deliberately misinterpret them and use it for comic effect?

There are a myriad of complications or advantages of quoting song lyrics.

It’s up to you.

Personally, while I like to plug my favorite bands in my real-world stories, there’s no way I’m ever going to quote lyrics. I’d rather come up with my own ideas. Then again, I’m a huge fan of quoting movie lines in real life conversations, just never in my novels.

Happy writing!

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