Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Beth's Prompt - Your Story's Song

Hello, thank you all for your kind welcomes to Detangled Writers, I am so happy to be here!  I was personally requested by Skoora to share this prompt with you all and I thought it would be a fitting first post.  This is a prompt I first tried in my Beginner's Fiction Writing class several years back.

The Challenge 

  1. Pick a song. Preferably a song that is not well known, overdone, famous or popular. (i.e. avoid bands such as Linkin Park, Evanescence, Skid row, etc.
  2. Make sure that the song has lyrics, this is crucial.  
    • A lot of good writing comes from classical compositions, however this is a prompt meant to be challenging, so adding the influence of lyrics will challenge you as a writer.
  3. Finally procure a prompt. The best way I've found to do this is have a friend suggest both the song and the prompt, or pick a song yourself and then go to a theme generator and randomly generate a prompt. This is a project meant to get you out of your comfort zone however it is also meant to be fun so just make sure to enjoy the prompt.  
Let me share a few examples, one is the prompt that Skoora herself gave me when I requested this prompt on my personal blog. This was a beautiful example, and this is a story that I am working on currently. This prompt is ambiguous in what it wants. 
Ex.) SONG: Donovan's, "There Is An Ocean." PROMPT: A man reflects on a battle (any battle you can conceive of) and as he walks through the quiet battlefield, he touches things (weapons, clothes, dead bodies prior to being carted away, etc.) and when he touches these things, he can see the past of these objects. Let the objects tell the story of why there was a battle. 
This next one is a less abstract prompt that tells you exactly what it wants.

Ex.) Emily Autumn's, "I Want My Innocence Back." - Write about the kidnapping of a child and the lengths a mother/father will go save that child.  
 The prompts may be as simple or complex as you want them to be. Challenge yourself. If you want to make it more difficult try to make the prompts and the song have a dichotomy - not the exact meaning, contradiction, etc.  Some ways to go about this is make your prose poetic.  To include lyrics from the song.  To use the lyrics to build dialog, or to use song lyrics to set up a scene and theme. Stephen King's, The Stand, is famous for using this technique in order to create abstract themes throughout the book.

Another famous Author, Joyce Carol Oates, dedicated a story to Bob Dylan, the short story is entitled, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? - For Bob Dylan, This story focuses on the late 1960's, early 1970's when stranger danger became a realized threat in the United States. This story is widely available on PDF if you are interested in reading a wonderful example of music in prose.  Oates used an interesting technique of having the antagonist quotes songs in his natural speech, something very different than King's use of throwing songs into a scene, such as on a radio or The Walking Man singing.

Both are very creative uses of music to foster writing, and so I challenge you to try this yourself, and of course have fun!

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? For Bob Dylan If there is any problem with me sharing this story here I will immediately remove it.  If not, please enjoy it. The Stand, can be found at any library or bookstore for those who have not read it yet and would like to. 
Music is the Life of a Writer This is the original blog post about this topic if you'd like further information on the premise of this prompt. 


  1. We totally did this in my college writing class. We listened to "Lucille" and used the lyrics directly to create super short stories and even still everyone came up with completely different takes.

  2. Or rather, I mean we did something similar, lol. And I actually think I might want to try this, perhaps tonight, but we shall see.

    1. I totally understood what you meant! And I'm glad you tried a project similar to this. I loved doing this assignment in class. It was brilliant, but it was so difficult too. I would really love to see the results! :)

  3. I love that story. I wrote a 25 page criticism of it for my Lit Crit class using pop culture and modern theory. I put on Dylan as I read the story over and over, and was amazed at how well everything fit into place.

    I've thought about writing a story using different songs every chapter, just letting the song I'm listening to dictate the actions of the characters or the mood of the scene. Great idea.

    1. I love the story as well! I realize now that I did not truly appreciate the absolute skill that went into crafting such a wonderful piece of prose when I was in my Beginning Fiction Writing course. Now though, as I think back on it, and reread the story, I'm absolutely amazed by the tender-loving-care that went into the story, and how Oates was able to broach such a disturbing topic so artfully.

      I have definitely thought about writing an entire book based off of songs, and your comment makes me want to do it more, however, I am not sure if that is a challenge I want to tackle so soon into my writing career! We shall see, perhaps some music will help me move along in my current novel project!

      Thank you for the wonderful comment! :D