Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tips for Writing Your Novel Like a Song

I had been sitting at my computer staring at the screen for a substantial amount of time when my husband came into the room and asked what I was doing.

“I’m trying to write a blog post I need to put up for tomorrow,” I said.

“What does it have to be about?” he asked.

“Music…and writing.”

Some silence ensued and I assumed he would say something along the lines of, “Well, good luck!” and go back to the football he had been watching. Instead, he gave me an idea.

“What don’t you write about how songs are stories themselves?” he suggested.

He walked away but I continued to ponder this idea. Of course it’s something I think I’ve always known but never really thought too deeply about it. But it’s true. No matter what genre of music or how lame the lyrics are, they are telling some sort of story. Even instrumental can be viewed as having a rise and a fall, a climactic point and a resolution.

There are sad songs, love songs, happy songs. Songs about being strong, songs about falling down. Songs about being young, songs about getting old. There is a point, a theme if you will, to every song. Even if it is as lame as “being the hottest one in the club”.

I think some of the best songs are the simplest songs. The ones whose lyrics ring with such truth that we can’t help but listen to them over and over again and think, “I know this feeling, I know it exactly.” Songs are shorter so they can be replayed over and over and become embedded in your mind. However, I think a good book can do this too. You spend hours reading a novel and in those hours you become invested in the characters and their journey (if it’s written well). Keeping in mind what I think makes a good song, I can apply that to also making a good book.

Think of your audience. Writing for young adults? Then listen to the music that young adults listen to. What kind of “stories” are being told to them through their music? I’m sure a music producer wouldn’t layout Taylor Swift’s latest album the same way he/she would for Kenny G. It’s a totally different audience with different expectations and interests. Your novel needs to ring true with the audience you are writing for in the way the character’s interact, talk, and make decisions.

Taylor breaks it down for you for being 22...which I still like to pretend I am.

Keep it simple. Songs don’t have very many words to work with to get their story across so they have to pick and choose what words fit the best to express what they want to say. Think about this with your writing as well. When you world-build, you might have a notebook filled with the rules and layouts of the world you’ve created, but only a fraction of that goes into the book. People don’t want to be info-dumped on, they want the essentials and to move on. Give your audience the essentials and trust them enough to connect the thoughts without you drawing it out for them.

This song is so incredibly simple but packs such a large punch I was emotionally drained for awhile.

End with some zing. Some are my favorite songs end the verses or chorus with a line that I wasn’t expecting or is ironic or just carries a big punch. End your paragraphs like that. End your chapters like that. End your novel like that. Okay, I know you can’t be putting zingers in every page, but, no really, why can’t you? The more I find while I’m reading a story the more I’m intrigued to read on and trust the author to keep entertaining me.

Come on, no one thought he was going to say "she was touching his ...chest."

Put pieces of yourself into it. Some of the most touching songs, I think, are when we know they have a personal message behind them. One of my favorite bands, Yellowcard, does this often and I adore them for it. The lead singer’s aunt was dying of cancer and she wrote out lyrics for a song and the band put them to music. I went to see them live in Cleveland and it was announced to us that she had finally passed away that day. The lead singer came out and sang the song and played guitar by himself. It was so emotional and personal, and I cannot listen to that song now without tearing up and being grateful for having the people I love most with me. Put this into your story. You may be writing about fictional characters but you should be writing about real life emotions, especially ones that you've dealt with personally.

*wipes tears*

So next time you are stuck writing, listen to some music. Maybe listening to a couple short stories told to a melody will help you find what you need to move your story forward.

Are there any songs out there that tell some of your favorite stories? I’d love to hear them!

For more from Jessica, visit her blog J.A. Ward Writes and follow @jawardwrites on Twitter!


  1. Wonderful post! I Want to Save You by Something Corporate is my favorite song because it tells such a sad story. I connected to it as a teenager and now a decade later (eek) listening to it still reminds me of exactly how I felt listening to it back then.

    1. I absolutely LOVE Something Corporate, Tammy! Great band and GREAT song.

  2. Excellent post. So like that Taylor Swift bit( et al) Swift's song not only made me feel like had time but transformed me to a place of pure fun whilst writing.

    1. Yeah, it's kind of hard to not have a good time with her music :)