Let Song Lyrics Inspire Your Next Story

courtesy of RossinaBossioB

By Jennifer Blanchard

If you’re anything like me, music is a big part of your life. I drive listening to music. I spend my disposable income on concerts and downloading songs to my iPod. I write while listening to music.

Your life probably sounds similar to what I just described above (if you’re a music lover, of course).

But have you ever allowed music to inspire your writing?

Sure, you listen to music…but have you ever read the lyrics to all the songs you love? How about watching the music videos?

When I was in college, every short story I wrote was inspired by a song. And not just the song itself, but aspects of the song, as well: the lyrics, the music video.

For example, the first time music inspired my writing, I was sitting on the couch watching TV when I saw the music video for She Will Be Loved, by Maroon 5. Now, I had heard the song hundreds of times (I owned the CD), but the music video evoked something completely different.

I wanted to write the back-story to this music video. I wanted to show how these people got to the point they were at in the video. What would make that guy want to be with both the mother and the daughter? How could the mom do that to her daughter? I needed to find out.

So I literally pulled a notebook out at the very moment I was watching the video and starting writing this back-story. (Side note: The short story I wrote based on this music video will be available on podcast in the coming months.)

And the entire time I was writing this story, I listened to the song on repeat. I needed to be surrounded by the music so I could juice every bit of inspiration out of it.

The lyrics to this song also inspired my story. Singer/songwriter Adam Levine wrote some powerful lines:

  • “Know all of the things that make you who you are”
  • “I know that goodbye means nothing at all”
  • “I don’t mind spending every day, out on your corner in the pouring rain”

Those lines just stuck with me and I  weaved them into the story.

How To Let Song Lyrics Inspire Your Stories
Sometimes inspiration just happens–like in the example I mentioned above; you can read things, hear something, learn a new fact and–bam! There’s a story idea.

Other times, however, you can lead the inspiration to you. Here’s how:

Find a song that inspires you
You may already know of a song (or more) that inspires you. A song that gets you thinking or that burrows into your heart.

If you don’t already know of a song, here’s how you can find one that inspires you:

  • Check out song lyric Web sites–There are tons of Web sites out there dedicated to providing song lyrics. You can find them by Googling “song lyrics” (or you can Google the lyrics to a particular song).

    Spend time reading through the lyrics to songs you know (or songs you don’t know). Sometimes just reading the words will inspire a story.

  • Watch music videos online–If you check out video Web sites, such as YouTube, you’ll be able to find the videos for almost any song you can think of. Almost all music videos tell stories. It’s your job to extract the story and write it.

    While watching the video, think of how you can use the story being told in some way. Just like in the example I mentioned above.

  • Listen to the song itself–I also recommend listening to different songs to see how they strike you. One thing I’ve noticed is, depending on what’s happening in my life at the time, different songs speak to me.

    So listen to the song itself. Let it envelope you in emotion and inspire you to put words on paper.

To get you started, here’s a list of some of my favorite lines from songs. I can see a potential story in all of these lines:

  • “I’m just a notch on your bedpost, but you’re just a line in a song,”–Sugar We’re Going Down, by Fall Out Boy
  • “Funny the feeling when forever ends,” Stolen Away on 55th and 3rd, by Dave Matthews Band
  • “Nothing good comes easily, sometimes you’ve got to fight,” Amber, by 311
  • “I have found, all that shimmers in this world is sure to fade away,” Shimmer, by Fuel
  • “You’ve been the only thing that’s right in all I’ve done,” Run, by Snow Patrol
  • “You’ll never lose it ‘cuz you never had it,” Hollywood Bitch, by Stone Temple Pilots
  • “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same,” All At Once, by The Fray
  • “I wonder sometimes about the outcome of a still, verdictless life,” Why Georgia, by John Mayer
  • “It’s like a fairy tale without a happy ending,” Little Miss Obsessive, by Ashlee Simpson

You get the idea.

Has your writing ever been inspired by music? How so?

7 Replies to “Let Song Lyrics Inspire Your Next Story”

    1. @Bruce Yeah, as long as it’s just inspired by and isn’t using the actual lyrics from the song. Of course, I’m not a lawyer, so definitely check with one if you have any concerns.

  1. I have always wanted to write short stories inspired by songs. I totally get lost in music! The idea has been stuck in my head a lot lately. So I’m just beginning to venture into this area. Are you aware of any published compilations or books like this? Where can I find one you’ve written? Thanks!

    1. @Taylor I’m not aware of any. Something to be careful about is that song lyrics are copyrighted, so the last thing you want to do is use them as-is in your story, unless you’re quoting someone or quoting the song. When I say “inspired by songs” I mean using the topics from the songs or the emotions from the song to inspire your story. Not using the exact song lyrics, just to be clear.

  2. Apologies for being a bit late to this party, but if the people who asked questions about this are still wondering, there is a wonderful novel(!) that is almost entirely based around a Leonard Cohen song.

    It’s called “Dear Thief” and it’s a gorgeous piece of writing. It’s by Samantha Harvey.

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