Song Structure as Story Plot

Season 2 Episode 14 Song ideas can come from anywhere. We've talked a lot about this before on The Honest Songwriter, and I truly think it's one of the beautiful things about songwriting. As songwriters, we can take in inspiration from whatever is currently engaging us and turn it into emotional fuel for our writing. The same goes for the more technical side of songwriting. We can look into places outside of songwriting (like other types of art) and borrow the tricks and techniques we see for communicating emotion. It can all be worked back into songwriting. Recently I've been on a kick of learning about screenwriting. I've always liked films and I find the writing aspect of  movies fascinating. So I've been watching a lot of interviews with screenwriters and reading some books on the craft of writing for film. It really is a unique medium for writing and I'm starting to understand that really good screenwriters have a unique view of how stories work. They have to provide this extra layer of depth to the overall structure of a good film story. This needs to be there because film projects (even smaller productions) have so many moving parts of different people doing different things. To make sure everything works well together, writers need to make sure every piece of the puzzle – every character, every setting, every line of dialogue – serves some sort of bigger purpose within the story. Writing solid screenplay requires a solid understanding of story structure. And looking at stories through this type of lens is really intriguing to me. Learning about this stuff feel reminiscent of the first time I really started to grasp music theory. Like I got to see the workings inside the machine instead of just the outside of the final product – this time for stories instead of for music composition – and, to me, that's such a cool feeling. I love seeing what's going on behind the curtain, I think it's so cool. The comparison between music theory and some of the story structure stuff I was reading about got me thinking. I think there's some ways that the art of writing good stories can inform the art of writing good songs. And that's what we're talking about on this episode of The Honest Songwriter. In the episode we're just starting to scratch the surface of this sort of cross-discipline conversation. I decided to focus on story structure because that's what has been most interesting in what I've recently been reading. We talk about using stories as a starting point for writing songs (even for tunes without a obviously stated narrative). And then we talk through three big ideas of how story structure techniques can help us structure out our songs. 1. We discuss the importance of strong conflict in good stories and what this means for including conflict in our songs. 2. We talk about different structural techniques of varying up the conflict throughout a song – ideas like switching between contrasting emotions for verses and refrains, or superimposing a more traditional story arc like the hero's journey over a song structure. 3. We talk about having some sort of mapped out conflict structure for your song and/or the story behind it can help guide your decision making during the writing process. Ultimately, songwriting and story-writing (whether for prose or screen) are two different media. They both function in specialized, different ways. But I do think techniques from each discipline can inform the other. Story structure can become just another tool in your arsenal of songwriting techniques to help you out when you need it. Remember, there's no right or wrong way to write a song. What's important is that you keep writing! And maybe you can find some inspiration to keep writing in the stories you love.

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15-20 minutes of regular, open conversation about songwriting, what it's like to be a songwriter, and how to keep improving at the craft of songwriting. New episodes every three weeks!