Songs that tell a story. What a delight!

I know, I know, you’ve almost forgotten what I look like. I’ve been so incredibly neglectful of my blog recently. So sorry! My excuse is that I started a new day job a couple of months ago and I’m really struggling for writing time. My standard working week is longer by 2.5 hours and I have a longer commute. We’re not talking a huge commute, but what used to be 10 mins each way has become 30 mins each way. I know that’s only 20 extra minutes but It soon adds up over the course of a week. Plus, the job is a much more demanding one. The pace is faster and the need to concentrate is greater so I find I struggle to switch off at the end of the day and switch on to writing.

Anyway, that’s not the reason for this blog post. So what is? Let me tell you …

I’ve spend the weekend painting the hall and stairs (don’t panic, the blog post isn’t about watching paint dry!) which has been hard work. Whilst I’d love to have spent Sunday evening writing, I found myself drawn to social media and flicking the channels on TV. There didn’t seem to be much to choose from and I ended up on the True Drama channel watching “To Hell and Back”, the story of Meat Loaf. I missed the first 45 minutes or so but enjoyed the rest. Great music and an interesting insight into Meat’s life.

It struck me whilst watching this true-life drama that one of the reasons I love Meat Loaf’s music, aside from his powerful and emotional voice, is that his songs (penned by Jim Steinman) tell a story.

I love music, although I’m not an avid follower of the charts like I used to be. My daughter asked me the other day what my favourite song is and I had to give her the answer I always give: I don’t have a favourite because I love loads of songs. It’s true. I love some songs because they remind me of a certain era in my life (first time clubbing, being at university, a holiday with friends and so on). I love others because they have a great beat and make me want to dance. Some are romantic and give me a warm and fuzzy moment and/or make me think of my husband. Others I love because they’re so uplifting that they instantly make me feel happy, no matter how low I might have been feeling. But my very favourite stories are the ones that tell stories, which brings us back to Meat Loaf.

‘Bat out of Hell’ and ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ are two great stories, the former depicting the story of a rider dying after a motorcycle crash and the latter about a teenage boy trying to convince a girl to have sex with him in his car. She says she will if he tells her he loves her and he finds himself tied to her for life to fulfil that promise after a night of passion. Most of Meat Loaf’s lyrics tell a story in this way but let’s move on from Meat Loaf and give another couple of examples, both of which I’ve head on my local radio station during the past week.

One of these is ‘A Little Time’ by The Beautiful South. A very poignant song, this tells the story of a man who wants a break in his relationship to sleep around and, when he comes back to his girlfriend after he’s had “a little time”, she advises him that she’s also taken advantage of the time out, had a few flings, and doesn’t want him in her life anymore. Hee hee.

The other one is from a similar era: ‘Hazard’ by Richard Marx. This song is about a mother and son who’ve moved to a town in Nebraska where he’s treated with suspicion as an in-comer. It’s just evil looks and non-acceptance until his girlfriend goes missing and is found dead and all eyes turn to him.

The very first story-based song I remember hearing was one from the sixties called ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ by Ricky Valance. The hero wants to give his girlfriend an engagement ring but can’t afford one. He enters a car race in the hope of winning the money to afford it … but crashes and dies. I remember listening to this on a compilation CD my parents had of 60s hits and sobbing as I listened to the tragic story unfold.

I wonder if it’s being a writer that draws me towards this type of song, because they’re written like short stories rather than a standard song with verses and a chorus. ‘A Little Time’ and ‘Paradise have the classic “twist in the tale” plot and ‘Bat out of Hell’ has a bittersweet ending in which the hero of the story dies (a la Nicholas Sparks!) I think these types of song draw me in like a great novel, carry me along with a clever plot, and leave me feeling satisfied like I do after a 5-star read.

What do you think? Do you like songs that tell a story? Can you think of any others? Please comment and let me know your thoughts. By the way, if you don’t know any of the songs I’ve mentioned, I’ve linked the titles to their videos on You Tube so enjoy!

Jessica xx

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Does becoming a writer take away the joy of reading?

I used to be an avid reader. I loved books. I loved reading. I experienced so much joy from going on the journey with the characters, laughing and crying with them, and wondering how it would all end. Since I’ve become a writer, my relationship with books has changed. I probably read more books now than I’ve done since childhood when I read every night before sleep, but I now read them in a very different way.

Yesterday afternoon, I met with two of my lovely local writing friends and fellow Write Romantics, Alys and Sharon. We meet up every few months for lunch (with cake) and a good old catch-up. We discussed what we were reading at the moment and this very subject cropped up. They both feel the same and I’ll admit it was quite a relief to discover that I wasn’t the only one whose relationship with books has changed.

So what exactly has changed? For me, I think it’s that I now read as though I’m critiquing a book instead of for the sheer joy of reading. I notice and analyse dialogue, characterisation, character arcs, and plot development. I spot broken rules and they jolt me out of the story, e.g. when a writer repeatedly tells rather than shows or when they head hop. I find inconsistencies and plot holes. Yet I’d never have done this before I became a writer. Is this because I’ve read magazine articles, books, blogs etc. to study my craft and am now aware that these ‘rules’ exist and I therefore notice when they’ve been breached? Is it because I’ve been through the RNA’s New Writer’s Scheme (NWS) and have learned from having my own mistakes around this flagged up in the critiques? I really wish I could go back to just reading for the sheer joy of it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still loads of books that I read which I absolutely love and which don’t have plot holes, inconsistencies, head hopping, telling and so on within their pages. But even then I’m still analysing them: Why are they page-turners? Why did I warm to the heroine? Why did that part of the story make me cry, and why did another part make me laugh? How did the twist take me by surprise? How was it all wrapped up in the end in a way that didn’t feel rushed? This analysis of the books I love is surely a good thing because understanding why I love a book should help me develop my own writing. But I find myself wondering if there are some books I’d have loved before becoming a writer that I now over analyse, which is what takes away the joy of reading for reading’s sake.

Does anyone else find this? How do you get the joy back? I’d love to know because I want to be in love with reading again instead of seeing reading as something I do as a writer. Help! I’m really hoping it’s just a phase and will pass soon. Pretty please.