Friday, February 12, 2010

What Music Can Teach Us About Revising

I was listening to one of my favorite songs, Mr. Brightside* by The Killers the other day, and I was suddenly struck by the proverbial bolt from the blue. There is much to be learned about editing from popular music.

Although I’m sure the same could be said about poetry, I’m going to restrict my analysis to music because…well, I get it. And most pop music is poetry at the level I can understand, whereas good poetry starts to get entirely too literary for my simple mind. A lot of literature is too literary for my simple mind, let’s face it.

But I digress…(it’s one of my special skills)

The point is, the musicians are story tellers, and they tell their stories with an economy of words that novelists would do well to pay attention to. To wit, I’ve got an uber-short story I wrote based on my interpretation of the lyrics of the afore-mentioned Mr. Brightside.** (Please don’t bother sending me e-mails with alternative interpretations. I’m well aware I could be wrong, but it works for me, so leave well enough alone, mmm-kay?) Below that, you'll find the relevant portion of The Killers' lyrics. My story doesn't even cover every line of the song and is more than twice as long.

Now, I'm not a poet for a lot of reasons (unending suckitude being the primary), so I can't say that I'll ever adopt a free verse style of story telling, but I will certainly be thinking a lot about some of the great songs I hear and attempting to dissect what it is about certain lines that reverberate for all eternity. A fiction writer could die happy if even one of her sentences went down in immortality like some of the great song lyrics that run in our blood.***

MY STORY: (292 words, if you’re interested)

Her rustling movements were enough to wake me. She was getting dressed. I should have expected it, but I still couldn't help looking at the clock. Not quite midnight. Earlier than usual.

"I have to go," she whispered.

"Yeah," I grunted.

She didn't offer any further apology or explanation. We both knew where she was going. I sat up to watch her as she pulled on her boots. She sat on the edge of the bed, facing me with a soft smile.

"Thanks," she said, and kissed me.

I caught the back of her neck and stole another kiss before she could pull away.

She smiled again, and scraped her nails over my late-day beard growth. "Bye."

I said nothing, letting her go, as I always did. There was no point in protesting. She'd already called her cab, and she would stand on the street to wait for it. Enough time to smoke at least half a cigarette. The acrid smell of tobacco would cover the foreign scent and taste of me.

She had to get home to him. To reassure him with a smooth hand against his chest. He would kiss her, tasting only the brand they both smoked, and reach for the zipper on the back of her dress. She would let him, because she had to. I suppose it's possible that she even wanted him to.

She didn't leave him, after all. Just offered me a few hours and her body. I took it, like an addict, because I wanted her. I had brought into an affair with a promise of no commitment.

I never counted on the jealousy. I was too busy counting the ways I could get under her skirt. There was cold comfort in my victory.

THE KILLERS’ STORY: (117 words)

It started out with a kiss

How did it end up like this

It was only a kiss, it was only a kiss

Now I'm falling asleep

And she's calling a cab

While he's having a smoke

And she's taking a drag

Now they're going to bed

And my stomach is sick

And it's all in my head

But she's touching his-chest

Now, he takes off her dress

Now, letting me go

And I just can't look its killing me

And taking control

Jealousy, turning saints into the sea

Swimming through sick lullabies

Choking on your alibis

But it's just the price I pay

Destiny is calling me

Open up my eager eyes

'Cause I'm Mr Brightside

So, what do you think? Who told the story more effectively? What song lyrics have stayed with you?

- Liz

*Incidentally, Mr. Brightside was partially the inspiration for my unpublished novel The Sorbet Guy, click here for a playlist of this and other songs that formed the soundtrack in my head during the writing of said novel.

**The irony of my increased verbosity in a blog about brevity is not lost on me. Or curable, apparently.

***Some prime examples here:
"And she's buying a stairway to heaven."
"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me."
"Ain't no sunshine when she's gone..."
"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
"I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun."


DVaughan said...

Or my personal favorite lyric: "She's so fine, there's no telling where the money went."

Turning a phrase well is painfully difficult, yet it looks so simple when it's done, much like most good art and performance.

Kristan said...

First of all, LOVE the vignette. I used to write a lot of these as song-based fanfic (for shows like JAG, hahaha).

Second, "I'm not a poet for a lot of reasons (unending suckitude being the primary)" -- DITTO.

Third, one of the songs that has really stayed with me in terms of inspiration is "Gentleman Who Fell" by Milla Jovovich. I mean, there are HUNDREDS of others, but I come back to that one a lot. And it's the first example I thought of, and I'm too lazy to open iTunes for more, lol, so yeah, that's your answer. :P

Liz Czukas said...

DVaughan - that is a spectacular example!

Kristan - Now I have to go straight to iTunes and check out your song. And JAG? Really? I'm not going to pretend I'm a stranger to fanfic, but JAG? *giggles* You win today's geek award ;)

- Liz