How to Write Songs in Books

How to Write Songs in Books

Good morning, Rebels, and welcome back to my life.

Well, it’s Friday again, so that means it’s time for another writing update, and of course, since I’m still working on Rebel Yell, I guess I should update you on that.

Since Rebel Yell is about a band, there’s obviously a lot of music in it. Now when I started writing the book, I thought, “Oh, well, I don’t actually need to WRITE those songs. I can just talk about the bands PLAYING them.”

Yeah, well, if you’ve ever tried to write a book like that, you’ll already know that when I got to the scenes with the music, they totally sucked when I didn’t include the actual songs.

But I’m not a songwriter! And when I tried writing lyrics all on my own…let’s just say the results were less than impressive. It stumped me for a long time. In fact the biggest gap between the first and second drafts of the book was because I was wrestling with this problem. I had no idea what to do.

My first breakthrough came when I decided to look at some of my favorite bands and see how they wrote their songs. After all, if you want to do something well, you should always study the people who are already doing it well.

The band Rise Against has had a big, big influence on me. They might be my favorite band right now. Their lyrics are very socially conscious and very poetic. They write about big, big problems in today’s world, and they do it very well.

Their song ‘Make it Stop’is a great example. It’s about bullying and child suicide and contains these poetic lines:

Too much blood has flown from the wrists/

Of the children shamed for those they chose to kiss

It’s chilling and potent and just perfect, and many of their songs are the same way.

One of the main characters in Rebel Yell is Hayley Savage, lead singer of the band Hunger Strike. When I turn Rebel Yell into a feature film, I’m really hoping to get the rights to use Rise Against’s music as the music for Hunger Strike. But of course, I couldn’t do that now. I couldn’t just take Rise Against’s lyrics and put them in my book. That’s plagiarism.

But it was that line of thinking that ultimately delivered the solution to my problem. See, many successful writers have based their current, popular stories on older stories from the masters. Sons of Anarchy is very similar to the tale of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Game of Thrones is taken from the War of the Roses.

People have been doing this for hundreds of years. West Side Story is just a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, which is itself a retelling of a much older poem. Tolkien based many songs in The Lord of the Rings on the tunes of English folk songs from his youth. So suffice it to say, you’re in very good literary company if you take old frameworks and fill them with new content.

What I’ve decided to do in Rebel Yell is use songs by my favorite bands, but just write entirely new lyrics for them. That way I’ve already got my music, and I’ve already got my rhythm. I just have to provide new words that match that rhythm. This uses their music as an inspiration for the songs in the book, but I’m crafting my own message that make a specific point for that part of the story.

You, the reader, won’t even hear the music that’s already in my head. But the lyrics will have a certain poetic quality to them because they’re based on the work of great bands. And if you really want a meta-meta reading experience, you can go through Rise Against’s song list and try to figure out what music goes where. I’ll also be using songs from Dead Sara and Jet. If you do this, you’ll hear the songs in the book as they’re meant to be heard, but that association will only exist in your head and mine, at least until the movie comes out.

So if you yourself writing a book and you want to include music in it, but you’re not a songwriter yourself, take tunes you already know and write new words to them. It makes things much faster and easier than trying to become a master songwriter on your own.

That’s this week’s update, Rebels, I hope you enjoyed it. Do the good stuff, let me know what you think, yadda yadda yadda, and I’ll see you soon. Byyye.

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Garrett Robinson

Over 100,000 readers have read and loved Garrett's books, like the fantasy hits Nightblade and Midrealm. He's also a film festival favorite with movies like Unsaid, and a tech guru who posts lots of helpful how-tos for writers and filmmakers over at garrettbrobinson.com.

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