Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Music In Fiction: Why Ain't There Any?

Today's topic du jour was suggested by Carl Brush, who boldly stepped up to the plate and answered my cattle call for blog ideas. Want a blog linky for yourself? Just suggest a topic that I can use on my blog.

I've read quite a few short stories and novels in my time, and while every conceivable plot line was used, very few used music as a main base of operations. Peripheral? Absolutely. A lot of stories have music playing in the background or use it as a very minor transitional tool.

Note: Guilty on the transitional tool. My upcoming novel uses 70's Chicago soul and Bluegrass as a transitional tool to jump between a few scenes.

But there has been very few stories that use music as a lead platform, at least that I've seen or heard about. From my personal perspective and not counting my short story, I've found four that use music as a key platform for a story.

The first was a short story I read in a literary journal some six years ago that deconstructed a concert performed by a local band at a small club. The second was a story called "Underground Wonder Bar" featured in a good anthology called Noir @ The Bar (please see my review here), that takes place at an underground club. The third, also featured in the same anthology, was called "Outside Lou's" and the setting is a jazz club. The fourth was a story called "The Pickle", written by Chris LaTray, that was about a band whose instruments were stolen.

In case you're wondering, my story "Red Stripe" revolves around a punk rock singer and takes place at a punk rock club.

Other than those, I really haven't seen or read anything that features music as a key platform.

Why is that?

Is writing a story that revolves around music harder than writing one that features, say, a spaceship?

I know a lot of writers say they enjoy writing or editing while listening to music, but does it transcend to the story itself? If music can inspire you to write (and I'm guilty on that account), why can't it become a basis for a short story?

There is nothing more universal for inspiration than music. Music helps us create, helps pump us up, mellows us out and soothes our troubled spirits. Why can't we use it as a basis for a story? Why must it always be relegated to the status of a transitional tool or even worse, background noise?


  1. That's a good question. Because movies use that technique.

  2. Good post. One of my favorite horror books is about a rock band called The Scream." There's also a good one called "The Kill Riff." Joe Hill's Heartshaped Box featured a musician. It's not common though.

  3. Interesting. Byron Wilkins of 1977thecomic ties each of his cartoons to a song that inspired it or that he thought tied in well with it.

  4. M: Movies for the most part, do the same thing as fiction, which is to use music as a trasitional tool.

    Except that movies do overkill with it.

    Bearman: That sounds pretty cool.

    I've used certain songs myself to serve as inspiration for a few of my stories, but strangely enough, the one that uses music as a plot wasn't inspired by a song, but a Halloween costume.

  5. Because it would date a piece of writing? Maybe because the best stories appear timeless but if you set them around music they will immediately be captured in a certain time zone.

  6. I'm paraphrasing someone but I can't remember the source. Maybe it's because writing about music is like dancing about architecture?

  7. Joe: I'm not sure it would completely date it unless you were specifying a particular piece of music, not necessarily the genre.

    You can base a story around a particular genre, since genres stay the same, only the practicioners change.

    But it is an interesting point that you do bring up.

    S.R.: I don't think it's so much about writing about music as having music being the basis for a story.

    Writing about music can be very dry depending on the topic, but if you use it as a base for your story, it can open a world of possibilities as to where you can go.

  8. That's a good point - I've never thought of that.

  9. Lynn: Thanks.

    I try to make one at least once a week. :D

  10. Charles: Not sure why this time, but Blogger labeled your comment as spam. I apologize for the lateness in responding to your comment.

    Those sound like very interesting stories. I will definitely have to check them out.

    You would think that with all the genres and sub-genres that are out there, people would write more stories based on those. I mean, some of those genres/sub-genres are just begging to be dipped into 'cause they would an execellent jumping off point.

  11. Thanks for taking me up on the the subject, George, and I'm glad for references to the stories you mentioned. Also thanks for linking to my website. I'll go return the favor.I have a couple of music/fiction favorites of my own. Les Edgerton's story collection Monday's Meal has two--"The Jazz Player" and "My Idea of a Nice Thing,", both moving tales about New Orleans musicians, and Ian McEwen's Amsterdam, about a modern classical composer--one of McEwen's patented dives into another profession. Good, provocative, post.

  12. Carl: Thanks for stopping by, and you're more than welcome for the shout out. I always try to give credit to whoever helps me out on my blog from time to time.

    Those sound pretty good, so I'll have to check those out.


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