How To Tell A Story In Song

While many songs tell no story and are sustained instead by other lyrical methods, the tradition of storytelling in songs, and in epic poems, has flourished for centuries. Modern story songs are a crystallization of this ancient form. Most of these, regardless of generation or genre, share one constant: vivid, visual and specific details. It’s the same as with any storytelling, no different than telling a story to a kid. The more vivid the story, the more genuine its sense of time and place, the more compelling it will be. No kid wants a vague story they cannot envision. A good story song relies on this same understanding.

Although some contend that any lyric too personal cannot connect with an audience, in truth it’s the most specific songs which are the most universal. Though few of us grew up impoverished in Butcher’s Holler, Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is so realistically conveyed that the song is instantly understood. As long as the story is related in a vividly visual and compelling way, so that the listener can sense its human truth, that is all that matters.

Essentially two kinds of modern story songs exist: the multi-verse epic and the compact, succinct story song. The epics, like those ancient rhymed poems, relate a detailed story through multiple verses. It’s a tradition sustained in countless Dylan epics, such as “Tangled Up In Blue” or “Isis,” both of which are dimensional, cinematic songs that gain a power and momentum from the cascading progression of many verses. Dylan’s created many songs like a great filmmaker crafting an epic movie, using the expansion of time to provide added dimension and reality. “Isis” is a mysterious, mystical epic of life,... Sign In to Keep Reading

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