How to Pull a Song from a Book by Ferrill Gibbs
How to Pull a Song from a Book
Author of The Secret Island of Edgar Dewitt.
Before you begin, know it can be difficult, like trying to make my father-in-law’s legendary rib recipe:
“I can tell you the recipe, but that don’t mean you’ll cook ’em right.”
Also, you should probably learn the guitar first, or maybe the piano, or even piggyback off the skillset of a musical friend because writing a song over a progression is, to me, just plain easier.
Even if it’s a crappy one.
So now you’re armed with a good progression as well as some well-tempered expectations . . . all that’s left is to channel the subject of your book (or story) into lyrics. Here’s my recipe:
Writing lyrics is totally different from writing prose because with prose you’re forced to think of everything. You can’t not be detailed (and you certainly can’t use double negatives!) because if you’re anything less than meticulous, people will start to complain.
“But . . . there’s not enough info in this story! I want to know what the protagonist is thinking!”
“That's not realistic! A 13 year old would never say ‘impotent’!”
But with lyrics, forget all that. Forget referencing. The only thing you’ll need Google for is to get the web address for Rhymezone—which, by the way, while you’re there, try not to be so on-the-nose all the time. Be “one” with your “Near Rhyme Filter.” No need to make everything all “dot, cot, spot,” and unless your name is Dr. Seuss, you should never use the word “sot,” particularly if you’re just Steve Miller-ing yourself into an end-rhyme.
What I’m trying to say is, get right to the emotion. Don’t write from the brain; ignore the audience if you have to and write directly from just inside the rib cage, or maybe even the groinal area (if possible; not when writing about your mom).
Think of the most emotional aspects of the story and pull lines straight from your heart, not the page.
Also, as strange as this may sound, be vague. Somehow it makes for a more multi-dimensional experience. One time I wrote a song inspired by an old philosophy book called A Night of Serious Drinking by René Daumal. After people heard it, they thought I was a closet alcoholic crying for help.
This is exactly the kind of thing you’re looking for. (Rich lyrics, not alcoholism.)
Wallow in the emotion – let it get on you like bits of leaves on a cardigan sweater after a roll in raked piles. Try to conjure up colorfully emotive, associative words, then let those words describe the way the story makes you feel.
Why don’t we try a composition now, right here, on the spot? Maybe we can see if we can compose a verse given this extremely rudimentary recipe.
The parole scene in The Shawshank Redemption has always brimmed with emotion—why don’t we try to pull from that?
“There's not a day goes by I don't feel regret. Not because I'm in here or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are, but I can't. That kid's long gone and this old man is all that's left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? That's just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don't give a shit.”
Now, after pondering the emotion in that for a moment, let’s see if we can compose ourselves a verse. *Clears throat, grabs pen*:
Red Vs. The State of Maine
There is nothing I can say
to the child in me, nor to save
us from the fates our lives allots:
that we die with the gangsters and sots…
(I never said you couldn’t use the plural. And I like double negatives).
I’ve got a new book on the way! It’s about a disenfranchised boy from Alabama (which, oh, speaking of, you should always Write from Your Own Perspective!) who finds a proverbial hole down to China—not just any old hole to China, but a hole from Washington State that goes all the way to a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It is here that Edgar escapes all the things haunting a typical 14 year-old-boy: bullies, pursuant parents, bad grades, even puberty itself. I wonder if you can remember those middle school emotions? I certainly do. Now if you could only glom on to those emotions right now, I bet you’d find a really good song in there.
Just to see the way I do it, here’s my new song called “Chevy” based on my new book The Secret Island of Edgar Dewitt. (It is also performed by my fabulous new band, All The Kimonos!) We really hope you like it!