*This piece has been edited, but was originally published on my WordPress site. You can find its first form here which includes resources for finding cover songs. The site was my 'author's website' created as part of my assignments for my MFA program, and the post was submitted as an assignment as well.*
A young man draft-dodges the Vietnam War for his girlfriend. A married woman watches her husband be catfished by an e-girl. What connects these two story ideas?
The song “Jolene” inspired both!
If you’re like me, you adore music. And, again if you’re like me, you may have trouble sometimes finding short story ideas. Lose passion for them before you even write them? Forget your ideas? Get stumped when you want to write most?
Same here. But if you love hearing the same song be reinterpreted by other singers and other bands, this writing prompt is for you!
I’ve gotten story ideas from this prompt in three ways. Keep reading to see if any work for you! Don’t be afraid to mix and match or tweak the sub-prompts!
1. Two Songs, Two Stories, Same World
“Bullet with Butterfly Wings”—the spark for this writing prompt. As someone who loves the spectrum of ‘90s rock and metal genres among many, many others, I was familiar with The Smashing Pumpkins and this song. But I had no idea Tribe Society covered “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” (so, thank you, Spotify Radio!). ‘90s distortion was replaced with more electronic rock vibes.
But I heard something rebellious in both. Two story ideas came to me: one rebel group in a grunge-y, contemporary world, and another rebel group in the same world, just years into a dystopian future. Voila! Suddenly I had two stories I could write, hazy storylines plotted, and a world to imagine!
If you like this sub-prompt, you might:
- Find a song and some of its covers and see if timeline pops out to you.
- Check for songs covered in different languages.
- Make your stories a duology, trilogy, or longer series.
- Use a song with lyrics and then an instrumental cover.
2. Take Lyrics Literally or Think More Abstractly
Another way I’ve tackled this prompt is through paying attention to song lyrics. My catfishing story idea takes the lyrics of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and applies them to digital-age, contemporary issues like online cheating.
While I took the gist of the lyrics for my Vietnam War short story idea, I approached The White Stripe’s “Jolene” differently. The song’s speaker becomes something ephemeral: a war-waging country pleading with a potential soldier to join the fight.
If you like this version of the prompt, then:
- Use the same lyrics from the song and cover for two different stories.
- Write a story based on a verse from one song and its chorus from a cover (or vice versa).
- Reimagine each song’s speaker.
- Replace concrete subjects with ideals or emotions.
3. Tempo and Musicality
Try syncing writing to music. I truly enjoy and fully recommend this exercise. Let the pacing and tone of the song lead your story ideas and the story itself. That’s what I’ve done with “Herr Mannelig.” Garmarna's version gave me the idea for an introspective child warrior story. Litvintroll’s made me think of a medieval story set mid-battle full of action.
With this sub-prompt, try:
- Ignoring the lyrics to focus on the emotion of each song.
- Writing based on your emotional response to the songs.
- Using the images you get while listening to each version.
- Making the stories readable as the same lengths of the songs.
After the Music
Once you have your story ideas, get them down! (I still need to write stories for mine.)
Compare your stories when you finish them. Do you like one story better? Do you want to merge them? Does one achieve your goal more closely?
You may want to scrap one. You may want to publish one. Either way, you’ve gotten two more pieces under your belt! Go, you!
About the Creator
Hello! I'm mostly a writer of fiction and poetry that tend to involve nature, family, and the idea of growth at the moment. Otherwise, I'm a reader, crafter, and full-time procrastinator!
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!