Finding – and Leading With — Theme

(Note to skimmers – read to the end for a fun little storytelling exercise — and a contest!)

Some writers are completely and totally theme driven.  Every story they write has an agenda, a message to send and a point of view to either explore or sell.

Others are story-driven, and because their stories are rich with characters and compelling situations, themes seem to surface on their own.

Either way, though, theme remains an essential element of a successful story.  And because of that, both approaches eventually meet in the same place – a story in which the thematic resonance becomes palpable, if nothing else than through the sheer genius of the way in which the author has reflected life and caused us to think and feel.

Rarely is this an accident.  Rarer still is the story that sneaks onto the shelf or onto a movie screen (though it’s admittedly more frequent in that particular venue) that doesn’t have some form of thematic intention.

The key word here being intention

Which means, the writer did it on purpose.

Theme is as viable a place to begin a story as any other. 

A story begins with the seed of an idea, which with a little brainpower and the convergence of other creative forces evolves into a concept, a character, a structural sequence (this is where most true stories are hatched) or a theme.

It is from that first core competency, based on an idea, that the rest of the story begins to grow.  When that first core competency is theme, you’ve already got a literary tiger by the tail.

Because great stories always have strong themes.

But what about those who begin with theme?  How does that happen, and where do those ideas come from?

The answer is almost always the same – it comes from the heart.  From a need to explore or proclaim a point of view about a truth, an issue, an irony or a feeling that stems from the human experience.

Which begs the question, where do I find themes that are worthy of a story?  What if nothing moves me to the extent I want to spend the next six months of my life writing about it?

Here’s a way to find out.  It involves your memory… and perhaps a radio.

Pop quiz: think of a song lyric. 

Something serious and weighty.  The first one that pops into your head.  Got one?  Got several?

It’s important to notice that the lyric that came to mind has remained with you over time.  Maybe a long time.  Which means there’s something about it that resonates with you. 

Your lyric is perhaps the gateway for a story that needs to be told.  And because it was you who remembered it, perhaps you might be the ideal writer to tell it.

Turning a song lyric – or any theme that won’t leave you alone – into a story usually takes one of two paths: create a story that explores this theme from several angles… or write one that takes a stand and rams it directly down your reader’s throat.

I don’t know for sure because I haven’t asked him (nor do I know him), but I wager you that John Irving began with the thematic issue of right-to-life clearly and passionately in mind when he began formulating the story that became The Cider House Rules.  The rest was his genius.

Ask Jodi Picoult if she begins with theme or story.  My money’s on theme.

I doubt that John Irving got his idea for The Cider House Rules from a song, but hey, it could happen.

A great songwriter can illuminate a slice of life and shred it into clarity in three Top-40 minutes. 

In fact, I’ve found themes that I would happily – and in some cases, still intend to – devote a novel or screenplay to in many of my favorite songs. 

Back to that song lyric you just thought of.

Here’s a little exercise for you to ponder.

The following are excerpts of lyrics of great songs from various genres – and there are millions of them out there – that are screaming for someone to write a novel around them, also in various genres. 

Feel free to add your own.  But for whichever you choose (these or your own), write a log-line (a one sentence story pitch) that takes the theme and gives it a story to thrive within.

Here’s a few from my list, with my log-lines as examples.

From “Your Decision,” by Alice In Chains:

Time to change has come and gone… once your fear becomes your God… it’s your decision…

Log-line: A story about an aging actor who is given a second chance, but his fear of risk and facing a camera, in combination with the demons that have haunted him since his career took a header, stand in his way of returning to center stage.

From a rock song called “Life Is Beautiful” by a band called 6 A.M. (see, even the obscure can rock your world):

There’s nothing like a trail of blood to find your way back home…

Log-line: A spy is being framed for a botched operation, and instead of taking the rap like a good soldier, he takes the truth about how it really went down and the political corruption behind it to a brave young Congressional investigator, at the risk of his and his family’s life.

Here’s one you’ve probably heard, by Billy Joel (imagine a love story built around this one):

She can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes… she’ll casually cut you and laugh while you’re bleeding… she’ll bring out the best and worst you can be… blame it all on yourself cause she’s always a woman to me…

Log-line: The unlikely love story of a couple navigating what their lawyers are making into a nasty divorce, and who discover forgiveness and the return of innocence as they realize what’s important in their lives.

From “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry:

There’s a boy here in town says he’ll love me forever… Who would have thought forever could be severed by… The sharp knife of a short life…

Log-line: In the tradition of The Lovely Bones, how about a story about a dead girl who must return from the grave to save her young love from certain conviction on charges of her murder, which in reality occurred at the hands of the small town Mayor’s son.  A three-hanky sure thing, this one.

From the Eagles’ “One Of These Nights”:

I’ve looking for the daughter of the devil himself, I’ve been lookin’ for a woman in white… I’ve been lookin’ for a woman who’s a little of both, I can feel her but she’s nowhere in sight…

Log-line: A dark love story about a man who meets the wrong woman at the wrong time in his life, and has to beat her at her own Machiavellian game to survive.  (Okay, I’m cheating… that was my first novel, Darkness Bound, which was a USA bestseller and twice optioned as a film.  And yes, it was in part inspired by this lyric.)

From Elton John’s “The One,” with lyrics by Bernie Taupin:

In the instant that you love someone… in the second that the hammer hits… reality runs up your spine… and the pieces finally fit…

Log-line… sorta: This is actually a true tale… my wife and I fell in love to this song, and that particular love story remains in full glorious process as we craft the sequel and the rest of the series together. 

I could go on… and on.   I bet, so inspired, you can, too.

When you write a theme-driven story well, you’ll be encasing your theme within a story that has melody and tempo and rhythm, just like the song from which it came, or could have come.  When that happens the other five storytelling competencies have joined the band, lifting the lyric power of your theme straight into the mind and imagination of your reader.

Without that music, your story is just more elevator background noise.  Without theme, it’s just the band warming up, playing separate riffs. 

But when it’s all on the same page… magic.

Go write something magical today.

Send me your log-lines for these lyrics… or lyrics that have moved you and led you to a story idea.  Consider this a contest – I’ll send a free ebook (your choice) to the author of the most compelling log line submitted. 

Learn more about the Core Competencies in Larry’s new book, “Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing,” available next month from Writers Digest Books.

37 Comments

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37 Responses to Finding – and Leading With — Theme

  1. Patrick Sullivan

    Hm this will be a fun one to play with. I take it you want one submission per person?

    Also last time I tried to email you (your comcast account) it bounced and I don’t see an address on the site though I might be blind. (site name here)@gmail.com or what do you want these to go to?

  2. “It’s a mystery to me / the game commences. /For the usual fee, / plus expense. /Confidential information, / it’s in a diary, / This is my investigation, /not a public inquiry.” ~ Private Investigations, Dire Straights

    logline: State appellate judge who is up for supreme court appointment reads his wife’s diary and hfinds entries about their past business dealings that may be prejudicial to his appointment. He hires a detective and feeds him information that will dump it all on his wife. Detective sees through it and fights to get the truth out.

  3. I’ve recently discovered your blog and just want to say THANK YOU for these amazing writing tips (and the brilliant way you write).

  4. Thank you for this post, Larry! It literally made me realize the way I’ve been coming up with my stories and themes in the past is dead-on. I’d say 99 percent of the stories I write (or start writing anyhow) originated as a song lyric(s) that I can’t let go of. Now I know that this is the best way for me to continue operating. My boyfriend–whoops, make that fiance now–is always making fun of me for the music I listen to (not all of it, of course, but some of it). And I just tell him–it’s not the song, it’s the LYRICS that I love.

  5. Thanks for this kick in the pants today, as always. Here’s my entry (it’s a novel I’m currently shopping around):

    From the song “Blackbird” by The Beatles:
    “Blackbird singing in the dead of night/Take these broken wings and learn to fly./All your life/You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

    Logline: Out-of-body experiences are a rush—until someone steals your body and your life while you’re gone. Seventeen-year-old Cathy will literally travel to hell and back as she tries to rescue her stepbrother, Blake–a ghost haunting his own body without remembering the reasons why.

  6. Susy

    From the song ‘Re-education through labor’ by Rise against
    ‘To the sound of a heartbeat pounding away/To the rhythm of the awful rusted machines/We toss and turn but don’t sleep/ Each breath we take makes us thieves’

    (My inspiration for a short story called ‘Ships in the night’)
    Log line: Alone and wrongfully accused of breaking the strong moral code the powers-that-be have imposed, Sarah finds herself incarcerated on the floating prison ships that don’t officially exist. Her struggle is not only for survival but for proving her innocence and to fight for getting her life back.

  7. Danielle Zeissig

    From the song “We Are Who We Are” by Kesha
    “Tonight we’re going hard
    Just like the world is ours
    We’re tearin’ it apart
    You know we’re superstars
    We are who we are.”

    Logline: Five teenagers reluctantly come together each week to a support group for troubled teens. They slowly form a circle of trust, revealing the special gifts they each have and are learning to deal with. While forces begin working against them to harvest these gifts, they realize they must stand together. Their circle once united is much more powerful than any one of them is standing alone.

  8. “All around me are familiar faces
    Worn out places, worn out faces…
    Going nowhere, going nowhere
    …their tears are filling up their glasses
    No expression, no expression
    Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
    No tomorrow, no tomorrow.”

    “Mad World” from Tears for Fears

    A fifteen year old boy whose life is built around running from the past, discovers a magic door that gives him sight into see the future and, he hopes, the ability to face the abusive father whose return he has long dreaded.

    I hear stories in lyrics all the time. Thank you, Larry, for holding this up as an inspiration device.

  9. Patrick Sullivan

    The more I play with this, the more I like it. Which is funny since I usually figure out my theme part way through beat sheeting and then come back and make sure it’s solidly there. But this method has it’s own appeal. If nothing else, listening to a bunch of songs and letting inspiration strike was enjoyable.

    Now I’m anxious to see what wins, because this crowd usually has some amazing ideas.

  10. @Patrick — I hear you. Music is one of the most inspiring things I’ve encountered as a writer of stories. I think it’s more than the lyrics (though that’s usually my focus)… when great words are delivered with the perfect melody and treatment, it adds so much to the impact. We get to do that, too, in our own way, we have to put all the band’s sounds into our narrative. That’s the hard part, it’s not just lyrics, it’s passion and timing and rhythm and power and subliminal poetry. Glad you’re digging this, Patrick. L.

  11. Sammi

    Would you tell me I was wrong?
    Would you help me understand?
    Are you looking down upon me?
    Are you proud of who I am?

    There’s nothing I wouldn’t do
    To have just one more chance
    To look into your eyes
    And see you looking back

    –Christina Aguilera, Hurt

    A thirty-year-old woman, estranged by choice from her family, is forced to take charge of the family business after her father dies, discovering in the process something about her family that could save her relationship with her mother.

  12. TuxGirl

    Thanks so much for this post! I’m still a newbie writer, but I’ve learned a ton from reading your posts!

    Here’s my submission:

    When my time comes
    Forget the wrong that I’ve done
    Help me leave behind some
    Reasons to be missed
    Don’t resent me
    And when you’re feeling empty
    Keep me in your memory
    Leave out all the rest
    — Linkin Park, Leave Out All the Rest

    Log line: A young man lies dying and realizes he may never have the chance to apologize to his mother for his rebelliousness.

  13. Hey Larry,

    I’m always up for a challenge — this one was particularly cool. Here’s my entry:

    The Reflex by Duran Duran

    The reflex is an only child he’s waiting in the park
    The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
    And watching over lucky clover isn’t that bizarre
    Every little thing the reflex does
    Leaves you answered with a question mark.

    Billy Roxman, known in the Company as “The Reflex,” would top the list of the CIA’s best operatives – if such a list existed. Plucked from a Cincinnati orphanage at an early age, Billy was literally brought up CIA; his skills are more instinct than thought. He spends most of his days hustling chess in New York City’s Washington Park, waiting for his contact to slip him a mission that will send him to the darkest corners of the world. In and out, not even his handlers know quite how he pulls off each job.

    In his private life, Billy makes it his business to keep a watchful eye over Sally Broomfield. Now known by her stage name “Lucky Clover,” she’s a girl he befriended at the orphanage, and has since come to quietly love from afar, his life-ring in his crazy world.

    One day Lucky sends out a desperate call that brings Billy back to Cin-city for the first time in 20 years. But as he finds out, Lucky has been leading a double life herself – a life that might not be so lucky for him…

    ~Graham

  14. Pingback: Day 133 – Monday, Monday | Graham Strong's Novel Writing Blog

  15. Frank Connolly

    I met a girl who sang the blues,
    And I asked her for some happy news.
    But she just smiled and turned away.
    I went down to the sacred store,
    Where I’d heard the music years before,
    But the man there said the music wouldn’t play.
    And in the streets the children screamed.
    The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.
    But not a word was spoken.
    The church bells all were broken.
    And the three men I admire most,
    The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost,
    They caught the last train for the Coast.
    The day the music died.
    Don MCClean: The Day the Music Died.
    Log line: A happily married family man, having fallen in love with his best friend’s wife, wrestles with the heartbreaks of guilt, desire, and emotional desolation, and, in the process, finds his true self.

  16. Bumped into this one on the internet. I don’t know who sang it, but it really inspired me. The name of the song is ‘BLIND EVIL’.

    Blind Evil
    Standing in the darkness
    Waiting in the pouring rain

    Blind Evil
    Want to bring you sadness
    Beat you to eternal pain

    * * *
    Here is what I came up with.

    I saw an alien yesterday, and it was a stone. It came alongside millions of other stones to invade earth. But then gravity on earth is much stronger than gravity in their planet. Thus they were nailed to the ground, unable to move. They are the stones we know today. Soon earth discovers the gravity leveler. The blind evil shall be awoken.

  17. J Rosencrantz

    Here’s a recent favourite of mine:

    I would die for you
    Cross the sky for you
    I will send out a light burning for you alone
    You’re all I need
    You set me free
    And this fire will guide you home

    (Guide you home – Rebecca Kneubuhl and Gabriel Mann)

    ***

    My logline: two youths pledge their love for one another, only to be separated by war. As both battle destruction and imprisonment, one on the warfield, the other on the home front, can the fire of their love sustain their efforts to reunite?

    ***

    By the way Larry, thanks so much for going through theme on your blog. For me, the theme is the extra ‘something’ that changes a pretty good story into one that means a lot to me. And yet, it’s probably the part of storytelling that I understand the least about! I hope you continue this series on theme – I await your future posts with enthusiasm.

    P.S. Thanks for this suggestion on pulling themes from song lyrics. But is it any different creating a theme from a story concept? I mean, do you have any suggestions for starting with a logline (for example) and building a suitable theme that would sustain the idea through a whole novel/movie?

  18. From: The Killers, “Jenny was a Friend of Mine”

    “She said she loved me, but she had somewhere to go
    She couldn’t scream while I held her close
    I swore I’d never let her go…”

    Log-line: A wonderfully romantic relationship turns crazy creepy when the male lead becomes obsessed with his object of affection in what he deems true love and she deems psychosis. (Not a groundbreaking idea but it could be fun to take some twists and turns in his head.)

  19. Ruth

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets ideas from song lyrics! I also find that once I have an idea, songs seem to attach themselves to it…

    Anyway, I’ve always thought that this song had a novel in it:

    “From a phonebooth in Vegas
    Jesse calls at 5am
    To tell me that she’s tired
    Of all of them.
    She says: ‘Baby, I’ve been thinking
    ’bout a trailer by the sea.
    We could go to Mexico –
    You, the cat and me.
    We’ll drink tequila and look for seashells.
    Now doesn’t that sound sweet!’
    Oh Jesse, you always do this
    Everytime I get back on my feet!

    Jesse paints her pictures
    ’bout how it’s gonna be.
    By now I should know better –
    Your dreams are never free.
    But tell me all about our little
    Trailer by the sea.
    Jesse, you can always
    Sell any dream to me.”

    – from “Jesse” by Joshua Kadison

    Tagline: Peter has been used and discarded by Jesse multiple times – will this be the time she finally deals with her issues and commits to the one man who truly loves her? Can he cope if she fails, and throws him over again?

    Ok, that was two sentences – sorry!

  20. Just a perfect day
    You made me forget myself
    I thought I was someone else
    Someone good

    Oh, it’s such a perfect day
    I’m glad I spent it with you
    Oh, such a perfect day
    You just keep me hanging on (2x)

    You’re going to reap just what you sow (4x)

    from Perfect Day – by Lou Reed

    Logline: An insecure young man, who just discovered that the girl of his dreams is cheating on him, calmly plots his revenge over the course of a Saturday date with her.

  21. Thomas

    “Row,row,row your boat gently down the stream.
    Merrily,merrily,merrily, life is but a dream.”

    Tagline: Overworked sales executive discovers the “other” mushroom. Life will never be the same.

  22. Steve Ag

    Just saw this, gotta give it a try.

    Well there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come: sweet dreams and flyin’ machines in pieces on the ground. – James Talyor

    Logline (s):

    Errol Flynn Hughes, upwardly mobile, his stock portfolio just hit a million dollars, his stunning childhood sweetheart on her way out of New York for their wedding in Figi, on his last day of work at an air traffic control console. He is certain that he is in full control of his life. But he watches in horror, as her plane flies into the North Tower and his life comes apart. In desperation, he rushes to ground zero and meets a harbitten, plain woman, an EMT who saves his life by dragging him out of the way before the collapse of the tower. They meet later during a 911 awards banquet, fall into an unlikely relationship and Flynn learns about sacrifice and becoming ‘other-centered’ as he cares for her during a terminal illness caused by the chemical exposures at ground zero. Themes: Big events-Small lives, Great expectations- Unexpected rewards even in the losses.

    sorry to go on so…just kept bubbling up out of the neurochemicals.

    Steve

  23. I think a lot of people might have missed the mark on this contest. I think I’m one of them. The assignment was to extract the theme from some song lyrics, then write a logline based on that theme. Almost everybody, myself included, did a straight interpretation of the song lyrics themselves. Although this can be correct, a log line more rooted in the theme, and less related to the song lyrics themselves, could also be right.

    Im my above, Perfect Day, example, I should have distilled the theme as an extra step. Had I done so, it would be some combination of feelings of inadequacy, jealousy and revenge. From there, I could have gone anywhere those ideas would have taken me. Such an answer would still be technically correct, as long as it was steeped in the theme. I could have done a log line like this, right?

    An awkward high school student is sick of coming up second to his neighborhood rival. This year, instead of making a serious entry for the science fair, he creates the Vengeance Machine!

  24. @Conrad — I think you’re on to something here… but I’ll stop short of saying there was/is a right way and/or a wrong way of doing this. But I agree, anywhere the song lyric takes you, inspiration-wise, is a good thing, and the point of this exercise. Some take it literally, some use a lyric as a door that opens to something else entirely. Like I said, no right or wrong, all inspiration is good. Thanks for contributing. L.

  25. Monica Rodriguez

    Just got to sneak a read of this post @ work. So I don’t have an entry, but I want to say thanks for this. I’ll never listen to songs quite the same again.

  26. Rachael Bueckert

    Boondocks Theme Song
    “I am the stone that the builder refused
    I am the visual
    The inspiration
    That made lady sing the blues

    I’m the spark that makes your idea bright
    The same spark
    that lights the dark
    So that you can know your left from your right

    I am the ballot in your box
    The bullet in your gun
    The inner glow that lets you know
    To call your brother son
    The story that just begun
    The promise of what’s to come
    And I’m ‘a remain a soldier till the war is won ”

    A young 8 year old boy in Sierra Leone narrowly escapes a brutal gang attack on his villiage. His family massacred, the boy escapes into the countryside where he hides until “rescued” by a rival gang. The gang accepts him into their ranks as a recruit and trains him to be a soldier. His childhood innocence is stripped away as he rises in rank, earning respect and status. When the gang comes across a group of fugitives, he is horrified to find his younger sister among them. The gang kills everyone but the young girls, keeping them as sex slaves and spurring the boy to take moral action. Using the sly, creative wit that helped him survive thus far, he must now work to destroy the gang from the inside out to save his sister, protect innocent villagers and reap revenge on the people who destroyed his life.

  27. Rachael Bueckert

    Let Your Troubles Roll By – Carbon Leaf
    “Like New Year’s Eve, tonight’s underway
    But tomorrow you’ll wake up afraid of the day
    ‘Cause underneath the scars of your broken dreams
    An undone war still wages and stings
    You fear the year will blow
    Like a breeze through a rainbow
    You swear it’s there, but you can’t grab a hold
    So you sit and cry and wonder why, why…

    When all of your tears dry, let your troubles roll by

    So many cities and windows and lives
    And through each one there’s a soul that strives to survive
    So pay no mind, my sorrow’s fine
    The day is a live and that’s why I cry
    It’s a New Year’s toast, grab your list to conspire
    The last snake hissed as he was thrown in the fire
    You’ve come far, and though you’re far from the end
    You don’t mind where you are, cause you know where you’ve been”

    Every night, Grace visits her mother, suffering from dementia and throat cancer, in the hospice that is to be the woman’s penultimate home. At every visit, Grace reads to her mother an entry of the old woman’s diary from her youth. Meanwhile, Grace combats the combined greed and apathy of her step-brother and aunt to follow the mother’s wishes in regard to the burial and the distibution of property. In her personal life, Grace struggles with suicide and living under the poverty line as a social worker grievously unhappy in her situation. Her step-brother later confronts her about lying to the mother, revealing the truth that she had been making up every diary entry to make the mother feel happy and accomplished with her life, when in reality her life was filled with failures and violence. As a taunt from the step-brother, it is also revealed that her mother had excluded Grace from the will, not only erasing the hope of financial help, but twisting the knife of animosity that her mother always felt towards her. To earn the respect of her dying mother and overcome her family’s hostility, Grace must find confidence and closure in her own broken life by learning the lessons hidden in the fake diary entries. The clock is ticking, and life waits for no one.

  28. “…she’s buying a stairway to heaven” ~ Led Zeppelin

    Two adults, who grew up in separate abusive homes, cross paths at pivotal junctures in their lives, thereby giving one another the opportunity to either perpetuate the dysfunction of their childhoods or break free of it.

  29. normaj

    Music is such an inspiration! I actually wrote a story listening to these lyrics from a Jars Of Clay’s song -Boy On A String.

    I feel a sadness like Gapetto
    watching the life that he created run away
    Seeing the puppeteer’s intrusion,
    and holding the remains of puppets that had rotted away
    One day the curtain will not open
    And all of the crowds will go away
    Someday those strings will choke you, but until that day…

    Logline:Logline : Brilliant young scientist races to discover a cure for a genetic disease that will leave him blind before he’s twenty-five.

  30. Pingback: The Lyric-Inspired Log-Line Contest Winner Is…

  31. I use song lyrics for inspiration for my stories all the time.

    The movie I wrote that is in post production, “House of the Rising Sun,” was inspired by the song.

    The lyric: There is a house in New Orleans/They call the Rising Sun/It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy/And God I know I’m one.

    The logline for my movie: After four years in prison, an ex-New Orleans vice cop gets framed for a robbery at the Mafia-owned casino and brothel where he works.

    Try Warren Zevon, his brilliant macabre songs are good for dozens of stories.

  32. Pingback: Music Calms the Savage Breast…and Whets the Creative Knife « Turning Leaf

  33. But what if I came to this site because I’m a songwriter looking for inspiration (which I often get from short stories)?

    I find the ideas in this blog (and in the e-book I recently bought) helpful to me as well.

    Maybe I should write some stories based on my lyrics…and then write new lyrics based on the stories…and then…

    Any related suggestions appreciated. Having to write in such an abbreviated and structured form as a lyric is such a challenge…no room for fluff!

    Thanks for this interesting material!

  34. Illoura

    I TRIED to email this back through the Reply but that must’ve been the wrong way… apparently didn’t make it. Well better late than never!
    I tried using “Log-Lines” of songs for story prompts/ideas…on purpose (I seem to always be catching myself doing it, but trying NOT to…)

    I got a family saga from one song, the story of four men for which one song really hit theme on the head [but each son has their own sub-theme which doesn’t conflict with the main theme]:
    “Waiting for My Real life to Begin” –by Colin Hay
    1) A father, with the excuse – who tells of his position, “any minute now… my real life will begin”, I’ll be on my way. I’ll be a star, I’ll go far… but somehow he never gets there. He may be a dreamer, but his story is that of a loser, who gets trapped into thinking that opportunity will knock for him one day in the future, he’s just biding time waiting for it.
    “Any minute now my ship is coming in
    I’ll keep checking the horizon
    And I’ll check my machine
    There’s sure to be that call
    It’s gonna happen soon, soon, oh so very soon
    It’s just that times are lean…“

    He has 3 sons…

    2) One son lives a life he makes the best of, though he hates the repetition of his minimum wage job, he goes to school nights, keeping it a secret from his father, keeping his dreams behind the scenes, not speaking of them to keep them safe (no bragging or assumptions).
    If you blend that “Waiting for Real Life” message with “Cats in the Cradle” –by Cat Stevens – it could be the underscore of the first son’s consequences, as he takes lessons from watching his father.
    “I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
    I called him up just the other day……..
    I said, I’d like to see you if you don’t mind,
    He said, I’d love to Dad, if I could find the time.”
    He’s got a chance to really make it, but he learns the hard way that there will always be those who don’t see your vision, don’t believe in you, or are seducing you away from your path. He languishes in regret of the wasted years he strayed his own path for sake of his girlfriend… taking on the plans she had laid out for him – the only way they could stay together. But he ends up like his Dad anyway, and his final word to his father is along the lines of “I ended up just like you”. At the same time the father is enlightened to his own folly of thought- for the first time seeing himself through his sons eyes – “he ended up just like me”. He is saddened to see it, though the outcome is not his fault.

    3) Mark Knopfler’s “Let it All Go” (aka Kill to get Crimson)- could be the underscore of the consequences of his 2nd son:
    “Get a job with a pension
    Don’t ever mention
    you once had a craving
    for the brushes and paint…”
    This son is artistically inclined, and not allowed to respect these drives, or himself, for desiring that line of work. The father couldn’t make a go of his own inclinations and his intentions are good, but he advises don’t follow your heart, “Let it all go”- don’t let your yearning and ‘need’ to paint keep you in the poorhouse with no future. Do something respectable, “A job with a pension”,. This son strives to follow that directive, but languishes for years unhappy and unfulfilled, rich enough to take the failure Dad in, but, bitter at his dreams frustrated and squelched, their relationship suffers. He blames his dad for how his life turned out and would kill to do his life over again, kill for that opportunity to paint his life away.

    4) The 3rd son, once full of rebellion in youth finds himself coming full circle in adulthood, from the process of making his own mistakes in judgment, in life, he comes to respect their father as a person, when he once tried with all my might to please him, or to be anyone but him. The truth is, over the years Dad changed, discovering his faults and faulty advice, recognizing how his own limitations stilted his sons. He’s now a helpful, gentle soul, forgiving, easy-going, accepting. Third son recognizes the limitations of humanity and forgives their shortcomings, as he has been given second chances in his life experience, he extends that to Dad. They both make efforts to make up for years lost being angry or disappointed in each another.
    LeAnn Rimes’s – “What I Cannot Change” would fit his position:
    “I face the day and pray to God I won’t make the same mistakes
    Oh the rest is out of my hands
    I will learn to let go what I cannot change
    I will learn to forgive what I cannot change
    I will learn to love what I cannot change…”

    ~Laureli Illoura

    (I have to say it DRIVES ME CRAZY that I can’t just drive and enjoy the radio… every lyric or mood of music (where I can’t understand the lyrics) could have a deeper meaning, lol!! I also seem to naturally develop songtracks or listen to certain songs over and over while writing – they inspire the mood of the piece or character attribute or story theme.)

  35. Michael J Lawrence

    I purposely avoided reading any of the other replies, so if this one is already taken, my apologies. I guess using a country song might be cheating since they tend to tell ballads in the first place, but here goes.

    The Thunder Rolls

    “3:30 in the morning, not a soul in sight, the city’s looking like a ghost town on a moonless summer night. The rain drops on the windshield; there’s a storm moving in. He’s heading back from somewhere that he never should have been.”

    A man trapped in a marriage to a wife he no longer loves, torn between what he thinks is true love and his moral duty to his marriage, realizes that what he was searching for was in his wife’s heart all along, but when he comes home in the end, he finds her alone in the dark, dead, shot by a thief in the night.

  36. @Mike — I LOVE that song. I first heard it sitting in an airport shuttle van in Detroit (ironic, I think). I’d heard of Garth, but never had been into country music before, I was a rock guy. But as I listened to the song it hit me — this is storytelling. This is great stuff. I was hooked, and thus began a ten-year dance with the country music stations. Didn’t love it all, but I still appreciate much of it and find it to be truthful, moving storytelling. Tonight the song “The House That Built Me” a grammy or two… talk about thematic storytelling. Brilliant. It inspires me. Thanks for sharing. L.

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