Is it a breakthrough, or a breakdown?

Our best laid plans didn’t work out. I figured a party on the Basque block would make for some good blog fodder. The appeal, for us, was the paella. This is a saffron rice dish made with clams, chicken, and chorizo. The pan they use is large enough for several adults to slide down a snowy slope. I own a paella pan that could hold a fair deep dish pizza, for comparison sake.

My wife got a text from a friend. The line was two and a half blocks long, and it was over 100 degrees in the shade. We went to one of our favorite little dive places for beer and a steak, and air conditioning. I may have to make my own paella if I can find the correct rice. You have to use the right kind.

This is a long winded way of saying I need a different topic today. I decided to make it about writing, in a round about way. I’m going to talk about Alice Cooper again. You can substitute your favorite balladeer.

Music is a great source of inspiration for me. I find ideas everywhere, but rarely talk about music. I grew up about the time disco became popular. My friends and I all hated disco music. We owned copies of Aerosmith Rocks, and every album Kiss ever put out. Alice Cooper was always my personal favorite.

After the concert Tuesday night, I downloaded a whole bunch of Cooper’s music. These are the album cuts I loved when I was younger. My vinyl, eight tracks, and cassettes are long gone. I may still have a CD lurking around somewhere.

Cooper was fortunate to work in an era where the album was king. Several of his albums tell a story from start to finish. This isn’t possible in our one-song-at-a-time era. In fact, From The Inside may be one of the greatest albums of all time.

Listening to this music as a writer puts a whole different spin on the music. Sure, Cooper has the advantage of sound and chords to inspire different emotions. I have to add emotion in different ways, but I get more words to tell my tales.

When I listened to the song The Quiet Room something struck me. This album is about being inside an insane asylum, and was based upon an alcohol rehab stint Cooper lived through. The lyrics are: How long have I been gone? Did winter kill the lawn?

It hit me; this is all about character. Who asks if winter killed the lawn? It tells me a ton about the character without having to go into incredible detail. Five words and I’m completely sucked in. Now I need to figure out how to do it myself.

Another song is called I Might As Well Be On Mars. It’s about a man who loves a woman who rejected him. He’s on the roof of a building looking at the stars. He looks down and sees cars. The setting is magnificent. What will he do? Is he a jumper? He spots the woman through the window of her favorite bar. I’ve been that guy. I was enamored of someone who never knew I existed.

There’s a lesson here about more than setting, which was great. It relates to me on a personal level. I’ll bet almost everyone has been in that situation at one time or another.

It’s a blog post, so I’m only going to touch upon these two songs. Sure, Cooper is all about dark humor, and there’s plenty of that in other cuts. The guy recorded with Vincent Price before Michael Jackson knew what a zombie even was.

I heard that good stories are all about delivering a powerful emotional experience. (PEE) I’m the kind of guy who has to see it happen before I really get it. I may be on the verge of a breakthrough here.

Emotions can be any kind as long as the reader gets sucked in. It isn’t only about love. Rage, fear, pity, disgust, lust, and depression are all emotions too.

Okay, one more. There is a love song called Millie and Billie. These two are batshit crazy, and they know it. Cooper presents the tale from deep point of view. (Think dialog mostly.) They know they’re crazy, but don’t understand why the things they do are wrong. There is no authorial intrusion, it’s all from the character’s point of view. No preaching allowed or needed. It’s a boy and a girl, I can relate, I follow along. I don’t relate to what they did to her husband, but it’s too late to back out now. I think this is good storytelling.

Note: I also had an epiphany. I hadn’t heard this song in twenty years. I may have borrowed a line from it in one of my upcoming short stories. The difference is I used Mason jars instead of baggies. I’m going to leave the sentence in place. Those of you with an advance reading copy can search “Mason jars” and find it.

I don’t know if the lesson is about a great hook, a PEE, setting, or what. I feel like I’m about to have a writing breakthrough. Maybe I’d better turn on my music and let Alice take me to Hell again.

How about you guys? Is there a lesson here? Is there more than one? Weigh in, maybe you can clarify my breakthrough.


Filed under Writing

33 responses to “Is it a breakthrough, or a breakdown?

  1. Not about the lesson. I can think of several songs that tell a story or evoke one, but they all older. Today does seem to be entirely about the ‘Single’ and the album kind of comes second. I think this is why there are so many that have only a handful of songs worth listening to. Maybe art, especially music, is shifting toward less story and more . . . something. I’m not really sure because I’ve been sticking to the Rock stations and video game music a lot. What’s popular today?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Our whole view is changing. I see short fiction getting more attention too. Are people going to want one short story at a time ten years from now?


      • Quite possible. I’ve mentioned a few times that attention spans seem to be shrinking. Many people want immediate gratification and you don’t get that very easily with lengthy books. Not to mention you have the camp that won’t touch a novel unless it has a movie or TV show deal. Ever wonder what would happen if aliens showed up with a weapon that dissolves all smart phones? I think that’s really all they would need to win at this point.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Look everyone! Gather round, Charles has just discovered the plot of his next story. (Joking) I wonder now if my book of shorts is the album and people want the single. I’m doing it anyway, but maybe I should have followed Cooper’s example and made each story part of a bigger whole.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve considered it, but those stories tend to make me too cynical and down. I get tempted to write ‘and the aliens blew up the Earth. Only two cockroaches survived. Both were rendered infertile. The End.’

        I’d still do it as a set. It’s strange, but you see people complaining about paying money for one story that isn’t very long. As far as following Cooper, maybe you can do it for another project. πŸ˜€

        Liked by 2 people

      • It’s a possibility. I may get a larger idea that can support multiple short stories. Now you have me wondering what Bill & Ted type characters would do if all the smartphones disappeared.


      • I’d see those two surviving better than the types who are pompously proud of their smartphones. Bill & Ted strike me as the ‘bummer, dude . . . wanna get some ice cream?’

        Liked by 1 person

      • True. It probably needs someone who would lament their worthless new selfie stick. Mix in a few uncomfortable moments when they have to actually speak to someone when texting isn’t an option.


      • To be honest, I’ve yet to see a selfie stick in real life. I’ve seen pictures and videos, but that’s it. I’m sure first attempts at talking will involve using text speak or forgetting that being face-to-face requires more tact. Imagine someone mouthing off to a person in the real world as if they’re on a forum. Actually, that makes me chuckle.

        Liked by 2 people

      • There is a story in there for sure.


      • Craig, you wondered whether you’ve written the album but your customer wants the single. Well, that’s easy enough to find out. Strip out each of your short stories and list it as a 99cent standalone, and price your collection at 2.99. See which sells better, or perhaps they’re not even the same customer groups, so you can double your sales. Also, in each of the standalones, you can say that the story is part of your collection, so even if nobody buys the standalones, they might serve as advertising.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s how Apple does it. I never thought of it like that, but it would be easy enough to do. I already have some cover art, and a marketing concept or I might do exactly that.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I read an article recently about emerging writers serializing their stories. They write 10K segments and sell them for .99 leaving the reader hanging like the old movie shorts did in the ’40s. It gets the author out there to build his name and an audience. I am considering this for a Southern family saga I’ve been toying with. Could be fun,

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you might be on the verge of a break through. A few more Cooper sessions and you just might be there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I find music to be an emotional experience pretty much all the time. Lessons, oh how I could go on!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Music is a powerful tool. I’m a fan of American’s Got Talent (I love variety shows, a genre that faded when I was kid), but I’ve always felt singers have the edge because they’re able to connect with us emotionally. An author should do the same. Songs have the power of evoking memory. I find that many of my favorite books do the same. I don’t think I ever made that connection before.

    BTW, I grew up when disco “came of age” too and couldn’t stand it. Now, I love it. Probably because I’ve always loved to dance, and it does have one heck of a beat! *As I bop away singing Play that Funky Music…* πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well, setting aside the main point of your post, I would like to just say that a good Paella is one of my favourite meals, and I don’t think I’ve ever made one myself. So if you have a good recipe, please share! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t have a great recipe. This is one of the things we make together. Most foods are either mine or hers. It appears to traditionally be like whatchyagot stew, and varies across Spain according to what’s available. We are taking the pan when we go to the coast later this month, so I may dedicate a blog post to paella.


  7. Absolutely sounds like a breakthrough to me. Deep POV is challenging, but there’s no better POV, IMO, to suck a reader into your character and into your book. I’m going to have to listen to that song now. Rock on!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think you’re definitely onto something. I agree about the older music being more of storytelling than the new stuff. I think Alice Cooper is amazing at this, and so is Meatloaf.

    Liked by 1 person

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