In this series, I’ve already covered writing lessons from books, video games, and even a musical. As you can probably tell, I like to draw from some unconventional sources, because I believe that anything can teach us about writing, from books to movies to music to video games. They all tell stories, just in different ways.
Not long ago, I talked about what can be learned from the musical Hamilton, which tells its story through music. This week, I’m going to discuss music again, but in a different light.
Wolves At The Gate (WATG) is a hardcore band from Cedarville, Ohio. I first saw them when they opened for RED a few years ago, and I saw them more recently at Uprise Fest last year. Though I love many hardcore bands, there are few that I’ve really connected with like WATG, and they’ve become one of my favorites. Not only does their music sound amazing, but the lyrics and themes are so artfully put together, and so today, I’d like to talk about what writing lessons we can learn from their music.
Note: I know many in my audience aren’t fans of hardcore music, so I’ll be providing links to lyrics and to the songs themselves. Feel free to listen to them, but you won’t be missing out on the point of the post if you would rather just read the lyrics.
Lesson 1 – Retelling a Story
Recently in my Fiction Writing class, we were tasked with writing a short sketch that retold a myth or a fairy tale. This was a challenge for a lot of us, and it taught me a couple of things: One, writing a retelling isn’t as easy as it sounds, and two, retelling stories can allow us to see things from a different perspective and make us think about something that perhaps the original story didn’t.
In a sense, Wolves At The Gate’s song “Hindsight” (lyrics) is a retelling. It tells the Biblical story of the apostle Peter, but from Peter’s own perspective, from the time he is first called as one of Jesus’ disciples and on. In a video explaining the meaning behind the song, lead vocalist and guitarist Stephen Cobucci says this:
“…I wanted to write his story because I just identified with it so much as I saw how foolish I was so many different times and so many different ways and really connected with him… We had a lot in common as I thought about it more and more.”
This isn’t to say that the original account of Peter and his denial of Jesus isn’t thought-provoking, but seeing it in this new light makes us think about something that we may have never thought about before. Like Stephen, we may see ourselves in Peter’s story, and share in his amazement that we’ve been forgiven despite our mistakes. Using the framework of a retelling, Wolves At The Gate creates a beautiful song with an incredibly powerful message.
The takeaway: Don’t be afraid to write retellings of familiar stories. Build off of the structure and the ideas to give a new perspective and provoke new thoughts. It will be a challenge, but like WATG, with enough work, you may end up with a powerful story.
Lesson 2 – Creating Vivid Images
While we often associate imagery with poetry, it’s also important to utilize this tool in prose writing. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a solid mental image is worth a paragraph of descriptions. Music, like poetry, has constraints on words due to time and space, and thus, songwriters are often masters of images.
Eyes wide in this reverie but it’s all still dark as night
I’m falling fast asleep
Black tides of my misery coming down upon my sight
I drown into the deep
Is there but a ghost inside these bones?
I feel the push and the pulls as it all tears me apart
I’m tripping over my pride, what’s wrong with my heart?
“I’m tripping over my pride” creates a much more vivid image than just saying “I’m prideful.” It conveys the same idea, but we grasp it more easily with the figurative language.
The takeaway: Look at the images you’re using in your writing. Are you using strong nouns and verbs to create them? If you have a long section of description, try to find ways that you can condense that into a simpler image.
Lesson 3 – Using Allusions
For those unfamiliar with literary jargon (and there is a lot of it, yikes), an allusion is really just a fancy term for making a reference to something else, especially another literary work. This is something that we don’t talk about a lot in our everyday writing tips, but I think they’re still important and can help our writing a lot.
The wolves are biting
The wolves are clawing and snatching up the sheep
For if we speak without the truth upon our lips
We’re giving in and we’re falling fast asleep
The first two lines evoke Biblical imagery of the wolves and sheep, such as in Luke 10:3: “Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves.” In this analogy, the “sheep” are followers of Jesus, while the “wolves” are the people who want to do them harm.
I know not everyone here shares the same religious beliefs, but here’s my point: With this song, Wolves At The Gate is trying to inspire their audience to take action. By using an allusion to something their audience would likely be familiar with, the song conveys a sense of urgency and a need to do something.
The takeaway: What types of material would your audience be familiar with? If it makes sense for your story, look for ways to allude to this material – it can help strengthen your themes. Just make sure not to overdo it.