Do you remember my Novels in Movies post? Today, I’m addressing another combination of artistic mediums: songs in novels.
Countless authors use music as inspiration for their novels. Some use song titles as chapter titles or scatter song lyrics throughout a story. I’m most interested in novels with lyrics, not just song titles, so that’s what I’ll cover here.
Lyrics are tricky. Without music, they may seem like nothing more than poetry, but people who study these areas say that’s not true. The structure of lyrics tends to differ than poetry’s. So, even a novelist who enjoys other forms of writing would have to learn how to make lyrics believable while adding value to his story. (You know, the lyrics would have to make sense.)
Using existing lyrics isn’t necessarily easier. Authors, not publishers, are often responsible for verifying the copyright status of work they use. As copyright holders in the music industry have the reputation as money-grabbers, gaining permission to use existing lyrics is difficult unless the author and publisher are willing to risk profits.
If adding lyrics to a story take so much work, why do authors bother?
I think it’s for the same reasons authors bother with any detail. They want what’s best for their stories. They want readers to accept their stories and be entertained. Stories are like young children who want to perform to a large audience. Authors will give them whatever they need to impress you (the reader).
Read through a novel that includes song lyrics. When a character sings, don’t the lyrics lead you deeper into the story than “he sang about [such and such]”? When a recurring song matches the novel’s theme perfectly, don’t the lyrics add to the mood?
If they do, the story might get what it wants. Then, everyone’s happy.
NOVELS USING PARTIAL OR COMPLETE SONGS:
- One For the Morning Glory by John Barnes
- Don Quixote (or El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
- James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
- Martin the Warrior (and other Redwall novels) by Brian Jacques
- Rudyard Kipling’s books (see Songs from Books index)
- Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts
- Night Watch trilogy by Sergei Lukyanenko (Note: link goes to an amateur review)
- Dave’s Song by Robert McKay (used Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne)
- Songmaster by Oson Scott Card
- Harper Hall trilogy (and other Pern novels) by Anne McCaffrey
- The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice
- Harry Potter series (except Prisoner of Azkaban) by J.K. Rowling
- Holes and Small Steps by Louis Sachar
- The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
- VideoJug interview with poet Michael Rosen on the difference between poetry and song lyrics
- Writing Forums discussion on difference between poetry and song lyrics
- Members of Yahoo! Answers