Fiction Writing Exercises: A Story for a Song

fiction writing exercises - story for a song

Fiction writing exercises: story and song.

Art Begets Art

A compelling story speaks to us much the same way music does, communicating thoughts, feelings, and ideas in ways that go beyond concrete language.

The result?

Something clicks. When you hear a song or read a story that resonates in this manner, you connect with it on a deep level. It almost feels like the author or songwriter was speaking for you, about you, or to you.

Some say that truly great art communicates directly with the subconscious. That’s why the arts coexist so naturally. Where you find a buzzing music scene, you can be sure a booming literary crowd is nearby. And where filmmakers toil with scripts and cameras, you can bet dancers aren’t too far off.

Creativity breeds creativity, and we are like magnets, drawn not just into our own passion, but those that complement and support our passions. Music, film, and art all enrich and inform one another. So do the musicians, filmmakers, artists, and of course, writers.

Fiction Writing Exercises

Some people say that everything has been written, every story told. But that’s not true. There’s always another angle, a different perspective that can be explored. And writers have all the tools they need to grab that perspective and run with it. You just need a starting point, and these fiction writing exercises can help you find it. Try starting with a song.

Before you get started, here are a couple of tips to help you work through these exercises:

  • Make sure you aren’t familiar with the song’s video.
  • Pick a song you like, something you can tolerate listening to several times. In fact the more you enjoy the song, the greater the chance you’ll have fun with this experiment.
  • Bonus if you know the lyrics by heart.

Exercise 1: A Story for a Song

Some of the greatest stories of all time have been told through song. Remember Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee?” John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane?” What about Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff?” Each of these songs tells a clear and distinct story.

Choose a song that tells a story and write the story behind it. This is kind of like traveling backward and trying to find those one thousand words that represent the value of a picture.

Exercise 2: Ambiguous Tales

On the flip side, we have ambiguous lyrics, like “Hotel California,” by the Eagles or “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. Tunes like these have inspired lively debates that ask, what are these songs about, anyway? And if we don’t know what the songs are about, why do they succeed at speaking to us? How do they become enormous hits?

Choose a song that tells a vague story and write about what really happened. Your goal is to take a hazy story and make it clear.

Exercise 3: Who Needs Lyrics?

This is the biggest challenge of all: choose a piece of instrumental music (with no lyrics) and find the story in the melody, harmony, and rhythm.

Music and Fiction Writing Exercises

Throughout history, great artists have collaborated and mixed media to come up with fresh takes on ancient truths. These fiction writing exercises provide a new source for inspiration, get you working in collaboration with other artists (musicians), and give you creative license to put a new spin on something that’s been around for a while.

You can write a paragraph, a few pages, or an entire novel. You could also write a script for film or stage. If you’re strapped for time, just write an outline or a few character sketches. And if you don’t feel like writing it down, just work it out in your head. Find the connection between music and storytelling and let it capture your imagination.

If you have any fiction writing exercises to share, feel free to post them in the comments.


About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


19 Responses to “Fiction Writing Exercises: A Story for a Song”

  1. *ponders* Just the idea of this challenge makes my muse sparkle.

    I find I write fiction far better when I have music playing. I have a specific playlist for my current novel. Just hearing the first few bars of that playlist gets me ‘in the mood’. It’s like a trigger. It’s one I’ve programmed within myself by playing the music when I began writing, every single time.

    Many ballets are coreographed to classical music. The coreographer tells the story they hear in the dance by directing the dancers.

    My greatest challenge with this challenge is choosing a song. Which classical tune has never been performed? Which of my favorite songs doesn’t tell a story? Is the story I hear when listening to my favorites the same story other listeners hear?

  2. --Deb says:

    Hmm, sadly, the song most stuck in my head lately is from Dr. Horrible, so … video accompaniment is built in!

  3. Friar says:

    There’s a series of Mozart pieces (God help me, I lost the casette tape years ago, and I don’t remember the title…Divertimento in ????something something…).

    Not one of his most popular hits. Hard to find in the record stores.

    But to me these are some of the most beautiful pieces of music in the world….a total of three, that last about 40 minutes.

    When I listen to it, I see a warm evening in late May/Early June. It’s a garden out in the country, with a forest in the background. Everything’s a fresh verdant green, with pink and yellow flowers on trellisses with a freshly cut-lawn.

    As the sun sets in the golden sky. the birds are chirping, the insects are humming, butterflies flittering catching that last bit of nectar……all of Nature giving it one last fling before the day ends.

    Then, just when you think it’s over, the night critters come alive, the frogs start peeping in the pond, the owls are hooting, the fireflies dance. It’s a warm magical’s comical and whimsical.

    Then everything calms down again, as the Moon makes her majestic appearance, rising up over the the trees and bathes the night with its silvery light.

    After listening this this, it’s impossible for me NOT to feel mellow and relaxed.

    I see it all so clearly, I could probably paint the scene from memory, as if I’d been there.

    Don’t know WHY this music evokes such vivid imagery.

    It just DOES..(and without alcohol or other artificial substances!) 🙂

  4. Nathan Egelhof says:

    What a terrific exercise! There definitely is a story, or stories, in every song. I especially love classical music. For me, the lack of lyrics, or if there are, having them in latin (something I speak little of), is truly a benefit. Then I don’t have any known markers of language detracting from the notes ringing off the instruments. Like Rebecca, I too prefer listening to music when writing fiction. Somehow, I’m more able to make a tragic scene that much more tragic if I can FEEL it through the music. In a way, I suppose that is a lot like your exercise for today. I’m feeling the emotions from the music, and giving them a story that I’m putting down on paper.

    I also loved your discussion about how the arts “coexist.” There truly is a bond between all of us, and it makes my heart soar when I think of how similar artists, musicians, writers, and all else who fall in the “arts” category are. A communal friendship is definitely what we need. And it’s nice to see someone talk about it.

    Great post!

  5. Ashley says:

    I do similar things with songs all the time. They really can inspire some interesting stories.

  6. @Rebecca, I hear you; choosing a song is not easy because there are so many to choose from! I would go for a song with lyrics but would pick one with really abstract imagery so that I could build a little world around it. Then again, there’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2,” which always gets my imagination in high gear, and another instrumental by Loreena McKennitt called “Marco Polo.” I have an entire video for that song worked out in my mind!

    I came up with this writing exercise because sometimes I put music on and then just lie there and let visions flow into my mind. Great for inspiring poetry too!

    @Deb (Punctuality), I don’t even know that song. Should I?

    @Friar, You said cassette tape! Hahaheh! Yep, that’s a lot like what happens when I listen to the two songs I mentioned above — an entire movie plays in my mind and I’m swept away into this other world. It’s absolutely divine.

    @Nathan, I wish there were more ways for us writers to collaborate with filmmakers, musicians, etc. I know it’s done in the big time (i.e. Hollywood and Broadway) but I think it’s more difficult for the rest of us to form those connections (especially online). Still, a little dialogue about how the arts are interrelated is a good thing 😉

    Oddly, I don’t listen to music when I’m writing. I do have one playlist I made that is mostly instrumental music, and I do put that on when I’m writing fiction or need to drown out external noise. Mostly I like to write when it’s quiet, otherwise the music sends me off into daydreams and I don’t get much done!

    @Ashley, That’s pretty cool — you’ve got this exercise down then. Do you have any tips or favorite songs for inspiration?

  7. Nathan Egelhof says:


    I know! Why isn’t there more collaboration between the groups? We shouldn’t just leave it to the “professionals” (a.k.a. the obscenely rich). I think we should all start an organization for coordination, local and online. We should get all the playwrights and musicians together, the screenwriters and filmmakers, etc. Lol, if I were ambitious, I would do this 🙂

  8. Friar says:


    Yep…I said CASSETTE. 🙂

    (That’s how long ago it was when I bought it!) In fact, I think the Mozart music was from a “Sony Walkman Classics” series.

    Yep. You heard me. I just said Walkman! 🙂

    Heh heh. I still have 20-year old tapes I made from a friend’s VINYL RECORDS. Believe it or not, back in 1985, it was not unthinkable for students to still have stereos with turntables!.

    Don’t worry, I’m not a Luddite. Of course I have CD’s now. But I still have those tapes stashed away in a box somewhere…

  9. *chuckles* Even CD’s are getting dated now. It’s a digital age. The era of MP3.

    My father still has a record player. I haven’t heard it turned on in a very long time.

    I’ve been listening to the soundtrack from the Wicked Musical lately. Imagine being involved in writing a musical? The ultimate union of writers, musicians, dancers, and many other creative talents.

  10. Deb says:

    I still have a stack of vinyls. And a player but no needle…*sigh*

    @Melissa – Part of me wants to love you for this and the rest of me is a mess. One song on YouTube led to another and so on and so on…and now it’s sob fest time.

    @Friar – I’ll see your CASSETTE and raise you one 8-TRACK of “MacArthur Park.” HAH! (grins broadly)

  11. Friar says:

    @Deb win!

    When I was a kid, 8-TRACKS were considered “old”, even back then! 🙂

  12. Kate says:

    What an excellent exercise. I’m not generally a writing exercise fan, but this sounds more like play than work.

    Thanks for the idea.

  13. @Nathan, There’s probably a website out there somewhere for artists to come together and collaborate. Personally, I’d love to work with a musician and write songs. That would literally rock!

    @Friar and Deb (gscottage), My parents had 8-tracks when I was a kid and I had both vinyl and cassettes growing up. In fact, I remember getting my first record-playing stereo and how excited I was. I used to listen to my mom’s albums (especially the Monkees!). Now I’m getting rid of my CDs and shifting completely to the iPod, and doing it gladly! I had over 300 CDs and that was just too much bulk!

    @Rebecca, I remember in school I would wonder what would happen if the students all got up and started singing or dancing (I used to watch the movie Grease a lot). This type of musical thinking has entertained me more than once (in work meetings, at boring parties, in classes). It would be a blast to write a musical. My all time favorite (on film)? Chicago!

    @Kate, I figure, what’s the point of a writing exercise if it’s not fun? If only I could come up with a writing exercise that involved dancing… 😉

  14. Jenny says:

    Melissa! I absolutely love this post! I am always putting together a story in my head when I lsiten to songs I like! I sometimes feel like I could be a video director! We did this exercise in English class in H.S. we could choose music or poetry, I chose poetry and looking back on it I wish I had done a song! I LOVE THIS POST!!! I’ll be doing this process in my posts in the future!!


  15. @Jenny, Thank you! Glad you liked this post so much! I’m like you; often when I listen to music, I make up movies or videos in my head. It’s not something I try to do — it just happens. Probably from watching WAY too much MTV when I was a kid (that was back when MTV actually played music videos!).

  16. Karen Swim says:

    Oooh Melissa, you truly know how to get a writer going! What an awesome writing prompt. I was particularly drawn to your challenge of the classical music. I think we (well writers anyway) naturally create our own backstory when listening to music, viewing art or even watching TV. However, we don’t always think to consciously incorporate this into our writing. Great, great challenge. You really excel at the whole teaching thing proving that people who teach can also DO. 🙂

  17. @Karen, I’m not sure I’d take on the classical music challenge! Sounds fun, but I think it could turn into a book. Okay, that might not be so bad. Thanks so much for your kind words 🙂

  18. Sharon Peeples says:

    I facilitate a writer’s group at our local library and have found your website to be very helpful in preparing interesting topics for the class. Thank you so much for the wonderful content for all writers! ~Sharon