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I can't figure out if my songs are stories since they don't contain a climax, multiple characters, or a resolution.

For example is this song a story? It lacks conflict and climax and resolution but it tells the 'story' of someone who wants to go somewhere.

I want to go to that open field
way out west on the old frontier.
There I can be free,
and I'll have no problem chasing my dreams.

 I want the old west back, 
 so if I have the chance 
 I'll jump into the past.
 I'd trade anything
 to have the old west back. 
 

How can I be sure my songs are stories?

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    (my opinion) it is not a 'story' because it lacks the dimensionality of a conflict or an arc. I understand the character's desire, not sure what prevents it. (I assume why but it's not in the text) They seem positive about 'jumping into the past', if it's possible there is no conflict.... I think it needs a "But" to give a dimension (antagonism?) to the unfulfilled desire. Other hanging statements that could develop: 'I'd trade anything' (Anything...?) No problem chasing (what is real problem?). Both beg questions (outside the text) which could lead to a 'story' (conflict or character arc).
    – wetcircuit
    Dec 28, 2021 at 4:42
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    This seems pretty opinion-based, isn't it? There's no official definition of what constitutes a "story." Pretty much no matter what you write, some people will say it's a story and some people will say it's not a story. Dec 28, 2021 at 17:02
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    It might help to say why you want this. Do you want to put them on the exclusive songs-that-are-stories TicTok channel? Is there a local prize for best-song-that-tells-a-story? Did you read that songs which tell stories are replayed 50% more? The rules change, depending. Dec 28, 2021 at 17:35
  • I don't know what it takes to be considered a story, but personally I think your song is a good start, and I'd like to see you flesh out a couple of more verses.
    – Glen Yates
    Dec 28, 2021 at 21:54
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    @CoolGuy OK, couple of things, be careful with phrases like "If I could turn back time", I cant help but hear Cher! On the last line, I'm not sure what 'found' is supposed to rhyme with, this last phrase sounds odd. Also, I think you need more of a reason in the present day of why he wants to go back to the old west. For reference, look at the lyrics of a song such as Jimmy Buffet's "A Pirate Looks at Forty", here the speaker is faced with middle age and upon introspection is disillusioned with his achievements in life.
    – Glen Yates
    Dec 28, 2021 at 22:42

3 Answers 3

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No, your song represents an emotion; longing. Many songs do that.

A story, at its minimum, is a sequence of causes and effects, typically leading the listener to wonder what happens -- and then get the answer.

It does not require an antagonist, really, or human conflict.

In a little while from now

If I'm not feeling any less sour

I promise myself to treat myself

And visit a nearby tower

And climbing to the top

Will throw myself off

Gilbert O'Sullivan: You have a story in the first lines: The singer has made a conditional promise: If they don't feel better soon, he will "treat himself".

The listener is engaged and wondering what will happen. This is a story.

… "Let us be lovers, we'll marry our fortunes together

I've got some real estate here in my bag"

So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies

And walked off to look for America

Paul Simon: Bingo, a story in the first line: A proposition is made, "Let us be lovers and marry our fortunes together".

Will it happen? Yes, we get the answer in a few lines, but then WHAT will happen? The song is the story of a desperate search for a place to belong. (IMO).

Many songs are just about a momentary feeling, love, or sorrow, getting fed up and breaking up, struggle, etc. You could call these "declarations". I feel strong. I feel victorious. I feel angry. I feel healed. I feel saved.

Story songs are often also about a theme feeling, but told as a sequence over time. "A" happened, so "B" happened, so "C" happened.

In the song "Alone Again", the song theme is loneliness, but told in a sequence: We begin at the end: He is stood up at the altar and this is the last straw, he is suicidal. Then we flash back, to all the times he has lost people and felt alone, time and again.

… I learned the truth at seventeen

That love was meant for beauty queens

And high school girls with clear skinned smiles

Who married young and then retired

Janis Ian. Again: Story from the first line: **What is the truth?!?!"

None of these songs require interaction with others; Paul Simon's has a lover but they are not in conflict, they are fellow searchers taking comfort in each other.

All the songs have an emotional theme, we recognize it whether we can name it or not.

The difference in story songs is they relate events that brought on this emotion. Why is Gilbert O'Sullivan feeling suicidal?

Why is Paul Simon feeling lost and melancholy?

Why is Janis Ian feeling unloved, ugly, left out?

For your "Old West" song to be a story, the emotional THEME would be you want the Old West back, the STORY would be WHY you want the Old West back.

What happened to you?

Or what is happening to you?

You have 2 or 3 verses and a chorus, what are the 2 or 3 life problems that would be solved if you were back in the Old West?

What was allowed or prevailed then that you wish was allowed or prevailed now?

Duels? A simpler life? Riding the open range and living under the stars? Fresh air? True love?

Pick your theme, the feeling you want to convey. Then your story (in poetic verses) is the 2 or 3 most important incidents that have made you feel that way.

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  • How do you feel about the definition of a "lyrical short story" being plotless and lacking events? studylib.net/doc/6677412/fact-sheet_lyric-short-story slaphappylarry.com/two-types-short-stories
    – Cool Guy
    Dec 28, 2021 at 14:08
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    Where's the Gilligan's Island theme song? I'd wager it may be one of the most well known story songs.
    – Barmar
    Dec 28, 2021 at 14:52
  • medium.com/readingtopia/… Or this, isn't the plot his epiphany that he wants the old west back?
    – Cool Guy
    Dec 28, 2021 at 16:08
  • @CoolGuy No, that is not a plot. That is an emotion. It might be suitable as a theme, but it doesn't tell us WHY he wants the Old West Back. Read my post, you missed the point.
    – Amadeus
    Dec 29, 2021 at 14:53
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    @Amadeus And don't forget "Come and listen to my story 'bout a man named Jed..." They knew how to write story songs in those days.
    – Barmar
    Dec 29, 2021 at 14:56
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Essentially, a story tells how somebody solved some problem. Your song expresses a desire, but does not present a problem. No problem, no resolution.

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A "story" often has a plot, problem, conflict, and resolution. But not always. There is a famous example of a story (sometimes attributed to Hemingway) in just six words:

For sale, baby shoes, never worn.

No problem solved, no resolution.

I would tend to think of the above text as a verse, rather than a story, but the two terms are not exclusive. Other evocative verses might be called stories, for example "The Lake isle of Innisfree" (whch begins "I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree").

Of course some works in verse are stories, or even novels. (Beowulf comes to mind).

In any case there is no generally accepted definition of a "story". One could call this a story if one pleased.

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