Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Putting songs in your book

I've seen some authors ask questions about this on forums.  They want to include lyrics from some song or other, and they want to know how much they can use without getting into trouble.

The answer, of course, is "not much."  Copyright laws are far stricter for music than they are for fiction, and the big music companies have teams of lawyers at their disposal.  And, frankly, I think it's kind of pointless to use someone else's work if you can only quote a line or two.  Why not just make up your own line or two?  Authors are supposed to be "creatives," right?  Well, then do that!  Get creative!  :D

"But Mr. Tanyard, I'm not a songwriter.  I don't know anything about it.  I can't write lyrics."

Don't fret, good sir or madam.  Uncle Jeff is here to help.

Writing a song isn't really as hard as you might think.  Just think of it as micro-fiction with rhyme and meter.  First, let's define our terms:

Micro-fiction:  This is a form of flash fiction.  Wikipedia says:

"The terms "micro fiction" and "micro narrative" are sometimes defined as below 300 words..."

In other words, it's just a story that is very short.

Rhyme:  Words that rhyme.  Duh.  ;)

Meter:  From Wikipedia again: 

The familiar type of metre in English-language poetry is called qualitative metre, with stressed syllables coming at regular intervals (e.g. in iambic pentameters, usually every even-numbered syllable).

My suggestion?  Keep your meter simple.  Put the same number of syllables in each line, and stress every other syllable.  You can get fancy later after you've got a few songs under your belt.

So let's give it a shot.  We'll do a fantasy song about a knight going off to kill a dragon.  Let's break the story down into three acts:

Act 1:  The knight is enjoying life in his peaceful town.  Everything's cool until he finds out his lady love has been kidnapped by a dragon.  He sets off to rescue her and kill the offending beastie.

Act 2:  The knight enters the dragon's cave and does battle.  The dragon gets the upper hand, and things look grim for our hero.

Act 3:  The knight digs deep, finds the courage/strength/guile/whatever necessary to slay the dragon.  He rescues the lady and they live happily ever after.

Now let's write out each act in stanzas with equal numbers of lines.  We'll go with four lines each, for a total of twelve lines of song by the time we're finished.  No rhyme or meter yet, though.  Ignore those things for now.  Let's just get the story down first.

Ready?  Here we go...

Galahad was a brave knight in the land of Greenfield.
But his lady love Eleanor was taken by Saurus, a sinister dragon
He resolves to kill the beast for its transgression and rescue his beloved
He sets out on the road to Saurus''s cave

The cave is dark and maze-like, but Galahad makes his way to Saurus's lair
Saurus attacks while Lady Eleanor watches from her cage
Galahad strikes with his sword, but the dragon's scales are too hard
Saurus breathes fire, and it looks like the end for poor Galahad

Galahad rolls across the floor and avoids the fire
He plunges his sword into Saurus's soft underside, killing him
Galahad frees Eleanor and returns to Greenfield to a hero's welcome
They get married and live happily ever after

So now we've got the basis for a song.  All that's left is to add rhyme and meter.  Since rhyme, in my opinion, is more limiting than meter, we'll do rhyme first.  We want the last words of the first two lines to rhyme, and we want the last words of the last two lines to rhyme.  We'll do this for each stanza.  Remember: we're not doing meter yet.  Just the rhymes.  It may require rearranging the wording of the sentences a little, but that's okay.  Once we get the rhymes in place, we can go back and play with the wording to get the meter right.  Don't hesitate to use a search engine, too, to find words that rhyme.  The internet's a great resource.  Take advantage of it.

So here we go:

Galahad of Greenfield was a brave knight and true
But Lady Eleanor was taken by Saurus, and now he must pursue
He'll kill the dragon and rescue his maiden fair
He sets out on the road to Saurus's lair

The cave is dark and maze-like, but Galahad finds the den
Saurus attacks while caged Lady Eleanor watches from within
Galahad strikes with his sword, but the dragon's scales are too hard
Saurus breathes fire, and Galahad might be fatally marred

Galahad rolls across the floor and avoids the fire
He plunges his sword into Saurus's belly, spilling his intestinal mire
Galahad returns to Greenfield with his maiden fair
They get married and a happy life forever share

Okay.  So we've got the rhymes in, with a little re-wording.  Now let's do the meter.  I'm just going to look at the first line first, settle on a rhythm that seems right, and then rearrange the other lines to match.

Sir Galahad of Greenfield was a dauntless knight and true

I've done a little re-wording here so that the stresses alternate.  We now have the following pattern:

a A a A a A a A a A a A a A

Seven stressed syllables, each preceded by an unstressed syllable.

Now we just re-word the rest to match that pattern.

    Sir Galahad of Greenfield was a dauntless knight and true

    When Lady Eleanor was nabbed, he knew he must pursue

    To kill old Saurus in his cave and rescue maiden fair

    He took his sword and left to find the deadly dragon's lair

    The cave was dark and twisty but our hero found the den

    The dragon leaped right at him past the Lady caged within

    Sir Galahad was brave and slashed, but dragon scales are hard

    Old Saurus breathed his fire at him and knight was nearly marred

    Our hero rolled across the floor and dodged the deadly fire

    He plunged his sword into the beast and spilled his guts and mire

    Sir Galahad returned to Greenfield with his maiden fair

    They married in the spring and then a life forever shared

And there we are.  And it doesn't take long at all.  You should be able to crank out a simple song like this in an hour or less.

So stop trying to figure out how much of other people's lyrics you can use without getting sued.  Make your own lyrics and enjoy some peace of mind and the pride that comes with creative expression.  :)

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