Several years ago, I wrote a song about a legendary folk figure of the north woods: Paul Bunyan. I wanted to see what kind of story existed besides the silly cartoon I'd grown up with. So I conjured the rhythm of a swinging axe. I strummed the guitar and the words flowed like a river at ice-out. My song "Paul Bunyan's Lament" was born.
I was listening to an interview with Josh Ritter about his book "Bright's Passage." In the interview he mentioned that his novel stemmed from a song he had written. My mind was blown. It had never occurred to me that the story written out in a song could extend after the track ended. And why not? I had just done the exact opposite, hadn't I? I had taken a well known and explored story, re-imagined it, and condensed an entire plotline into a three-and-a-half-minute sound bite.
So, the opposite must be true.
That night, I sat down with my laptop, and imagined how I might tell the story in prose instead of lyrics. I wrote a lot that first month. The song expanded like a bellows inhaling the room. It was only when I started sharing my story with my wife when she helped slow me down and provide some good advice.
To really do the story justice and let this new literary world unfold, I needed to have a few things figured out.
First, I needed to have an outline. This was pretty easy as I had the song to get me from point A to Z. But what about all of the other stops in between? I began creating a more detailed sentence outline that gave me structure as I wrote Paul's journey. This was so helpful in keeping me on course.
Secondly, I needed to be accurate. I began doing my research. I searched the web. I read first accounts of logging history. I took notes, and added the depth and intensity of color to my story that made all the difference.
Lastly, I simply needed to understand the characters and what I wanted their journey to look like. I had to spend a little time asking what was the purpose of each event in the book. I found I had a tendency, primarily out of my new found joy or writing, to get lost in describing minutiae. Staying focused on the motivations and path each character was walking was helpful for me
A challenge with prose compared to songwriting is also the appeal. With a song, you have to be concise due to the short window you have with the listener. With prose, the pages can keep turning. There are many doors in a hallway to explore. However, concision is still essential. If I found myself getting board when writing a chapter, I knew my reader would be as well.
Slowly but surely, by asking myself what happened between each line in the verses and choruses, a story unfolded and a world came to life. Turning a song into prose was as exciting as running through a corn maze. Sometimes you hit a dead end, but then you just back track, and enjoy the twists and turns until you see the ending. Then you sprint out of the field. The end result was a novel called "The Man in the Pines" which was eventually published by Ten16 Press.
Not in any of daydreams did I ever imagine myself becoming an author. I've always thought of myself as a songwriter. As it turns out, both seem to feed each other. It's a relationship that I've continued as more ideas enter my orbit, and I remind myself that ideas don't need to be closed circles. They can open and expand if you are willing to do the exploring.