Storytelling is one of the most important advancements of mankind, made all the more powerful when we realized we didn’t need to tell the truth. Let’s face it, the cold, calculated world of truth and reason just can’t capture humanity – for that we need fiction.
All stories are fiction, whether true or not – as Nobokov said in his seminal essay Good Readers and Good Writers, “to call a story a true story is an insult to both art and truth.” It wasn’t really the truth when you thought it and it won’t become true when you write it down. Honesty is a useless caveat that can set your writing back years.
Non-fiction is incredibly limiting as well, so it’s best served with a healthy dose of fantasy. Still, it’s useful to draw from your own life, and poetry about specific events will add ambiguity to your work while keeping it novel.
Cobain used short, cryptic lines with an emphasis on phonetics over syntax to create some of the most memorable verses in modern music. They were firmly rooted in his reality, but obscure and specific enough to keep them ambiguous.
However, drawing from reality is just a tool and it’s not a requirement to write great lyrics. With fictional poetry you can dive right into the heart of something that never happened and make small-scope commentary on the lives of people who don’t exist.
Below is “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine” by Spoon, (the home demo version off the deluxe 10th anniversary release of Gimme Fiction).
Listen as Britt Daniel sings of a desire to play Eddie Valentine in the play The Stranger Dance – A longing that will remain unfilled as the play, with it’s broken plot and three piece cast doesn’t exist outside of the pop song’s fictional universe.