My mind went on a little roller coaster ride this morning when a friend and fellow writer made an off-the-cuff comment on Twitter about Elton John’s Sad Songs (Say So Much). It was just a passing remark, but that song. That song! Every time I hear it, it’s a lesson to my writer self. It’s not a ground-shatteringly glorious song, or anything. I’m not saying it should win the Best-Song-Ever award, or anything like that. But it speaks to me. Every time.
As writers, we need to tap into the truths that Elton John hits in this song. The writer’s best friend is RELATABILITY. Once you earn the reader’s trust to the point that they GET the emotions and nuances that you’re writing about, they’ll take your hand. Once they take your hand, you got them. They’re yours for the remainder of your story. As long as you don’t suddenly alienate them.
To dip into this song that continues to haunt me as a lesson in writing, let’s look at some of its lyrics, shall we?
Guess there are times when we all need to share a little pain, and ironing out the rough spots is the hardest part when memories remain… ~ Bernie Taupin
When you can write about raw pain–authentic pain–you’re bound to engage your reader. Because we all know pain. I don’t think you even need to zero in on the pain that a particular reader is familiar with through personal experience. All the better if you do, but pain is pain. If you can ignite a reader’s empathy, you’re golden. At that point, the sharing is sort of cross-pollinated. The reader forms a relationship with you, they sink deeper into trust and, ultimately, into story. These opening lines in the song remind the writer to be vulnerable, to share pain. They also speak to a sense of nostalgia.
And it’s times like these when we all need to hear the radio, `cause from the lips of some old singer, we can share the troubles we already know ~ Bernie Taupin
Man, I love those next lines! So true. I always feel better when I hear a sad song. Again, the sharing comes into play. Life is a shared experience, or at least a rich life well lived is a shared experience. And though this song focuses on SAD as the emotion of response, we can also achieve the same goal with HAPPY as the emotion of response. The key is in the sharing. In the camaraderie of emotions.
When all hope is gone, why don’t you tune in and turn them on… ~ Bernie Taupin
As I relate these lines to writing, I see them as sort of a rallying cry. They remind me to remember my readers. I like to take readers to the edge of whatever emotion it is I’m trying to touch upon. Be it fear, sadness, joy…what have you. There is no point just brushing against an emotion. In fiction, in my humble opinion, it is emotion that makes the suspension of disbelief line blurry. You need that line to be blurry, whatever genre you write in. To make a reader bleed, or squeal in excitement, or scream in fear…you need to write authentic emotional scenes. Otherwise, they will turn the dial and find somebody else to turn them on.
They reach into your room
Just feel their gentle touch
When all hope is gone
Sad songs say so much ~ Bernie Taupin
If someone else is suffering enough to write it down
When every single word makes sense
Then it’s easier to have those songs around
The kick inside is in the line that finally gets to you
and it feels so good to hurt so bad ~ Bernie Taupin
Therein lies the rub. It feels so good. It does! It does feel so good to hurt so bad. If you do it right, it feels great. Because you are connecting to the sense of nostalgia your reader may have, you’re connecting to their humanness. Make them feel, and they are yours.
I want my readers to put my book down and sigh. I want to bring them to the edge of every emotion, and then I want a crescendo of a climax. And then I want to punch them in the gut with the softest most lilting denouement I can muster. THE KICK INSIDE IS IN THE LINE THAT FINALLY GETS TO YOU. I require my reader to stop and pause at the end of the denouement. And sigh. I need that line that finally gets to them.
So, when I hear this song on the radio…it speaks to me. It tells me to be good to my readers. It tells me to let them in to my inner emotional circle. It tells me to be a vulnerable writer if I want to win over readers. I listen well to this song. I take heed.
Yeah, Elton John & Bernie Taupin…SAD SONGS DO SAY SO MUCH. Thank you for making me a better writer. And thank you, Tobin Elliott, for reminding me again to heed the lessons for writers that can be found within this song…