Music: Creating a Legend

13 Apr

When I first started doing so reasearch for my novel some years back, I looked into specific eras that I wanted to be inspired by.  At first I thought I was going for something more 1920s because of how young planes were at this stage, but then later realized that I also wanted more of the lifestyles and technologies adopted in the 30s (roughly speaking).  Still, I was really interested in how planes performed and were used during WWI as opposed to WWII.

That’s when I happened to stumble across  They’ve got all sorts of information on the war, ranging from first-hand accounts in the forms of hand-written letters to music and video footage.

Inspired by Music

I hadn’t expected to find music there, so I was especially interested in listening to the kind that was played and listened to around that timeframe.  Here’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve sampled from their collection (using YouTube since I can’t upload MP3s without paying extra monies!):

That one is dated 1911, though the one on says it was written in 1911 and recorded in 1912.  In any case, it predates the war, so it doesn’t make reference to it.  I suppose like it because it’s fun and light-hearted and hasn’t been influenced by war.  You get a glimpse of life in America before the coming storm.

Realizing that maybe this was a little earlier style of music than I was looking for, I found, which features music from around the WWII era.  Lots of good selections there.

There’s a big gap between the two (from the early 1910s to the mid-1940s), and the range of musical influences I was looking for lies somewhere in the middle.  Still, it was a fun research of sorts.  I think listening to the music from different times gives you a certain kind of insight into what people were all about back then.  What people care about is typically what they’ll sing about.

Why This Has Anything to Do with Writing

After listening to all of this vintage music, I thought, “Hmm…what if I came up with a song that was popular in my novel’s storyworld?”

All right, why not?

Well, I have this (dead) character, a traitorous double agent, who’s become a part of the contemporary culture of the people in my story–a legend, even.  She’s a Mata Hari figure, of sorts, who’s inspired others to create several movies, songs and novels about her.  And, as you can imagine, the tales that people tell about her have likely undergone some…change over time and distanced themselves from the actual truth, which is what makes them kind of legend.  It’s just another look at how a tragedy can become a romanticized figure, despite what she did (committed treason) and what happened to her as a result (execution).

So I thought this would be perfect material for a song and a fun way to spin a tale within a tale–one that maintains relevance throughout the story.

The Lyrics

“Dirty Little Spy” is the name I came up with for the song.  It would be sung by a female blues singer (I only meet half this requirement, lol) in the key of A minor and at a fairly slow tempo.  I guess the form would be something like AABABBC, for those who are into music.

I have put parts of the song into the story, but I don’t use all of the lyrics, as that would get clunky and awkward.  Anyhow, it tells the story of this double agent I mentioned, whose last name is Feruupa (she was a Borellian citizen).  Here’s what I came up with:

(Instrumental introduction)

Verse 1

There once was a girl named Feruupa,
She worked the cabaret shows at night.
Then she met a man who was strange and new
And he liked her ways—so sly and cool.
He said,
“You could be a spy.” 

Verse 2

So she thought the deal over and over,
And it just seemed so perfect and right.
She could travel the world and see the sights,
Maybe work by day and spy by night.
She said,
“I wanna be a spy.”


Baby, darling, it’s but a game.
Business, pleasure—it’s all the same.
So I fool you once, a pardon is due;
I fool you twice, the fool is you.
You never woulda guessed I was a spy.

 Verse 3

So she took a job over in Darmoil.
When she came back she just weren’t the same.
Something changed her mind and she did the unkind,
Put one over her lover, kicked her country in the ‘hind.
“You never shoulda known I was a spy.”

Chorus (x2)


For treason she made a date with the electric chair.
“How unfair,” she wailed, but it didn’t care
‘Cause she was just a no-good,
Filthy, rotten,
Little spy.

[The ending would get really, really slow…and then suddenly pick back up again.]

Naturally, I had to make this song something that my heroine would be influenced by.  She’s got some silly notions floating around in her head about how glorious spying would be–notions which are soon challenged after she gets an offer to become one herself!

The Sound

I’ve never tried writing anything with a jazzy blues feel to it before, so it’s something I’d have to experiment with more.  However, I did find this really neat video on YouTube of a couple of guys just experimenting with unusual sound combinations.  They call it “oud blues“.  It sounds exotic yet familiar–exactly the kind of quality I was looking for.  I thought it would be really cool if the song was played in a similar style but slower–something I haven’t exactly figured out how to accomplish yet, heh.  Anyway, here’s the video:

Now, I do play some piano, but since I don’t play the oud or the bass it would be difficult to bring the entire song to life unless I use composition software.  And I’m generally not a singer (too shy!) though I can sing things in-tune and in-key, so long as it’s within my range.  So maybe one day I’ll be able to sit down and finish fleshing out the song into an entire composition.

Does music play a role in any of your stories?

If so, in what way?  Also, how large or small of a role does it play?

Sometimes, I’ve noticed, authors will make passing references or allusions to songs and celebrities, or if there’s television or radio a reference to what’s playing on there–particularly when it’s set in the real world.  Though, I have seen it done some in secondary worlds.  In Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch he sometimes includes rebel radio messages spoken by the Lady in Blue, the leader of an ongoing resistance movement.  I thought this was a nice touch.

Just the mere mention of things like music and even news that’s being talked about in newspapers, radio and other mediums, even word of mouth, can add an extra level of depth and richness to a story.  However, I think it only becomes meaningful to the reader if it has relevance to the story itself.

What do you think?


16 Responses to “Music: Creating a Legend”

  1. T. S. Bazelli April 13, 2011 at 3:58 PM #

    I never thought about it, but yes it does. The MC gets involved with a circus troupe, so there is music. It’s not a main part of the plot, just a touch.


    • Tiyana April 13, 2011 at 4:55 PM #

      Circus troupe, eh? That sounds like fun. 🙂


      • T. S. Bazelli April 14, 2011 at 1:59 PM #

        Also I didn’t realize until after that you wrote that song, and WOW I am amazed! I thought all the while it was an old jazz tune that you found somewhere (I read too fast, sorry).


  2. E.J. Apostrophe April 13, 2011 at 4:27 PM #

    Hmmm…here’s an idea…how about holding a contest for someone who can provide the best cover or music for your song? Or contacting the Oud Blues Quintet to see if they would do something for you?


    • Tiyana April 13, 2011 at 5:01 PM #

      Outsource the work!? Heh.

      OMG, that would be amazing if they could make a song for me… Though, I kind of feel I’d need to finish the book first, lol. Still, it would be worth a shot.


  3. Stephen A. Watkins April 14, 2011 at 8:41 AM #

    That’s really getting into the world of your story. Bravo! I have no talent for writing music (but lots of talent for appreciating it 😉 so I could never write a song and say something like “it should be sung in the key of A minor” with anything approaching an authoritative voice and pull it off. I’d just be talking out my bum.

    I can write crude but serviceable poetry, so theoretically I can lyrics, but I notice real song lyrics often leave out beats that are picked up by the music, whereas if I write it, I’ve got to get the beats in the words because I can’t hear the music that goes with it.

    That said, I did once write a children’s sing-song rhyme for my world, once – a version of “April Showers bring May Flowers” – but it was awful. Mostly because my corresponding month-names were awful.

    I also started, but never completed, a free-verse epic of the world’s history – kind of the “Bible” of the world, but that would’ve been spoken, not sung.


    • Tiyana April 14, 2011 at 11:02 AM #

      Now see, poetry is something I could never pull off, lol, so I admire folks who dare to even attempt it. Tried it a few times in high school…nuh-uh, not for me, heh.

      Though, there does seem to be some similarity between song lyrics and poetry. I’d never really considered that before.

      A World Bible sounds pretty epic!


      • Stephen A. Watkins April 14, 2011 at 1:30 PM #

        I didn’t say I was good at poetry… just that I can do it when called upon. I’ll never be famous for my poetry. Besides, I prefer prose.

        The world bible was pretty epic – until I realized that it sucked. Both because my style was all wrong (free verse is not the appropriate style for an ancient epic poem) and because my history was not yet where I needed it to be.


  4. Jay Noel April 14, 2011 at 12:17 PM #

    I’ve always thought of song lyrics as being synonymous with poetry.

    But wow, you wrote an entire song! It’s both impressive and mind blowing to me. How big is your novel? I’m guessing it’s right around the size of a phone book. Your world building detail just amazes me.

    So very cool!


    • Tiyana April 14, 2011 at 4:08 PM #

      Thanks! The novel is around 200K right now, but I’m pretty sure that will change… For more or for less, I couldn’t say, haha. I’m planning on doing many rewrites, so we’ll see.


  5. Jay Noel April 15, 2011 at 12:14 PM #

    You’ll have to change the title of your blog to 8-and-a-half drafts! Yowza!


    • Tiyana April 15, 2011 at 1:01 PM #

      Idk, I kind of have a thing for the number 7… It’s strange.

      And the draft I’m working on now isn’t a “first” draft like the others; I consider it to be a second draft based off a legitimate, official “first” one. 😛



  1. Thoughts on Dialogue & How Espionage Fiction Sometimes Does Stuff Better « Seven & a Half First Drafts - May 25, 2011

    […] a defecting spy, and I’ll just call her Agent Feruupa for now (I’ve talked about her here before, actually).  In everyday speech her name has become synonymous with treason and is even […]


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