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Some people use the term "nonsense" but I prefer to use the phrase "uncommonly sensed" because it's more reflective of creative types.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Sonic Highways: A Lesson in Story Telling

 Thanks to a friend, I’ve been watching a set of DVDs which chronicle the Foo Fighters latest recording, a concept album called Sonic Highways. Whether or not you’re a music fan, the way the album and DVD are put together is an outstanding example of story telling.

In the DVDs, each episode shows the band arriving in a city, learning about the musical influences, and then recording a song that exudes the flavor of that space. Each piece usually incorporates a local guest recording artists (such as Joe Walsh in California).

Great music. But how is this related to literature or writing?

There’s a lot we, as writers, can learn from the way Dave Grohl creates his art. First of all, the whole concept of the project stresses the importance of setting. There are things that characters will often do in one location but not in others. As a writer, your story is always a mixture of the people involved and the place they’re in, and what took place in the past in order to create the current environment. A story’s setting isn’t just a location: it’s a place in time that’s the culmination of all that’s come before in that space.

The setting in which you place a story influences actions and sets mood. It’s the same in music as it is in literature as it is in life. What Dave Grohl is tapping into is the subtle differences in culture between cities on the same continent. He's also showing the impact of time on these things. Cities have personalities and atmospheres that have evolved in a particular manner.

Think about the setting in your writing almost as if it’s another character, because it’s just as important to moving the plot along. If you watch these DVDs, notice how different cities produce different musical sounds because of the unique mixture of people who live there or the kinds of struggles and achievements that took place in those locations. These nuances provide the rich texture and context for a story, and these are the kinds of details that bring a story to life.

The tag line on the DVD set is “Every city has a sound. Every sound has a story” and these DVDs tell those stories well. Highly recommended viewing.


  1. Glad you enjoyed the series as much as I did, Amy. Grohl has become a very good music documentarian. "Sound City" is also terrific.

    1. I'll be checking out Sound City soon. I have a lot of respect for Grohl as an artist.