Your words will find an audience if you remember that there is more to a story than a plot. As a case in point, I’m going to use the lyrics for the song Africa by Toto. Africa was written by David Paich and Jeff Porcaro. Google’s display of the lyrics can be seen here. Mr. Paich has said that it’s about “a white boy [writing about] Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.” (source = Wikipedia) Before I go on, let me state that I’ve always liked the song. It’s in my main playlist on Amazon Prime. I think Toto was a collective genius in recording and releasing it. Weezer has covered it. You know you’ve made it when Weezer covers you, or Weird Al parodies you. In this case, Weird Al helped Weezer cover the song in their video. Check it out here. The Weezer cover was by fan requests. Okay, they’ve made it. The song rocks! But, it ain’t the lyrics, bub!
Take the second verse (please.)
The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless, longing for some solitary company
What? Solitary company? What they hey? Do those dogs need a quiet place to masturbate? Do wild dogs even do that? And it goes on.
I know that I must do what’s right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
Hey, look at that mountain over there! Looks just like another mountain doesn’t it? You could say “rises like Mount Charleston” and have as good a simile. Oh, my. Meanwhile, back in the first verse we find this:
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some long forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say, “Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you”
I’ve never been to Africa either, but I don’t imagine I could read the minds of old African men. (Remember: I like this song.)
Here’s the thing. As a song, there’s more to it than just the basic storyline. In this case that’s a wonderful thing. The basic oh-so-thin plot is backed up by the rest of the song. The central theme, drilled home over and over by the chorus:
It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
The fade-out, the denouement if you will, takes seemingly forever, repeating that theme, and repeating that theme, and repeating that theme. In the song world, that’s known as “the hook.” I’ve seen memes of it on social media. And there’s the music, which is, frankly, rather haunting. The music is equivalent to the setting, the characterization, the voice, of a story. In this case, the music and the theme together make a hit out of what is probably the most lacking in substance set of lyrics ever penned. Heck, Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavor (by Lonnie Donegan) has more meaning. They’re Coming to Take Me Away (By Napoleon XIV) is profound in comparison. but those songs don’t have the music, or central theme, to grab the listener (reader) and keep them listening (reading.)
You can probably think of a book or two in which the plot isn’t much, predictable maybe, ho-hum, except that you just had to finish the thing anyway because of how well it was written, how much you rooted for the characters, how memorable was the theme. Books are just like music. They need more than a good plot to be memorable. In fact, a good plot is sometimes secondary to the other elements that make a book great.
Something to think about while working on your 2019 projects. You’re welcome.
Here is a link to the official video of Toto doing Africa on YouTube.