Want to Improve Your Writing Skills? Listen to Bob Dylan
I love Bob Dylan. My love for the man and his music stems from the desire to be part of a decade dedicated to change: the sixties. Dylan's music fueled the flames of this turbulent era in American history, yet his lyrics still speak to us today. Yes, the lyrics of Bob Dylan have the ability to stand the test of time, and this ability is the hallmark of great literature.
Each song penned in Dylan's signature style offers the budding author a lesson in storytelling, the importance of paying attention to detail, and ( in my opinion) the need to maintain one's individuality.
The heart and soul of any Dylan song is its story. Dylan's style is rooted in folk music and folk music is an exercise is storytelling. The history of folk music can be traced back many generations. The lyrics of these songs were often created to preserve legends and to tell the stories of great heroes and heroines of the past. Although the subjects of these songs may have met an untimely fate, the brave (and sometimes not so brave) men and women come to life each time their songs are sung at camp, in the home, or to an audience.
Although he began his career as a folk singer singing in New York clubs and coffeehouses, Dylan soon strayed from traditional folk and crafted his own folk masterpieces. In "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Caroll," Dylan slowly and steadily tells the story of an innocent kitchen worker killed by a wealthy and influential man. In "Who Killed Davy Moore," Dylan looks at the darker side of prize fighting. The two songs are examples of outstanding storytelling; however, at the end of each song the listener must deal with the consequences of the song. The meaning of the song is much greater that the story itself, and this meaning will haunt the listener for a long time to come.
Great literature has this effect. When the author puts pen to paper, he or she has the power to influence the world at large. Upton Sinclair turned the meatpacking industry upside down with his novel The Jungle. Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic novel Uncle Tom's Cabin strengthened the abolitionist movement. Both of these classic novels are excellent reads, but in the end the reader is forced to deal with moral issues. The reader has essentially bonded with the story and formed an emotional connection with its characters. All writers should take note of this technique. Hooking the reader is just not enough. The real goal is personal attachment.
Details, Details, Details
Like any great author, Dylan's style offers both the novice and the experienced writer the opportunity to improve his or her style simply because Dylan is a master of words. In Dylan's world, words are nothing more than building blocks. Words are used as playthings and become the roots of puns, metaphors, similes, hyperbole, and other forms of entertaining wordplay.
Like the artist bringing his or her work to life in oil or watercolor, Dylan brings his work to life with words. Listen to Dylan's song, and your senses will be teased. Your mind will be introduced to various images and often challenged to keep up with the constant stream of imagery that is central to Dylan's style of writing. He constantly changes his method of description and never describes a person, place, or thing in the same manner. The life of the story is in its ability to set a mental stage for the reader; and, in order to set the stage and make the story interesting to the reader, he or she must include vivid details. Details and descriptions should leap off the paper and into the reader's mind. Failure to do so will force the reader to put the book back on the shelf before the reader makes it to the second page.
One of the qualities that I admire in Bob Dylan is the fact that he is a risk taker. When Dylan exchanged his acoustic guitar for an electric guitar, he expressed his individuality as an artist and made history. Great authors have the ability to push conformity aside and go for the heart. Conformity to a certain style or genre may sell books, but these books are seldom remembered after the fad dies. The book that is remembered, however, is the book that started the fad. Over the years there have been many Dylan imitators, but there is only one Bob Dylan.