Flash fiction strives to tell an interesting story within a severely limited word count. Many songs strive to tell an interesting story in just a few minutes.
If I were to look at some of my favorite songs on the radio from a flash fiction perspective, would I learn anything interesting?
This time: Compass, performed by Lady Antebellum
Compass is copyright © 2013 by Capitol Records Nashville, a division of UMG Recordings, Inc. It was recorded by Lady Antebellum in 2013.
Although normally I would quote from a work being analyzed, due to the short-form nature of these songs, I will try to refrain from quoting unless absolutely necessary. If you have never heard this song, I encourage you to watch the video, embedded below.
Coming in at just 278 words, this song is well within the word limit of most flash fiction. It was written by a gaggle of writers, and Lady Antebellum liked the song so much that they recorded and released it as a single.
Before I start, I have to say that I absolutely love this song. It’s rare to see a bluegrass-themed tune gain popularity on country airwaves, let alone on the pop charts, but this is such a fun, upbeat song that I’m not surprised by its success.
To top it off, it’s performed by one of my favorite bands, Lady Antebellum. I love this song, and I love Lady Antebellum.
But I’m not looking at why I love this song as a song. I want to learn whether there is anything about the lyrics of the song, and how it’s put together, that might translate into writing flash fiction. Once again, in my analysis I’ll refer to the song using prose terminology (story, narrator) to reinforce that idea.
The entire story is an extended metaphor for letting your heart guide you. As far as plot goes, there really isn’t anything here, but there is a metaphorical journey undertaken, not by the narrator of the work, but by the unnamed protagonist.
This story is written in second-person: the narrator refers to the protagonist as “you” throughout the work. This is common in songs, but pretty rare in fiction. Other than the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I read as a kid, I can’t recall seeing this narrative mode used very often.
Technically, this story is still first-person, since the narrator does appear in the story in the first-person. However, this only happens on two brief occasions: once in a verse where “we might get crazy late at night / I can’t wait till you arrive”, and once in the chorus where “we’re really not that far apart”.
The rest of the time, the story is focused on the second-person “you”, so I’m treating it as a second-person narrative. Any purists bothered by my technical inaccuracy may feel free to stick your fingers in your ears and say “la-la-la, I’m not listening to you.”
Choice of narrative mode is important because it has a huge impact on the story: it influences how the story is told, who is telling it, and how we come to learn about the events of the story. First-person narrative, for example, provides an intimacy within the story by putting the narrator into the events, telling the story as the narrator experiences it.
Second-person creates a different sort of intimacy by putting the reader into the story. Second-person can also create a relationship between the narrator and the reader, where none is necessarily implied in the other narrative modes. This is the case here: the narrator has an intimate relationship with the reader, and uses that relationship to deliver an uplifting message.
From a prose perspective, there isn’t much that I can say about this story. It’s just an extended metaphor. There is no plot, aside from a metaphorical journey undertaken by the second-person protagonist. I love the song, but the things I love about it — beat, instrumentation, delivery — seem to have little relevance when trying to gain insight into flash fiction.
Thoughts on Flash Fiction
This will be brief.
First, it might be worthwhile to explore the use of second-person as a narrative mode in flash fiction. Not simply for the sake of writing in second-person, of course: choice of narrative person has a profound effect on the story, but if it makes sense for the story, perhaps there is no reason to shy away from it simply because it is uncommon.
Second, extended metaphors (in this case, involving a journey) might help tie together a story that otherwise has little action to it. This story has no plot: it is entirely a metaphorical journey, held together with imagery of various modes of travel.
Third, and I knew this coming in, but a great song is not necessarily a good flash fiction story. They are different art forms with different purposes. If lessons from one can be applied to the other, that’s great, but it’s not guaranteed.