So I’ve been listening to a lot of Owl City recently. Something about these songs fills my head with inspiration (hence why I felt inspired enough to write this very post). But apart from just being fantastic music, as I’ve been listening, I’ve also noticed some things that Owl City does in these songs that relate really well to writing, and that we could probably all stand to be reminded of every now and then. So here’s my list of writing lessons from Owl City. I’ve mostly used examples from Ocean Eyes because that’s my favourite album, but I recommend the others too. They’re all good!
No Idea Is Too ‘Mundane’ If You Present It Right: Ideas themselves aren’t enough to draw people to your work. A great idea can fall completely flat, while a simpler, or more common idea can touch people because of the way you present it to them. It’s your take on it that makes it amazing or eye catching. Don’t dismiss an idea because it initially doesn’t seem ‘special’ enough. Owl City wrote a whole song about going to the dentist (Dental Care), and I don’t know about you, but nothing about that song seems ‘mundane’ or ‘boring’ to me. The idea is the starting point. It’s what you do with it that will make people like it or not.
Twist the Cliches: We’ve all been told this before. ‘Don’t use clichés, come up with something fresh. People don’t want to hear clichés. Blah, blah, blah.’ To be honest, there are so, so many cliché descriptions and turns of phrases, easy to use, easy to ignore as you’re skimming through the words. Giving the cliché a twist takes a little more thought, but also transforms a tired piece of writing into something fresh. Take this line for example: “…because I’ve heard it said that every mushroom cloud has a silver lining” (Cave In). It’s a little shift, but the twist of ‘cloud’ to ‘mushroom cloud’ creates a wildly new image.
Turn a Negative into a Positive, or Vice Versa: Sometimes a stronger expression or description can be found by twisting expectations. Storms and rain clouds, for example, are often used in a very negative light, denoting sorrow, depression, and other dark emotions. But in one song (Butterfly Wings), Owl City uses the idea of a thunderstorm being comforting, with the clouds being like a warm blanket. It’s unexpected, but vivid. It catches you off guard in a way that the tired cliché ways of description don’t.
Spend Plenty Of Time Cultivating Your Unique Voice: Owl City has an amazingly distinct style. The music feels soft and eternally positive, a bit laidback, with unexpected images, fragmented ideas and vivid descriptions, and the singer’s voice has a distinctive quality to go with it. A while back, the only song I knew from Owl City was, of course, Fireflies. Which is a fantastic song. But from listening to that one song I could pick any other Owl City track simply because of the style.
Admittedly, finding your own voice is very, very difficult. But it is very much worth trying to find and build on what makes your voice special. Are you good at lyrical descriptions that paint pictures? Do you have a knack for dry humour? Do you find yourself writing in a terse, or poetical, or conversational style? Don’t be afraid to experiment. Find what works for you and don’t let go, because when you do discover your style, your readers will be able to pick your book at ten paces and know instinctively that this is a writer they’ll love.
(Check out the songs I'm referencing and see these things in action for yourself)
Do you listen to Owl City? What are some of your favourite musicians/bands? What have you learnt from the music you listen to? Anything you would add to this list? Let’s talk!