Ballad Free Write – a ballad is a song that tells a story. These songs originated in prehistoric, preliterate societies. The songs informed people of important events and occurrences. Adding music to a spoken story makes the story easier to remember – this is the mnemonic dimension of music conjoined to narrative. The music also, however, makes the rendering of the story, the performance, more beautiful – this is the aesthetic dimension. Early ballads tend to sound rather objective and cold to the modern ear – this is because balladry was a medium people used to share news and there was a quasi-journalistic ethic of rendering facts baldly, without comment or emotion. Modern ballads are simply songs that tell stories. Some of the stories are fictitious and are, therefore, like short stories. Other stories rendered in ballads are true. Those ballads, therefore, are more like journalistic reports, memoirs or biographies. In this exercise you’ll consider the following ballads. What you do is
1) read the printed lyrics and listen to the ballads. As you listen, note the following aspects of the song/stories
  • The situation the song portrays
  • The setting
  • The characters (central and peripheral)
  • The problem(s) that the main character (protagonist) confronts
  • The actions that emerge in the envelope that the setting and music create
  • The literary features that emerge in the song/story (narrative voice (verb tense[s], pronominal person[s]), description, character development, dialogue, humor, point of view and shifts(if any), plot, and credibility of fact based features)
  • Note how the music supports the story's momentum


2) Begin writing a story that emerges from the ballad of your choice. Your story can be a retelling. It can be a “prequel” relating events prior to those that the ballad enumerates. It can be an elaboration, filling in the gaps that the spare poetry narrative leaves. It can be a continuation, relating events subsequent to those that the ballad enumerates. It can use a character from the ballad as a character in another story. It can be a “spin-off in that it could illuminate the point of view and experience of, perhaps, a minor character in the ballad. Your challenge is a bit different depending on whether the ballad’s story is fact or fiction.

3) Option: Although all these songs and stories are American, they are from very different social and cultural milieu. Imagine characters from one song in relationship with characters in another song. Imagine characters from one song coming into the setting suggested in another song. Let your story emerge from this blending/juxtaposition.


Tell Ol' Bill - Bob Dylan



I Was Born to Love You - Britney Spears



Rattlesnakes - Tori Amos



Down in the Willow Garden - Everly Brothers




Just Like Him - Brandy Clark



Ballad of a Dead Souljah - Tupac Shakur