Choosing which stories to write songs about means sorting through a list of variables first.
My specialty is writing folktale- and myth-inspired, modern-sounding songs.
I call them Wanderlings. When I first started writing them under this title I had a vision of writing so many that there would be one for every week of the year. That meant one album of 13 songs for each of the 4 seasons, and as I have always written best during the winter I started there with Volume One. Volume Two was inspired by and written during the fall the following year. Four years have passed since, but this spring I finally sat down and wrote Volume Three.
As I begin a writing process like this, there are certain things I keep in mind.
It's very important to me that I broaden my horizons and intentionally ask myself to go looking for stories I've never read before from cultures and nations with which I'm not familiar. So I started reading Mexican, Chinese, Yiddish, Romani, Amazonian, Arabic, and French-Canadian collections (just to name a few) and (among others) sacred stories from Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Ancient India, the Gnostics, and several Indigenous Nations, including Ojibwe, Nootka, Naskapi, and Blackfoot.
I don't like my storytelling albums to sound the same all the way through. Stories that come from different places and different times should sound as different as their origins. Are there any musical styles or nods to musical styles I can include in my songs that match the cultures the stories come from? Rhythms, patterns, or modes I can start with or work in? Wherever I can, I work them in. Open to influences but not forcing them.
When I'm choosing songs for an album I'm keenly aware of which keys I'm writing the songs in. I don't want to end up with an album of songs all in the same key, with the same chords, or even similar chord progressions. Because I'm synaesthetic and all sound carries colour it matters even more that my keys are chosen so they do not paint a monochrome sonic painting, nor do they clash with one another.
I make a list of the stories (and then later of the songs) and their central themes. It's important to me to tell as many kinds of stories as I can, from as many perspectives as I can, so I don't want two stories about a young girl leaving home because of her cruel stepmother and finding herself a husband against her stepmother's wishes. (Actually, this particular example happens so frequently that sometimes I'll refocus each song so I can use two similar sources to tell two sufficiently different stories.)
Because my focus with the Wanderlings is to tell women's stories, I'm also on the lookout for diverse female perspectives and point of view characters. What ages they are, their life experiences, their personalities, their goals, who they love and who they hate, their literal and figurative journeys, their antagonists and allies, the other female characters they interact with and the lessons they learn or teach each other. Many of my songs are told from a first person perspective which means first I need to crawl inside my chosen characters' minds before I feel I've earned the right to tell their stories.
That's a look inside my process when choosing my sources. For this project I've written songs based on Armenian, Irish, East Coast Canadian, Italian, Arabian, Yaqui, Oaxacan, Chinese, Czech Romani, Yiddish, and German stories. Still ironing them out, but there's no rush. I'm hoping to have this album out next spring.