How To Write A Concept Album (Part 2) - Characters & Universe

In part 1 I discussed different types of concept albums. Many are based on idea's or emotions, but in this part we will focus on a narrative concept album.

A narrative is a story; Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are both narratives.

I don't think you will want to write a story quite as long as those, but how about a short story?

TheRealMusician Recommends:

If you want to take marketing your music to another level, then I can't recommend enough John Oszajca's music marketing manifesto. My favorite aspect of his complete program was his stance on email marketing, where he really leverages the that "1000 true fans" philosophy.

His website is a bit hokey (Flaming guitars? Seriously?), but his program really shows independant artists how to get a leg-up on signed artists.

For "Deloused in the Comatorium" Cedric Bixler-Zavala wrote a 20+ page short story. After the story was complete, he wrote lyrics (a song for each chapter) describing what happened in the book.

So here's the technique I recommend for writing a narrative concept album:

  • Write a story, in all the glorious detail you can create. 
  • Then, write lyrics describing your short story. They will obviously be considerable shorter than the story itself, so you will need to be summarizing in as few words as possible.

When people hear this snapshot of your story in lyrics, it gives them the impression that your lyrics have a greater amount of depth to them, and for good reason.

Creating A Paracosm (Universe)

Creating a paracosm (universe) for your story helps you to decide exactly what your story is about.

I recommend taking a quick look at what a paracosm is if you aren't familiar with the term first. 

If everything in your story is non-fiction, then simply recognizing that, and being conscious of it is enough for this step, though I still recommend you check out some of the elements below so you can be aware.

Some of you would like to create a fictional universe (paracosm), in which case you would be required to consider many different characters and qualities of your world. Let's take a look at some of the different elements that might be present in your fictional universe.

  • The Protagonist(s) - the good guy
  • The Antagonist(s) - the bad guy
  • Creatures or Monsters
  • World Powers/Government
  • God (does God, or some version of God play into your story?)
  • Aliens (& the unknown)
  • Nature (if used correctly, things such as the weather can be used as a character in your story
  • The 4 Elements

Depending on how "Sci-fi" your story is, some of these things will or will not apply. Example: if you are writing a romantic story, there will likely not be any aliens in your story.

You don't have to feel restrained by any of the things I've suggested above. They are simply some idea's to help you get started.

The Protagonist

This "good guy" is the person you will position as the main character of the story. You might have a few main characters, but the key is that you are casting them in a good light.

Here are some examples of iconic, yet typical good guy protagonists:

  • Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • Most superhero comics (Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Captain America, etc.)
  • Frodo, Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas, etc. (Lord of the Rings)
  • Harry Potter (Harry Potter)
  • Gordon Freeman (Half-Life - Video Game)
  • Luke Skywalker (Star Wars)
  • Mario & Luigi (Super Mario Brothers - Video Game, not the awful movie)
  • Maximus Decimus Meridius (Gladiator)
  • Marty McFly (Back to the Future)
  • Mal Reynolds (Firefly)
  • George Bailey (It's a Wonderful Life)
  • WALL-E (WALL-E)
  • Andy (The Shawshank Redemption)
  • Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)
  • Indiana Jones (I can't remember what movie he's from)

One thing you want to remember is your protagonist doesn't have to be "Clark Kent Superman, doing everything right and is always there to save the world". 

This does not have to be your Protagonist

You may want to make him a more realistic protagonist, or you might want to make him a morally appalling character.

The point is not that he is an upstanding fellow, but that you have the audience see from his perspective and relate to him.

Remember the movie "Despicable Me"? The protagonist of the movie was...

...an evil mastermind!

Okay, maybe that's not an amazing example seeing as though he turns out to be a pretty decent guy in the end (he just THINKS he's a really bad guy), but I wanted to illustrate the point in a very easy to understand way.

Here are some other more appropriate examples of protagonists from movies who are morally reprehensible:

  • Cptn. Jack Sparrow - "Pirates of the Caribbean"
  • Alex DeLarge - "A Clockwork Orange"
  • Patrick Bateman - "American Psycho"
  • Nick Naylor - "Thank you for Smoking"
  • Michael Corleone - "The Godfather"
  • Tony Montana - "Scarface"
  • Daniel Plainview - "There Will Be Blood"
  • Swanson - "The Comedy"

You can think of these types of protagonists as the "anti-hero".

Also you want to keep in mind that you might have multiple protagonists, such as in the show "Arrested Development" (check it out, it's one of my favorites.)

The Antagonist

Two things to know about the antagonist:

  1. This is your villain.
  2. Almost every story has one.

The purpose of the antagonist is often to give conflict in the story, making it more interesting, and giving the protagonist hurdles to overcome.

Some stories, instead of a living villain (Antagonist), have life-situations that act as the  conflict.

An example of this would be in the show "Arrested Development", where George Michael (Michael Cera) has a crush on his cousin, Maebe. 

The moral dilemma  frustration, and tension this causes between him and his cousin is the conflict. This type of conflict is known as "Man VS Himself" (more on this in a moment.)

You can see how situations can be your main sense of tension, rather than the simple "bad guy taking over the world" scenario.

Arrested Development, The Office, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men are all examples of shows that often have slightly more abstract conflicts (more than "You bad, I kill you").

There are 4 different types of conflicts. These are:

  • Man VS Man
  • Man VS Society
  • Man VS Nature
  • Man VS Himself 

You can learn more about Conflict (Narrative) on Wikipedia.

Creatures

Creatures are often for the fiction fanatic, and can play a wonderfully adventurous part in your story.

I personally love creating them, as I get the opportunity to doodle and create beings that I can only dream of. It's incredibly fun and often involves some very unadulterated creativity.

I can only doodle though; I'm a terrible artist. Luckily I can simply hire an artist to turn my amateurish doodle into a professional drawing with deep detail. And I recommend you do the same if you can't draw.

Here are some narratives that have awesome creatures for you to pull inspiration from:

  • Where the Wild Things are (Book/Movie)
  • Alice in Wonderland (Book/Movie)
  • Deloused in the Comatorium (Duh!) - Album
  • Cabin in the Woods (Horror Movie)
  • Star Wars (Movie)
  • Half Life 1 & 2 (Video Game)
  • Narnia (Book/Movie)
  • Dark Souls (Video Game)
  • Homer's "Odyssey" (Greek epic poetry)
  • King Kong (the Peter Jackson movie
  • Final Fantasy VII (Video Game)
  • Zdzislaw Beksinski's art (Polish artist)

For me, the bottom line when it comes to creating a creature is just this fun and fluid creativity. I'm able to have almost no limits on what I create, and it's just a lot of fun. 

That may be different for you, but that's how I view them. They are also great opportunities to interject metaphor and social commentary into your story if you use them right.

Example: In Narnia, C.S. Lewis uses the lion "Aslan" as an allegory for God.

World Powers/Political

This is especially a relevant topic if you are writing some sort of political thriller, or a story involving political commentary. "System of a Down" is especially good at interjecting politically-charged lyrics into their music.

Perhaps you are writing historical fiction (Tarantino's movies "Django Unchained" and "Inglorious Basterds" are great examples of this); the political state of the world becomes very relevant in this case.

Here's a few more examples of politically charged stories or lyrics:

  • Watchmen (Graphic Novel/Movie)
  • 1984 (Book)
  • Resident Evil (Video Game)
  • A Clockwork Orange (Book/Movie)
  • Django Unchained (Movie)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (Book/Movie)
  • Skyrim (Video Game)
  • A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Book/Movie)
  • Mezmerize (Album) - System of a Down
  • Half-Life 2 (Video Game)
  • Inglorious Basterds (Movie)
  • V for Vendetta (Graphic Novel/Movie)
  • Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX, X, etc (Video Game)
  • IP Man (Movie)

I would also include religion in this category, as most storylines involving religion (as opposed to spirituality) are mostly politics and organizations fulfilling motives.

The next section has to do with God & Spirituality, which I see as very different than religion.

God & Spirituality

Spirituality is an intriguing force for many people, so it would only make sense to write about it if it intrigues you as well.

Your story might involve a literal figure of God. For example, you might reach into the God's of Greek Mythology (Zeus, Hades, etc.) to play a part in your story, or another religions viewpoint of God to use him as a character.

Rather than a character, you might wish to represent God as some sort of universal force (Star Wars anyone?) that plays a role in your story.

How you create this is entirely up to you, and the best I can do to help you here is to give you (yet again) more examples of art that have allowed the artists views of God & Spirituality to permeate their creations. Here are some examples for you to study:

  • Lateralus (Album) - Tool
  • The Tree of Life (Movie)
  • Life of Pi (Book/Movie)
  • Homer's Odyssey (Epic Greek Poetry)
  • Narnia (Book/Movie series) - is an allegory for the creation of the earth and the fall of man, and God's eventual restoration of man.
  • The Illead (Epic Greek Poetry)
  • The Bedlam in Goliath (Album) - The Mars Volta
  • Bath (Album) - Maudlin of the Well
  • Star Wars (Movie series)
  • East of Eden (Book)

Aliens

Invaders from space can certainly be relevant for a lot of stories, especially those sci-fi ones.

There's really not much more to say about the topic. If you feel inspired to make aliens a central part of your story, then let that inspiration carry you.

Some classic examples:

  • Aliens (Movie)
  • Scientology (The Religion)
  • Avatar (Movie)
  • Dead Space (Video Game)
  • Star Wars (sorry to use this one again, I had to though.)
  • Superman (Comic/TV/Movie)
  • Halo (Video Game)
  • Call of Cthulhu (Short story)

Nature

How does the natural world around us play a role in your story? 

In the natural disaster movie "Dante's Peak", a volcano erupts, and melts a bunch of citizens leg's off. In this movie, Mother Nature happens to play the antagonist of the story, causing the central conflict. I mentioned this type of conflict above, it's known as "Man VS Nature".

You might make a natural disaster the central conflict of your story, or you might choose to go the opposite route and make mother Nature a potentially good force, such as in the novel "On Stranger Tide's", where pirates search frantically for the Fountain of Youth. 

This fountain has the obvious power to preserve life by making the consumer of the fountain younger.

As you can see, Mother Nature can play many different roles; it's up to you to decide which role you want her to play.

Perhaps a catastrophe occurs, causing the entire modern world to end as we know it, making your story a post-apocalyptic one (or maybe even present-apocalyptic).

Let's include zombie apocalypse in this category too (except for the book "Cell", where the zombies are created through the technology of cell phones, and can think).

Animal attacks would also count for this one, such as "Cujo", which is about a Saint Bernard with rabies that goes on a killing spree...

It's a lot better (and more terrifying) than it sounds...

Here are some more examples of "Man VS Nature" stories:

  • Pet Cemetery (Book)
  • Hatchet (Book)
  • Fallout (Video Game)
  • Castaway (Movie)
  • The Poseidon Adventure (Movie)
  • Mad Max: Road Warrior (Movie)
  • The Walking Dead (TV Series)
  • Jaws (Movie)
  • The Mist (Book/Movie)

A Few Important Tips

For my last point, I've saved the most important piece of information. This is that you need to be creative. Sound silly? It's not.

I'm going to go all lame on you here, and point out what creative means (I've stepped up from Webster's though, and am going to use Wikipedia instead).

"Creativity refers to the invention or origination of any new thing (artwork, literary work) that has value."

Consider this earnestly while writing your concept. For something to be creative, it needs to:

  • Be new
  • Have value

It might seem like I'm insulting your intelligence, but when I see ridiculous amounts of music-playback-machines disguising themselves as "artists" or "musicians" and sending me their work, I wonder if they ever heard that definition in the first place.

Are you trying to copy someone that you really admire in music or novels? Well...that's hardly creative isn't it? 

Don't get "copying" confused with "learning a thing or two" either. If you learn new things from artists before you, well, that's just common sense.

If you decide to emulate something from an artist you like, but in a different context, that can be creative too!

But if you go in with the goal of writing something "just like them", you've got a problem. I used to do this sometimes; those songs always sucked.

Take everything I've said in this article, and all my examples, and realize that your story doesn't have to include any of these idea's. There's no magic formula for creativity.

Instead, create your own idea's. I've only given you some examples to get you started, so you take it from here using your own creativity.

Decide which elements you want to focus on, and then flesh them out until they seem believable to you.

New! Comments

Leave me a comment in the box below.

Learn To Build Your Band's Website

My free 48-page guide to building your band's website will take you from start-to-finish in setting up a professional website for your band. It covers:

  • choosing a web host & installing wordpress
  • choosing a theme
  • essential elements to include on your site
  • why blog, and what about
  • much more

Enter your name and email below to get this free guide today!

E-mail
First Name
Then

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you The Real Update.

About The Writer

My name is Andrew Muller. I love creative art, music, television shows, movies, video games, and a good story.

If you had to find me somewhere, you would probably find me down at O'neils home cooking eating an organic sweet-potato bun breakfast sandwich with ham.

Among my friends, it's a "Muller Classic Move" to eat Mcdonald's at 2am because it's cheap and open 24/7. The joke here is that I'm an idiot. 

I play drums, guitar, piano, and I write & perform music for My Goal Is Telepathy. Take a listen to the latest sound here.