Some country songs are short stories with plot twists and character arcs.
One of the many writing lessons I’ve learned from “The Voice” is an appreciation for country music. Voice coach Blake Shelton is always on the hunt for country music “storytellers.”
Shelton’s wife Miranda Lambert has a song she co-wrote with Travis Howard that follows a structure we fiction writers admire greatly. You’ll see “Famous in a Small Town,” — click on the link if you can’t see the video embedded above — has a beginning, a middle and a twist or two that turns the song into a short story worthy of O. Henry.
Before we begin scroll back up and listen to the song, if you haven’t yet.
The story question is stated: is some fame, the kind with telephoto lenses, is better than other kinds of fame? Is it better to be a big fish in a small pond or a big fish in a big pond?
I’m guessing the young female narrator had been the subject of some small-town gossip and judgmental attitudes. I’m also guessing it stung.
After the theme is stated, the young female narrator says she dreamed of becoming Telephoto Lens famous by having gone to Nashville to become a star. We notice that she uses the past tense.
She returned home and ended up on the front page of the local paper by bagging the first buck of the deer season. What’s not in the song is that she also probably received a lot of compliments and favorable attention for her hunting prowess. Maybe being noticed, after having been a little fish in a big sea of Nashville hopefuls, is a refreshing experience?
The chorus and the bit about Tyler and Casey breaking up both give us a taste of small town life in which everyone knows everyone else and is happy to believe the most sensational version of their stories.
Our narrator and would-be Nashville star isn’t being arch or flip or dismissive when she talks to her friend, perhaps her long-time BFF. She’s not giving up, but moving on. Or, in this case, moving back by embracing her status as being the subject of gossip.
The narrator may have been stung by talk around town, which may have made Nashville-type fame more appealing before, but no more. She’s in the mood to shake things up and get tongues wagging, through the rather innocent but low-hanging fruit of wardrobe choices.
The final line and theme is “Everybody dies famous in a small town.”