by Dave Pasquantonio
Writing flash fiction is a fun challenge. How do you tell a complete story in a few hundred words while layering in theme, emotion, and memorable characters?
If you need some inspiration, then break out your old vinyl records!
Classic rock from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s is full of narrative songs—tracks with sharp characters, raw emotion, and unforgettable storylines. In this post, I examine one such song to see what we can learn from the lyrics.
“Lyin’ Eyes” is the first track on side two of the Eagles’ 1975 album One of These Nights. The song has an interesting origin tale: Band members Glenn Frey and Don Henley saw a beautiful young woman with an older, unattractive, and wealthy man, and Frey said to Henley, “She can’t even hide those lying eyes.” Sometimes even the most casual of remarks can spark a story idea.
A strong opening is key to both good lyrics and good flash fiction.
City girls just seem to find out early
How to open doors with just a smile
A rich old man, and she won’t have to worry
She’ll dress up all in lace and go in style
These 36 words give us all we need for a story: a theme of deception, two POVs—the unknown narrator and the protagonist, a young woman (we can infer that she’s young from the term “city girls” and the description of the man as old)—and a specific situation to illustrate the theme.
Late at night a big old house gets lonely
I guess every form of refuge has its price
And it breaks her heart to think her love is only
Given to a man with hands as cold as ice
We move to the narrator for one line—“I guess every form of refuge has its price”—and then go back to the woman’s POV. The narrator’s role in the song is to impart wisdom to the woman—wisdom she’ll fail to follow.
So she tells him she must go out for the evening
To comfort an old friend who’s feelin’ down
But he knows where she’s goin’ as she’s leavin’
She is headed for the cheatin’ side of town
What’s not said is more important than what could be said, and that’s a great lesson for short fiction, where there’s no room for needless dialogue. We briefly get a third POV—the husband, and he knows what’s up. Henley and Frey quickly move between characters, keeping the story tight and providing only what’s needed to propel the story.
Then we move to the chorus—
You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise
I thought by now you’d realize
There ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes
—which is from the POV of the narrator. He could be an old friend of the woman, but more likely she broke his heart.
On the other side of town a boy is waiting
with fiery eyes and dreams no one could steal
She drives on through the night anticipating
‘Cause he makes her feel the way she used to feel
In less than 40 words, we change settings (from the house to her car) and learn why she wants this boy—he looks at her with fiery eyes, the lyrical opposite of her husband’s ice-cold touch, and he’s a reminder of her past.
She rushes to his arms, they fall together
She whispers that it’s only for a while
She swears that soon she’ll be comin’ back forever
She pulls away and leaves him with a smile
This verse is all about the woman’s actions—each line begins with “she,” and the repetition strengthens each action. The boy thinks that she’ll leave her husband, but we know that she’ll break his heart, too.
She gets up and pours herself a strong one
And stares out at the stars up in the sky
Another night, it’s gonna be a long one
She draws the shade and hangs her head to cry
She wonders how it ever got this crazy
She thinks about a boy she knew in school
Did she get tired or did she just get lazy?
She’s so far gone she feels just like a fool
The woman dwells on paths both taken and not taken. Now we’re sure that she’ll never change—she’s too “far gone” to find happiness.
The last verse is in the narrator’s POV:
My, oh my, you sure know how to arrange things
You set it up so well, so carefully
Ain’t it funny how your new life didn’t change things
You’re still the same old girl you used to be
He’s wiser, but she’s not. Her character arc is one of tragedy. “Lyin’ Eyes” isn’t a happy song, but it is a great story.
When we write only what’s needed—and we stop worrying about filling in too many gaps—we can create brief, powerful stories that make an impact. So the next time you want to write some flash fiction, crank up the music for inspiration!
Dave Pasquantonio writes quirky speculative fiction, and he loves mysteries, classic rock, and sarcastic main characters. He is a board member at The Writers’ Loft, where he runs the Query Support Group and four adult critique groups.