How do you describe a complex character in just a few lines?
If you’ve never heard “Pancho and Lefty”, let me recommend you go listen to it, now. At least the first 90 seconds. My favorite is the Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson version, from the Pancho and Lefty album.
It takes 90 seconds for the song to paint not one, but two characters. So simple and brilliant.
After two minutes and thirty seconds, you have the conflict. One of them is struggling, and losing. One is fighting and winning until the other one betrays him.
At just under four minutes, the resolution. One’s dead, and one is consumed by regret.
Songs help me boil down characters and conflict by example. Storytelling songs are a kind of flash fiction, if you ask me. A song that intends to tell a story has only a few minutes to set up characters, conflict, and resolution.
There’s a lot to be gained by listening.
PS – Those who are interested could also try Donald and Lydia by John Prine.