NOTES FROM "You've got an idea: what's next?"
TauGHT BY SUE C. SMITH AT IMMERSE, 6/12/17
Once you have an idea that is truthful, relevant, interesting, different, authentic and honest, what do you do next?
Since the truth we have to write about is not new, how do we keep writing new songs that are effective?
Professional songwriters are constantly looking for a new way to tell this old truth. They look for a new window to look through to see a familiar idea.
You can learn a lot about how to craft a lyric in a relatively brief amount of time. You learn the basics of structure, how to use rhyme and establish a rhyme pattern, how to pay attention to the number of syllables in lines and how the lines sing rhythmically.
What is harder and actually mysterious in a way is the pursuit of how you will communicate that idea.
How much time and energy and heart are you willing to devote to how you will develop your idea in a way that engages the audience?
Instead of approaching your lyric by thinking “What do I want to say about my idea?” approach it by thinking “What do people need to hear about my idea?” Focus on the needs of people and write to meet that need.
Decide on your “North Star,” the idea that will direct every line you write. You should be able to write this as a complete sentence at the top of your page. Every line in your lyric should help you communicate that idea. Some lines will actually say the idea, some will explain it, some will help the listener see it in a different way, some will just get the listener ready to hear it. But everything in the song should help communicate that single idea.
Next decide on the emotion your want the listener to feel. Very seldom does anyone listen to a song seeking information. What we want in a song is a lyric and melody that causes us to feel something, whether that is joy, conviction, love, awe, sorrow, gratitude, or something else.
So… what are some ways great songs develop the idea.
Here are some techniques, some windows... and some songs you could listen to that use that approach.
!. Be a storyteller - This is a story with a beginning, middle and end. It takes the listener on a journey that leads them to the song’s “North Star.”
2. Call for action - Give the listener something to do or a way to respond.
3. Take a snapshot - This is different than telling a story in the same way that a still photograph is different from a video.
4. Paint the visual - Use imagery to help the listener visualize a scene or situation that leads to the North Star.
5. Make a list - Through a series of simple phrases, or a list of ideas or items, you lead the listener to the North Star.
6. Use an extended metaphor or analogy - A song that says “Love’s like a hurricane, I am a tree,” is using this kind of device. When the writer chooses one comparison and develops it in several ways throughout the song, it’s an extended metaphor. An analogy shows how one thing is similar to another. For example, when we talk about going through a valley in life or climbing a mountain, we are using analogies.
7. Use personification - This is when a writer talks about a concept or abstract quality and gives it human qualities. For example, a song that says “Mercy came running” or “Mercy said no” is using personification.
8. Use “if-then” or “when-then” - “Chainbreaker” is a great example
9. Twist a Phrase - Use a phrase, often the “hook” or the song, in a way the listener doesn’t explect. Or use a phrase so it has one meaning when the listener first hears it, but it another meaning later in the song.
10. Give a personal testimony - When you use this approach, be sure to write in a way that doesn’t exclude others. The more you can write in ways that others can relate to or see themselves, the more successful your lyric will be.
11. Compare and contrast - Use contrasting ideas. For example, what life is like in the dark and what it is like in the light.
12. Encourage a friend - Imagine that you are writing to help a friend
13. Use a great quote -
15. Use allusion or symbolism - That's what people are doing when they tell a Bible story and then show you how it applies today.
There are many other ways to develop your idea. The best thing you can do as a writer is to analyze the songs you love. Ask yourself: What is the North Star of this song? What emotion is the writer wanting me to feel? How is the idea being developed to make me feel the desired emotion?
Finally, know that most songs use more than one way of developing the lyric. The more you notice about how great lyrics work, the closer you will be to being able to write an effective, relevant, and powerful lyric.
What doesn’t work: