When you start to write a song, you’ll want to think about how it changes from the beginning to the end. Songs are stories set to music. Is there a change in the lyric perspective, an arc? This will turn your song into a story.
Now, the story of your song does not necessarily have to have a “plot”. Some people love the idea of the story song, think “Fancy” by Bobbie Gentry (which was then remade by Reba McEntire in 1991). Others aren’t so keen. Whatever your style, you can apply this lyrical idea to your songwriting! Your story can be as specific as a narrative, or as subtle as a simple change in feeling. The nice thing about being the songwriter is that you decide!
Maybe your song does follow the traditional story song model, after all. The end can be expected, or the ending of your song can be surprising and pull an M. Night Shymalan style twist. Perhaps the beginning of your song had been the setup to the plot twist. The possibilities are endless, so get creative and have fun!
Also think about the time frame of your song. This will help the focus of your story. Let’s say your song is about a relationship. Does the relationship take place over many years, or just one day? This will help you determine which details you should use to paint the picture of the time, the place, and the people involved. What about the scope of your story? Is your story about a certain incident, or the more broad account of a relationship, a person, or a place that was important to you? These are all questions you can consider to spark creative pipeline of thoughts!
Feeling overwhelmed, yet? My favorite trick is to write as fast as I can, just jotting down some short phrases. These phrases can be anything: feelings, key words, interesting details. After doing this for a bit, step back and see which phrases spark something in you. Sort out those phrases and start putting the puzzle pieces together.
So, how are you going to put these mad lib of phrases together? Try to put the specific moments and details into your verses. The description will engage the listener and paint the picture, so that the larger emotional idea of the chorus ties all of the verses together and really hits home. Let your song take us on a journey!
In parting, try and implement a few of these ideas in your writing. What is the worst that could happen?
Kristi Hoopes is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Parker, Colorado. She won the first Lyricord songwriting contest in July, and then flew to Nashville, TN to record at Grand Victor Sound, the legendary RCA Studio A.