Writing Lyrics - Show, Don't Tell
Writing lyrics that “show - don’t tell” is a great lyric tool to learn. When you do it your music lyrics stand out all by themselves. When you don’t, your songwriting lyrics get lost in a bored crowd.
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Listeners want to feel included in your song. If you include them they feel good and likely feel what you feel. Ever been the third person and outside an interesting conversation? How did you feel?
If you want to make one change to your writing to “show – don’t tell” do this. Include detail, imagery and action into your lyrics.
Your task as a songwriter is to make your song trigger in the listeners a scene that they can relate to as their own. It has to draw them into to a strong feeling that will get associated with your song.
Do that and they will always remember the song and remember you. Do you have special songs that you associate with important events in your life?
Emotions are very powerful. A song without strong emotional connections to the listener is not remembered. Here are specific ways to create detail, imagery and action that will make your lyric writing more memorable.
Details will make you writing unique. Always be as specific as you can when describing something. Take everything and go into detail. Make it smaller.
If it’s a road give its name, Hwy 101. If it’s a gravel road, say how big the gravel is or how dusty it is. If you’re using a car say what kind of a car, a four door rusty red ramcharger. If it’s a plane don’t just say a plane, it’s green Cessna 180.
If it’s a man or woman say their names if you can. If it’s a city give its name and what kind of a city. Dustbowl Dodge on a rainy night.
Listen to some great songs and see how much detail is stuffed into the lyrics. If you can’t think of one, look at Rocky Racoon by the Beatles.
If you use imagery you won’t have to use a lyric that tells what a person’s feelings are like. “She is lonely”. Instead describe an example of what a lonely woman looks like and how she acts. How about”
"Hazel kissed her husband Jim’s picture,"
"Stroked his hair like he was really there."
It’s obvious she misses him and is lonely. So the lyric can stick to painting more pictures that will connect with the listener’s emotions.
So when you want the listener to know how someone is feeling, describe an example of how someone acts when they are experiencing that particular feeling.
The listener will create their own images of the woman and her husband or relate it to events and persons in their lives. When your listeners do that, you’re doing your communication job as a songwriter.
Using powerful action verbs will make writing lyrics feel like the afterburner has kicked in. Rewrite your lyrics and replace weak verbs like “am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been with action verbs. Using power nouns will also give you a boost when you're writing lyrics.
Put you characters into to dynamic action all the time. “He is a good card dealer” becomes, “He deals cards like a whirlwind”. Put you characters into action.
For a terrific explanation on this and more about writing lyrics, check out Chapter 10 of Wayne Chase’s book
How Music Really Works.
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You also want to try and write lyrics that make you listener sit up and take notice. Make them say "wow" in their heads or their hearts because you
make your song lyrics stand out.
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