Sometimes, as writers, we have the tendency to leave too much information in our heads and off of the page.
Maybe we know the story too well- maybe because we’ve lived it. Either way, our lyrics can sometimes just comment upon the story without actually giving us the story.
You might say, “Last night, you made me cry,” without telling us that he made you cry BECAUSE he “looked at me with cold blue eyes like I was some stranger he was telling goodbye.” It’s up in your head- you see the picture when you sing that line. But the listeners won’t see that. They can’t. They’re not in your head.
You want to build the habit of showing us the cause of the emotions, not just telling us about the emotions.
One way to help in this process is to “write the video.” This is not actual storyboarding. It’s just stream-of-consciousness (or more thoughtfully) writing down what you see in your mind’s eye when you’re thinking about the story in your song. Memories or make believe, it doesn’t matter. Just capture the sights, sounds, tastes, touch and smells of your story.
This process is good for a few reasons:
1. It gives you a stack of images to draw from in your lyrics.
You can now pick out the coolest, most true images for your song. You’re not stuck just using what you can think of in the moment. Instead of “well, that’s the best I could think of at the time,” you get to say “that’s the best I could think of. Period.”
2. It helps you really crystalize your thoughts.
Instead of vague notions you’re trying to capture in your song, you’ve already sketched out your story. Now, instead of trying to come up with the next rhyme, you’re more likely to think about what the thought needs to be. And a cool thought is much more important than just a cool rhyme.
3. It helps you reach past cliche’ images.
It might be easy to just write about her “feet on the dashboard” because that’s what country songs say (and you’re just focused on finding a line that sings well). However, if you spend more time on the story without being constrained by “next line syndrome,” you’re more likely to say, “Well, no. Her feet weren’t on the dash. One leg was curled up under the other.” That’s way more original and more believable.
So, remember. Focus on giving the listener the cause of your emotions, not just your emotions. Write the video to your song, and you’re more likely to see the video OF your song someday.
Since strong imagery is such an important part of professional-level songwriting, I’ve put together a course on imagery. It’s called, “Use Imagery To Supercharge Your Songwriting (Like The Pros Do)” and it’s available now.
By the end of the course, you’ll have the basic skills to:
- Effectively use both literal and figurative imagery.
- Make your story come to life using imagery.
- Prove your character’s personality using imagery.
- Make your listener connect to your character’s emotions using imagery.
- Hook your listener in the song’s first few lines using imagery.
- And to begin more songs (more easily) using imagery exercises as the start of your songwriting process.
Brent Baxter is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ruthie Collins, Ray Stevens, and more. He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.