Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
Good lyrics are just a part of the picture. To learn all the essential secrets of great songwriting, click here.
Unless you are a poet, your song lyric should be constructed using plain, everyday language. That’s certainly not to say that your lyrics can’t be clever; using basic, simple words, you can still manage to create a great lyric that uses double entendre, hidden meaning, metaphor and more. But these useful literary devices usually require thought, time and practice. Here’s some advice.
It’s impossible, and somewhat irrelevant to this post, to name the best lyricists of all time. What’s more important is to determine what makes a good lyric, and how to make the words you’re writing even better. Remembering that verse lyrics should describe situations, while chorus lyrics should describe emotions and reactions arising from those situations, try these tips and techniques:
- Choose a topic, then begin brainstorming: write down words and phrases that relate to the topic, even if you don’t know yet how you might use those phrases. If your topic is “ending a relationship”, write anything and everything that relates: “I still love you”, “gotta get out”, “you’re in my heart”, “can’t be near you right now”, and so on. Just let the words flow. Right them down, and don’t try to assimilate a lyric yet. Just get ideas. Lot’s of ideas.
- Develop a “map” for your topic and your lyrics. What specifically are you writing about. What’s the situation? Put your song idea into sequential order: I feel lost… I’ve met someone new… I need to tell […] but I don’t know how… We’re meeting tomorrow night… etc. This kind of process will create a “storyboard” that gives your song form and direction.
- Organize the words and phrases from Step 2 above into verse-type lyrics and chorus-type lyrics. Remember, verse lyrics will be situational, chorus lyrics will be emotional.
- Fit the verse lyrical ideas into your timeline. You’ll find that as your story materializes, new phrases and words will occur to you. Keep adding them to your list.
- Now start writing a lyric that takes the ideas you’ve concocted and gets them into a simple, straightforward lyric.
By this point, you’ll have created a lyric that works. But don’t stop there. Just because you’re using simple terminology doesn’t mean that you can’t be clever. Here are some ideas to add a bit of profundity to your lyric:
- Make it purposely vague who you’re actually talking about. Perhaps consider writing a lyric that talks about yourself in the 3rd person (“she can’t take this situation anymore…”)
- Make it purposely vague what you’re talking about. This is done most easily by using metaphors. For example, “I’m playing the game/ but I don’t know who’s winning…” might be a lyric that refers to a game you’ve previously mentioned. But is this really referring to an actual sport, or is your current relationship the game?
- Try minimizing your lyric by removing words: “I don’t know what to do/ ’cause you won’t see me anymore…” could become “Don’t know what to do/ won’t see me anymore…” especially if it helps the rhythm and flow of your words. Removing unnecessary words can make a clumsy lyric really begin to work.
- Try working in other poetic devices, such as alliteration (repeated consonants within a line of lyric, usually juxtaposed), or changing point of view (tell a story from two different viewpoints.
Gary Ewer is the author of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” suite of songwriting e-books.