Simply describing emotions usually isn’t enough – you need to create them.
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Recently I wrote about the importance of writing a lyric that can make an emotional impact on a listener. I want to look a bit deeper at that concept, specifically the subtle difference between describing an emotion, and creating an emotion. The difference between describing and creating is mainly the effect it has on the audience. When you describe an emotion, it’s not a given that people will connect with it or feel it. Just because you sing “You make me feel wonderful” doesn’t mean that your audience will feel it too. The best lyrics create imagery that seems to reach out and touch hearts. Let’s look at the subtle difference between describing and creating emotions.
Ballads are good songs to study to get a handle on this concept. Bruno Mars’ current hit, “It Will Rain“, demonstrates how you can create an emotional response by using imagery. Using imagery means that you’re using metaphors, similes and analogies to get an idea across.
And people often respond with stronger emotions to images than they do to a simple, direct verbal description.
Bruno Mars uses several different images to describe his feelings of sadness at the loss of love. But all the images are related to the time-honoured concept of sunlight representing happiness, and rain representing sadness:
‘Cause there’ll be no sunlight
If I lose you, baby
There’ll be no clear skies
If I lose you, baby
Just like the clouds
My eyes will do the same, if you walk away
Everyday, it’ll rain, rain, rain
He never uses words like love, happy, sad, hate, want… In fact, all of the emotions touched on in this song are created through use of analogy. Imagine how ineffective the lyric would have been if he had said, “‘Cause I’ll be so unhappy/ If I lose you, baby/ I’ll just feel so down/ If I lose you, baby…
It just wouldn’t work. The charm and power of this lyric comes through the use of analogy, and the simplicity of the descriptions.
In other words, describe the emotions of love by creating images of love. Once you’ve done that, you simply leave it up to the audience to create an emotional response.
And in most cases, the emotions that are generated by use of analogy and metaphor will be stronger, more poignant and more meaningful than emotions that are described.
That’s certainly not to say that a described emotion doesn’t work. Adele’s hit, “Someone Like You,” uses a very different kind of lyric, one that makes little use of metaphor, and much more use of direct description. The difference there is in the overall style of lyrical writing: If your song describes events or circumstances (like “Someone Like You”), the direct approach really works well.
But if your song describes a situation or a state of mind (like “It Will Rain”), focus on images, metaphors and analogies to get your emotions across. The audience will feel those emotions in a much stronger way, and your lyric will be far more effective.
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