In a lyric, imagery refers to any line that touches on and stimulates our senses. Used well, imagery is able to paint a picture in our minds that fills in many parts of a story with a bare minimum of words.
An example might be something like this: Let’s say you wanted to convey the following scene/impression about your boss:
She has a way of taking the simplest comment I make, and turn it into an argument that seems to last all day.
She breathes in ice and breathes out fire.
or maybe you’ll tap into a different part of her personality with this:
She looks for glass she can walk on..
She shackles me to her treadmill of pain…
It’s not just that the line is shorter, although using imagery often does that. It’s more that you can actually see something. The notion of your boss trying to create arguments with you isn’t really something that begs much of an image. But breathing out fire? You see it, feel it, and you might even hear it.
Where does imagery belong?
Imagery belongs anywhere. There’s no one section of a song that doesn’t use it. Because imagery gives us an immediate picture with a minimum of words, it’s often associated with a heightening of emotions, and so you might think it more belongs in a chorus.
But the fact is that imagery simply tries to tell a fuller picture while allowing you to economize your verbiage. Imagery has a way of offering a picture in a rather immediate splash.
Is there ever too much imagery?
That depends. Like any poetic device, or indeed any musical technique, too much of something can become trite, predictable, confusing or boring. Imagery for imagery’s sake is immediately noticeable.
But there are times when layers of lyrics loaded with abstract images can give us an impression of a scene or a person, even if we don’t know specifically what is being said. Perhaps the most famous example of this is John Lennon’s “I Am the Walrus”, which contains line after line of gibberish. But even though the words were never meant to be parsed too carefully, we still manage to get a feeling — an attitude, so to speak — that would not be otherwise easy to convey.
Practice Creating Imagery
Here are some scenarios that could serve as a scene you might try to describe in your lyric. Try writing a short line that offers a powerful image relating to something in the scenario. Feel free to share your creations in the comments below.
- I took a walk through the woods today, and I encountered beautiful smells that reminded me of my childhood. (Example: “I breathed a memory“)
- Every time I get together with my friends, I quickly tire of all the chatter, and really just want to be alone.
- My grandmother passed away, and I find myself thinking about how fragile life seems to be: here one minute, gone the next.
- I love being busy! I’m a multi-tasker at heart, and I like that everything I do keeps me working with lots of people!
- I’m so grateful for my friends. Every time I feel stressed or sad, I can count on them to make me feel better.
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