Writing song lyrics

Using Imagery to Increase the Emotional Effect of Your Lyrics

Imagery is an important part of writing good lyrics, but it’s hard to teach imagery. There are probably lots of ways to define it, but for me, imagery means that you’ve been able to generate a complex picture with very few words.


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Take the following, for example:

Her words were empty of emotion.
Rarely happy, always thinking;
She’s more into speaking her truth.

I suppose that could be worked into some sort of lyric. But what I want to draw attention to is the fact that each line generates one simple image. There’s nothing much beyond what the individual lines are saying.

Now take a look at this line:

Her quiet words are icicles that never ever melt.

That may not be the greatest line you could come up with, but the point is this: with that one line, you get a more complex picture. “Quiet words” gives us the picture of someone who speaks succinctly, “icicles” give us the idea that there’s no attempt on her part to play to your emotions. And “never ever melt” gives us a clear understanding of the mood those words generate, and that there’s no respite from the testy relationship behind the words.

It’s an example of the most important part of imagery: that the picture generated in the mind of the listener is bigger than what a simple line would normally offer.

Imagery takes forethought. It takes planning. And it takes lots of writing and rewording. If you want a good idea of how important imagery is to a lyricist, think about the number of words that a typical novel uses to get a story across: 80,000 or more.

Now think about the number of words a good lyric takes: only dozens, maybe a hundred or so.

With a much smaller collection of words, lyricists are required to create enough of a story that the listener feels they can place themselves in the scenario, and then feel all the emotions that the singer is generating with that scenario.

That’s why imagery is so important to a good lyric. It creates a deeper, more comprehensive story that allows the audience to feel more intricate, involved emotions. If you want to take your lyric-writing to the next level, imagery will take you there.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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