Songwriting imagery

Creating a More Effective Song Lyric With Imagery

I like to think of imagery as any lyric that seems to create more pictures in the mind than what you’d normally expect from so few words.

A quick example:

  • The trees glowed as the moon shone brightly” describes a scene in a literal way, but…
  • The trees, bathed in moonlight…” gives us the same picture, but perhaps even more. By using the word “bathed”, you help the listener conjure up an emotion of tranquility and contentment, along with the notion of the moon shining brightly.

It’s hard to tell someone how to “do” imagery, because every writer’s solutions will be different; it’s part of the uniqueness of what you do as a writer. The best first step to getting a handle on effective imagery is to look through the lyrics of writers in your chosen genre that have been known to be good at it.

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When you look at lyrics for examples of imagery, what specifically should you be looking for? Here’s a short guide to help you:

  1. As you read through each line, try to identify words that normally might not be associated with the meaning of the line. In the example above, you’d probably circle the word “bathed” as a word not normally associated with trees or moonlight.
  2. Become aware of the emotions you feel as you read through each line. You may not feel much of an emotional response to “The trees glowed as the moon shone brightly”, but no doubt you feel a certain sense of relaxation and contentment when you read “bathed in moonlight.” Imagery tends to dig down into our emotional soul to pull out a reaction.
  3. Write a short sentence, then rewrite it in as many ways as you can. Each time you rewrite, try to find shorter — but more powerful — ways to say the same thing.

Good imagery is part of your writing style, so don’t be surprised if at first you find that what you’re writing feels a bit clunky. But the more you do that exercise above, particularly step 3, the closer you come to making imagery an important part of your writing style.

Here are some lines of lyric to practice with. For each line, try to come up with new ways to say the same thing that are more descriptive, and create a bigger and fuller picture. I’ve given a few ideas for the first one. See what you come up with. If you’d like, post some of your rewordings in the comments below.

  1. “The road was long, and it made me feel lonely.” Possible rewordings: “The endlessly echoing road”. (“echoing” gives a feeling of emptiness); or “Footsteps tapping, dry as dust.
  2. I tried to have a conversation with her, but she wasn’t interested.” Possible rewordings: __________
  3. A bridge passing over a gentle stream made me feel happy and in touch with nature.” Possible rewordings: _____________
  4. We broke up, and I feel so sad about that.” Possible rewordings: _____________
  5. He was distracted and wouldn’t talk to me, so I knew something was wrong.” Possible rewordings: ________________

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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