Writing Good Song Lyrics

Keeping Song Lyrics From Straying Off the Main Point

Hooks and RiffsSongwriters are very familiar with the chorus hook, but there are other kinds to experiment with, and you will want to discover the power of layering various kinds of hooks in the same song. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base“ shows you how it’s done.

When you write a song lyric, what you’re doing isn’t a lot different from what a novelist is doing: telling a story.

But a novelist gets to (or perhaps needs to) generate 80,000 words or more in order to accomplish that task. As a songwriter, you’re going to need to tell your story using considerably fewer words, probably a hundred or even less.

And that’s your biggest challenge. A song needs to sound like a complete musical journey, one that begins and ends usually within four minutes. There’s simply no time to use a lot of words.

For that reason, a song’s lyric needs to be:

  1. Focused.
  2. Concise (without sounding restrained).
  3. Imaginative. (creating a bigger picture in the listeners’ minds than would normally be expected from such few words.)
  4. Conversational. The words need to sound like they came from the oral side — not the written side — of the language.

When writing a novel, there is lots of opportunity to provide short side-stories that add to the information the reader will use to more fully understand the main plot. With a lyric, you likely don’t have the time for that.

So in a bid to keep your lyrics focused and preventing them from straying off the main point of your song, here are some tips:

  1. Write a phrase or sentence that describes the main point or topic of your lyric. Often, the title of the song, which typically comes from the chorus lyric, will be all you need. For example, if you were writing a summation of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend”, you might say, “No matter what happens, I’ll be there for you.”
  2. Look through each section of your lyric, and assess it: Does it, on some level, refer directly to your summation statement? Or is it wandering too far from what the song is supposed to be about?
  3. Look at each line of your lyric, and determine that it’s the best way that line can be written. Remember: you get so few words in a lyric that you may want to consider other ways of saying the same thing, ways that create a bigger, fuller — but at the same time, concise — picture. This is the essence of imagery in good lyric writing.
  4. Compare the emotional value of the verse lyric to that of the chorus. Chorus lyrics need to tap into the emotions of the song’s topic. Verse lyrics should be more restrained emotionally.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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One Comment

  1. This was a timely reminder for me as I prepare to dive into the FAWM challenge once again in February. I have noticed lately that sometimes my lyrics have lacked focus and these simple tips should be a good checklist for me to use next month.

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