SHOW ME, DON’T TELL ME
Updated: Aug 15
Last week’s blog was all about developing the story of your song in the verses. Proper novels don’t have pictures, and neither do songs! So how do you explain what the story is about?
The answer is SHOW and not TELL
In a novel that keeps you hooked, you are drawn in by colourful descriptions of people, places and events. This works for a song too. When you hear a song, you want to be transported to the location the singer is in, and feel what they feel. This is what builds an emotional connection in a song, beckons you in and keeps you listening right through to find out what happens.
Imagine these objects:
My 1970 Morris Minor with nail scratch marks by the door handle
My tobacco stained wooden pen with a smooth grip
My beaten up guitar, with a hole in the scratch plate from overplaying
You can see them exactly as I see them?
What if I had described them like this:
They could be anything, and you could care less about them. The strong images draw you in and make you wonder about the backstory to these objects?
So how do you learn to write like this. Practice of course! It’s true that songs often come from an inspired moment, but we can learn to craft what we have into something special.
1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.
Object / Sensory writing - there are many books about this topic - Pat Pattison talks a lot about this, so do check out some of his books (e.g. Songwriting without Boundaries) and YouTube clips. The method is focused on trying to write mainly using senses other than sight. Visual is okay, but that is overused. So the challenge is to use the other senses of smell, taste, sound, and feel to describe something. Added to those senses are Body and Motion sometimes called kinaesthetic senses.
Body is about an awareness of internal bodily functions, like heartbeat, muscle tension etc, but these can also be applied to inanimate objects too if you imagine them to have human characteristics.
Motion is about your relation to the world around you, spinning, seasick feelings, Déjà vu, and other spatial human experiences.
Another good way to practice this is to describe a word without using the word.
E.g. Sun → Bright sky ball
If that seems too tricky to begin with, here a starter exercise:
Strong adjectives - “GRAB your coat”, is so much stronger than “TAKE your coat” . As we saw before using interesting adjectives can turn a boring line into something more intriguing:
“Kissing your impossible lips” is better than “kissing your lips”
Find some objects around your house, and describe them with an interesting adjective.
Learn from those before you - Look at your favorite lyrics and songs, and identify these features yourself. How do they get used, what draws you in about the lyrics?
And practice makes better, maybe not perfect. Every day is a school day for lyric writing!
So DASH off, RIP a page from your DUSTY lyric book held together by that TIRED elastic band, and start showing people what you see!
Today I help singers and songwriters explore their own potential, working alongside them to transform their ideas into fully finished songs they are proud of.
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