Storytelling- building blocks for better lyrics

Storytelling has become a buzzword- especially in the domain of Marketing and PR. But storytelling is more than a mere trend. It is a science in itself that has been around for as long as humanity has existed.

The elements of a great story include a captivating entry, a build up towards a climax, a turnaround and a resolution.

Any story can upgrade from boring to exciting when applying some (rather) simple rules. Whether you are creating a video, a short story or – like in a songwriter´s case – writing lyrics to a three-minute pop song, the following tips can make all the difference.

So here we go:

Start with a statement

The opening of a story needs to captivate the listener´s attention! If you can´t get the listener´s interest in the first quarter of your story at the very least, you will lose them! There are certain tricks, like making a bold, or ambiguous statement (Think headlines), or opening by displaying a very honest emotion. If neither one is the right fit for your story, then try posing a question. Something to get the listener thinking. And if that is still not the right fit, just go and tell “their” story. Here´s an example: “You got up late again…it´s just another a.m. wasted on yet another  hangover…Last night she came crashing in, and all your past behaviors, they took over …”

You get the idea…be very direct and adress the listener, as if it was their story…

Elaborate on the topic, but don´t give it all away

Your story will naturally evolve around a certain topic or an idea that you want to share. In order to keep the listener interested (that´s our constant goal), you should try to maintain a certain level of suspense. It´s a bit like flirting…you don´t want to give it all away in the beginning. Let the listener take a peek into your story, invite them to the table, but don´t let them into your bedroom just yet. Give some hints with regard to what might be happening, but leave room for their imagination. To illustrate this a bit, here´s an actual example: “She dresses like Mary, smiles like Marylin, she shrugs when I touch her porcelain skin, even classy ladies are run by some savage genes”….The listener will think…”where is this leading? There´s two sides in one person…some general idea…what is the writer alluding to?” Who is this lady, and where did the meet?”…

Be relatable

You may have done some soulsearching and found some interesting ideas and deep thoughts. That´s great! However, remember point 1 and 2…you´ve got to keep the listener interested. How to do that? Make sure your story is relatable. Make sure they can somehow walk in your shoes for a while. Make them see the things you see with their “own eyes”. A great way to do that is by adressing very universal emotions, like love (butterflies), shame, heartbreak, fears (like the fear of death or of losing), passion, hunger etc. Can your story´s theme somehow trigger one of those emotions? If it can´t, incorporate some questions again….to go from monologue, to dialogue. Make a connection with the listener! This is crucial!

Get to the point, clarify

After a while (once the small talk is done;)), the listener is ready to learn more…to dive a little deeper…you got them on the hook. Now comes the time to elaborate on your topic, clarify a bit and give them a deeper insight…so they feel like they understand you, or, in other cases they feel understood by you. They want to relate! The chorus is a good section for that kind of “straight to the point” clarification. Make sure to sum up your song´s main idea in a simple way, that is easily understood and very relatable. Something that´s easy to remember…going back to the last example, the chorus line might be something like: “9 times out of ten, she means yes, when it´s no she was saying…1 time out of ten I seem to be able to tell the difference. Too many times I have tried to guess what she´s really thinking, never I´ll learn to understand all her contradictions” …Some general, relatable statements about how women tick…

Bring in another angle

Listener is happy? Feels connected to you? Good…But don´t let them snooze away just yet. There is still another stepping stone to come…The bridge is a perfect tool to suddenly induce a change of direction…either by changing the course of the story entirely, or by bringing in another angle, another perspective or by going back and forth within the timeline of the story and revealing something yet unknown….In our example this could go like this: “She may drive me insane, make me call her names, with no rhyme and no reason, but her love is divine, she´s the apple of my eye and I´ll never be leaving”… (Make the listener understand, that despite of her somewhat difficult character, the protagonist, actually really loves her and somewhat even loves her ambiguity).

Make the connection again

Simple: Repeat the chorus! Draw them in again!

Resolution and relief

Almost there…the end of the story…keep it short and simple. Maybe just one or two closing lines…”She´s a handfull of crazy, and she´s got me craving her kisses. A handful of crazy and I love my crazy Misses.”

Despite the rather simple examples, I hope you get the idea. A story should never be a straight road…Bring in some mountains, some left turns, some right turns….for God´s sake, go upwards and fly away, if that´s what it is you want to do! It´s your story…make it fun!