Legendary songwriters like Dolly Parton and Bob Dylan know it. If you want people to really listen to your song, you have to tell a killer story. Of course for many, songwriting is hard enough. Now, you have to get a story involved!? Luckily, there are a few tips to help you find that perfect story. Here are some songwriting secrets to create better stories.
Write Lots of Lists
New, exciting things are happening to you every day! Okay, maybe not everything that happens to you is exciting, but it could be just enough inspiration to launch your next storytelling song! The best way to remember all the exciting(ish) events that happen to you is to keep lists.
Before starting your next song, write a list of events that happened to you throughout your life. You don’t have to list everything (that would be quite the list). Focus on events that really stand out. Then, rank them in order of importance.
You might be able to fit only three or four events into the song, but armed with your list, you should have plenty of stories to use.
Verse vs. Chorus
There’s a secret to storytelling in songs to maximize audience engagement. Much like all those Greek tragedies you were forced to read in high school (which could be the real tragedy…), there’s a key to ordering your song’s story:
Verse – events
Chorus – emotions
The verses are perfect for telling your listeners about the events of the story, and the repeating choruses should introduce the emotion or how you feel about the events that occurred. Each verse should progress the story until you reach the fantastic end, after which you sing the chorus one more time to reveal your overall emotions.
Sing Your Story
Yes, singing your story is exactly what a storytelling songwriter does, but coming up with a catchy melody is one of the hardest parts of songwriting. Before you even come up with a killer chorus or chord progression, it’s helpful to literally sing the words to your story.
For example, instead of reading “The Great Gatsby,” sing it. This will help you find the emphasis you want to put on certain parts of the song, and it’ll help you find the right melody that flows naturally with the words.
Learn Storytelling Structure
Since you’re writing a story into your song, it’s a good idea to understand the basic storytelling structure. It has worked for countless authors in the past, so it’ll work for you, too!
Throughout most of literary history, this is the basic storytelling structure:
Since most songs don’t have five verses (unless you’re Don McLean writing American Pie), you might have to combine a few of the parts into a single verse.
You’re also welcome to cut some parts if you wish, but most songs should follow a basic arc structure: into, rising action, climax, resolution. Build the emotions up and resolve them at the end.
While it’s a good idea to follow this tried-and-true structure…
Break the Rules
The songwriting police aren’t going to lock you away if you don’t follow the “rules.” After all, there are no rules for creativity!
If you think of an idea, go for it! It doesn’t matter if it follows the norm. Many songs are great because they’re different, so don’t be afraid to follow your own path when it comes to telling stories through song.
Be Open to Collaboration
It’s not always easy to come up with story ideas, but who said you had to do it alone? Collaborating with a partner is a great way to make your already-stellar stories into something even better!
You can collaborate on various parts of the songwriting process. Work with someone to help you flush out a solid story, build an interesting melody, or edit the story to ensure it’s as powerful as it can be. Remember, often times, two heads (or more) are better than one!
Beg, Borrow, and (Don’t) Steal
Want to know a secret about writing songs about stories? The stories don’t always have to be yours. They don’t even have to be true!
Whether it’s something you saw on the news, read in a book, or even stumbled upon in a social media post, inspiration is everywhere. You just have to look for it.
Not only is “borrowing” a story a great way to find inspiration, but it can also help you connect with your audience over something common. For example, if you reference Romeo and Juliet—as many, many songs have—your listeners are already familiar with the story and can more strongly connect to it.
Follow Your Own Process
Although it might seem counterintuitive to this list, the main takeaway for anything songwriting related is to follow your own process. There’s no secret formula that’ll let you write great songs. Every writer has their own process for creating great content. You just need to take the time to find yours and be brave enough to follow it. That’s the secret to great storytelling, songwriting, and living!
To enter the 27th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net