Fellow songwriters – it’s time to unpack your baggage!
Welcome to the third installment of Escaping From Second Verse Hell. Check parts one and two to get up to speed. This week we’re going to deal with the problem that happens when you don’t give enough detail. If you’re more of the Cliff’s Notes-type writer then this week’s info is for you.
This tip is not in Pat Pattison’s material at all as far as I know but I still recommend his book Writing Better Lyrics. You can click the link to read what other writers think about it.
Week one’s tip was pertinent when you write a decent verse but in it you tell the song’s whole story. In that case you just put that verse second and then write another verse before it to set the scene.
Week two dealt with “boxes” and how to include your character’s deeper motivations into a sequence that builds momentum.
Now we’re going to learn how to add detail and emotional weight to a verse that might be a little light in the heart and mind department.
In my YouTube video that corresponds to this article (check it out here) I gave an example of a verse that reads like a plot outline. Then I use a technique I learned by analyzing how the greats write. What they do is write a line and then immediately follow it up with a supporting line. Let’s take a look at the opening lines from Sting’s “Fortress Around Your Heart”
Under the ruins of a walled city
Crumbling towers in beams of yellow light
No flags of truce, no cries of pity
The siege guns have been pounding through the night
What I see here is two lines that set up ideas and two lines that support it. Line 1 zooms you in to a ruined city from wherever you’re sitting. Line 2 gives details about the former. Line 3 introduces a human element, through negation, which contrasts the inanimate nature of dead walls and line 4 gives a positive sense of action and immediate history – but, critically, relating directly to line 3.
If you wanna get really fancy you can bake the supporting line into the second half of each of your lines. Take a look at “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” as performed by The Righteous Brothers:
You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips
And there’s no tenderness like before in your fingertips
I left black the words that tie those two halves together. Incidentally the black words deal with time, the red words negate the presence of something and the blue corresponds to the parts of the body. In any case you can see how there’s a wind up and a pitch.
You could also say that the whole first line is red and the whole second line is blue but I’m arguing that the detail is built into the line. Regardless, these two songs do not read like a outline – they have detail, take their time and make you feel something without being overly verbose.
As a side note, know that they’re showing you what’s going on with the use of concrete imagery. Sting isn’t saying, “Man, when I love girls I’m so possessive.” He’s showing you the world in which that feeling lives. Phil Spector wasn’t saying, “My old lady’s left!” He’s talking to her and giving details which prove it. That’s a whole ‘nother article.
Anyway guys I hope that was helpful. Make sure you’re following up your new information with some supporting detail. Be sure to check out parts one and two and check back here every week for new Hexspa updates.
I’m going to be on Patreon soon so if you like what I’m doing please consider going over there to check me out since I’ll have some awesome exclusives for your contribution. Also check out Writing Better Lyrics if you want to work on your writing in earnest.
See you next week,