Getting Down to Details

© I.Woloshen

Many times when I’m writing, I’ll fill in a line with something just to put it there until I’m ready to start the crafting process. I’d like to take you through the process of taking a rather ordinary line or phrase, and souping it up. Of course, one line without the context of a song to work from limits the scope of what we might be able to do with it. When I begin the work on the lyrics, I like to have a thread that runs through the whole song lyrically and ties it together. So many decisions that I make lyrically depend on this thread that I’m trying to create. If you find that you have a line in a song that sounds pretty common and you want to make it more interesting, this might help you.

Let’s take a line like this:

“I got up off the chair and walked to the door”

There are two things we have to keep in mind when we change this, certainly if we want to say the same thing, we have to create a picture that shows us exactly this act. The other thing we have to keep in mind is the meter…that makes our choice of words and syllables limited. Let’s first look at the meter, which I will identify as this:

I got up off the chair, and walked to the door
ta da DA ta da DAAA, ta DA ta da DAAA

Looking at the first half of the line, now, I’ll try to pinpoint what makes it unemotional and uninteresting. Getting up off the chair describes an action, but does it say anything at all about me? For instance, even if I changed it to:

I jumped up off the chair

I’ve already implied something different…I could be anxious now, or excited, or frightened. The visual implies a very quick motion that could easily apply to any of these emotions. Maybe I also want to say more about the chair. Why? Pay attention to details! You’d be amazed at how much these little almost insignificant changes can affect the whole song. If you were watching a movie based on a story in the last century, it wouldn’t make much sense if one of the characters suddenly opened a bag of cheesies. That’s a detail. So let’s say more about the chair…it could be a couch. What does that matter? Well, a chair could be in any room…kitchen, livingroom, dining room, even bedroom. A couch implies a livingroom. Does that matter? Maybe not, but it gives a better picture of where I am, rather than a more vague one. So now we have:

I jumped up off the couch

Let’s take a look at the second half:

And walked to the door

Pretty uninteresting…an action but there’s nothing that really draws me into it. Let’s focus on one of the possible emotions we described above. Let’s try it from a fearful perspective…I jumped up off the couch, so how might I move towards the door? I might sneak or slip or…maybe I don’t even move at all, but I look at the door in some fearful way. But I still have to remain within the confines of the meter. Maybe I’d take a whole different approach like this:

I jumped up off the couch, eyes glued to the door

Now let’s compare it with the original:

I got up off the chair and walked to the door
I jumped up off the couch, eyes glued to the door

In the first line there is a person (me) a place (the chair/the door) and an action (walked). In the second line all of these things still exist in a similar context with one addition–EMOTION. Songwriting isn’t like writing a how-to manual…the key is, as someone wisely said “telling MY story in YOUR song”. Details.

If you sat down with this line for days or weeks or months, you could come up with many, many ways to make it more interesting. Always keep in mind the context of the song…always remember the details.

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