How to Write Song Lyrics That Tell a Story

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The lyrics (words) to a song can cover any subject matter, ranging from the virtues of a rock-and-roll lifestyle to social and political issues. Songs like Michael Martin Murphey's "Wildfire" and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot are timeless examples of how a song can tell a story. Songs that tell stories engage listeners and are sometimes remembered for decades.

Things You'll Need

  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Come up with a strong title. There are no right or wrong titles, but a title that hints at the story of a song is a good idea. Some composers debate over whether short titles or long titles are better. This is subjective. "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is a long title that fits the song. "Sundown," the title of a song also by Gordon Lightfoot, doesn't reveal what the song is about, but it does refer to the chorus and fits the song well.

  • Write the verses as if they were scenes in a movie. Use descriptive words. Get a thesaurus and look for words you don't typically hear in song lyrics. Develop each line of every verse to deliver a crucial piece of the story. Like writing a poem, telling a story in song requires concise language with no filler whatsoever. You have minimal space to get your full story told. Listen to a number of songs that tell stories. You'll notice that they all have one thing in common: The verses of the song are cohesive and build on each other, creating a unified theme and ending with a climax that completes a story line.

  • Develop a chorus that reiterates the key theme or message of the song. Since the chorus of the song is typically sung several times, this is the perfect opportunity to deliver important story information. Add a "bridge" to emphasize drastic changes to the story line. The bridge is often a lyric structured slightly differently from the chorus and is ideal for a shift in the song's message. For instance, a song that has verses and a chorus about a man losing the love of his life might have a bridge telling how she came back to him when he least expected it and needed her most.

  • Develop the progression of the lyrics as you would a short story or novel. Your song should have a beginning, middle and end. The ending can be happy or sad, but the story will ideally resolve. Write a song about something you've seen in the news or make up a story. Your lyrics could tell a story about a boy who gets lost and a pony that finds him and brings him home. You can write about a historical event like the Battle of the Little Bighorn, or try something supernatural, like a ghost truck that picks up hitchhikers. There's no limit to the type of story you can tell in a song.

Tips & Warnings

  • You don't need to be able to read music in order to write lyrics. You can write the words to a song and have someone else set music to your words. Put your focus on telling a story.

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References

  • Photo Credit guitar guitarist music musical instrument image by david hughes from Fotolia.com
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