15 Secrets Every Songwriter Must Know About Writing The Lyrics For A Lovers' First Meet Scene
May 13, 2021 | 0 | Transcript of Episode 018
15 Secrets Every Songwriter Must Know About Writing The Lyrics For A Lovers' First Meet SceneListen to the Episode
Transcript of Episode 018
[00:00:00] Hey, this is Melanie Naumann, and welcome back to the Stories in Songs Podcast.
Are you wondering how to write a captivating and engaging love song?
After all, you want to find out all the possibilities at your disposal to write an original love song about the lovers' first encounter – about that special moment when the possible future couple first lays eyes on each other?
But you've been having a hard time studying other love songs about this moment to figure out how other songwriters pulled it off. Because there are so many love songs out there and you don’t know what details to focus on and apply to your songwriting to find the best ways to write your original and innovative love song that will speak right to the heart of your listeners.
If that’s you, I’ve got great news for you.
Today’s episode, "15 Secrets Every Songwriter Must Know About Writing The Lyrics For A Lovers’ First Meet Scene." - is exactly what you're looking for!
It summarizes the 15 most helpful tips about writing the lovers’ first meet scene. Those tips are the ultimate collection of what we’ve found out as we studied the lyrics of some wonderful songs about the lovers' first encounter in the last eight episodes.
Only by listening to this episode will you perfectly know what you need to focus on when writing about this kind of love song. Additionally, you'll also learn about four different types of "Meet-Cute" scenes that we have not yet talked about to ignite your imagination.
I’ll also tell you about nine other love songs that are about the lovers’ first encounter that you can study to get even more inspired by different possible ways to write about that one love story must-have moment.
And I’ve got a big surprise for you at the end of this episode.
So if you want to be able to start working on your new original love song about the lovers’ first meet scene right away, then keep listening to spark your imagination.
[00:02:19] The power of storytelling surrounds us wherever we go and wherever we look.
You not only get entertained by the movies and TV series you watch or the books you read but also by your friend’s experiences, on social media, advertising campaigns, company stories, and especially by the songs you listen to.
Indeed, storytelling is the most reliable option if you want to capture the attention of your intended audience as well as keep them engaged until you’ve delivered your message.
You got something you want to say through your songs, right?
Even if it’s just sharing how you feel about working through an experience, good or bad, and you want your listeners to listen to what you have to say because it’s important to you. Otherwise, why would you bother the pain of writing and revising and composing and producing and marketing your song if it wasn’t something that needed to get out into the world to reach more people?
And your lyrics are what will stick in the heads and hearts of the people listening to your songs. There’s no reason to believe that lyrics don’t matter anymore, even though some common perception might suggest this untrue assumption.
Of course, there are popular songs out there that didn’t bother with great lyric writing, but don’t let that become the mantra of your song creation.
Songs should create an emotional impact on your listeners.
And in no other form of communication do you have the chance to make an impact on someone’s life in the short time of around three minutes. After all, and as we already said, it’s all about the message, the experience, or the feeling you want to share.
No other media is listened to as much as music.
Few watch advertising campaigns. Some people read books. Many watch TV series and movies, but almost everyone on this earth listens to music.
So don’t reduce your songs to the kind of awesome chord progression you use, the melody, the rhythm, whatever. Elevate your songs by the impactful, catchy, engaging, meaningful, and emotional power of your lyrics.
[00:04:21] I never thought much about applying the craft of storytelling to songwriting until my mentor Shawn Coyne, the creator of the Story Grid methodology, brought it up in our editor certification seminar.
We became Story Grid certified editors to help authors write better books. Books that fulfill the promise to their intended audience. Fiction and non-fiction works have the power to create catharsis that are so engaging that you don’t want to put them down anymore. We learned how to help authors find out what works in their stories, what does not, and how to improve their works by using specific, actionable feedback that leads them from a working plot to a working scene by scene entertaining work of art.
So why should we limit our definition of who an author is only to writers of books or screenplays?
Songwriters and topliners are writers as well who craft works of fiction.
So why are there no developmental story editors to help songwriters out to truly discover and use the power of storytelling? So that their lyrics may create the same impact on their listeners as books and movies do on their audience?
And that’s why the Stories in Songs Podcast exists.
I am a developmental editor, and I have found my purpose in helping songwriters use the power of storytelling.
Become the songwriter you want to be by using the power of storytelling.
[00:06:43] Of course, songs are too short for telling a complete working story from beginning to end. Some do this, but if you are truly interested in telling one entire story, why not write a concept album?
A full story consists of multiple turning point events where many things have to happen that take the viewer, listener, or reader on a full journey through the main characters’ troubles and challenges to reach the happy or sad ending. And you can focus on all those defining moments in each of your album’s songs so that they contribute to one larger story.
But first, you need to know what kind of story you want to tell.
There are different story content genres that we use to categorize stories. There are crime stories, thrillers, action and horror stories, war stories, performance, love and society stories, western stories, or stories about the character’s worldview, status, or morality.
In contrast, songs mostly focus on one scene or moment taken out of a larger context or story of a particular story genre. Sometimes they are just about a present situation. Sometimes they span from the past to the present with links to the future. But they can be boiled down to one event that made that possible.
[00:08:01] In the last episodes, we’ve focused on one of those defining story moments and studied song examples that are about that one particular moment.
We started with the story content genre of love stories. And by now, you know that every story genre has a set of must-have scenes that the audience expects to encounter to get the story’s promise fulfilled.
So love stories include the moment when ...
Those moments are a great starting point for coming up with a songwriting idea if you want to write a love song.
No matter if you want to tell a fairytale love story or one where the song’s character struggles to get what they want. Sometimes they’ll fail. Sometimes they might get what they are after.
You have the power to choose whichever outcome for your song’s character.
Or you rely on what has happened to you.
Those moments may inspire you. And they give you a way to boil down this huge topic of love stories and love songs to find out what you need to write about.
Before we talk about creating a love story concept album, we will go through each of those love story defining must-have moments and study song examples that show us different ways of writing about one particular story moment. So you will have the best arsenal of inspiring songs at your disposal, know the tricks, and have honed your craft of storytelling so that you can write love songs that contribute to one single love story.
The possibilities to write about one of those story moments are endless, even though it’s a moment every love story needs. And there are already millions of love stories out there in every imaginable shape and form.
But YOU have the power of creativity and creation at your disposal. So you can think of things no one ever thought of before. And by studying song examples of that particular moment, you’ll know exactly what has been done a thousand times and where you can innovate.
So let’s sum up what we’ve learned in the last eight episodes and find out what we can take away from the songs we’ve studied to write a catchy, unique, and engaging song about the first must-have moment of every love story – the lovers’ meet scene.
[00:10:20] But before we dive into the lyric studies that we’ve already conducted, let’s talk about the lovers’ meet scene again and why this scene is so important to have.
Even though the name of that must-have scene reveals what that scene is about, why do we require a scene where the future love interests meet, especially when we want to write love songs?
After all, isn’t that scene often regarded as a cliche from romantic comedies to dramas and could just be skipped?
The meet-cute has been defined by film and television as a scene where the two people who will form a future romantic couple meet for the first time. The two main characters have to meet at one point early on in the story, or there would not be a love story. It establishes that these two characters will fall in love eventually and that the audience should root for them to get together.
To make that scene the most entertaining, you often find a humorous clash of personality or beliefs, embarrassing situations, or comical misunderstandings that move the story along.
But in songs, this conception of using comedy to write about that first meeting of the lovers differs, since songs mostly focus on the emotional impact of what meeting that one particular person means to the song’s main character.
Some people love that scene for no other reason than simply being cute. Others want to experience the magnetic pull between the characters that makes you sit up and take notice. No matter why you like that first scene between a couple, the best ones are sure to hold on for a while – and that goes for movies, books, and songs.
But before you start writing your song about the lovers’ first meet scene, let’s figure out which type of that meet-cute scene is best for your song.
And the way we do this is by asking ourselves: How would your song’s character likely react to meeting a potential romantic interest?
[00:12:11] The first songs we’ve analyzed showed us one type of a meet-cute scene that is very popular: the characters feel a mutual attraction.
In the song “Ain’t No Other Man” by Christina Aguilera, in “Crazy for You” by Madonna, or “I Saw Her Standing There” by the Beatles, we immediately feel how those two characters are instantly and mutually attracted to each other.
That’s like your typical Disney Cinderella story. Cinderella and Prince Charming meet for the first time at the ball, dance with each other, and fall in love right then and there.
One issue writers often encounter with this type of meet-cute is that there’s typically no underlying tension. Those are the songs and stories that want to show their audience that love at first sight exists, even though it’s not the most realistic occurrence. This instant attraction has also drifted into cliché since life has taught us that we are not always that lucky to experience a fairytale moment.
But if your character falls in love easily or has found their one true love, then you can write your song about that moment. People love to be taken away into the magic of love and believe that they too could one day experience a fairytale moment like this.
But how could you even improve that scene so that it keeps the fairytale magic and includes tension?
Look at the movie “Love Actually.” The prime minister meets his staff for the first time, and among them is his new secretary Natalie. You can feel their mutual attraction, but she’s so nervous that she accidentally swears more than once. They have to work together, and we ask ourselves how they will accomplish working together when they have to hold back on their feelings?
There’s a question raised in the audience’s mind because those two characters want something that is not just about love. Love gets in the way of what they are trying to do.
So include tension by relying on the love story conventions at your disposal. Remember, you can include a rival, people who are against the relationship, an external want like what we’ve just talked about in the Love Actually Movie example, secrets, opposing forces, or you include something directed towards the character’s moral code.
Or just remember the story of “Romeo and Juliet.” They are so attracted to each other, but the fact that they come from rival families creates a huge amount of tension and conflict.
[00:14:32] It could also be possible that only one character is instantly attracted to the other one, but the other character is disinterested. We did not include the lyrics that show this option as an example, but in our first lyric study, we talked about John Michael Montgomery’s song "Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident).”
In that song, the song’s character was smitten by that girl he saw in the auction’s audience. He asked her for a sign, but we never got to witness her reaction until the songwriters took us into the future by saying:
Yeah, we found love on the auction block.
An' I hauled her heart away.
But to make one character smitten and the other repulsed, this song can be rewritten to show that the girl in the audience doesn’t like the overconfidence of the song’s character and being put at the center of attention. So in the lyrics, we could have included her reaction as another turning point event when she either leaves or asks security to throw that guy out.
Those options could be an alternative version to the original song of John Michael Montgomery. An alternative that shows that there doesn’t always need to be a mutual attraction between the possible future love couple.
If you show how your character meets this unique person, but they also meet the challenge of trying to win their heart, then you immediately create tension in your song’s little story or, as we say, in the chosen love story moment.
Being smitten by the love interest who doesn’t share the same feeling inherently makes for engaging conflict.
If you need a movie reference to how this option could look like, then watch The Notebook. The main character Noah sees his love interest, Allie, for the first time at a fair. He climbs a Ferris wheel to ask her out, but Allie is on a date with another guy. And she doesn’t agree to go out with him, but she shows her sense of humor by pulling down his pants as he threatens to let go of the bars.
[00:16:27] As opposed to the two characters automatically falling in love, there’s also the option that both your characters are not interested in one another or even hate each other.
Now, why would you even consider writing a song about this? Isn’t it the purpose of a love song to engage the listener through the positive emotions of what meeting that special someone means?
Yes, that’s true.
But a real-life love story doesn’t follow the wish of what we would like to experience.
Life is more complicated. And maybe you have friends who didn’t like each other in the beginning but who developed feelings for each other over time? Mostly because they got to know each other better, and initial prejudices had been proven as false.
Just look at the most famous love story of all time.
Pride and Prejudice started with Elisabeth despising Darcy for his pride because she was too full of prejudices, and Darcy was too proud to be with someone like Elisabeth. There was no love at first sight love story for them, but as they got to know each other, their humor and wit, and the selfless deeds they did, they became a better version of themselves and were able to commit.
So if the most famous love story of all time has the future couple starting with not liking each other, why don’t we use that option for our songs?
That’s your way to be innovative. Everyone expects a love story moment like the meet-cute scene to paint a fairytale image of love at first sight. But what happens if you break the common assumption and create a meet-cute scene like in Bridget Jones Diary, Harry Meets Sally, or La La Land? Two characters that are magnetically pulled together but who clash because of their misconceptions about the other one?
Doesn’t that clashing encounter make a more exciting and intriguing moment? One that has a huge conflict right at the centre of it but that nonetheless seems accurate to what real life is about, and that can be wrapped into a beautiful love story as well?
Remember: as long as you tell the events in your songs chronologically, you can move through time. Start with the past, which could be the moment they met, emphasize the mutual disinterest, and what it felt like. Use the writing principle of “Show, don’t Tell” to engage your listeners and then move over to the present when your character realizes that they do not hate that other person but that they love them.
Or, to be even more engaging, start in the present moment and focus on how those two don’t like each other but include clues that show that those two characters are perfect for each other. Or maybe your chorus is a look into the future that shows them being together and how they overcame their differences.
There are so many creative possibilities to pull it off to write about a love story moment like this that doesn’t follow the meet-cute scene expectations.
[00:19:14] Furthermore, there’s also the possibility that one character awkwardly tries to hide their feelings while the other character is oblivious to the situation. The character is simply too nervous meeting the person of his or her affection while the other person is hard to get a read on.
Just think back on episode 15 when we talked about the song "Heartache on the Dance Floor" by Jon Pardi.
The main character was too shy to talk to that girl who was shaking her hips to an old Motown song. So he just sang along to the song. But he did not act, and that’s why he missed out on getting to know her name or getting any clue how he could ever see her again.
But it could also be that your song’s character is just too overwhelmed to do something.
Even though in Cole Swindell’s song “Middle of a Memory,” the two characters danced together, her friends interrupted them and took her away. So the main character ended up being too overwhelmed to react.
And the object of his interest, the girl, remained either neutral or oblivious to the dilemma she left the song’s character in. She has no idea that he had those high expectations on what their memory would look like before her friends ripped it away from him.
A movie that shows this kind of meet-cute scene is “Eternal sunshine on a spotless mind” with Jim Carrey or when Toula meets Ian in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
[00:20:56] Remember, songs can also just take one part out of those options. That means you don’t have to focus on both characters of the possible future couple.
It’s more likely that a song deals with how the song’s character feels about that encounter.
“I’m A Believer” by the Monkees leaves out completely who that other character is. It’s just about the personal growth of the song’s main character and what meeting the ONE did to him.
And that’s totally valid. And it’s much better for a song to focus on one single character, preferably your song’s main character. If you would focus on both characters, you could easily confuse your audience.
So if you include the person of interest, then only give access to them through the perception of your song’s main character. Filter everything through them so that your audience stays close to the chosen point of view character without switching around.
Furthermore, when you are trying to choose the perfect option for your song’s lovers’ meet scene, ask yourself what option would work best for your song’s main character and the type of song you want to write.
If you want a fairytale love story beginning, then meeting the one can start with a mutual attraction.
If you want to make it more conform with reality, either let only one character be attracted to the other person or make them both dislike each other.
If your protagonist is an introvert, then option 4 (Missing Courage to act or feeling too overwhelmed to act) may work in your favor.
Those options are only examples of further possibilities to write your lovers’ meet scene in your lyrics. But remember, to make your song stand out, try to come up with meet-cute moments that we haven’t heard yet in songs and that also have the power to awake your audience’s dream of wanting to meet their true love in the same way as your song’s characters did.
Or tell them a love story where nothing ends up like it’s supposed to be.
The choice for a happy, tragic, or ironic ending is in your hands.
[00:23:01] Now that we know what a lovers’ meet scene is, what purpose it serves, and the different options you can use to bring your future couple together for the very first time, let’s look at the songs we’ve studied so far. Let’s summarize some more important guidelines that will help you write a lovers’ first meet scene in your song.
If you want to write a love song, but your first lines do not give your audience that love song promise, then they need even more time to get into what your song will be about. And as we know, we don’t have much time in a song to hook our listeners and keep them engaged. That’s why it’s so important to give your listeners a clear picture or even a hint to what kind of song they can expect.
If your song’s first lines promise a love song and especially hint at the lovers’ first meet scene, the listeners expect to hear about that moment. If you don’t deliver and don’t paint a vivid picture around that moment, then you risk disappointment.
Make sure your first lines set up the kind of story moment or love story scene you want to tell your listeners about.
Never forget: The first lines are the setup for the rest of your song. And your listeners want that promise fulfilled that the first lines gave them. So never underestimate the power of the first lines of your songs. Those lines are super important because their job is to hook your audience.
The main job of your lyrics' first lines is to hook your audience and spark their interest. That’s what they need to do.
There are multiple ways to do this.
Where I saw something I just had to have
We start wondering: What is the thing that he just had to have? So we are super hooked to find out the answer to that question.
There are some amazing options at your disposal. However, if you are an aspiring songwriter still learning the craft of songwriting, then maybe, for now, it’s good to focus on your listener’s expectations by setting up the first lines of the song with a promise or hint of what kind of story moment the song will be about.
If you were to tell a complete love story – maybe on your concept album – you should focus on including all of those love story conventions and must-have moments to fulfill your listeners’ expectations for a love story.
But if we look at a song that deals only with one specific moment of a bigger story, it’s okay to include only one convention.
Including love story conventions make your love song lyrics much more engaging because those conventions are what we are used to encountering in this type of story and as said, conventions help move the story along. They create obstacles for your song’s main character. They inspire you in your songwriting process, and they help you tell a better story moment.
Here’s a list of the most common love story conventions you can use for your love songs:
Establish a deeper connection with your listeners by giving them insights into your song’s main character’s thoughts and feelings.
Share the song’s character’s emotions and what’s on their mind with your audience to transmit the emotions to your listeners and make them feel part of that moment, even make them feel like they experience that moment themselves. That way, you allow them to reflect on their own experience and compare it with those of your song’s character. Furthermore, the distance between your listeners and your character gets very close and intimate.
Use present tense and the first-person point of view character to put your listeners into your song’s character’s position.
If you use a first-person narrator who uses past tense to tell his story, then watch out for those three things:
Answering this question will help you find out what your main character is actively after.
What is he trying to achieve or get? In storytelling terms, we call this the “conscious object of desire.”
If you look at the people around you, everybody wants something, right? Usually, a lot of different things. They might want to travel again, get a raise, start a family, lose weight, become successful …
The difference to storytelling in songwriting is that your song’s character must have ONE desire for something that will drive their actions within that particular story moment, relevant to the song’s main topic or story genre.
So in a love story, what could a character want?
Remember, it’s essential to include something the main character in your story wants.
That’s how the audience can identify with your main character and root for them to get what they want. Use present tense and put your listeners right in the moment with your characters when something happens with or to them.
Or we might be hoping that they do not get what they want because we question the morality or the motives of that character. Either way, we are invested in the song.
And we are even more invested in connecting with another person when we know about their troubles and identifying with what they had to go through to get where they wanted or needed to go..
Maybe some can even say: “Hey, that’s me. I’m like the narrator in that song because of XXX.”
If your audience has had a similar experience to that character in your song, they are more likely to stick around and listen to that song.
So how do you come up with a problem?
You create tension by including conflict.
Real-life is full of conflict.
If we all lived in a bubble where life had no challenges to overcome, and nothing would trouble you and let you struggle, then there would be nothing to talk about.
So given the reality of life, having a character who gets what he wants without facing at least one obstacle does not ring true. Talking about this would not even be a story. At best, it would be mentioning an event.
The power of storytelling is at the foundation of why we love stories.
Stories speak to us because when we try to achieve something significant or worth mentioning, there’s always a challenge or problem to overcome. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems. And we love to see a character struggle and watch them fall and stand up again because their actions inspire us. A character needs to face their demons in a story, overcome them, solve problems, and fight for what they want. If they do, we are empowered to face our challenges.
So when you write songs, and you want to use the power of storytelling for your lyrics, then ask yourself: What’s the one thing your character might be struggling with?
Here’s a tip: If you know what they want, what obstacle could you put in their way to make it harder for them to reach what they are after?
If you want to focus on what your character needs, include a revelation. Let them get some new information that makes them doubt if they are at the right place in life, behave correctly, or let them see that the thing they’re after is not what they want.
Everybody wants to be different, but no one wants to change. That’s at the center of showing the personal growth of character. They need to be ready to change who they are, their worldview, to become someone they want to be.
And remember, there needs to be something at stake.
If you introduce a problem your character will face in your song, make sure that he got something to lose and not just something to win. Because a song can prove, if we want something, we have to risk something in the process.
If you leave out a problem the character in your song has to face, there’s no challenge and hence no reason for your audience to root for your character.
There is also no helpful message to be taken out of the song. If everything seems like a fairy tale, it just doesn’t ring true. A positive message should always include an obstacle someone should overcome to get what they want.
So make sure your character has to overcome a difficult situation so that we can celebrate with them a positive outcome.
Every element of a story needs to include change. There needs to be a difference between the beginning and the ending. If there is none, then we can say with utter certainty, nothing happened. And if nothing happened, we neither have a story nor an interesting moment.
You know that you can use the storytelling power in songwriting when you only focus on your lyrics’ first and last lines.
They need to show either a change of the character’s situation, a change of the character himself, or both. If there’s a shift in how the song started and how it ended, your song progresses. It moves from one point to another. It’s not static, but there’s something happening in between that causes that shift.
And your listeners will love your lyrics if there’s something happening to the song’s character.
We love to see the story’s character struggle and experience their hardships and challenges without real-life risks.
Those stories or story moments that we encounter in songs offer prescriptive and cautionary tales that we can learn from for our own lives.
But the main thing we need to create that binding relationship with our audience is a character or a situation that changes from the lyrics’ beginning to their end. And in between, we want to know the reason for that change and how the character dealt with that turning point event.
If the first and last lines of your lyrics mirror each other, but they show the change – either of the character, their situation, or both – the song becomes much more powerful because it uses the power of storytelling to engage your listeners.
If you include this step when you revise your lyrics, you can make sure that your song has a beginning and an ending, and some thing that provoked the change of the situation in between. And by now, we’ve learned how important it is for successful storytelling to put obstacles in the way of your character and that nothing should stay the same in a story because then it would only be a dull retelling of events.
Here’s a tip for your lyric writing:
Even if you don’t have the lyrics of a song yet, think about who your character is at the beginning of the song or what his situation will be like, and how it has changed at the end.
Then find the reason for that change, which will be your turning point event.
Or look at it this way: If your song starts positively, then it needs to end even more positively through a positive or helpful turn of events or, which is more often the case, it ends negatively because something terrible happened.
If the song starts negatively, the situation might get even worse in the end or turn out for the better – for the character, his situation, or both.
So that’s all you need to pay attention to when starting a song or revising your lyrics. Concentrate on the beginning and the ending of your lyrics, show how your character changed, his situation, or both – and then in your lyrics include the moment that turned the tables for better or worse.
I can’t stress this enough. You must know what incident brought your character to a crossroad moment because that unexpected turn of events either leads to a change to the positive or, if your character can’t deal with it, to a negative outcome. The point is, if you want your song to work as an element of the story, you need to include the reason for the change, and you need to show it.
This unexpected event that turns the tables is called “the turning point progressive complication.”
Here’s a reminder of how the turning point works:
By establishing your character’s inciting incident, we know what they are up to. We know their path from A to B.
But going from A to B is never easy, especially not getting there in a straight line.
Some complications make it harder to get where you want to go, but they don’t stop you in your tracks. So if you want to get a book from a shelf, getting caught with your shirt on the wooden table is nothing that keeps you from not getting that book. The same is true if you stand up, stumble, and fall. You can still get up and get that book even though that complication was worse than just getting your shirt caught on the table.
The progressive complication turning point is the unexpected event that throws your character completely of their path, and they face a dilemma. They realize they can’t follow a straight line to his goal anymore. They are at a crossroads and need to make a decision first.
This turning of events is either caused by another character’s action like a slap in the face or by a revelation when new information comes to the fore. It either makes their situation worse or leaves them better off because they just got some great new information, a revelation, or someone or something that helped them achieve what they were after. Either way, the tables turn one way or the other, and they ask themselves the question: Shit, what shall I do now?
So remember, the most important commandment is the turning point. A turning point is the event that changes the situation for the character.
And when you write songs about the lovers’ meet-scene, the turning point doesn’t necessarily need to be meeting that special person. Meeting them can also be the inciting incident that establishes what your character’s goal looks like (by including hopes and expectations).
The turning point will then be another unexpected event that either destroys those hopes or helps your character get what they want.
A person’s actions and choices, especially when they are in a crisis after that unexpected turn of events, define who that person is.
Actions speak louder than words.
So whenever you introduce your audience to your character, and you want to show them who that person is, don’t just tell your audience, but show them through using character action and letting them make a decision - whether it’s good or bad. It all depends on how you want to portray your character.
If we like the song’s character, we will consider their actions prescriptive. So whenever we might face the same challenge or find ourselves in the same struggle, we can look back to what the character in that particular song did and follow their advice. A likable character is more likely to become our guide or mentor.
The character traits of a likable character include the personality traits that we admire. Be it honesty, making actions speak louder than words, being mature enough to deal with the consequences, fighting for what you want, knowing what you want, being able to learn from mistakes …
Suppose we don’t like the song’s character. In that case, it might be because they portray personality traits that we don’t like to see in other people or ourselves: So maybe they see themselves as the victim, are whiny, lie, have no goals or ambitions, are too weak or too passive to do something about their life, only complain, promise things they don’t keep, …
If we don’t like the main character, we won’t consider their behavior as a guideline for our own lives. We will more likely see their actions as a warning of what not to do to not end up like them. They teach us the mistakes we should avoid.
And even by making a character not face their dilemma, this avoidance or lack of understanding paints a clear picture of your song’s character as well.
No matter if you like or dislike the character, you might still be able to sympathize or empathize with them. It all depends if you can relate to their struggles.
So remember, your listeners don’t have to like your song’s character, but you can still engage your listeners if they can sympathize with them on some level.
When a character comes to a crossroad, they are forced to make a decision that will drive meaningful change. If a song has a turning point, its character’s situation changes for better or worse. This moment determines if the song will have a happy or sad ending.
And that’s what we’ll take away from the song. Have the character’s actions contributed to a positive outcome or a negative one?
If the song turns from bad to good, the song offers us a prescriptive tale. We can learn from the song because the main character had to face an obstacle and made the right decision, that led to positive consequences.
If the song turns from good to bad, the song offers us a cautionary tale. We can learn from the song, but this time we learn what we need to avoid because the main character had to face an obstacle and made the wrong decision, that led to negative consequences. The song’s story moment serves as a warning. Better don’t do what the song’s character did to avoid ending up like him.
If your song has a message that your listeners can take away from it and apply to their own life, then the song made a difference in their life. And that’s what great songwriting is all about.
But keep in mind that even a song that does not provide the solution to the character’s problem can still serve as a message to the listener – as long as the indecision of the song’s character highlights the gravity of the problem.
Specificity is crucial for songwriting. It sets up how believable a song can be and if the listeners will be moved or not. It influences how well we get to know the characters. And if we find the character relatable, we can empathize with them.
Specificity also makes a song memorable. We don’t want to hear generic lyrics that there were problems. We need to know exactly what happened because otherwise, we just can’t relate to what’s going on and the character.
If we have no idea what happened to the song’s characters, we can’t get a sense of what the song is about. If we are confused about what problem a protagonist faces, we can’t even consider the solution as helpful because we don’t know what specific problem the solution is solving.
So remember: We need details to see the picture. You can name time and places or offer details or specific clues to who the character is, his ambitions, goals, struggles, or where we can place him.
If you don’t feed your listeners’ imagination by painting them a picture, they might lose interest in listening to what you have to say. They just can’t find a way to connect with the character in your song because the character seems too two-dimensional, and the situation they are in is not in your listeners’ grasp to be able to dive into that world.
So please avoid being too generic and just telling your audience what’s going on. Be specific and show them because the more specific you are in a story, the more universal the story becomes.
To be specific trumps general terms.
Specificity evokes emotions in your listeners, makes them relate, engages them, helps them understand your character even better, and helps them feel the full force of the situation.
Point of View helps us to find out if the POV was consistent or if it changed.
If it changed, we need to look further and see if the shift of point of view was to the lyric’s advantage or if the shift might confuse the listener—something we need to avoid at all costs if we want to keep the narrative dream alive.
If you are just starting out writing songs, you should avoid a change in perspective because it may confuse your audience when they can’t follow who your main character is talking to.
But if you have become better at the craft of storytelling, you know when you can use a shift in point of view to your song’s advantage. For example, switching from the third person to direct address can pull the listener closer to the story’s moment. But this is something you should know when you can apply it and only use it once.
Some songwriters use too much creative language to talk about their story moment.
The words sound good when they write their newly created metaphors down, but if there are too many, then the lyrics won’t make sense anymore, and those comparisons become a painful blight in the lyrics.
So my advice to you is to don’t use too much fancy creative language in your lyrics because you risk that your audience won’t understand what you were trying to say. If it’s too hard to figure out what the song is about, your listeners will quickly lose interest.
I mean, look at those seasoned songwriters who came up with the titles like “Heartache on the Dancefloor” or “Middle of a Memory.” They use only one powerful creative phrase, to sum up the central theme of the song. And those words are part of the lyrics, and they do not interrupt the narration because we wonder what they mean. We know.
And that’s the beauty of choosing the right words to express what you want to say. If you can come up with new poetic comparisons that sound great, original, and are easy to get, you got yourself a winner.
So if you’re someone who tends to disguise every word’s meaning, think about if that is the way to go. Or if it’s better if people would just get your message and what you have to say.
A song is great when it only focuses on one specific moment taken out of a possible larger story. Sometimes what the character wants will be all that is included because establishing the NEED as well is not always possible.
Especially when the song’s moment is just a short snippet, for example, like in Madonna’s song “Crazy for You.” There the character just wanted to hook up with their love interest.
Nevertheless, sometimes the character’s NEED can make the difference.
In the song “I’m A Believer” by the Monkees, the song’s main character wanted to get away from love, but he needed to change his disillusioned worldview that love was out to get him. He needed to understand that love can be like in fairytales as well. This was a contradiction between what he wanted and what he needed.
Only if you include how a character used to be can you show how they’ve changed as a person when you switch over to the here and now. And you should always include the reason why they’ve changed.
Here’s how you can use the character’s WANT and NEED for your songwriting:
Of course, depending on the kind of song you want to write, some tips will be more helpful than others. The main thing is that you follow your instincts and your first spark of inspiration and write the song you want to write. Get it down on paper to put an idea into a first draft.
When you have the first draft of your song ready, you can start revising the lyrics, looking at those songwriting tips, and checking which ones your lyrics can benefit from. And once revised, use the S.O.N.G. framework to analyze your lyrics once more to make sure you’ve covered every important aspect to use the power of storytelling for your lyrics.
[00:52:23] If you want to study more songs about the lovers’ first meet scene to check how they use the power of storytelling or to find out which type of “meet-cute” scene the songwriters used, then here are nine more songs you can study:
Those nine songs are just a suggestion.
If you find another song about the lovers’ first meet scene, please share it with everyone and leave a comment with the song’s title and the artist’s name in the show notes of this episode.
And now, big drumroll. The Surprise!
As I promised at the beginning of this episode, I have a special surprise for you.
As you know, we have already studied the lyrics of eight love songs about the lovers’ first meet scene. And each time, I asked you to complete an exercise to each of those songs to apply what we’ve learned to your songwriting.
So if you’ve done the exercises, even if you might not have completed all of them, you should have a couple of song lyrics that are about this first must-have love story moment.
And I would like to give you the opportunity to get your lyrics promoted.
So send me your original lyrics of your favorite lovers’ first meet scene that you have worked on in the last months via email to “email@example.com.”
I will choose the three best song lyrics, and I will promote them and you on Social Media, on this podcast, and refer them to a German Record producer.
The songwriter who wrote the most captivating and engaging original lyrics about the lovers’ meet scene will also get my PRO Song Analysis for the value of 3.800 € for free.
The PRO Song Analysis includes:
But don’t wait too long.
You can use your chance until June 30th, 2021.
So send me the lyrics of your song to “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
I’m looking forward to experiencing the amazing storytelling art you’ve created.
[00:55:16] And now let’s answer the last question for today’s show.
What’s up next?
We have talked a lot about the lovers’ first meet scene. But if we want to learn about all the must-have love story scenes so that maybe one day, we can write a love story concept album, then we need to study more lyrics and more versions of how to write love songs.
So we will continue with the second love-story must-have scene: the first kiss or intimate connection between our two lovebirds.
In the upcoming episode, I will give you an overview of what this scene is about before we will study the storytelling power of multiple song examples in further episodes following the S.O.N.G. framework.
So if you want to discover even more storytelling songwriting tips, then subscribe to the Stories in Songs Podcast, and I see you next time.
© Stories in Songs, Melanie Naumann
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