May 27, 2021 | 0
How do you write kissing lyrics that will truly accelerate your listeners’ pulse without being on the nose or fall into clichés?
[00:00:00] Hey, this is Melanie Naumann, and welcome back to the Stories in Songs Podcast.
Love is the most amazing feeling of all that we can experience – and if your song shares a heart-melting kissing moment, you have an unforgettable tale at your hands…
But if romance isn’t your type of thing to write about, you’re probably worried about how you’d pull it off. You want your song to be emotional and meaningful, but not sappy and cliché. Sooner or later, you’ll end up having to explore love songs about kissing at least briefly to create dynamic and interesting relationships between characters.
But… even if you’re in a happy relationship, you might still be lost on how to convey romance authentically in your songs.
So the question is: How can you get to the heart of what makes the lyrics about your song’s characters’ kissing exciting and transfer that onto paper? How do you write kissing lyrics that will truly accelerate your listeners’ pulse without being on the nose, fall into clichés, or use the words that have been said a thousand times before?
Today I show you how you can create intimacy between your lovers and write about their attraction for each other so that you can build up to the moment of their First Kiss and make them kiss in your song’s lyrics.
If that sounds like something you need to know, this episode is for you.
[00:01:49] Now, before we go on, let’s zoom back and find out why we are studying the lyrics of love songs that refer to specific must-have moments of a courtship romance love story?
First of all, love stories are the most popular stories of our time.
Everyone can identify with the highs and lows of experiencing love. So there’s a huge audience who can connect with what the characters in a love story go through. If there are many people to whom the topic you’re writing about is relevant, the more chances you have for writing a hit song, because the more people want to hear about it.
If people can connect with what you’re writing about and if they are hooked by the way you talk about one particular topic, they will keep listening … and in the best-case scenario, they will listen to your song over and over again because your song speaks right to their heart.
Furthermore, as songwriters, we write about our truth – be it wrapped into fictional events or telling parts of what we’ve experienced ourselves. And at one time or another, a love story will emerge. You work through your feelings by writing about them.
And although a first draft should come straight from your heart and be written best when inspiration strikes you without worrying about the analytical or editing part, when you start rewriting your song, you have to know what criteria empower your lyrics and what you have to watch out for to avoid weakening your message.
But hey, you might think, why to worry about writing an entire love story when you only want to focus on one particular incident that happened to you. Why bother with the entire storytelling concept when you don’t want to tell stories in your songs.
Storytelling matters in songwriting.
There’s more to the craft of storytelling then only considering it to be worth for telling an entire story.
Knowing the power of storytelling in songwriting will help you
But most of all, knowing the specific must-have moments of every love story and having studied different songs that represent those moments will give you a great foundation of knowing what works in those lyrics, what does not, and why. So you can write even better songs or songs as great as the amazing evergreens we still love to listen to.
And by studying lyrics of those particular moments you will also discover what has been done already, so you won’t repeat it, but instead start innovating it. Discover a new light for how you can put certain things into perspective for your audience.
As we know, learning the craft is all about learning the rules first so that you know when you can break them.
At the end of this podcast season, we will have studied over 100 love songs of different love story moments. And by then you will not only know those moments and how to best write about them, but you will have learned a lot about the power of storytelling that you can then apply to every other topic you want to write about.
But suppose your ultimate goal is to write a love story from start to finish, then by the end of this season, you will have all the lyrical and storytelling tools at your disposal to write an amazing love story concept album that really tells one captivating love story with unique and believable characters in an equally interesting setting and engaging moments that will keep the tension up from the first song to the last until you’ve created catharsis.
[00:05:52] Before we dive deeper into our next love story must-have moment, let’s recapture how we define a love story, and continue on the question of why love stories are so irresistible to write about.
Even though the survival stories were the first among our ancestors thousands of years ago, love is equally important to our survival.
According to Shawn Coyne:
“Love is the force that not only binds us to the rest of humanity … it’s the very thing that preserves our species.”
So when we look back through the centuries, the world’s greatest stories have been built on romance.
Even today, we fall for the ups and downs of love stories by luckily keeping a safe distance from what the lovers have to go through.
Who hasn’t rooted for Ross and Rachel to get together in the TV series “Friends”? Or Ted Mosby and Robin Scherbatsky in “How I Met Your Mother?”
Who didn’t want the Beast to find his love to break the witches’ spell? Or did not cry when Jack Dawson died in the ice-cold water after the Titanic sank?
Yes, those are all love stories. But even in action stories, the hero almost always has a love interest. Someone he needs to protect at all costs and someone he is willing to sacrifice his life for.
Spiderman wants to protect Mary Jane Watson, and Superman is in love with Lois Lane.
Love is a great subplot for every kind of story – be it an epic fantasy story like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars, or other stories about the apocalypse like in Deep Impact or horror movies like The Faculty. Love can also be the catalyst for a thriller like in Gone Girl or the TV Series YOU.
So you see, love stories are all around us, and we can’t live without them.
We like falling in love and as songwriters, we enjoy writing about our characters falling in love as well because writing about two people hitting it off or encountering and overcoming challenges together or to be with one another evokes feelings of our own.
It can actually be a therapeutic experience, but more than that, it lets us fantasize about our characters, and truth be told. Aren’t we as writers and storytellers of love story moments the luckiest people on earth? We get to fall in love over and over again.
[00:08:39] In the last episodes, we’ve focused on one of the first love story must-have moments: the lovers’ first meet scene or the “meet-cute” scene.
And truth be told, it’s tough to come up with innovative ideas about the initial meeting between the love interests and the romantic spark between them since it’s such a natural experience for people in real life.
But here’s why that moment should not be neglected to write about and the opportunities it offers to not fall into cliché:
If we don’t want to fall into a cliché, we might say that “love at first sight” does not exist.
Please keep in mind. There’s nothing wrong with writing about that fairytale moment of two people falling in love at first sight. Even though we know this might never happen to us, we still love the idea of it.
Love at first sight promises to find someone who cares about you without having to put much effort into making the relationship work. In our everyday lives encountering something that seems to come without any complications looks super tempting. It’s like a dream come true. Get something wonderful without having to put much work and thought into it.
And because it sounds so wonderful and perfect, there’s an audience who wants to keep that dream alive. So of course, you can write about it.
But if you want to move past the fairytale aspect of love, then you know love at first sight isn’t a real thing that happens.
Love is much too complicated to “just” happen.
Love is about a deep connection that develops over time and by putting a lot of effort into it by getting to know each other, being truthful, vulnerable, and being ready to allow and foster an intimate connection.
With that said, “attraction at first sight” does exist.
Meeting a person can make you feel physically, emotionally, or intellectually attracted to them. And there are no attachments to feeling attracted to someone.
You don’t need to know someone to know that they’re amazing or wonderful. You just have to look at them. And finding someone attractive does not mean you’re in love with them.
So if you write a love song about the lovers’ first meet scene, you can be as out of the common way of thinking about that moment as you possibly can. That moment does not need to hint at love, but you can refer to that spark between your characters.
I’ve just finished reading the epic space opera/fantasy comic book series SAGA written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. This is not primarily a love story, but there’s a love child that should not exist because its parents are from different planets that have been at war with each other for decades. And the parents' first meet scene was her smacking the back of her pistol over his head to stop him from talking. He was her prisoner.
So that’s innovative. And you see, the two future lovers don’t have to meet at a ball or dance or coffee shop or any other conventional places that you know of. You can create the setting you want and inhabit it with your characters in the most extraordinary circumstances.
If you want to write contemporary love songs and not drift too much into a fantasy world, you can also write about how people meet at the current time, for example, in a pandemic.
It’s all possible because creating means doing something that has never been done before. Give people something they have never heard before, but that is so engaging that they love to hear more about it.
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 precisely what has been done a thousand times and where you can innovate.
If you want to find out more about writing the lyrics for a love song about the lovers’ first meeting, then check out episodes 10 to 18 of the Stories in Songs Podcast.
[00:13:36] Now, let’s dive deeper into our next must-have love story moment to discover what has been done before, what works in the lyrics, what does not, and how we can innovate this special love story moment.
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 with everything we want to experience in a full story.
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 want to write about.
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 the goal of this podcast season is to give you a comprehensive overview of different songs about those love story moments.
That’s why for the next nine episodes, we’ll continue with the second moment we can’t wait to experience in a love story. It’s the moment where your couple shares their first kiss or some kind of intimate moment. This is the stage when our hopeful romantics move from the stage of attraction to developing feelings that might or might not lead to a relationship, and thus to love.
A first kiss is the first thing we think of that shows an intimate connection. And this moment is pretty obvious as well because it’s the first kiss after all.
Please keep in mind that not all love stories will have physical intimacy.
There are other ways to show that the two lovers’ connection in your story has reached a new, more intimate level.
This moment could be the first time they hold hands or when a married couple finally makes progress toward emotional intimacy.
Let’s look at Pride and Prejudice again because it is a masterwork.
And I like to use masterworks because many people are familiar with them.
So in Pride and Prejudice, at least in the book by Jane Austen, Darcy and Elizabeth never share the first kiss. Nonetheless, there’s an intimate connection between the two. It’s the moment when they both start teasing each other by having those discussions that show how smart they are. It’s something that they only do with one another and with no one else. That’s why it’s something special. It’s how they start liking each other. They are each other’s challenges and sets them apart from every other love story in that book.
So when thinking about creating an intimate moment between the lovers in your song, consider what makes sense for your romance’s heat level.
If you’re writing more of a sweet romance, you might show them sharing an intimate moment where they hold hands, share some kind of dream for the future, or do something nice for the other. The goal is to show your two lovebirds moving closer to that sense of intimacy and romance.
If you want to write about that first kiss, there are lots of references you can take from movies or books about how this scene has already been innovated - like the upside-down kiss in Spiderman or kissing a Vampire in Twilight.
Or if you’re a fan of the TV Series Killing Eve, there’s a first kiss scene between the detective and a serial killer psychopath that they share in the middle of a fight, and a head bump follows it.
So, again. You don’t have to think of cliches to make this moment work in your song.
But without any doubt, one of the most challenging lyrics to write is a song about the first kiss of your two lovers.
You don’t want to be too on the nose, fall into cliché, use the words that have been said a thousand times before, use the same setting and setup of that moment, get too vulgar or be labeled a prude.
Even the most seasoned writer gets nervous when he has to lift two characters’ privacy and let his audience experience the intimate moment he’s creating and illustrating for his fictional couple.
Depending on where you want your story to go decides what kind of kiss you’re writing about.
If you aim for a romantic courtship story where your couple will reach their happily ever after, the perfect kissing scene should be a combination of steamy and sophisticated – a balance of coy and crude.
The purpose of that first kiss is to spark an awakening in your lovers. It’s no incident they’re likely to forget. This kiss needs to be the one amazing kiss, which will define them, the one that awakes their love’s ever-burning flame, and the one they’ll never forget.
Here’s the first part of the song “Kiss Me Slowly” by Parachute that really shows the build-up to that one special moment:
Stay with me, baby, stay with me,
Tonight don't leave me alone.
Walk with me, come and walk with me,
To the edge of all we've ever known.
I can see you there with the city lights
Fourteenth floor, pale blue eyes.
I can breathe you in.
Two shadows standing by the bedroom door,
No, I could not want you more than I did right then,
As our heads leaned in.
Well, I'm not sure what this is gonna be,
But with my eyes closed all I see
Is the skyline, through the window,
The moon above you and the streets below.
Hold my breath as you're moving in,
Taste your lips and feel your skin.
When the time comes, baby don't run, just kiss me slowly.
Kiss Me Slowly lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc
Did you know that in ancient times people believed that the soul was carried on the breath, and thus a kiss was a connection of souls? How cool is that?
The amazing English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote:
“Soul meets soul on lovers’ lips.”
Or to say it in the words of one of the greatest English poets, Lord Byron:
“Each kiss a heart-quake.”
Those lines evoke so many ideas to write about, don’t you think? So you can look for inspiration in poems, movies, or books. There are so many ways to get inspired by that one intimate moment of two lovers and write a great song about it.
For example, let’s look at some book examples.
In “Gone With the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell, she writes about the kiss like this:
“Before she could withdraw her mind from its far places, his arms were around her, as sure and hard as on the dark road to Tara, so long ago. She felt again the rush of helplessness, the sinking yielding, the surging tide of warmth that left her limp. And the quiet face of Ashley Wilkes was blurred and drowned to nothingness. He bent back her head across his arm and kissed her, softly at first, and then with a swift gradation of intensity that made her cling to him as the only solid thing in a dizzy swaying world. His insistent mouth was parting her shaking lips, sending wild tremors along her nerves, evoking from her sensations she had never known she was capable of feeling. And before a swimming giddiness spun her round and round, she knew that she was kissing him back.”
Or here’s the kissing line out of the book “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” by Emily M. Danforth:
“I turned around and found her face, and her mouth was already waiting like a question. I’m not gonna make it out to be something that it wasn’t: It was perfect—Coley’s soft lips against the bite of the liquor and sugary Coke still on our tongues. She did more than just not stop me. She kissed me back.”
Or another one to really make a point here how much inspiration you can draw from novels. This time, the example is from the book “Just One Day” by Gayle Forman:
“When he finally kisses my mouth, everything goes oddly quiet, like the moment of silence between lightning and thunder. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. Four Mississippi. Five Mississippi. Bang. We kiss again. The next kiss is the kind that breaks open the sky. It steals my breath and gives it back. It shows me that every other kiss I’ve had in my life has been wrong.”
Even if you don’t have the time to read book after book to get inspired, you can also just google the words “kiss scene in books” or “best movie kiss scenes” to quickly find some inspiration.
But love stories do not always have those happy moments because that would not ring true. So sometimes, in our stories we also have to show what happens when things do not turn out the way we’ve imagined.
That’s why the first kiss or intimate moment can also have negative repercussions – be it through invading external opposing forces or because of the difficulties between the lovers themselves.
So it’s okay to write about how that moment is not that perfect and turns out against all expectations.
In the song examples we’re going to study, we’ll focus on both possibilities: the perfect first kiss or intimate moment, as well as how to write about when things are falling apart.
Because life is complicated, and sometimes we are just not in the mood to hear about something that seems too good to be true. Sometimes, we want others to fail as well so that we do not feel that alone or miserable because of what happened to us.
[00:23:48] To give you a headstart into writing about that first kiss or first intimate moment between your lovers, let’s talk a little more about writing intimate scenes in your lyrics without falling into stereotypes, clichés, or culturally received assumptions.
Wait, what are culturally received assumptions?
As a culture, we sometimes accept certain ideas about human connection as “norms” without even realizing it. For example, the domestic heterosexual love with children is the default happy ideal for everyone.
But as writers, we can portray every form of human connection. We do not need to blindly embrace stereotypes about people, desire, and connection. We can aim to show those intimate situations from a new angle and be more innovative. This is both in the interest of being original and of being truthful.
Unfortunately, in our first lyric drafts, moments of intimacy often come off as ineffective, flat, false, or cliché, for example, just by using the most common words that rhyme with kiss like miss, or this.
In Shania Twain’s song “When You Kiss Me,” you encounter that kind of stereotype on the nose kissing scenario:
Oh, when you kiss me (when you kiss me)
I know you miss me (I know you miss me)
And when you're with me, the world just goes away
The way you hold me (the way you kiss me)
The way you show me (I know you miss me)
That you adore me
Oh, when you kiss me
When You Kiss Me lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
So if we write about that first kiss like that, there’s nothing special to it. You just state the facts about two people kissing. You tell but do not show. And in the last episodes, we’ve learned how important the writing principle of “Show, don’t Tell” is for songwriting. Especially if you want to make your audience really feel what’s going on in the scene that you’re writing about.
So don’t just be blunt. The singer SEAL compared the kiss to “a kiss from the rose on the gray.” Or you can get inspired by Echo & The Bunnymen’s song “Lips Like Sugar”:
She floats like a swan
Grace on the water
Lips like sugar
Lips like sugar
Just when you think you've caught her
She glides across the water
She calls for you tonight
To share this moonlight
You'll flow down her river
She'll ask you and you'll give her
Lips like sugar
Lips like sugar
Lips Like Sugar lyrics © Warner/chappell Music Ltd
[00:26:17] After all, in our contemporary culture, we wear our heart on the sleeve. Intimate exposure is commonplace —from social-media confessions; to omnipresent autobiographical pop songs; to pretty much every episode of any addictive TV series.
Illustrating a close connection can be very challenging in songwriting, especially when you only consider the words on a blank page without using other tools to convey intimacy like emotional touching melodies or music videos.
If we are just focusing on the lyrics, we must use those lines to portray the intensity and universal emotional importance of human connection, and we should do this as truthfully as possible.
And we can’t just acknowledge a connection by stating it. Listeners want to know how that first kiss or intimate moment feels like, what it means, how it happened, and how it changes everything. Therefore, intimacy must be shown, expressed, made real somehow—again, using only words.
But how do we do it, and how do we do it well?
[00:27:25] Let’s jump back a few steps and focus on the notion of attraction.
Clearly, there’s a difference between attraction and love.
But if we want to find love in a sense that includes the possibility of sex, then an initial attraction can inspire people to make the first move so that the lovers actually not just meet but notice one another.
This initial attraction can lead to a conversation – the first try to get to know each other. Being physically attractive, having a good sense of humor, or having similar hobbies can inspire making the first move and starting a conversation between two people.
If the two hopeful romantics like what they see, then the attraction can lead to feelings of love developing. Thus, to the moment of the first kiss or their first intimate connection comes closer – a connection that defines them when they are together.
So how do you set up that moment and show the attraction between your lovebirds?
I recommend subtlety when it comes to writing attraction. Letting your listeners notice on their own that the main character likes another character is much more rewarding for them than simply being told. This allows them to become more invested in your future couple’s relationship, which is important for any love story.
As we’ve already talked about, you don’t want to be on the nose and simply state the fact that someone’s lips are so tempting you just want to kiss them.
There’s just no tension that arises and nothing that makes your listener understand why those lips are so tempting. For your audience to get emotionally invested in your love song’s lyrics, you need to provide specific details.
It’s not about “time standing still,” but about drawing attention to smaller details. Your song’s main character might notice smaller things about their love interest, like the way the girl’s hair blows around in the wind, or how her body moves when she dances, or the way his body tenses when his love touches him, or his wrinkles when he smiles.
Write about things that only someone would notice about the other person when they had a crush on them. Think about the other person’s voice, the way they stand, or how they move.
For example Grover Washington Jr. feat. Bill Withers, "Just the Two of Us" uses the comparison to rainbows to illustrate how that other person makes them feel:
“I see the crystal raindrops fall
And the beauty of it all
Is when the sun comes shining through
To make those rainbows in my mind
When I think of you sometime
And I want to spend some time with you"
Just the Two of Us lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Bleunig Music
Or Maroon 5 with “Love Somebody” when they can see behind a person’s outer shell:
“I know your insides are feeling so hollow
And it's a hard pill for you to swallow, yeah”
Love Somebody lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group
Or in Dylan Scott’s "My Girl,” the main character knows about the girl’s routines:
“Every night before she goes to bed
She hits her knees and bows her head
Thanks the Lord for another day
I just thank him for my girl”
My Girl lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc
Even if your song is about two friends falling in love, you can use this tip and make your main character notice something about their friend they’ve never seen before or paid attention to. Throwing in one simple line can be a solid clue to your audience that your character is slowly falling in love with their friend.
For example, Maroon 5’s song “She Will be Loved”: That song is not about the lovers’ first kiss, but about the friendship of those two and how the main character has fallen in love with her willing to be there for her and support her. He is the only one who can see “her broken smile”:
“Beauty queen of only eighteen, she had some trouble with herself
He was always there to help her, she always belonged to someone else
I drove for miles and miles, and wound up at your door
I've had you so many times, but somehow I want more
I don't mind spending every day
Out on your corner in the pouring rain
Look for the girl with the broken smile
Ask her if she wants to stay a while
And she will be loved
She Will Be Loved lyrics © Universal Music - Careers, February Twenty Second Music, Valentine Valentine, Universal Music-mgb Songs
In addition, here are some more ideas on how you can set up the first kiss or intimate moment between your characters.
Those are just ideas. You don’t have to use all of them, but maybe just one could help you build up to that great intimate moment you want your song’s lovers to experience.
[00:35:30] After you’ve built up to the moment of your future couple’s first kiss by letting your audience know how attracted your song’s main character feels about their love interest, it’s time to think about writing about the actual kiss or their first intimate moment.
In the following episodes, we’ll study different song lyric examples and analyze how the songwriters pulled it off to write about that first intimate moment between two people and how the magic of their first kiss translates into song lyrics.
But for now, let’s talk about some general advice for writing a song about two people kissing.
As you know, songwriting is all about writing your truth.
And what we see as the truth is never perfect. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that the first kiss or the first intimate moment between two people never looks like a preformed template. In truth, that moment is raw and bold, and unconditional, maybe awkward or full of insecurity.
And truth be told, when you’re writing songs, no feeling is harder to convey to your audience than love. That’s because being in love is a feeling that can’t really be described – it’s too exciting, too wonderful; too strange; too magnetic; too rare, and too overwhelming.
And because it is so hard to find the best way to describe the sparks that lead to the first kiss, many writers circle around that moment. They start telling their audience that their two lovebirds are kissing instead of taking a shot at painting the feeling itself for their listeners.
So how can you write the lyrics for a first kiss or intimate moment that lets your listeners see their own movie in their heads?
You’ve already built up to that moment by using one or some of the tips we’ve talked about before, so the actual kiss or the intimate connection follows at a climactic moment. Maybe it’s the chorus or the last verse of your song. Perhaps you already include the kiss in the first verse and focus in the following lyrics more about how that kiss made your character feel.
There are no boundaries to when you actually include that must-have moment of every love story. Just make sure the rest of your lyrics support it.
So what is some general advice for writing a kissing song?
Overall, you have to consider the word-building, the flow, the cascading of emotions, and chain reactions which trigger feelings, inner turmoil, and realization. But before we dive deeper into all those things in the upcoming episodes, here are two things that help you straight away when you write a song about that amazing moment of love.
[00:39:19] You see, we have touched a lot of different things to pay attention to when we write the lyrics of a love song about the first kiss or intimate connection between two people who feel attracted to each other.
Without any doubt, it’s complicated and not easy to write innovative lyrics that get straight to the heart of your listeners. And there’s so much to consider to really pull it off to make that song’s moment unforgettable.
If you feel overwhelmed right now by everything we’ve just gone through, don’t worry. In the upcoming episodes, we’ll study lyric examples of songs that are about those moments. And I’ll point out what you can learn from each song example.
Because I think studying song lyrics will give you a better understanding of everything we’ve just talked about and give you the means of actually applying what you’ve learned to your own writing.
And that’s the most important thing, isn’t it? Not just hearing about something that could work, but actually applying it to make your lyrics work.
So tune into the next episode of the Stories in Songs Podcast where we’ll study the first song about the first kiss or intimate connection moment.
See you then, Melanie
© Stories in Songs, Melanie Naumann
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