How to write a powerful love song.


Love stories touch our hearts. Love songs have the same ability. They let the listeners relive a sad heartbreaking memory or make them fall in love all over again. We want our hearts to beat faster, feel the romance and be excited about the mystery of love without the real-life risks involved.

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Writing a love song

Writing a love song

This is part 4 of 5 of my analysis of telling stories in love songs.

Love stories touch our hearts. Love songs have the same ability. They let the listeners relive a sad heartbreaking memory or make them fall in love all over again. We want our hearts to beat faster, feel the romance and be excited about the mystery of love without the real-life risks involved.

In this article, I explain the moments that form a love story and I take you through the stages of how two people can progress in their relationship. At the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of how to write a love song or a love story concept album.

 

You'll find all the links to the Westlife songs, lyrics, the spreadsheet and the infographic here.

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How to write a powerful love song.

If you want to write a love song for your boyfriend, your girlfriend or your crush, you know, it's not just the melody that hooks your audience.

And it doesn't matter if you're a beginner in songwriting or have already released some albums.

The lyrics of the love song are, next to the music, the most important and essential part of your love song.

No matter if you write a country love song, a rap song or even a rock ballad, the principles of telling a captivating love story apply to all music genres.

A great love song takes your audience back into a moment in time or lets them dream about something they'd love to experience again.

 

In this article, I show you how you can write a love song that tells a powerful story.

 

Recap: What we’ve learned so far.

How to tell a story in a songHow to tell a story in general: Always include a problem that needs solving in your story. The way your protagonist solves the problem they face influences how your listeners will feel after listening to your love song. Solve it in a helpful way to make your story a prescriptive tale for your readers. Your listeners will have a positive and possibly deep emotional reaction to your song if it ends with the two lovers reuniting by overcoming their obstacles and becoming better people. (More about telling a story that works: Storytelling in Songwriting)

What the character in your love story should be like

 

What about the character in a love story: Your character needs to know what he wants and fight for it. (More about character: What about character in songwriting?)

 

Note: Shawn Coyne, longtime editor and creator of Story Grid describes the Love genre as “centered on romance with the possibility of sexual intimacy.” According to him, “Love stories give us prescriptive (positive) and cautionary (negative) tales to navigate love’s emotional minefield. They give us tools to try out to attract a mate and behaviors to avoid.”

That means, we can simply enjoy love songs or learn from them.

 

1. Moments in a love story

In a love story, we expect certain moments to happen. If those obligatory moments (scenes) are not in the story, we don’t get what was promised.

A song does not need to have all the obligatory moments for telling a complete love story.

It’s too short for that.

But, if at least one moment of a love story is mentioned, we get a better sense of what the love song is about. Sometimes we can even tell at the beginning of the song what stage of their relationship the lovers are in (see in part 2 of this article series: Narrative Drive).

 

Examples:

  • How to Save a Life by The Fray (Songwriter: Isaac Slade / Joseph King © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC): "Step one, you say we need to talk. He walks, you say sit down, it's just a talk." - Moment: Breakup of a couple
  • I’d Do Anything for Love by Meat Loaf (Songwriter: Jim Steinman © Round Hill Music Big Loud Songs, Carlin America Inc): “And I would do anything for love I‘d run right into hell and back.” - Moment: Proof of Love
  • Let's Stay Together by Al Green (Songwriter: Willie Mitchell / Al Green / Al Jackson Jr © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.): "I, I'm I'm so in love with you. Whatever you want to do Is all right with me." - Moment: Confessing one's love

 

Moments we expect in a love story are: 

  • the lovers meet
  • the first kiss or intimate connection
  • the confession of love
  • the breakup
  • the proof of love
  • lovers reunite

 

If we look at Westlife's love songs, singles provide the most obligatory moments of a love story:

Obligatory Love Story Moments in Westlife Songs

 

Surprisingly when we look at Westlife’s original songs, most songs deal either with a breakup or with the confession of love. 

Obligatory Love Story Moments in Westlife Songs

 

The Proof of Love Moment

The proof of love is the most anticipated moment in every love story. 

The proof of love scene is the reason why we enjoy love stories because it reveals what true love is. It’s the moment when one person sacrifices for another without expecting to get anything in return including winning them back.

That's the proof you need to have certainty.

Not just words. 

These Westlife songs have that moment: I wanna grow old with you (spreadsheet #47) or I did it for you (spreadsheet #77)

The song Don’t say it’s too late (spreadsheet #44) shows that you can’t find certainty in a relationship if the other person is only telling you they love you. It's a confession, yes. But in every love story someone confesses their love and that doesn't lead to their happily ever after. What's really important in love stories is to have the proof of love.

 

How to use those love story moments in songwriting:

Since there are six love story moments to choose from, try using each of them individually to write your songs.

And switch them up on the album.

This will keep your album interesting and your listeners engaged. Furthermore, if you include all of those moments on the album you’ll be able to tell a complete love story, through its ups and downs, creating a rich love story concept album. 

 

Now Westlife has not yet done a concept album, but here’s how many obligatory moments and conventions (roles for characters) their albums meet (no B-sides).

Obligatory Love Story Moments in Westlife Songs

Having those obligatory moments in your songs and on your albums creates clarity. The listeners know exactly what a song is about. They are not left wondering. 

Westlife Obligatory Love Story Moments Story

 

2. The Shape of a love story

If you are familiar with the work of storyteller Kurt Vonnegut you know there are different shapes that stories can take.

He explains how the shape of a story from its beginning to its end creates a curve.

Please watch the video if you aren’t familiar with Kurt Vonnegut’s Shape of Stories. It just takes 5 minutes of your time and will help you understand my following notes about the Westlife albums.

Vonnegut gave those curves names like Man in a Hole, from Bad to Worse or Which way is up. He includes the arc of a love story that ends happily called: Boy gets/meets girl

 

Boy meets girl Kurt Vonnegut shape of stories

 

How to create the shape of a love story.

In love stories, the character progresses through different values between love (+) and hate (-).

Love Story global value spectrum

Those values tell us what stage of the relationship the lovers are in. 

  • Intimacy refers to stories about marriage or for those still devoted to each other after death.
  • Commitment implies stories where new relationships are formed and taken seriously.
  • Desire is about simply about lust.
  • Attraction is feeling more than friendship.
  • Ignorance is when the lovers haven’t met yet or only one has spotted the other.
  • Repulsion is for after a breakup or when one person doesn’t like the one who’s in love with them.
  • Hate is self-explanatory.
  • Indifference is when you don't even care about someone.
  • Hate Masquerading as Love is when you pretend to love someone just to hurt them very badly in the end.

 

If we look at the main shape of a love story (Boy meets girl), then the story could go like this:

  1. Ignorance: Doesn’t know what’ll happen (Lover's meet)
  2. Attraction up to Desire: Finds someone wonderful (First Kiss and possibly first confession of love)
  3. Repulsion or even Hate: Oh no. She’s / he’s a handful. That won’t work out. (Lovers break up, Proof of Love)
  4. Commitment: Oh, look. Yes, it does work out. (Lovers reunite)

 

The shape of the love stories on the Westlife albums 

If we assign a value on that love to hate spectrum to every Westlife song on an album we can see the shape of the story each album creates.

It shows the first and last image of the love story and its ups and downs. (This is most important if you want to tell one single story on an album.)

Please remember: Westlife has not yet created an album where every song on the album contributes to telling one single love story. That's why we won't find Kurt Vonnegut's shape of a love story on the different Westlife albums.

But if we look at the complete album (including the cover songs) here’s the kind of love story they are telling if we apply the values of the global value spectrum of a love story to each song and create a curve out of it:

Note: If you switch up the order of the songs you get a completely different story. 

Shape of Love Story Westlife Albums

Note: If you want your listeners to have a positive reaction to the love story you're telling on a concept album, you should make sure that the album ends on a positive value (Commitment or Intimacy).

 

Westlife Albums summary:

Westlife: (++) I swear my love to you again, because if I let you go, I’m a fool again. No No, I have to realize I can’t change the world, even though there are moments when you open your heart. But well, guess can’t lose what you never had. (-)

Westlife Album Shape of Love story

 

Coast to Coast: (++) I have found my love, but what makes a man if I lay my love on you against all odds? When you’re looking like that we’ll get close, but loneliness knows me by name. But it's you who mends my fragile heart with every little thing you do. (+)

Westlife Album Shape of Love story Coast to Coast

 

World of our Own: (+) You are the queen of my heart, but Bop Bob Baby you make me cry. Why do I love you? Maybe because you show me what it feels like to be loved. I could walk away with you, but it was all a dream, just my imaginary diva. (--)

Westlife Album Shape of Love story World of our own

 

Unbreakable: (++) I swear it again, you are my love, my uptown girl and the queen of my heart. This love is unbreakable. (+)

Westlife Album Shape of Love story Unbreakable

 

Turnaround: (-) Falling in and out of love, I did it for you. Cuz hey, what do they know about us? (+)

Westlife Album Shape of Love story Turnaround

 

Allow us to be Frank: (+) After that kick in the head let there’ll be love. I once found it once but the summer wind took it away. (-)

Westlife Album Shape of Love story Allow us to be Frank

 

Face to Face: (++) You raised me up and it was amazing, but still, I am desperate for someone to colour my world. In this life I was once loved but now my heart’s without a home. Maybe tomorrow it’ll be better. (-)

Westlife Album Shape of Love story Face to Face

 

The Love Album: (+) Met someone but didn‘t work out. Second try neither, and when I tell you after the dance it‘s all or nothing I know you‘ve lost that loving feeling. (-)

Westlife Album Shape of Love story the Love Album

 

Back Home: (++) Even though it’s us against the world I’m doing something right when I’m with you. So it’s you. And I say I do. (+)

Westlife Album Shape of Love story Back Home

 

Where We Are: (+) I know how to break a heart, but where we are it’s all good. (+)

Westlife Album Shape of Love story Where We Are

 

Gravity: (+) We’re just friends, but if you move closer I’ll give you the reason to tell me it’s love. I get weak when I’m alone and I know I have to change to make a difference in me. (+)

Westlife Album Shape of Love story Gravity

 

Greatest Hits: (++) I swore my love against all odds, but Mandy was not the one. You raise me up in this beautiful world. (+)

Westlife Album Shape of Love story Greatest Hits

 

Spectrum: (+) Hello my love, I’m trying to be a better man but I guess we’ll be together in another life. (-)

Westlife Album Shape of Love story Spectrum

 

Download the complete overview of Westlife's albums and the shape of stories here:
Shape of Story Westlife PDF.

Spectrum is Westlife’s latest record and even though the singles make us feel good, the first four songs on the album (that were released as singles) are followed by three songs about breaking up. Even though the album has some more songs about commitment and intimacy the album ultimately ends with the stage of ignorance and hopelessness. The protagonist can’t reach his love.

Westlife SpectrumThat’s the last image/feeling the listener is left with. It’s a cautionary tale about when love fails.

I think an album should end on a positive note. Not with the value repulsion, ignorance, attraction or desire, but with commitment or even intimacy. Just like the shape of a love story that Kurt Vonnegut came up with. 

I’m not saying that an album needs to have only songs that are about the good parts of love. That would be boring because it would not include the whole picture. I guess that’s why I think making a concept album, an album that is based on one story idea, would be a great choice for a band that is devoted to only singing love songs. Westlife could tell a full love story on their album with all its ups and downs. Like in every work of fiction, the story needs to include all the obligatory moments and conventions of the chosen genre. And for listeners to feel satisfied, it should end on a positive note to show that love triumphs.

Tips for songwriters:

Most of the above mentioned obligatory moments of a love story can happen in several of those stages of a relationship (see global value spectrum between the values love and hate).

So there are plenty of opportunities to put songs on an album that touch different moments and stages of a relationship. For example, there can be a breakup of a relationship or of a married couple. Or have the first kiss right when the lovers first meet, when they confess their love or break up.

 

3. The breakup and the Kübler-Ross Change Curve

The concept of the Kübler-Ross Change Curve is about how people deal with grief.

Even though the concept has received some criticism, it’s still relevant for storytelling. Kübler-Ross labeled these stages to reflect on how people cope with illness and death.

A relationship breakup is also about losing a person.

So if we have the Story Grid’s stages on the global values of the love story and Kurt Vonnegut’s shape of a love story, we also have the shape and the stages of how a break up may look like:

 

Kübler Ross Change - Breakup Love Story

Note: Once again, a song does not need to include all those different moments. Those moments are there to spike your creativity and to give you ideas.

If we want a song about a breakup to end positively, then we should concentrate on the stages: experiment, decision, and integration. Those stages show the positive change through accepting the loss of the person the character had loved.

Examples of Original Westlife songs that cover one or more of those stages are, for example:

  1. Shock to Negotiating: Change your mind (spreadsheet #86) 
  2. Denial: Don’t calm the storm (spreadsheet #5) 
  3. Frustration: What makes a man (spreadsheet #26)
  4. Negotiating: Better Man (spreadsheet #128)
  5. Depression: Shadows (spreadsheet #103)
  6. Experiment: Why Do I love you (spreadsheet #46), Sound of a Broken Heart (spreadsheet #109)
  7. Decision: How to Break a Heart (spreadsheet #102)
  8. Integration: Basically every story that shows the protagonist fall in love again.

 

4. More about how to tell a love story in a song

Keep the promise if you want to tell a love story in a song

Westlife even has a song that’s called Story of Love (spreadsheet #20). It’s a B-side song and that’s justified. The song starts with ‘This is the story of love’ which sets enormous expectations. We are pulled in to hear that story. But all we get is a protagonist who sees his own story of love in the eyes of his beloved but is not sharing that story with the listener. Therefore the big promise to hear a story about love is not kept. The listener feels cheated and unhappy.

The song That's where you find love (spreadsheet #84) is another song that makes a promise that’s not kept. It's a nice poetic description of where to find love, but it’s abstract and not helpful for those who are looking for love. Perhaps the song provokes a memory in those who know that place but in the song, the protagonist doesn’t even remember how he found it. Oh, well...

 

Love stories have a message

Love songs have a greater chance of becoming successful if they have a controlling idea/theme. In about three minutes songs give us a short hint of how love works or what might lead to a breakup.

Having a theme in your song makes a huge impact on the listener because it’s your opportunity to teach them what to do or not do. And because of that, your story will more likely be remembered.

The song I did it for you (spreadsheet #77) has a strong message and it’s so true: Life doesn’t make sense if you don’t release the special gift that is hidden inside of you. But to find it, we have to risk something. We have to put ourselves out there. Be vulnerable. And ifs we give our best, we can make a difference. 

 

Westlife Swear it AgainThe controlling idea for a love story is either

Positive: Love triumphs when lovers overcome moral failings or sacrifice their needs for one another. (© Story Grid)

Negative: Love fails when the lovers don’t evolve beyond desire. (© Story Grid)

  • Swear it Again: Love triumphs when you don’t listen to what others are saying and trust your heart.
  • The Rose: Love fails when you don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable and risk something. Love triumphs when you look at love as something to care for in order to enjoy its beauty. (The lines of the songs are all tiny crisis questions the song deals with and that support the positive and cautionary controlling ideas.)
  • My Love: Love triumphs if even death can’t change your belief that you’ll see each other in heaven again.
  • Private Movie or Imaginary Diva: Love fails when you would rather dream about sex than ever daring to talk to the one you want. 

There are also songs that do not have a controlling idea because they leave us wondering what will happen to the protagonist. That’s i.e. the case in Amazing (Does he let himself be vulnerable and let someone in or keep on protecting himself and miss out on love?) or in You make me feel (Did he stop her or let her go?).

 

Love is about momentum

The song Angels Wings (spreadsheet #31) does not refer to a problem the protagonist faces nor is it telling a story. Still, it’s a great love hymn that is very strong. It has momentum. It's a great love declaration with a protagonist who is so thankful to have found the one. But it’s not abstract, because we get a clear feeling of how thankful the protagonist feels by the way the lyrics and the melody become more and more monumental. The protagonist is widening his declaration of love from her gifts, to considering her to be an angel and then he even refers to her as being a goddess.

 

Love stories about passion and sex

Passion and sex certainly belong to a relationship, but when they become the only reason why two people are together we most certainly can say that their hook up will not end with a happily ever after.

Westlife has a couple of songs that are about love obsession. They are cautionary tales because no one wants to end up in an imaginary world like in Imaginary Diva (spreadsheet #58) or being a stalker with obsessive behavior = My private movie (spreadsheet #24).

Bad Girls (spreadsheet #59) is a song about a young attractive man who realizes how many fish are in the ocean. And he wants them all. Love can’t triumph if he just looks at women as sex objects.

Hit you with the real thing (spreadsheet #85) is another song solely about having sex. 

The song that creeped me out the most was You see friends. I see lovers (spreadsheet #81) because it has the following line: “Run and wherever you hide, I’ll still find you until you see it’s love.”

Westlife When You're Looking Like ThatSongs about desire can also be positive.

Just look at When you’re looking like that (spreadsheet #28). He broke up with her and regrets it because she just looks so hot. But the positive thing is he realizes the breakup was his fault and he won’t get her back. He matures.

 

Love stories about a tragic love

Love stories can also just state how sad and devastated someone might feel if love fails, i.e. in the song: I Cry (spreadsheet #45). I remember the first time I heard that song. I was only 13, but that song was so dark and final, it creeped me out. There was no hope in it. It was very heavy. The music underlined this tense feeling. It was the first-ever Westlife song that sounded so dark and hopeless. Strange thing though: I didn't believe the protagonist as he was saying that he cries. Musically, I imagine crying to sound more up and down. This song was just kind of emotionless. It's about a protagonist who can't deal with his life anymore because he let his love slip away. He's living in his own personal hell without that one person. 

Another cautionary tale is Another World (spreadsheet #137). It's about a man waiting for his long lost love to come back someday. He's caught in her gravity and he's so committed to her that he renounces every other love. It's a very sad song that just makes the listener think: I don't wanna end up like him. It's a cautionary tale reminding you to always tell someone how you feel before it's too late.

 

Westlife Infographic Storytelling in Songwriting

Conclusion

Songwriters should consider there’s more to telling a love story than confessing one’s love or what it feels like to go through a breakup.

There are so many opportunities to write about love.

There are the moments the lovers experience when they are just getting to know each other, then deeper feelings of  connection until they commit to each other or even marry.

All those stages can include one of the moments of a love story - be it a first kiss or a reunion. 

Combine those opportunities with a problem the protagonist has to face (article 1 of this series), and think about your type of protagonist (article 3 of this series) and you should find a huge pool of ideas and options to write about in your next love song.


© Stories in Songs, Melanie Naumann



Links, Downloads & more

If you want to check out the lyrics to the songs mentioned or read my comments, you can find all 137 original Westlife songs here:

 

The infographic

If the spreadsheet is too much to look at (I understand, it's huge!), you can also look at the first part of the infographic that includes all the infographics of this article and more. Open the Westlife Infographic Part 4 here.

 

Fiction writers

If you’re a fiction writer and you wonder how you can write better romance novels by studying love songs, read my blog post on the Story Grid website: “What Romance Writers Can Learn From Studying Love Songs”.

 

More about storytelling in songs

If you want to read more about storytelling in songs, please sign up for my newsletter. I’ll keep you updated with my latest articles and new insights. Find out more about my current projects and song analysis here: Bands & Albums.

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