Words: How to Make Your Song Lyrics Stronger
by Stan Swanson
songwriters struggle with their lyrics to their songs from time to
time. It's one of the "hazards" of the trade. And many times we settle
for words that aren't what we mean or don't carry enough punch. Even
songwriters whose strength is their lyrics don't always take the
proper amount of time to choose their words carefully.
The solution to this problem is to use words I call "power words".
These are words that instantly paint a picture the moment you hear
them. They are words that demand your attention and make you sit up
and take notice. They are the words that make your song more than just
ordinary. And isn't that what we all strive for?
Power words are words that are meant to inspire whether it is the
songwriter coaxing the muse out of the closet or the listener placing
a new release in the CD player. They are the words that make your song
stand out from the pack. (Of course, this applies to other styles of
writing as well whether you write poetry, fiction or even non-fiction.
There is always a place for power words in any writing style.)
Power words convey strength and character. They are usually nouns, but
can also be adjectives or adverbs. If you were using power words to
describe a person, these would be words like radiant, robust, dashing,
charming and charismatic. Power words, however, don't need to be
positive words. Descriptive words like monster, shocking, gruesome and
hellish are also power words.
Words like "beautiful" or "ugly" aren't power words in my dictionary
of songwriting definitions. Which sounds better: "she's beautiful" or
"she's enchanting"? Enchanting, of course, is a much better choice. It
says so much more. And "he's grungy" or "he's grotesque" is more
powerful than "he's ugly".
A good definition of a "power word" is a word that when written, read,
spoken or heard immediately suggests something extraordinary. They are
words that startle or inspire or make you vividly see something.
Magic, for example, is a power word. When you hear the word it is
like, well... "magic". No doubt about it. A word like refrigerator is
not a power word. Castle, crystal, heaven, hurricane, guillotine and
vagabond are all power words. Lawnmower, microwave, garage, doorknob
and pencil are not. See the difference? Now I'm not saying you
couldn't write a song about a lawnmower or a pencil, but they
certainly aren't power words.
Fill your songs (or your poetry or short story or novel) with power
words and good, original metaphors. Paint images as if you were an
artist putting brush to canvas. You are not simply picking words at
random. You are painting with words. Don't settle for a two dollar
word when there's a hundred dollar gem waiting for you to discover it.
You can also use power words in a free association exercise to create
your next song. It's simple.
Take a blank sheet of paper and jot down several power words at random
around the page. Next add a few solid, descriptive verbs. (By this we
mean to use verbs like "soar" instead of "fly" or "screamed" in place
of "said".) Add a few adjectives and/or adverbs on the page and,
presto, you have the beginnings of your next song. Take a good look at
the sheet of paper and draw connecting lines between words that seem
to go together. You might be surprised at what you can come up with
using this simple exercise.
Power words are the foundation for your songs. Use them as much as you
can. Make them part of your title and/or hook so that your song gets
noticed. Read through your finished lyrics and replace weak words.
Don't be afraid to use a thesaurus. It's not against the rules of
songwriting. After all, there are no rules in songwriting!
Sit down with pen in hand and create your own "power word" list. It
doesn't matter if you're trying to write a song or not. Keep these
words and ideas in your notebook. If you don't have a notebook, you
should. Keep it handy at all times. You never know when you might
require a title or hook for a song you'll be creating weeks, months or
even years from now.
(Power words also make great names for bands, musical groups or titles
for your next CD!)
Excerpt from "Inspiration for
Songwriters" by Stan Swanson. The book is available through
Stony Meadow Publishing.