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Do you write story songs? If you do, this subject is worth thinking about.

One of the things that, in the past, has complicated my process of writing the lyric for a story song is the scope of the story. I often felt the need to cover lots of territory in my lyric, lots of time, lots of issues, lots of things that happened to the hero of the song. Squeezing all that into three minutes can be frustrating and just about impossible. The end result was often a confusing set of verses that were too long, too vague, and not very interesting.

I began to rethink the idea of a story song. The first hard, but important, decision became limiting the scope of the story I wanted to tell. Instead of telling all the things that led up to what I really wanted to say, I determined the part that was really important and developed the verses around that; the essence of the stuff that led up to the "important part" was often greatly condensed into a part of the chorus. The result has been much more personally satisfying lyrics.

Without providing details, here is an example of one song I wrote:

When I was six years old something happened to me on the way home from school one day. Although it wasn't a big deal for me at the time, what happened and my reaction to it became a significant indicator of what my life would look like and how I would feel about my life for years. The thing that happened lasted a couple of minutes; that became the verses. My reaction lasted a couple more, that became the bridge. Who I was, how old I was, and why the story was important to me, became the chorus.

The lyric was a tiny slice of life -- my life. All the important details of the story were there in clear language.

That song, and others I've written that are based on tiny slices, are my favorites now. If you write story songs, consider the size of the slice of life you want to reveal. At least for me, smaller slices make better songs.

Keep writing,

Don

Edited by TaoMannaDon
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I write a lot of story songs, and scope tends to differ. "Betting your ass on a donkey" for example, has a pretty big one while "Inside" for my next album has a more narrow scope.

I don't know if I could recommend "smaller slices" as a songwriting technique.

I learned from another thread that it's easy to misunderstand what someone posts; so maybe you could elaborate on what your last sentence means. It sounds as though you don't think the idea has merit.

Can you explain why you "don't know if [you] could recommend "smaller slices" as a songwriting technique."

Thanks,

Don

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Let me rephrase: I think a story could be both extensive or narrow in scope and I don't think narrowing the scope is a more reliable technique than broadening the scope. Most often, when writing a story - it is what it is.

But that's only me, of course - if narrow scopes work for you I definitely think you should use it.

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Let me rephrase: I think a story could be both extensive or narrow in scope and I don't think narrowing the scope is a more reliable technique than broadening the scope.

The idea behind narrowing the scope is to determine what really needs to be part of the lyric. Does the listener really need to know this part of the story? You might not end up with verses that only cover two minutes of time, as in my example; but going through the process can eliminate stuff the song doesn't need. Or you might decide that you can't make the scope more narrow without losing an important part of the story.

Most often, when writing a story - it is what it is.

If you are the storyteller, "it is" what you say it is. Even if the story is true, the storyteller still decides the part he wants to tell.

But that's only me, of course - if narrow scopes work for you I definitely think you should use it.

Which brings us back to my question. I said. "It sounds as though you don't think the idea has merit." Now you are saying I can use it if it works for me. I'll be just as generous and say you can use it too, or not, as you see fit.

The whole point of starting this thread was to offer the idea to other people. So it's not about whether you or I use it, it's about whether other people should try it.

You said you couldn't recommend it. Are you suggesting that other songwriters should not try it?

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I'm very organic when I write; narrowing sounds restrictive. I don't like restrictive :) ...

That's all.

(as you can see, I'm short and to the point - that's not to be rude, it's just Norwegian :) ...)

We all have our way of writing. Your "to the point" posting style is not an issue for me. I'm the same way most of the time and I've never thought of it as rude.

I can't begin to know the value each person reading this might find if they tried the idea. I posted this topic because I think it can help other songwriters. The idea isn't new. I may have worded it a bit differently and used an extreme example; but the discipline it requires can be beneficial to any writer, even you.

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...

If you are the storyteller, "it is" what you say it is. Even if the story is true, the storyteller still decides the part he wants to tell.

...

The whole point of starting this thread was to offer the idea to other people. So it's not about whether you or I use it, it's about whether other people should try it.

You said you couldn't recommend it. Are you suggesting that other songwriters should not try it?

Don, it seems like you're getting the hang of this arguing thing... ;);D

I think it's an interesting perspective, and a useful practical approach, especially if your goal is compact, direct expression.

As was said in another thread, any technique can be used as it's useful, and put aside otherwise. Even if it doesn't become a primary tool it can be a helpful way to narrow your focus when needed, or as an exercise to challenge yourself to dig deeper into a very limited subject.

Cheers...

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Don, it seems like you're getting the hang of this arguing thing... ;);D

I think it's an interesting perspective, and a useful practical approach, especially if your goal is compact, direct expression.

As was said in another thread, any technique can be used as it's useful, and put aside otherwise. Even if it doesn't become a primary tool it can be a helpful way to narrow your focus when needed, or as an exercise to challenge yourself to dig deeper into a very limited subject.

Cheers...

;D

I can argue with the best of them; that's not new. What's new is how it sucks the energy out of me. :P Just part of getting older, I guess.

One of the things I try to be wary of is offering advice that sounds like I think it's "the best or the only way" to write songs. Any approach that requires a lot of discipline should never fully replace your favorite way of writing. Just give any new idea a try and, if it helps, use it occasionally until it becomes second nature. The new way may someday become your favorite way; but, if you try something that is hard to do and drop your favorite songwriting process, the writing might dry up completely.

The main thing is to:

Keep writing,

Don

Edited by TaoMannaDon
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Hey Don

Hmmm, maybe we need a standard disclaimer "USE AT YOUR OWN RISK" or similar? :)

Perhaps adding these to the pinned songwriter's tips thread and the common elements regarding tips can get added to the first post to encourage people towards treating it as a pick and mix :) Just a thought.

Anyways btt. :)

Cheers

John

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Ideas are always good - this one is now in my mind and I'll might try it one time.

If that actually happens, this thread will have exceeded my expectations. Thank you for even suggesting you will consider it.

If you try it, I'd love to see the results.

Some song ideas float around in my head for a few weeks before I write anything down. I go hiking most days and think about lyrics while I'm in the mountains near my home. That process usually helps me narrow the story's focus and decide what part of the story is important enough to be described in the verses. If that doesn't work, I write the story out in summary form and think about what part of the story has the most impact. If that is unproductive, I brainstorm for a while and just write down whatever comes to mind about the story. Sometimes I brainstorm first. Once I can pinpoint the really important stuff, I have a better idea what needs to go in my verses. At that point I begin the "plain English paragraphs" process I described in the "Can't Finish Lyrics" thread.

The summary or the brainstorming session is usually helpful with starting the song title selection process. Once I have lots of stuff written down, I start making lists of phrases that represent the story in some important way. The best phrase becomes my title.

I'm sure your process is different. We all use what works for us. Maybe some new songwriter will see this and find something useful.

If you try the "tiny slice of life" technique I hope you will share the results. It might take writing a few lyrics to end up with something good. For me, every time I use it I'm pleased with what I get.

Keep writing,

Don

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Hey Don

Hmmm, maybe we need a standard disclaimer "USE AT YOUR OWN RISK" or similar? :)

:D

I try to remember that, if I wrote a book about how I write songs now and a younger "me" read my book and thought the book described the only good way to write, the younger "me" would probably just say, "Song writing is too hard" and never write even one song.

We all learn as we go. Every song we write brings us closer to that "great work" hiding somewhere inside us. Sometimes we uncover techniques that really help. Sometimes we uncover stuff that won't work for us. The main thing is to keep writing. How fast you improve is far less important than how much you enjoy the process.

Perhaps adding these to the pinned songwriter's tips thread and the common elements regarding tips can get added to the first post to encourage people towards treating it as a pick and mix :) Just a thought.

Anyways btt. :)

Cheers

John

I'm still hoping for more discussion and some interaction with our lesser experienced members. Once the thread activity dies down, that might be a good idea.

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