How to Paint a Picture with Words: A blog about what goes into creating memorable song lyrics.
Follow the step by step process from start to finish and get the tips you need to write great lyrics that connect with your fans.
As an added bonus, you can download a free Lyrics Checklist that breaks down the ‘must-knows’ of writing great lyrics.
You can paint a picture with words. Words can be used to describe your emotions, the environment, and even
the people around you. A song lyric is a poetic expression of the writer’s thoughts, feelings and ideas. You can
use lyrics to express your joy and happiness, or you can use it to express your sadness, anger and frustration.
A song lyric also has the power to tell a story and transport the listener into your world. In this blog article I
will show you how to paint a picture with words using some examples from popular songs.
Many songwriters use images to create mental pictures in the mind of their listeners. These images are used
to convey an emotion and/or tell a story. In the song lyric “Take Me To Church” by Hozier, there are two
images that come to mind when I read the words: “My church offers no absolutes/She tells me ‘Worship in the bedroom’”.
The first image is of a church building that offers no absolutes; meaning no certainties or guarantees about what
a person will get out of attending that church. The second image is of his girlfriend
There are a few constants when it comes to writing song lyrics, regardless of musical genre. The first is that they should be emotionally engaging. A good lyric will draw the reader in and potentially make them feel something.
The second is that they should be memorable. This could mean different things depending on how you use them, but the best lyrics are the ones you can sing back to the writer without having heard them for weeks, months or even years.
Good lyrics are also often visual – meaning that they paint a picture for the listener to help them engage with the story and find their own meaning in what’s being sung about.
One of my favourite song writing techniques is to create a narrative within your song’s lyrics, to tell a story through words and music. Think about every movie you’ve ever seen, from Hollywood blockbusters to low-budget indie films – there’s always a story being told. Whether it’s about an epic adventure or simply about someone falling in love (or out of love), there’s a plot line, conflict and resolution.
As a songwriter, it’s important to use strong descriptive words to paint a picture of your song topic. In order to do this, think about what you want the listener to see or feel when they are listening. It’s not enough to give your listener surface details. Instead, use similes and metaphors and other literary devices to create an interesting picture.
Let’s say you’re writing a song about being in love. You could say something like “I’m crazy about you.” But this is vague and doesn’t tell the listener anything about how you feel about the person. Instead, try using similes: “I’m crazy about you like waves are crazy for the ocean.” This gives your listener a clearer idea of your feelings for someone else.
Instead of saying “I love chocolate,” you could say “I love chocolate like fish love water.” This gives the listener a much clearer picture of what chocolate means to you. These images are more interesting than simple statements and can help make your songs memorable.
Songwriting is an art. Not everyone can do it and not everyone who can do it well. The best songwriters will tell you that it’s not something that comes easily for them, but rather a skill that has to be learned, practiced and crafted until it becomes effortless.
It can also be a lot of fun! So get out your pencils, put on your favorite playlist and try your hand at writing the next number one hit!
How Lyrics Work
Before we take a look at the craft of writing lyrics, let’s take a little time to understand how they work. Song lyrics are poetry, set to music. And like all poetry, lyric writing is an art form that requires a certain degree of intuition, creativity and inspiration.
However, unlike other forms of poetry, lyric writers often work with melodies in mind. In fact, most successful song lyrics are written when the composer already has a melody in mind or has already composed one for the song.
As such, lyric writers should always keep melody in mind when crafting their work. A rule of thumb is that if you can sing the line without changing pitch or rhythm too much then you’re on the right track!
Songwriting is a complicated process and we all have our own unique way of doing it. For me, songwriting starts with the music. I listen to the chords, the melody, and then the lyrics slowly emerge. I like to start with a phrase or a title that jumps at me as soon as I hear the song. In this case it was “Electronic Track”. After a few weeks of listening to the instrumental track on repeat over and over again, I finally heard the words “I was born in a plastic world” and knew that’s what this song had to be about.
I believe those words were inspired by a recent trip to New York City where I was struck by how much everything was painted in bright colours from the yellow cabs to the neon signs on every corner. It felt like an alien planet to me; a world very different from my own experience in Toronto, Canada. It was impossible for me not to be inspired by being there so when it came time for lyric writing, all of these ideas poured out onto the page.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for a good love song. And there’s no denying the power of a killer opening line. Here are some of my favorite opening lines from songs:
“I’d like to make myself believe that planet Earth turns slowly.”
“When you smile, I melt inside.”
“You say you’ve got everything you want and everything you need.”
“I’ve been afraid of changing ’cause I’ve built my life around you.”
“In the winter of my thirteenth year, my mother disappeared in the night.”
“Staring out at the road rushing under my wheels.”
Each one is memorable, right? So what makes them so special? And why do they stand out? Well, let’s dig into each one and see what makes them work.