Craft of Songwriting

by Barbara McMillen
a Featured Column of Songwriters Notes

Sunday, March 7, 2010

LITERARY DEVICES - PART 2 - SIMILES

The most common literary device used in songs is the simile, a figure of speech which compares two unlike things by using "like" or "as". Even though similes and metaphors are both forms of comparison, similes allow the two ideas to remain distinct in spite of their similarities.

The simile appears in many a hit song, including the Amanda Bloom song, "The Rose". One listen and you'll find that the song, in fact, is full of similes. "Love is like a river", "Love is like a rose" and so on.

Here are some song titles with great similes:

"Hungry LIke The Wolf," Duran Duran
"Loves Me Like a Rock," Paul Simon
"Cold as Ice," Foreigner
"Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana
"She's Like the Wind," Patrick Swayze
"Fly Like an Eagle," Steve Miller Band


The process for building similes is the same as building your lists of nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives for metaphors. Try comparing words from to separate lists by placing a "like" or "as" between them. You can choose two leave your simile implicit by not further identifying any characteristic of the comparison for the listener, therefore, the listener is left to determine for themselves which feature to apply. Or, you can take it a step further and leave nothing to the listeners imagination by describing explicitly the features for your listener.

Example:
Implicit = She walks like a cat
Explicit = She walks as gracefully and elegantly as a cat.

Similes are a really great tool for songwriting, so have fun creating your own!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

LITERARY DEVICES - PART 1 - METAPHORS

Songwriters have less than 4 minutes to tell their story, with the extra weight of providing enough descriptive elements in the lyric to set a tone, paint a scene and emote a heartfelt truth for the listener. There is no video to help tell the story. The songwriting must provide enough lyric information for the listener to create the movie in the mind when listening. Literary devices provide a great tool to complete this task.


Metaphors are the mainstay of good creative writing. By comparing two unlike objects that do not belong together, you've created a friction, an essential conflict, that will emote a feeling in your listener by creating a new descriptive idea that will demand your listener to pay attention.


Listen to these songs with great metaphors:


Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AscPOozwYA8


Hearts & Bones by Paul Simon

Lyrics: http://www.lyricsdomain.com/16/paul_simon/hearts_and_bones.html

Lisen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyBotGRFAX8


Love is A Battlefield by Pat Benatar

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjY_uSSncQw


Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel

Lyrics : http://www.venco.com.pl/~piotrus/greenpages/pgabriel/m.htm

Listen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NX7zIypE2FE


Loser by Beck

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcjz8czb81s


Everything You Did by Steely Dan

Lyrics: http://www.purelyrics.com/index.php?lyrics=mippueqo

Listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoJwJoJ52wU


& Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQYJRw4R4-Q


Here are the tools to create three types of metaphors.


1. Expressed Identity occurs when you compare two unlike nouns. There are three formulas in which to do this.


First pick two nouns. A great way to find new comparisons is to create an expressed identity worksheet. Make two long lists of nouns and try out the formulas on each noun on list 1 by comparing it to each noun on list 2. For example: If "love" is the first noun on your list 1 and "rose" is the first noun on your list 2, I try out all three formulas below with these two nouns. Then compare "love" with the second noun "river" on list 2 and so on. Then do the same for each noun down list 1, with all the nouns down list 2.


List 1 is "X" List 2 is "Y".


Love = X Rose = Y

River = Y

Razor = Y

Flower + Y


Formulas


(1.) "x is y" (Love is a rose; love is a river; love is a razor; love is a flower)

(2.) "the y of x " ( The Rose of love; the river of love, the razor of love, the flower of love)

(3.) "x's y" (Love's Rose; love's river; love's razor; love's flower)


Building expressed identity worksheets is a great way to come up with your own unique metaphors.


Now listen to Neil Young's song, "Love Is A Rose" or Amanda Bloom's song, "The Rose".


2. Qualifying metaphors are another way of using comparisons. This time adjectives qualify nouns and adverbs qualify verbs. The conflict between the relationships create metaphor. Again build your lists: List 1 of adjectives and list 2 of nouns and then have fun comparing list one with list 2. Then build list 3 with verb and list 4 with adverbs and have more fun comparing.


(This is a short list for examples only, you should have a whole page.)


List 1

Adjectives


tender

lovely

beautiful

sharp

windy

careful

forgetful

feathered

gothic

blackened


List 2

Nouns


love

reed

rose

razor

flower

seed

clouds

canyon

fairy

soul


List 3

Verbs


bleed

leave

ache

blind

sail

love

sing

run

pitch

toss


List 4

Adverbs


sedately

bleeding

rigidly

blindly

tightly

lovingly

sharply

blindly

carefully

solely



Adj / Noun example = feathered canyon

= gothic fairy (Red Hot Chile Peppers)


Adverb / verb example = to sail blindly into his arms


3. Verbal metaphors are also good literary devices which are formed by conflict between a verb and it's subject or object. Take your list 2 of nouns and your verbs from list 3 from the above qualifying metaphors worksheet and compare.


Example: the flower aches for the sun

soul bleeds


We all have the ability to have the creative spark it takes to make metaphors. Creating worksheets will help you train your vision and prepare you for that spark of bright and wonderful inspiration.


Once you've found your great metaphor, don't leave it dangling from abandonment in mid song. Continue to carry the idea thru to the end.