It's been pretty quiet around here lately -- the Mayor of Songville has been preoccupied with sick family members. However, we're back and open for business and ready to ask our 6th Important Lyric Question. Thanks for your patience!
In our Write Better Lyrics Series, we've been talking about key questions to ask of your lyrics to take them to the next level. So far we've looked at making sure that your SUBJECT MATTER MATTERS, that your lyric has the power that comes from SIMPLICITY AND PURITY, that you are using SPECIFIC IMAGES that are HIGHLY RELATABLE, and that you represent ABSTRACT IDEAS WITH AS MANY CONCRETE ELEMENTS AS POSSIBLE.
We are now ready to ask Lyric Question No. 6:
IS YOUR LYRIC PASSIVE WHERE IT COULD BE ACTIVE?
We've been talking about the fact that the way a listener is engaged in your song is through the imagination. The imagination is a stimulus-response mechanism; when it hears a lyrical cue (the stimulus) it searches through a bank of remembered experiences to respond with a corresponding image. We've already noted that specific, concrete images spark the imagination most strongly. But there is an additional factor. As a general rule, the more ACTION involved in an image, the more vividly it engages the imagination.
Those of you writing in a worship genre should pay special attention to how biblical writers tapped into the human need for action. "Praise God" becomes "Raise your hands!" or "Fall on your face!" or "Shout for joy!" or "Dance in His presence!" Think about the concrete, specific, active images employed for spiritual devotion: Moses' buddies holding up his arms so he can keep them outstretched to the heavens, the Israelites pouring out water to symbolize their repentance, Joshua and his crew marching round and round the city walls. Now THAT'S good writing.
So, your song is finished, and it's not bad, but it's just sort of lying there. Go through the entire lyric and search for places where you can replace passive images with active ones. "Falling on your knees" before a mystery is better than "contemplating" a mystery. "Going" in circles is weaker than "running" or "crawling" in them. If you've got a whole verse of exposition, see if you can't replace a line or two with some good, vivid verb-laden action. Your listeners will thank you for it by listening.
Next Post in This Series: Lyric Question No. 7. Bookmark or subscribe to Songville to make sure you don't miss it!