Writing & Licensing Songs for Film & TV Episode 6: Using metaphors and associations to describe feelings
One of the hard things about writing for Film & TV is to not only write Universal lyrics (no names, places, dates, specifics etc.) but also to a make the listener deeply FEEL what you are saying in the song.
If I say in a song “ I think I love you”. Ok, well that’s great, but a little boring and doesn’t give you the emotional goose bumps (unless this is someone who is standing in front of you and says that to you, which is totally different, but we are talking about songs, not your specific love life ;). You want the song to really bring up the feelings in someone.
So if I say:
“Unsteady I fall for you, you’re stirring up my heart,
its true, there’s no one else on earth for me, and I realize that you’re the one, …” (Together (We Belong) written and recorded by Stephen Wesley Guiles and Michelle Lockey)
Saying it this way gives more of a sensation of what’s happening,- butterflies, fainting, increased heart rate, all things associated with falling in love with someone.
In Ingrid Michaelson’s song The Way I Am, she describes things lovers do for one another to depict a feeling of love and security by using associations
“If you were falling, then I would catch you
If you need light, I'd find a match
Cause I love the way you say good morning
And you take me the way I am”
Those words bring up the feelings of being loved and feeling secure and comfortable in a relationship… much more so than if the song said “Hey, I love you and feel secure” while those are nice words, in a song, they don’t bring up the same secure love filled feelings.
In my song Easy to Love (written with Michelle Murray, of our band Michelle Michelle) we use these associations like :
“ You’re like my favorite pair of shoes, we fit together just me and you.
You’re morning kiss, is like a blanket of love, it wraps me up and it’s more than enough”
That kind of association helps to give insight and to bring the feelings alive for the listener.
Another technique is the use of metaphors, Instead of saying “ Man, I just want to feel good, I’ve had so many bad relationships” You could say, as does Ingrid Michaelson in Be Ok:
” Open me up and you will see, I’m a gallery of broken hearts,
I’m beyond repair, let me be, and give me back my broken parts”
(Sorry for all the Ingrid references but studied her stuff a lot since I have a similar style ;)
EXERCISE: Take a look at these lyrics:
“Cause I don’t stand a chance in these four walls
and he don’t recognize me anymore
Burned out flames should never re-ingnite
But I though you might…
Take me home, Take me home” (Daughter “Home”)
What feelings do they bring up in you? Write them down in the comments
The point is to try and find ways to use clever ways to describe a feeling, using an association or metaphor. Use images, sensations, associations and metaphors to convey emotions
Another thing to do is to associate emotions with color, then associate the color with an object, or something physical or idea, action
Here is a true to life exercise for a song I wrote with my friend Amanda Jane Anderson. She sent me the basic lyric and then to solidify and adjust the lyric we imagined being afraid and wrote down words and colors associated with that feeling.
Fear- frozen, hair rising up on my arm, being chased, screaming, ghosts, haunted, running, black, creepiness, stalker, shadow, darkness,
Using those words the following lyrics were crafted:
In The Dark - by Amanda Jane Anderson and Michelle Lockey https://soundcloud.com/michellelockey/in-the-dark-a-tale-of-love-cello-mix-new-melody
“I’m the shadow you catch in the corners of your mind
And you think it’s the wind that brushes you by
You’re head starts to pound and the pain stops your heart
When you see me watching you, in the dark”
Instead of saying “I am afraid because there is a stalker following me” we tried to use associations and metaphors to convey fear and if you listen to the song with the music, hopefully you will feel all creeped out!
EXERCISE: Take the following words and write down any colors, action words, images, and objects, sensations that they bring up. Then try to describe the emotion using the items from your list. I do this all the time, it is a bit more automatic now and it will be for you the more you do it:
Hope that was helpful! The next couple weeks I will be out of town but I will have a couple of guest writers to talk about the types of Film & TV deals . Thanks for reading! -Shell
Michelle Lockey is a multi-award winning singer-songwriter sharing the knowledge she has learned over the years writing for Film & TV.
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