If you are Object Writing or Destination Writing each day, you’re undoubtedly coming up with lots of material you can turn into songs. Many times we think we’ve got to start with a theme or topic clearly outlined to get a good tune. But, I’d like to show you how you might burst open another pot of ideas just by pulling interesting words and collisions out of thin air.

Whether or not we have a theme, we can start by choosing an ‘object’ to be the center of our song. I might look around the room and make a list of objects I see, like this:

Chimney
Wicker chair
Loveseat
Fax machine
Keys
Painting

Next, I’ll describe those objects in more detail with some taste, touch, sight, sound, smell, or movement ideas:

Chimney: puffs of smoke, exhaust, burning, fireproof, clogged, cords of wood, soot, ashes, brick, mortar

Wicker chair: Lacquer, hard, weave, cushion, pattern, frayed ends, peaceful, summer

Loveseat: Soft, worn in, cushion, bright pillows, sagging, beige, velvety, lived on, inviting, stuffing bursting

Fax Machine: buzz and beep, signal, flashing light, out of paper, cable, call, tray, jam, frustration, test

Keys: clink, hang, lost, sawed edges, unlock, secure, jingle

Painting: vivid color, texture, paint, brushstroke, curve, impression, wavy, outline, frame, gold, black, reflection, fine art

Now that I’ve got short lists of some of the characteristics of each object, I can draw some comparisons. I’m going to choose a few universal song themes and throw them against my nouns. Some universal themes we all know are finding love, losing love, longing for love, moving on, taking on the future with optimism, etc. So I’ll start with the first:

How is love like a chimney? In what ways does love burn, turn to ash, feel like brick and mortar, send up smoke signals, leave a layer of soot? We’re not talking literally here, of course, but metaphorically. This love could rage like kindling, could burn out and leave nothing but wisps of ash, the memory of it caked like thick soot, or block me in like brick and mortar.

How is love like a wicker chair? This love is woven tight, is weathered and hard from years of wear and tear, frayed on the edges. Or, it’s playful like a summer vacation, comfortable, peaceful and unassuming.

How is love like a fax machine? What kind of relationship runs out of paper when you need it most? How about has trouble connecting, requires a progress report, rings but there’s no-one on the other line, gets jammed?

The trick here is to let your imagination run, lengthening your list of characteristics of your noun and tossing each against the thematic idea. Though you may start with the same theme each time, such as love, you’ll get quite different song ideas depending on the noun you choose.

We can use this technique to brainstorm our song beginnings, or we can choose to return to metaphor to liven up a second verse, for example. After the first chorus, we move back into verse territory, and metaphor can provide excellent content that allows the story to progress while adding weight and purpose to the story. Just be careful to choose metaphor that stays relevant to the mood of the song. In other words, keep your metaphors consistent. We’re painting with a specific palette of color when we’re using metaphor, and changing that palette midway through the song can feel like switching out our main character for somebody else. If you begin with a wicker chair, consider the mood you’re creating. Then consider what other objects also reflect that same mood. If ‘wicker chair’ symbolizes comfort and hope, I may disrupt that mood if I later use ‘sleek business suit’ as a metaphor. Instead, I can move to a metaphor in which ‘wicker chair’ still has context, such as ‘leather-bound book,’ or ‘tea cup.’ Give it a try next time you’re searching for that unique perspective making your universal theme songs different from any other.

Happy writing,
Andrea

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    Hey, just found your blog listed in my Google Reader suggestions, excited to be subscribed. -Charlie

    I’m enjoying the blog so far. Good stuff. Keep em coming.

    P.S. Hey CC, surprised to see you here. We should collaborate.

    Hi i hope this get’s to andrea your post was very helpful i just have a few question’s.My two most favorite songwriter’s are eddie vedder and chris cornell now chris is more methaphorical.I just have a hard time finding catch lines(chorus)and methaphors that dont sound bad,and i was wondering if theirs any tip’s you could give me that might help.i mean the stories they sing just seem to be like they were ment to be sang.i mean also without no emotion i no what good is a song..many time’s them two show lot’s of emotion..Im actually in a band(just saying) so anything you could lend me that will help me become a better writer would be great.i read all the time.

    Ken

    Hi Ken,
    This is a fairly broad question, and finding metaphors is definitely something that takes practice and consistent writing. I suggest picking up Pat Pattison’s book ‘Writing Better Lyrics’ and looking at the section on Metaphor, applying some of the techniques. Keep that going for several weeks, doing some metaphor writing every day. Over time, you’ll see some results.

    I love metaphor;reminds me of poetry, and equally effctive in song lyrics. Yet another helpful blog from Andrea to provide nourishment to us newer,hungry songwriters.

    Well done; great post Andrea!

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