Posted by Paul Baloche and Jimmy & Carol Owens on 18 June 2014

Fancy going a little deeper into the idea of lyrical imagery? Consider these tips on how to paint better pictures with your words. 

•Snapshots. You, the lyricist, are going to show us your “snapshots.” Snapshot lyrics are lyrics we can see. They are short “picture”phrases that quickly set a scene, evoke an atmosphere, transmit a mood.

  • Fresh Camera Angles. The problem for you here is that many of them will be pictures of things we’ve often seen before. After all, the subject matter for worship songs has been well picked over during the last two thousand years. There are only so many biblical phrases with which to express worship, and they’ve pretty much been cycled and recycled by now. So, show us some new camera angles—fresh perspectives—on these familiar themes. Give us a new viewpoint, or a new insight, or a deeper understanding of things. 
  • Focus. Your snapshots may be exciting and original, but if the focus is fuzzy, all may be lost. A song should have only one central theme, or two at the most. You may respond, “But I have so much to say.” Then maybe you have material for two or three songs... or for a sermon. A good song will have the sharp focus that comes with knowing the point you want to make, sticking with it and developing it throughout the song.

The question is not how many ideas can we get into the song, but what shall we leave out? Sometimes we need to be brutal with ourselves and cut away a lot of beautiful, flowery verbiage that scatters the focus of our song all over the landscape.

•Lights ... Camera ... Action! Action is the key word. Take us some-where. Show us something. Jamie Owens Collins’s “You Have Broken the Chains”takes us visually onto the cosmic battlefield and shows us Christ’s enemies trembling in chains at the sound of His name:

Oh God, Most High, Almighty King!
The Champion of Heaven, Lord of everything!
You’ve fought, You’ve won, Death’s lost its sting,
And standing in Your victory we sing:
Chorus
You have broken the chains that held our captive souls
You have broken the chains and used them on your foes
All your enemies are bound, they tremble at the sound of Your name! Jesus, You have broken the chains!

The pow’r of hell has been undone Captivity held captive by the Risen One! And in the name of God’s great Son We claim the mighty victory You’ve won! (Repeat chorus)

By the way, look at the rhyme effects in the last two lines of the chorus: “All Your enemies are bound, they tremble at the sound of Your name! Jesus, You have broken the chains!” The line with bound/sound is called a wrap-around line, in which the line continues on beyond the rhyme. This not only gives us an interesting break in the line-length pattern; it also places the hook/title line at the very end of the chorus (bookends.) A well-crafted, powerful lyric.

Remember: a good lyric uses:

-Words that roll easily off the tongue

-Words that resonate and make the voice sound good

-Words that feel good in the singer’s mouth

-Just the right words

-Words that fit the feeling of the message.

Good songwriters work very hard to keep their lyrics brief and, thus, effective. This is the art of distillation. All good writers understand it. Cicero, in a letter to Julius Caesar, wrote, “If I had had more time, I would have written to you more briefly.” And C. S. Lewis expressed his admiration for the writing of George McDonald, which he described as being "weighty, economical and having a cutting edge.” Economy eliminates the dross and lets the jewels shine through. This should be the goal for all writers, and perhaps for lyricists in particular. (Oh, would that it were a goal for preachers, as well.)

 

extract taken from GOD SONGS: HOW TO WRITE AND SELECT SONGS FOR WORSHIP by PAUL BALOCHE JIMMY & CAROL OWENS

Reused with permission

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