Between the Rhymes: Lyric Pitfalls

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There are several common pitfalls in lyric writing. Being conscious of these common mistakes and checking for them each time you write can greatly improve your lyric writing. Many of the people I mentor through SongTown say that they hear my voice in their head when they rewrite a song because I have pounded these concepts into them over time. So, let’s look at some of the things you should watch for. 

Changing Point of View 

One of the most common mistakes I see is a change in point of view that becomes unclear.  For example, a writer will start off talking ABOUT a man. The singer is telling a story about this guy, using pronouns like he, him and his. Then, in the chorus, all of a sudden, the singer starts talking TO someone, using pronouns like you and yours. This is the songwriting equivalent of having coffee with a friend you haven’t seen in years and telling her how much she means to you. 

You are having a conversation like, “Mary, I appreciate so much all of the times you have helped me through hard times. She is such an important part of my life.” Mary is going to be confused.  She thought you were talking to her, but then you start talking about someone else. That change in point of view is confusing in any setting.   

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I always check my pronouns to make sure I’m not changing from 2nd person pronouns (you) to 3rd person pronouns (he/she/it). Whichever viewpoint I start with is the one I need to stick with, unless I can make it crystal clear what is going on. The Rolling Stones’ song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is an example where it kind of works to tell a story and let the chorus be the singer commenting on the story. But, that is hard to pull off. Generally, it’s confusing to change point of view. 

The Second Verse Curse 

Many, many times in sessions with writers, I see a second verse that is just the first verse rewritten. This backs the listener up. Listeners don’t need ideas they’ve already heard. They are looking for something new to move the story forward. Imagine if you were reading a book and each chapter just told the same story as the first chapter in different words. That would be boring, and you wouldn’t read it very long. 

So, how do you avoid the curse? My solution is to plan out or blueprint what I’m going to say in each section. I write a one sentence description for each section of the song. That way, I can be sure I’m not repeating myself. For instance, if I’m looking at a blueprint like this, I can spot that I’m repeating myself: 

V1 – I miss you so much 

CH – Please come home to me 

V2 – I wish you were here 

Looking at this blueprint, I see that the idea of “I miss you” and “I wish you were here” are just different ways of saying the same thing. I’m not moving the story forward. I would go back and change that verse two idea to something like “What can I do to get you back?” or “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” Both of those ideas move the story forward. They are giving new information.   

Planning out what you are going to say in advance can help you avoid the second verse curse if you pay special attention and make sure everything is connected in your different sections without repeating information. 

Not Connecting The Dots 

This is almost the polar opposite of the second verse curse. Instead of repeating information, I often come across songs where the sections don’t seem to connect at all. The writer will have a verse that has nothing to do with the title of his or her song. Then the chorus comes in with the title and seems to make sense, but it’s followed by another verse with no apparent connection to the title or big idea of the song. 

I think of my title as the silver thread that connects everything in the song. My first verse should lead the listener in the direction of that title. The chorus should introduce it with a bang.  The second verse should follow up and expand that title. I think of the second verse as being the “then what” section of my song. I introduce that big idea with my title, and I use verse two to show what happens next or what impact that title has going forward. 

Thinking of your title as that silver thread that ties everything together can help you make sure you aren’t just writing random pieces that don’t connect the dots for your listener. In every song, let verse one lead the listener to your title and use verse two to dig deeper into that big idea you just dropped. 

Checking for those three mistakes in each song you write can dramatically improve your writing.   

All the best and happy writing! 

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  1. So sad to hear of Tom T. Hall passing. He was a great story teller. I especially like I Love and Watermelon Wine. I had the pleasure of meeting Tom after his Reno concert many years ago. My 2nd cousin Bill Wence was Tom’s keyboard player at the time. Good memories. RIP

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