Stuck with a lyric that is just not flowing properly? Read over and sing through your lyric. Listen for places where you have crowded the line by assuming you needed a whole, grammatical sentence, but could get by with less. Remember, less is more, or, in Fragmentalish: “Less—more!”
Writing Challenge. Write a new song, lyric first, where at least one section, or section type (e.g, verse 1, or all the verses, or the chorus) is written entirely in fragmentary lines rather than complete sentences. How long can you sustain a series of these before you need to close off the thought, provide a complete statement? Use a shift from fragments to other kinds of lines (questions, statements, imperatives) as a way to create contrast between the sections. Notice how the effect of the length of lines is colored when the line is a fragment.
In this blog, I’ll always do my own challenges! When you’ve completed your “Fragmentarian Song” let me know; we’ll compare our fulfillments! Post it to SoundCloud or another media site, and send a link in a comment to this post.
- Play with different types of fragments. One important distinction is:
Noun phrase: “A boy sat at a bus-stop” -> “A boy at a bus-stop.” This might be stronger: it’s punchier, and we’ve stripped down tense information (could be “sat” or “sits”) and a relatively passive verb that doesn’t convey a lot of vivid sensory information. If he were standing at the bus-stop, we might be just as interested. Even better: “Boy at a bus-stop.”
- Verbal phrase: “I dropped a penny in the well.” Complete statement. “Dropped a penny in the well.” The missing noun or pronoun is the implied subject, usually clear though context. (Watch out if it’s not! Pronouns can be our friends and our enemies—pronounemies?) “Dropping pennies in the well.” Now it’s a verbal phrase. Notice that tense has shifted as well, to a kind of indefinite continuing action, that could fit in a past- or a present-tense setting, maybe even future.
- Make sure the fragmentary quality of the line still leaves the narrative thread clear (enough) for the listener.
- Make sure the fragmentary texture supports meaning and emotion of the song. Don’t use it as just a gimmick; or don’t settle for it that way in the end.
- Remember that fragmentary language itself communicates a certain degree of emotional content, energy, voice and attitude.
Further Research. Look at sources in English composition or creative writing that list various “problem types” in sentence fragments. Each one of these problem forms is also an opportunity, for songwriters. Turn a vice into a virtue, a fault into a feature.