A Good Song Crying From a Song Gone Bad – Bad Song! Part IV

I hope you’ve enjoyed my thread on the joys of bad song writing. I’ve introduced the bad song exercise, as a solo, co-write, or group exercise; and the Gallery of Horrors pages for your Songwriter Toolkit.

I always like to teach things I’ve tried, and try things I’ve taught. (There’s an example of a rhetorical device called chiasmus, which is another exercise!)

So I thought I’d share one piece of creative work with you, that came out of a self-challenge that came to me for my own writing as I wrestled with the idea of bad song writing. I like to push my writing forward by setting myself challenges, then trying to write them. I sometimes make the challenges fiendishly difficult: failing is fun, when what you set out to do was outlandishly unlikely in the first place.

I love songs about songs (I call them “meta-songs”), particularly songs where a song itself is personified in some way—even the very song being sung. As I was polishing up my bad song exercise, I thought about what it would be like to be a bad song. Would the bad song know it was bad? Would it think it was good? As I played around with the concept, I switched the point of view. How about a good song trapped inside a bad song? How would that song feel about its bad-song “environs” not to mention the lout that cooked up the mess in the first place? I had my concept.

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New Writing Insights

Time Yourself! Seventeen Minutes—in Blog Posting and Songwriting

My friend and colleague Pat Pattison and I were sitting around the other day with a couple of other songwriting teachers, eating Pat’s delicious fish soup and a piece of Stilton to die for. (That’s the telling detail that puts you in the room, the descriptive paint that drips down and saturates the rest of this somewhat abstract post with sensory detail and “compelling verisimilitude.” By the way, that metaphor comes from Pat too.) We were discussing object writing, an associative, sensory writing technique Pat discusses in several of his books. He first introduced the technique in Writing Better Lyrics (Writer’s Digest Books, make sure to get the 2nd edition). This single exercise has dramatically transformed the writing practice of probably thousands of songwriters.

I’m know the creative writing world has developed hundreds of writing exercises, games, prompts, etc. I’d always assumed that Pat, having been trained in literary criticism and theory, had adapted some general creative writing techniques and exercises to the world of songwriting with object writing. But he claims it is truly his invention—and was invented specifically for songwriting. In particular, and somewhat to my surprise, he pointed out that timed writing—especially the idea of practicing object writing by writing to different lengths of time (10 minutes, 5 minutes, 1 minute)—an integral part of the technique, is an aspect he developed.

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A Thread About Threads

The great Polish film director Kieslowski was famous for including certain scenes in multiple films. Perhaps this is because he used the same characters, or borrowed footage of certain scenes shot from multiple angles for different films and narratives. Whatever the artistic impetus, and whatever the process techniques that made this sort of magic trick doable, the effect for the attentive film-goer, especially watching multiple films over a period of time, was a kind of Cubist re-arrangement of time’s flow, causality and teleology, fate, destiny and recurrence.

You can use this technique in your songwriting work.

You can reference your other works. Not in ways requiring the auditor to go off in search of the reference to complete their experience, but as a way of weaving your work into a larger texture, tapestry. Create sequels, circles, rings, cycles. This can be approached as a learning and skill development technique, an artistic practice, and also as a kind of marketing strategy—a way of creating a narrative around the body of your work for your audience. Give someone a great first experience, then some threads to follow.

I like to say you can steal from yourself with impunity—as long as you agree in advance not to take yourself to court.

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Sentence Fragments Part 2: Putting Fragments to Work

Revision Strategies

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.

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