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Don't paint yourself into a corner 
(Mapping out your songs)

Often we all write these clever little lines, maybe with a cool metaphor or a vivid use of words or phrases, then we get stuck with the next line that needs to rhyme to it. 

So, we end up with a very good line, followed by one that obviously is there to rhyme to it.

You're last line is your "punch line" of your stanza. Make sure it is the very best it can be. 

The 1st line of the stanza needs to be very good and draw them into wanting to hear the rest of the stanza. Consider those lines 1st and write them the best you can. Fill the middle, the lines in between with interesting details that follow out from line 1 and lead right into your punch line, your last line that is so remarkable.

I think we'll find that we don't end up with that "poor line" that follows a good line that seems written simply to rhyme to the previous.

Mapping your songs out

When I write a song I think "what am I trying to say here? 

OK, I have a story let's say about a guy who was defensive about God, but was struggling and then finally let go and let God in his life let's say. 

Let's say the hook is, ... umm, "letting go. So on paper I'll quickly write any lines that popped in my head so I don't lose them. 

Now let's map it out.

V1: Describe setting and characters - Describe situation of guy defense about God.
C1: Wrap around hook letting go, and focus on that - how it's hard to let go.

If you take off from C2 same chorus, but it now seems different as he's GOING to let go, but it's still never easy.

Bridge - Sum it up or twist things - Let's try sum it up - guy figured since he had nothing, he had nothing to lose and anything is better than nothing, God will just have to help him in "letting go"

That's how you can map out a song. 

Now I take some lines I wrote and stick them in the appropriate spots. I then work on each verse, etc. to say what I had mapped out. 

I try and add visual things, descriptive words, grab a thesaurus, set up a rhyme scheme and so on. My song ends up being very focused as well. I don't get to the "oh my goodness, what am I going to do for a 2nd verse" thing. 

When mapping songs, you end where you want writing the song too, not out in left field lost. The "focus" of your song is solid, and therefore, easy to understand which "draws the listener in" to your song. 

Drawing the listener into your song is very important, and making the song easy to follow is a large part of drawing them in. 

The old way called "KISS" which stands for "keep it simple stupid" works very well in songwriting as it does for many other things. The important thing is not to let songwriting structure get in the way of writing. 

When inspiration hits you, "get it all out." After youíve written all the words, phrases and so on that came to you, then go back and begin mapping this out. 

Imagine that you and some friends get this idea to drive to California and go to the beach, and see the sights, and so on. 

Wow, youíre all excited! Then you need to sit down calmly and "map it out. When could you go, do you have the money, how long to stay, whoís car to take and so on. Inspiration gives you a destination. 

The destination is the fun part. 

Mapping it out gets you from point A to Z in a logical manner. Before you start walking, decide where you want to end up. Often songwriters will write a terrific line, maybe use a wonderful metaphor or some words or phrases that are very vivid. 

Then they get caught trying to write another line that will rhyme to it. Often that line sounds like itís "rhyme forced" meaning that itís there mainly to rhyme to the previous line. 

Donít let rhymes dictate your writing, let the story, or message of the song dictate them. 

When you "map out your song, have your 1st line of each stanza very strong. Consider it 1st. 

With that 1st line, draw the listener into your story or message. 

I mention that you can refer to the last line as the "punch line." 

The last line of a stanza is where you want to deliver your point. Make the last line a interesting / thought provoking line." Write it and give it a lot of attention just as you do the 1st line of each stanza. 

Once you have those 2 lines taken care of, then you can work on the lines inside of the 1st and last line that will give details of your message and so forth. 

What you want is to have a very strong 1st and last line. When you write them 1st, then your other lines can lead to and from them and your "best" lines will be in the most important spots of your stanza. 

You will have much more control and focus in your writing having your beginning and ending already taken care of. For instance, if you know that youíre driving in a car and starting in Tampa Florida and ending in New York city, youíre starting point and destination are covered. 

You know where youíre leaving from and where you want to go. If you get into a car in Tampa with no idea where youíre destination is, you may begin driving west towards Texas, and then later find out your destination is in New York and have wasted a lot of time driving the wrong way. 

Again, in songwriting, by mapping out your song, your starting point and destination are decided, so now you can take a straight path and keep your message very clear and direct and thus more enjoyable for your listener. 

Published with permission form Dave Byers copyright 2001

About the Author

Dave Byers is the author of the book "Songwriting
Fundamentals" available at

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