Write Away Magazine - June Issue


The Lyric writers magazine

The Lyri

Jeff Hanke from

Minnesota asks how to

write a compelling and

engaging first line, and Ann

Kenney from London wants

tips on writing a second

verse. On some level, these

are really the same question,

and the short answer is,

“Know what your song is

about.” It seems like the most

basic thing possible, but you'd

be surprised how often people

write without really knowing

what they want to say. In

my day job as a magazine editor,

I sometimes get 900-word

stories from reporters, and

when I ask them, “What is this

about?” they don't have much

of a response. Once you figure

out what your song or article

is about, it will almost

write itself. You simply have

to ensure that every line--even

every word--works to support

your idea.

When writing songs, I typically

start from a lyrical hook,

which is sometimes the title,

sometimes the first line,

sometimes the refrain (and

sometimes all three). These

can be fairly obvious:

“Heartbreak Diet“ (a song

about how your stomach can

suffer along with your heart)

or “My Girlfriend's Got a

Chainsaw“ (about a poor sod

who's cheating on his lumberjack

girlfriend... big mistake!).

Others are less evident. A

few years ago, my sister-inlaw

was wearing a T-shirt with

a simple map of a place

called Block Island (off the

coast of the U.S. state of

Rhode Island), but to me it

looked like a porkchop. I said,

“Why are you wearing a T-

shirt with a porkchop on it?”

And she said, “Most people

say it looks like a teardrop.”

My response, of course, was:

“Porkchops and Teardrops...

I'm sure there's a country

song in there somewhere!”

So I had what I thought was a

cool lyrical hook, but no idea

what the song might be about.

I soon realized it had to

describe the nexus between

food and heartache (do you

see a pattern here?!). I wrote

a line about a woman who

“thought it was smart/to feed

his heart/by stuffing his belly.”

But I wanted to set the scene

of a traditional family man,

and create something of a

humorous tone. Hence the

first line: ”He was a man who

brought home the bacon/And

the ice cream too/A great

provider of celery and

cider/And plenty of beef for

the stew.”

In the pre-chorus, he skips out

on dinner: “Said he'd found

someone new, a perfect soul

mate/Who don't smell like

onions and make him put on

weight.” That sets up the

chorus, “All she was left with

was porkchops and


For the second verse, I wanted

to spin the narrative forward,

portraying the woman

as the heroine and giving the

man the comeuppance he

deserved. So I introduced his

new paramour, who fed him

nothing but natural foods, and

“pretty soon he withered

away/Could bring home the

bacon no more.” The first

woman, meanwhile, “She

cried and she cried/Then she

baked and then she fried/Then

she found someone new, a

perfect soul mate/Who loved

smelling onions and putting

on weight/She forgot about

them porkchops and


Until I figured out what the

song was about, it would have

been impossible to construct

the narrative. But once I had

an image of my characters in

mind, it was easy to craft a

story around these two, with

each line supporting the plot.

Think back on some of the

best songs of the past halfcentury,

and you'll find that

their first lines grab the listener

and set the tone for story.

Dylan starts Like a Rolling

Stone with the line “Once

upon a time you dressed so

04 www.writeawaymagazine.co.uk

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