Advancing Your Story With Your Lyrics

 

A lot of times songwriters come up with a great idea for a story to use in their lyrics, but use up the majority of their ideas in the first verse, and simply end up repeating similar information in the second verse.

 

While there’s nothing technically wrong with that, it usually doesn’t make for an interesting story and can force your listeners to lose interest in what you’re singing about by the time your song’s over.

 

If you’re stuck with coming up with new ideas for your second verse to move your story along, one little trick you can use is to assume what you wrote is your second verse. Then you just have to come up with a first verse, which can be easier because you just have to think of some ideas that lead up to what’s now your second verse.

 

One song that does of good job of advancing its story as the song moves forward, is “Somebody That I Used to Know,” by Gotye (featuring Kimbra). Let’s start by taking a look at some of the lyrics:

 

 

First Two Verses (Sung by male singer, Gotye)

Now and then I think of when we were together

Like when you said you felt so happy you could die

Told myself that you were right for me

But felt so lonely in your company

But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember

 

You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness

Like resignation to the end, always the end

So when we found that we could not make sense

Well you said that we would still be friends

But I’ll admit that I was glad it was over

 

 

Chorus (Still sung by Gotye)

But you didn’t have to cut me off

Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing

And I don’t even need your love

But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

No you didn’t have to stoop so low

Have your friends collect your records and then change your number

I guess that I don’t need that though

Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

 

 

Let’s do a quick recap of what we have so far. From Gotye’s perspective, we learn he was never really happy about his relationship in the verses. Then in the chorus we find out the relationship was severed completely and she wasn’t talking to him at all. That idea is summed up so nicely with the hook line “Now you’re just somebody that I used to know.”

 

Let’s keep going with the lyrics.

 

 

Next Verse (Sung by Female Singer, Kimbra)

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over

But had me believing it was always something that I’d done

But I don’t wanna live that way

Reading into every word you say

You said that you could let it go

And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know

 

 

Now we get the female perspective on the relationship. Seeing her side of things in this new perspective kept things interesting. But what really makes it work is how it ends on the line “And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know.” Now she’s filling us in to the fact that the reason the relationship wasn’t working the whole time was because he was hung up on his last girlfriend.

 

What worked so well about it, was that after establishing that “someone I used to know” means an ex-girlfriend in the first verse, that same line was used in a different way in the second verse. It was giving us a whole new meaning, by letting us know that he was hung up on his past girlfriend. In this verse it meant his past girlfriend, while the first time we heard it, it referred to Kimbra. But it did that by using the same words and a hook we already heard. That’s what makes it clever.

 

Plus, it works as a duet, since the female voice is giving us a new perspective, while advancing the story with the same hook. It gives a purpose to the song being a duet, as opposed to two people singing for no apparent reason.

 

Armed with that new information when we hit the final chorus, we get a different flavor. Gotye sings it again, and knowing that he was hung up on an ex girlfriend the whole time makes it feel a little more desperate and pleading than it did the first time around. They’re the same words, but they mean a slightly different thing now. Check it out:

 

 

Final Chorus (Sung by Gotye)

But you didn’t have to cut me off

Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing

And I don’t even need your love

But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

No you didn’t have to stoop so low

Have your friends collect your records and then change your number

I guess that I don’t need that though

Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

 

 

You can see how some clever advancements in your storyline can make a lyric interesting. Had verse two just been more information from Gotye letting us know he was never that into the relationship, the song would lose some steam once it hit the second verse. But bringing in Kimbra and having her move the story forward kept us interested. You can use moves like this in your writing too. It’s a great way to keep your audience engaged.