Narrative Songwriting: How to write songs that tell a story

A songwriter is nothing but a storyteller, because every song tells a story. But some songs are specifically written in a narrative style. They flow just like a story. The first verse starts as an introduction, the second verse continues the story, the bridge shows a climax, and the chorus kind of summarises the whole thing. We can call it narrative songwriting. It is a really interesting way to write songs, and it helps you improve your craft. The best modern day example of such songwriting is Alec Benjamin. In fact his latest album is called ‘Narrated For You’, because all the songs are written in this form. Do check out all the songs from the album so that you can understand the concept better. Let us dive a bit deeper into how we can do narrative songwriting.

Let’s take a look at an example first.

narrative songwriting - narrated for you

Head over to google and open up the lyrics for ‘Boy in the bubble’ by Alec Benjamin. Take a look at the starting line. It goes like, ” It was 6:48, I was walking home
Stepped through the gate, and I’m all alone.
I had chicken on the plate, but the food was cold, Then I covered up my face so that no one knows . If we forget about the fact that it’s a song and just take a look at these lines, they appear to be the beginning of a short story, don’t they?

If we take a look at the whole song, it’s just like what I described in the introduction. The song starts as a story, the first verse establishes the story, the second verse continues it, and the last verse is like the climax. The pre chorus and chorus describe the overall feel or the theme.

So, how do we go forward with narrative songwriting?

If you’re a beginner, I would recommend that you write and complete a few songs first, without thinking about what kind of songs they are. Get used to songwriting first, so that it becomes easy for you to go for narrative songwriting.

Now, the first and obvious step, decide what story you’re going to tell through the song. Start writing your story description. It should have an introduction which sets up the base of the story, then what happens after that, and a climax part or the peak event of your story. Keep it brief and simple, because at the end we need a song and not a short story. Just write down the main parts in form of points or short paragraphs. Once done, analyse your story so that you can figure out what to use in the chorus. What is the overall feeling of your story? What is the thing that describes your story in short? Something which can sound relevant after every verse. Write it down if you’ve figured it out. If you’ve not, don’t worry. You’ll most probably figure it out after the next step.

The next step will be brainstorming. Brainstorm words and phrases that revolve around your theme. Creating a mood board will be helpful too. Check this post to know more about mood boards and how to use them for songwriting – Mood Board for Songwriting. With your brainstorming and mood board, it will be easy to write a chorus if you’ve not figured it out in the previous step. Also, you’ll have some amazing words, metaphors, etc. to make your song more effective.

The chorus can be a little tricky; I’ll try to explain what can be written in the chorus through a brief example.

Let us say you are writing a song which narrates the story of the first conversation that you had with your lover. Since it’s gonna be a narrative song, the first verse will probably be how the conversation started, how your mood was, etc., the second verse will continue the conversation, and the final verse or a bridge can show the most interesting part of that conversation. While the verses tell the story, the chorus can convey how you felt throughout the conversation, something that was established through the conversation, how things changed after the conversation, etc., as it will sound relevant after every verse.

It’s actually better to listen to some songs so that you can completely understand the concept. So like I said in the introduction, check out Alec Benjamin’s album ‘Narrated for You’; all it’s songs are in a narrative form and you’ll surely grasp the concept.

Half of your work is done here!

Now all you have to do is start writing the song, choose a rhyming scheme or just let it flow and everything will come on its own. Keep a phone handy so that you can search for rhyming words, synonyms, etc. Keep your mood board and the brainstorming page with you for reference. Your first verse will set up your story, the second verse will continue it, and the bridge or a third verse will be the climax. That’s all! Using these simple steps, you can write a song that narrates a story. Don’t worry if it doesn’t come as expected for the first time. You’ll get good at it as you keep writing. Let me know if you find out some thing interesting and helpful while doing this so that I can try it out too and share it with others. Happy songwriting!

Background image used: Flower photo created by freepik –

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