By: Stan Swanson
All songwriters struggle with their lyrics to their songs from time to time. It's one of the "hazards" of the trade. And many times we settle for words that aren't what we mean or don't carry enough punch. Even songwriters whose strength is their lyrics don't always take the proper amount of time to choose their words carefully.
The solution to this problem is to use words I call "power words". These are words that instantly paint a picture the moment you hear them. They are words that demand your attention and make you sit up and take notice. They are the words that make your song more than just ordinary. And isn't that what we all strive for?
Power words are words that are meant to inspire whether it is the songwriter coaxing the muse out of the closet or the listener placing a new release in the CD player. They are the words that make your song stand out from the pack. (Of course, this applies to other styles of writing as well whether you write poetry, fiction or even non-fiction. There is always a place for power words in any writing style.)
Power words convey strength and character. They are usually nouns, but can also be adjectives or adverbs. If you were using power words to describe a person, these would be words like radiant, robust, dashing, charming and charismatic. Power words, however, don't need to be positive words. Descriptive words like monster, shocking, gruesome and hellish are also power words.
Words like "beautiful" or "ugly" aren't power words in my dictionary of songwriting definitions. Which sounds better: "she's beautiful" or "she's enchanting"? Enchanting, of course, is a much better choice. It says so much more. And "he's grungy" or "he's grotesque" is more powerful than "he's ugly".
A good definition of a "power word" is a word that when written, read, spoken or heard immediately suggests something extraordinary. They are words that startle or inspire or make you vividly see something.
Magic, for example, is a power word. When you hear the word it is like, well… "magic". No doubt about it. A word like refrigerator is not a power word. Castle, crystal, heaven, hurricane, guillotine and vagabond are all power words. Lawnmower, microwave, garage, doorknob and pencil are not. See the difference? Now I'm not saying you couldn't write a song about a lawnmower or a pencil, but they certainly aren't power words.
Fill your songs (or your poetry or short story or novel) with power words and good, original metaphors. Paint images as if you were an artist putting brush to canvas. You are not simply picking words at random. You are painting with words. Don't settle for a two dollar word when there's a hundred dollar gem waiting for you to discover it.
You can also use power words in a free association exercise to create your next song. It's simple.
Take a blank sheet of paper and jot down several power words at random around the page. Next add a few solid, descriptive verbs. (By this we mean to use verbs like "soar" instead of "fly" or "screamed" in place of "said".) Add a few adjectives and/or adverbs on the page and, presto, you have the beginnings of your next song. Take a good look at the sheet of paper and draw connecting lines between words that seem to go together. You might be surprised at what you can come up with using this simple exercise.
Power words are the foundation for your songs. Use them as much as you can. Make them part of your title and/or hook so that your song gets noticed. Read through your finished lyrics and replace weak words. Don't be afraid to use a thesaurus. It's not against the rules of songwriting. After all, there are no rules in songwriting!
Sit down with pen in hand and create your own "power word" list. It doesn't matter if you're trying to write a song or not. Keep these words and ideas in your notebook. If you don't have a notebook, you should. Keep it handy at all times. You never know when you might require a title or hook for a song you'll be creating weeks, months or even years from now.
(Power words also make great names for bands, musical groups or titles for your next CD!)