The trick to writing verse lyrics: verse 2 just rewords verse 1.
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Most songwriters will tell you that chorus lyrics often happen rather easily, but it’s the cursed verse lyrics that take forever. And for some, even after spending days, weeks or even months on the verse, it can still sound like a mess. There’s a simple reason for that, and it has to do with the differing nature of verse and chorus lyrics. While the chorus simply needs to express emotions, the verse needs to describe a somewhat coherent story or set of circumstances that all lead to an emotional response.
And getting that story right is the main challenge. For multi-verse songs (which is most songs), it’s often verse 2 that presents even bigger problems than verse 1. How do you split a story up between verse 1 and verse 2?
The fact is that even though we often describe lyrics as “telling a story”, in fact it’s really describing a situation more so than telling a story. And in fact, if your song lyrics are telling a story, the job of writing the lyric may not be so hard. It’s pretty clear in those kinds of songs the order of events.
But a large number of songs use the verse to describe a circumstance, so that the verse is saying, “Here’s what I am going through right now.” The chorus that follows that will usually put an emotional response to that front and centre.
So once you’ve described that circumstance in verse 1, what do you do in verse 2?
The answer is to simply try to describe that circumstance in a different way, using different words to basically say the same thing. A good model for this kind of writing is “Titanium“, a hit single from David Guetta’s “Nothing but the Beat” album, and written by Sia Furler, Guetta, Giorgio Tuinfort and Afrojack.
Verse 1 of “Titanium” describes a person looking to establish their identity in the midst of a rather oppressive relationship. The chorus describes her personal triumph in the face of ill-treatment: “I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose/ fire away…”.
So what do you do for a second verse? It may seem repetitive to simply say the same thing, but in fact, that’s really what happens. Verse 2 just rewords the basic circumstance of verse 1: “Cut me down, but it’s you who’ll have further to fall…“
So if your song is the kind where the verse is describing an emotional situation, such as love, loss, oppression, friendship, etc., and not really relating a story, consider the following tips as one option for differentiating between verse 1 and 2:
- Create a word list. Brainstorm your song topic, and come up with words and phrases that come to mind that pertain to your topic.
- Categorize your list. Try to get them into a “positive” and “negative” list.
- Use one list as a possible way of wording verse 1, and the other list for verse 2.
About point #3, you’re saying essentially the same thing, but from a completely different vantage point. So you can try using a negative viewpoint in verse 1 (“You never let me…”, “I try but can’t…”, etc.), and then a positive viewpoint for verse 2 (“So I’m going to…”, “I’ll get to where I can…”, etc.
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