4 Steps to Writing Song Lyrics for a Fictional World
Wayfarer's Guide to Worldbuilding

 
 
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Authors may be the masters of prose, but the art of song writing is an entirely different beast. Winnipeg musician, songwriter, and YouTuber Dan Bergman guests in this first episode of the Wayfarer’s Guide to Worldbuilding, giving us some practical steps to writing great songs for the worlds we create.

Show Credits

Break Music is called Coffee Beats from the Coffee Beats EP by Mello Nerd. Used with permission.

Games Explained (Hosted by Matt and Janna Woelk, Ben Bergman, and Daniel Bergman) – Quick, but thorough, explanations of board game rules, with podcasts and editorials.

Overtone Warpzone (Hosted by Dan Bergman) – For people who enjoy games, love music, and want to know more about how their favourite songs work. Each episode focuses on one piece of music from the video game corpus and one musical concept found in that piece. The first series takes a deep dive into the music of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.”

Interactive Indies (Hosted by Dan Bergman) – A bi-weekly podcast featuring the stories from people who are part of game development and creative communities, both locally and abroad.

Follow Dan on Twitter @Bergaliciousdef and hear more of his music on SoundCloud.

Follow Kyle on Twitter @videogamefaith and Instagram @videogamefaith.

Follow Emma on Twitter @emmaskrumeda and Instagram @emmajulianartisty.

Review us and remember our hashtag #wayfarerguide

Show Notes

This episode includes a montage of our song creation, which highlights the key points of our creation process. If you’re interested in hearing the full hour of our brainstorming session with Dan Bergman, become one of our Patreon supporters to get access. Here’s a summary of the four steps to writing song lyrics:

1) Consider the song’s function and purpose.

Before you’ve even written a word of the song, it’s important to consider its function and purpose. For instance, the purpose of listening to music in your car is vastly different than the purpose of a school-age child singing the national anthem before classes each day. One is primarily for entertainment or distraction, while the other is meant as a symbol of discipline, identity, and loyalty.

Consider all the different places over a day, a week, a month, or a year where you hear or participate in music, such as a church or cathedral, a sports event, a wedding, or a funeral. Consider:

  • Where and when will your song be sung?
  • What purpose does the song serve within your fictional world?

2) Build the sandbox to play in.

When it comes to songwriting (as with all writing), a blank slate with no rules or boundaries is intimidating. Building a few walls to work within is a good way to start. These “walls” can include:

  • How many verses will there be?
  • Will there be a chorus or refrain? (Try using the structure of a song you enjoy as a starting point.)
  • Will there be a rhyme scheme? If yes, what will that rhyme scheme be? (Note: rhyming is far more of a western song-style concept and is useful but not absolutely necessary.)

3) Brainstorm key words.

Once you have your sandbox in place, consider several key words or concepts to convey the ideas you’re looking for. Since we wrote a song of creation, we brainstormed words like “nothingness” and “void.” Consider:

  • How will these key words have agency?
  • How will these key words interact with one another?
  • If you’re in the mood, write them all down on little slips of paper and arrange them in an order that makes sense in terms of the function and purpose of the song.

4) Edit the nitty gritty.

Once you have your key words, it’s time to start putting your songwriting skills to the test. Start to form simple phrases or sentences with your keywords and fit them into your sandbox. Consider how the song will progress and what story or message is being conveyed. Don’t be afraid to take things out of order or reform them. Once you have your skeleton of a song, it is time to really start editing. Consider:

  • Rhymes. If you wish to have your words rhyming you’ve probably already considered this step throughout the process but if not, consider tools like a Rhyming Dictionary to help get your creative spark flowing. Additionally, literary constructs like alliteration might serve you better.
  • Rhythm. This is not just about syllables. In the podcast, Dan taught us that “stressed” beats and cadences are far more important to keeping rhythm than the actual syllable count. Stressed beats often revolve around your keywords, strong words that really convey the meaning that you’d like to emphasize (eg. “Give birth to the voice“).

Bonus – Working in tandem

We cannot stress enough how delightful it is to work with someone else in this creative process. Your ideas will feed off each other and the song will naturally grow into something likely neither of you could have envisioned alone.

Until next time, Wayfarers!