Hey out there, another episode of the podcast aired a few days ago and here is the transcript for you to read.
Hello and welcome everyone again to another episode on songwriting tips and tricks, my name is Kieper. I hope you are doing great so far and working eagerly on your new ideas and songs. I am super excited to talk to you today, and I have another quite important tool for writing a plot and telling a story.
Since there is so much time here in Germany due to the Corona shutdown, I have plenty of time creating content for this podcast and my blog as well. Today also marks the day where the government decides on a national shutdown to flatten the curve of the spreading virus, as the health system is not prepared for so many patients. So I guess there is going to be enough time for me to make the next episodes for the coming weeks now. How are you doing so far? Has your country shut down social life and stores? Has the crisis had any influence on your life so far? I’d love to hear your Corona stories. If you have anything to share, send me a message in the comments field, text me on Instagram (kieper_music) or send me a voice message via Whatsapp on my Facebook-page (Kieper).
Anyway, let’s cut to the chase for once. I was so glad that the last episode did not exceed the 20-minute mark and I would like to keep it that way, but I’d love to hear your feedback on the previous episodes and about things I should improve.
So today we are going to talk about W-questions. I am sure you have heard it all before, as it is really just like calling 911. Yeah, you’re right it is those little questions that officer is asking you when they pick up the phone or you already know the order and provide a detailed description of the situation.
Have you ever thought about this in the context of songwriting? Maybe you did, perhaps you did not. But that is not the thing here. Imagine there is an accident happening outside your window right in front of your home. You can see the two cars speeding up and driving towards each other. You expect the crash and then boom. Everything gets so loud for a second. Splinters fly, glass breaking and squeaking tires absorb the speed. Car alarms set off, and smoke rises from the front of the cars. Maybe it is an electric car, whatever, let your imagination find its way.
You got your eyes on the crash site, rush towards the door, and automatically you grab your phone and dial 911. You’re nearing the cars, and the officer picks up the phone. “This is 911, what is your emergency?” And that is your signal, describe the situation precisely as every important detail could save lives. Don’t go into too much detail because you’re just giving a short summary of what has happened and who needs help.
So do you still know about the W-questions? Take a second to recall them, they should be imprinted on your mind somewhere.
Right. That is 1. What, 2 Who, 3 When, 4 Where And although it is not really a W question 5 How.
This is a pretty solid tool, is it not? You can provide vital information within a 30-second call, and it could save lives. It is down to the core, cut to the chase and so close to reality that this officer at the other end knows exactly what to do and how the situation is right at that moment.
And you can do this in every song as well. Just try this in your next song, and you get to a much deeper level immediately.
But what do these questions really mean you might ask. Well, that is a good question. Let’s talk about what the different questions cover for a minute, and then you can try these yourselves.
So number one is What?
While on the phone we’d be talking about what has happened there is also another side to this question, namely the objects that have been involved or an object in general. So what we are writing about could stand on its own and don’t do anything at all, while there could also be an accident with what involved? Right two cars. So we can either write about a picture, that is quite static and not doing that much or about a car that is more vivid and you can already feel the speed. What I mean is the characteristics of that object that might be unique to it but could lead to comparisons as well. So first, focus on the object you want to describe. A person, a car, your computer, a friend of yours that has a broken heart. And try to describe it as vivid and precise as you can, without using too many words. Remember, this is still an emergency call.
Questions number two is Who
So who is doing what? This is a question that involves living entities, might be a person or an animal. Try describing this person and what this person is doing or what has been done to this entity. Perhaps the driver of that red Chevy got hurt by a pole that is stuck in his chest. That emergency officer needs to know. Precise and to the point. No extra words, get to the core immediately. So this question also has the opportunity of active and passive actions done by or done to the entity.
By the way, if you’re not writing alone or have a friend that you could ask, try playing this 911 songwriting method as a dialogue. Your friend could be the officer, and you answer all the questions. Try to stay beneath the 30-second time frame. If you can’t explain the situation in less than this, you are either not yet sure about your story, or it is yet to complex to put into this song.
Questions number 3 is When.
When is this happening? Does it happen right now? An hour ago? Last summer? In 1973? It is so crucial for any listener to know when this is taking place. Time gives us a reference. It also in retrospect provides us with the scenery. Maybe in 1973, there were no phones or notebooks, and the listener needs to know about that. Perhaps it is winter? So by knowing about the time or season, the listener knows more about the temperature and surroundings. It also attaches importance to something. If something is urgent, then it is closer to now than something that has happened in the 19th century. It has a lot more influence on our reasoning than something from long ago. So set the time frame for that scene. You provide stability for the listener, else he or she would wonder when this is taking place.
Question number 4 Where?
Where are you now? Where is this taking place? Where are you going? All these questions are essential for an emergency call to know where the ambulance and police or firefighters need to go. However, in storytelling, this is much more powerful. As you see in the questions, I just uttered. You can tell about the present location, your destination and your relative position. Where are you now? Well, you are right on the crash site. Where is this taking place, Oxford Circus in London, perhaps? And where are you going? You are hurrying towards the accident to provide first-aid. In combination with the other questions, this is so powerful to describe the situation and movement of the plot.
So finally question number 5, although not really a W-question in English How.
How did the accident occur? How is the weather, how well does the wine taste, how do you do? So many possibilities for describing the scene with just this question. And I think for making your story more vivid this is the most crucial question. Last time we talked about providing furniture for your rooms and making your story more relatable and vivid. This question is ideal as it is a question that you answer mostly with verbs, adverbs and adjectives. It is the artistic touches you can add to the story. While in writing a novel, you can go into a lot of detail, in songwriting, it is crucial to get to the core immediately and make the picture stand out. So spare your words and don’t give too much that is unnecessary. You are still calling 911, right?
So these questions can help a lot finding your plot and making up a coherent story. If you want to, call a friend of yours, or maybe even me, always happy to help. Let them ask the important questions and be ready to tell the story briefly. So the other person knows exactly what the situation is.
Don’t get me wrong, you can still rewrite the story later, but this helps you focus on the essential parts, the pillars upon which your story stands. It enables you to check whether any of these pillars is standing on sand. And by the way, you can do these questions for each verse, chorus or any part of your song. You can do this for any phrase you’re using and line you’re writing.
So let’s get physical and grab pen and paper to try this. As long as you are not working in a hospital or with the emergency services, I believe there is enough time for you to try this out and let me know about your progress. Special thanks to everyone out there helping to fight the spread of the Coronavirus and help infected people by treating them.
So that is it for today and thank you all for listening to this episode. If you like the program, leave a review, comment or feedback on Apple Podcast, or whatever platform you are listening to this episode. And if you don’t mind, help me keep this program alive by donating on my Patreon page where there are exclusive episodes for writing better lyrics. If you know other songwriters that need inspiration or are struggling with lyrics, I’d really appreciate you sharing this podcast with them.
Thank you all again and see you next time.