Minutes of February 10th Meeting

Date of Meeting:  February 10, 2015, 7:00 – 9:30 pm

Location:  The Well, 220 Main Street, Pineville, NC 28134

Coordinators:  Fiona McAllister, Misty Simpson, Steve Simpson, (Bobby Davis was out with the flu)

Number in Attendance:  17


Announcements – 1) Spring Training, Tin Pan South will take place in Nashville in March.  2)  Our March meeting will include a presentation by Bruce Johnson on critiquing songs, and then we will have a song circle, where we will sit in a circle and share songs, either for just enjoyment or for critique, at the discretion of each songwriter.  If you would prefer to listen only, that will be absolutely fine.  2) Anyone wishing to be added to our yahoo email group, please let one of the coordinators know.  3) The Swannanoa Gathering will be July 26 – August 1, 2015.

Introductions – All in attendance introduced themselves and told a little about their songwriting journey.

Presentation – Steve Simpson spoke on the subject of imagery.  His handout is summarized below:

Imagery is using words that cause the listener to imagine physical senses, feelings and actions.  The word imagery is associated with mental pictures. But imagery is more than just creating a picture.

There are seven types of imagery, each corresponding to a sense, feeling, or action:

Visual imagery is something seen in the mind’s eye, and pertains to graphics, visual scenes, pictures, or the sense of sight.

Auditory imagery pertains to sounds, noises, music, or the sense of hearing. (This kind of imagery may come in the form of onomatopoeia).

Olfactory imagery pertains to odors, scents, or the sense of smell.

Gustatory imagery pertains to flavors or the sense of taste.

Tactile imagery pertains to physical textures or the sense of touch, including hardness, softness, or hot and cold sensations.

Kinesthetic imagery pertains to movements or the sense of motion or tension.

Organic imagery or subjective imagery, pertains to personal experiences of a character’s body, including internal sensation, emotion and the senses of hunger, thirst, fatigue, and pain.

Imagery needs the aid of figures of speech like simile, metaphor, personification, and onomatopoeia in order to appeal to the bodily senses.


The shadows crisscrossed the rug while my cat stretched languidly in a patch of sun – visual

The roar of trees and the crack of branches – auditory

His socks, still soaked with sweat from Tuesday’s P.E. class, filled the classroom with an aroma akin to that of salty, week-old, rotting fish – olfactory

Blueberries were as big as your thumb, with the flavor of soot – gustatory

The bed linens might just as well be ice – tactile

I feel the ladder sway as the branches bend – kinesthetic

After four hours in the sun, my mouth was parched – organic 

Concrete Versus Abstract

Rupert Holmes’s song “Escape” is better known as the “Pina Colada” song, because the listener remembers the concrete image of the pina colada rather than the abstract word “escape”.   “Pina colada” evokes imagery of shape, fruity taste, frosty temperature, and connotes fun and exotic adventure.   “Escape” is an abstract word and cannot project an image on the screen of memory.

We remember concrete words that represent objects that we could photograph.  Abstract words are shadowy and impersonal because they cannot produce a picture in the mind’s eye.  Therefore, they leave weak impressions.

Particular Versus General

Using the specific kind rather than the general category creates clearer, sharper pictures.  Say “Mustang” instead of “car”.  It’s through the particular, not the general, that the universal is expressed and felt.

Replace Tame Verbs

Pick verbs that particularize the action.  Instead of “walked,” use a more descriptive verb, like “ambled,” or “sauntered,” or “swaggered,” or “stumbled.”

Use Sensory Words

A listener wants to see, hear, touch, smell and feel.

Words that evoke color, texture, flavor, or aroma, and that appeal to several senses simultaneously, make the deepest grooves in the memory, like “butterscotch,” or “snow” or “mint.”

The sense of smell is hard-wired directly into the primitive parts of the brain that influence emotions and memories.  An image that conjures up an aroma from the listener’s life can evoke powerful memories and emotions instantly.

Show, Don’t Tell

Particular words help project pictures, and particular situations help prompt emotions.  To communicate emotion you need to find a channel – a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events.  Create a situation that will give a character a reason for the emotion and will motivate the feeling.  Don’t declare the emotion, evoke it.  You evoke the emotion by creating the situation that allows the listener to feel it.  A symbol can be used to help define the emotion.  In the song, “In the Winter,” when Janis Ian said she needed “extra blankets for the cold,” we understood that she had no bedmate to keep her warm.  She showed us, she didn’t tell us.

Instead of saying, “I was scared,” say, “my palms were sweating and my heart was pounding.”  That shows instead of tells.

Conjure up an image that will express what you are trying to say.

Imagery Makes the Listener an Active Participant

Imagery is a detail that allows the listener to fill in the rest of the picture.  If you say in the lyric that you could smell the sawdust, you allow the listener to paint a picture around it in his mind.  The listener becomes an active participant in writing the song, because he gets to do some filling in and coloring and “painting out.”

Sometimes the smaller the detail the better, as long as it is enough to evoke a whole picture, like recognizing a tune from the smallest number of notes, or like a caricature portrait painter using the most distinctive feature to allow you to identify the person.  The listener is doing more painting out and more involved this way.  The word “bloodshot,” for example, allows the listener to paint out a lot.

A listener who is actively participating is more engaged in the song.

I used to work for a man who studied books on how to supervise, and when he wanted to give me an assignment, rather that just telling me to do it, he would lead me down a path, describing a problem that needed to be solved, and hope that I would come up with the idea “on my own” to do this task that he wanted me to do.  That way, I was an active participant in solving the problem and more enthusiastic about the assignment.  In this same way, when a listener is an active participant in painting out the song, he is more engaged in the song.

Comedy uses this same technique.  A joke is funny to the listener because the punchline allows the listener to fill in the funny part, to jump to the humorous conclusion himself, making him a participant in the process.

Imagery and Emotion

The most effective lyrics combine imagery and emotion.  The imagery is like the furniture in the room, you can see it, it draws the picture, it’s the stuff that sets the scene of the movie.  The emotion touches you, you feel it, and it’s the stuff that makes the listener care about the images.  The imagery makes the emotion more interesting.  Emotion is more important than imagery, but they are both important and go hand-in-hand.  The emotion provides the payoff after the imagery.

Examples: “I’m on my second cup of coffee and I still can’t face the day” – Gordon Lightfoot.

“Turn down the lights, turn down the bed, turn down these voices inside my head” – Allen Shamblin. 

Imagery is Mostly in the Verses

Verses should have most of the imagery, not the chorus.  The verse’s job is to illustrate the big picture that the chorus presents.  The verse is like watching a movie, it uses imagery to create a moment.  The verse is the concrete, specific part, and the chorus is the thinking and feeling part.

Use the Physical Experience of Emotions

Emotions are physical things, that’s probably why they’re called “feelings,” we actually feel them in our bodies.  If you wanted to write a lyric that included the emotion of being lovestruck,  for example, you could consider using the physical symptoms of elevated mood, dizziness, tearfulness, loss of concentration, difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, high blood pressure, sweaty palms, dilated pupils, and adrenaline rush.

Once you have a list of words that physically describe the emotion, you can take it one step further and make a list of words you associate with these.  For example, what words would you associate with dizziness?  How about roller coaster, cotton candy, flying…  These are the words you can consider for your imagery.

We listened excerpts from the following songs and discussed the imagery in each:  1) Ghost in This House, written by Hugh Prestwood, 2) The Song Remembers When, written by Hugh Prestwood, 3) Old Friends, written by Paul Simon, 4) Empty Chairs, written by Don McLean, 5) Faith in Atlanta, written by Craig Carothers.

Then we offered examples of imagery from some of our own songs.


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