Jeremy Quentin of Small Houses writes songs that are deeply personal and have a unique sense of conversational tone. In a recent interview with Gems on VHS, he talked about a trick he uses to create intimacy between the listener and characters in his song. Below is an excerpt from that interview where he explains this technique (which he borrowed from a friend):
"[My friend] would always talk as if—and tell stories as if—you already know the character—he would never say “oh, I was just talking to my mom and she said yadda yadda.” He would say it like “So, I was talking to mom earlier.” Or if he came to you, he’d say “how’s mom?”—he’d be referring to your mother. He was always talking about these characters as if you already knew them. And I thought that was, really, really brilliant and if you took that into a song, maybe you’d feel like there was already this familiarity between the writer and the listener."
Try writing a song with Quentin’s technique. Don't waste time telling us about the character--just talk to us like we're familiar with the character. An example might look like:
I was talking to Eliot about his dad
and the plans he’s made for the year ahead
and he showed me the notebook where he’s kept
writing her poems since she left.
Today write a song using this intimate technique; don’t waste time telling us about the character—just talk about them. You can still use concrete imagery and other tools to indicate a sense of place, but try to distance yourself from descriptions like “my friend, Elliott, with hair as wet as honey”—just get to the point, and continue.
Buy Small Houses’ Still Talk; Second City here.
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