This series is all about roadblocks that stop your song from being as compelling and memorable as it might be. Today, we’re going to talk about something equally applicable to all types of writers, with a concept generally discussed in the context of writing plays or novels.
NOT That Star Trek Guy
This principle is attributed to Anton Chekhov, the Russian playwright. Perhaps it’s okay for the sake of this discussion, that he might be confused with Pavel Chekov, the beloved Star Trek character, since Pavel held the role of Weapons Officer (among other duties), and we’re talking about a gun when we discuss Chekhov’s noteworthy advice…
Avoid the Inconsequential
Chekhov famously advised that, “if in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” While his advice used the literal example of a gun – and there may not be a gun in your lyrics – the metaphor extends to any piece of irrelevant detail that may appear in your story or your song.
If, in verse 1, you not only set the scene with a time, place, characters, etc., but also mention that “she had a brother with red hair”, but the brother isn’t mentioned for the rest of the song, then as a listener, I’m going to be trying to attach some importance to this brother where likely there is none. Unless the brother is part of the story, we don’t need to know about him, or about her strange cousin Ernie who came to every family gathering clutching a key chain with a lucky rabbit’s foot.
There’s only so much time to tell the story in your song, and every line that doesn’t point in a relevant direction is taking up valuable space that could otherwise be making your story richer. True, there are always some lines that are painful to delete, because they’re poetic or rare or beautifully-crafted, but if they push us away from the story rather than pull us deeper into the story, save them for your next song.
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