Storytelling and presenting images in a song format is an art in itself, a very distinguished and highly regarded one. Many rappers possess the skill to write high quality songs, but only a select few of them have the ability to captivate the attention of the listener by developing an emotionally charged story.
In this article we will touch on the following:
- Main philosophy behind storytelling
- The process of creating the storyline
- Storytelling techniques
1. Main Philosophy behind storytelling
One thing you have to remember when composing a story is that your words have to be said in a way, in which the listener can easily and effectively convert them into visuals in his brain. It’s more or less like probing and infiltrating his mind with your words. He has to be able to imagine what you’re saying. That’s the main philosophy.
If he cant imagine your storyline in his mind, then the effect of your story will be none. Even if the story has a moral and emotional meaning behind it, it won’t even be taken into consideration, if it’s not presented properly.
2. The process of creating the storyline
-Establish the story
First thing you’re ought to do in order to write a high quality story is to establish all of its components in a small summary. In this summary you might include questions like:
What is my story about?
In this bullet point, I suggest summarizing your whole story in a sentence or two. What do you want the story to be about? Is it going to be fictional or real? What do you want your listener to see?
The main action. Just visualize the most important scenes of your story and write them down in a sentence. Having that sentence written, will give you a sense of direction and purpose to your story. For example your sentence might look like this:
Some guy started selling drugs. He was living lavish while selling them, but got caught, got sent to jail.
Now since you have defined the foundation of your story you can build on it, adding more depth to the characters, introducing a moral dilemma and a meaningful message. (This would come later in the process.)
Who are my characters?
In this section of your summary you might add a little depth to your character. Give him a past, an attitude, his own way of looking at life. By doing this you could adapt the experiences of the character in your story to his attitude.
Think of a way that you can introduce him to the listener. Do all this in bullet points.
The summary is for you. It has to make it easier for you when it comes time to visualizing the story, so you can write the summary in any format you wish as long as it makes sense and helps you.
-Envision your story
After you have your summary ready, the next thing you have to do is to imagine your story.
What I do is, I imagine my story almost like I’m watching a movie, with clearly defined scenes. Scene one he does that, scene two this happens, etc. It’s not easy, but it’s better to be able to picture the whole of your story in your brain, because it would help you tell it better when it comes time to write it.
My advice would be to imagine the scenes. After you’ve imagined scene one, take a break and then imagine scene two, take a break and imagine them together, one after the other.
The summary was the foundation of your story line and the visualizing of the scenes acts as a blueprint to the fully developed written story. Once you have the scenes in your head, you can present them to the listener to the best of your abilities, using the appropriate techniques.
3. Storytelling techniques
-Re-examine the order of your scenes
You have to remember that a story has to just flow, meaning that your presentation has to be intentionally ordered in a way, which would have the biggest effect on your listener.
For example, its always good to start by introducing the characters and the current situation they are in. The objective is to cause people to recognize some part of themselves in this character. Make sure that you mention his beliefs, ambitions, fears and habits. Those are the most common things people share, so the chance to strike a chord with it is quite high.
You have to know how to order the dynamic of the situations happening in your story, so the listener can follow it with interest. There isn’t a right formula for this, but I did a research on my own, looking at the structure of some of the greatest books ever written and I found a structure which they all shared:
This means that for every action your actor does, you present the consequences to the listener. For example:
“He started selling drugs, living the fast life. He was so in it, that he forgot the sleepless nights he caused his mom. He didn’t even think about the risk he was taking, the police report about him was already in the making” and so on.
This is the main dynamic. There are other dynamics too though. For example if you want to talk about the big picture and how your actor fits in it, this dynamic might be appropriate:
Status Quo->Change->Reason->Current Way
People were starving. There were no jobs available and money was scarce. Then however crack cocaine came in. It spread like wildfire and everybody was either selling it or taking it. For some it was the bright light in the tunnel of poverty. You can make alot of paper from it and live lavish. For others it was a way out..A way out of the harsh realities of their day-to-day life.
For some it is a problem, while for others it is the solution. Now what you see happening is all the youth jumping on it, not even considering the risk of prison nor the possibility of death. Mike(your character) was one of them.
..and you start introducing the character to the listeners then.
-Don’t focus on the Rhyme Schemes
Your main aim should be to present the story as clearly as possible. It should sound as if you’re telling it to some friend, natural. When you start focusing on rhyme schemes too much, the strength of your words diminish. Focus on content.
-5 Senses rule
Before you start writing your story, you can build on your foundation scenes by adding more visual effects to it. Include not only what you see, but consider adding the smell, the touch, the feeling. This is done by visualizing your scene and just add the effects to it. The analogy to it is when you’re cooking a nice dish, putting some spices on it, just to make it that more delicious.
After you’ve added all the small details to your scenes, try imagining the whole thing. Repeat it as many times as possible, until it gets crystal clear. When it comes to writing, my advice would be to just do it.
Don’t worry about no verse structure or anything. Just write the whole story as one. After you’ve done that, you can split verse one from verse two where you think its appropriate, change a couple of words and just finalize it by figuring out the layout. Congratulations, you’ve written your first story in a rap format.