Writing Like Taylor Swift

Posted: June 29, 2016 by Jaden C. Kilmer in Article
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Fearless leader Prentice is currently experiencing the joys of a post Brexit UK. Never fear, I’m here to try and step up my slacking article writing duties in the interim. Today’s piece will teach you how to win ten grammys and become the best selling musician in the world. (Your results may vary.)

Taylor Swift. The Pennsylvania talent has been topping charts since she was a teenager with country songs tinged with pop, and has evolved into a bona fide pop sensation. Her appeal is startling in its wide swath of demographics. There’s me, a self-described “recovering hipster” who wouldn’t listen to anything but vinyl indie records senior year, who’s currently writing this to the soundtrack of Taylor Swift’s 1989. There’s screamo bands like Our Last Night and We Came As Romans that like her enough to cover her. There’s baseball star and all-around macho man Anthony Rizzo who walks out onto the field to “Bad Blood.”

So what’s going on here? It’s not like Taylor’s got a once in a generation vocal talent. Her music isn’t virtuosic. It’s usually pretty simple. So that leaves one answer: It’s her writing.

Taylor, sole writer or co-writer of all her songs, has a distinct style of songwriting that is deceptively talented. The way she writes creates songs with massive appeal yet enough sincerity in the emotions to not feel like her lyrics are packaged on an assembly line. Take this verse in “All Too Well.”

Photo album on the counter/Your cheeks were turning red/You used to be a little kid with glasses/And a twin sized bed

You’ve got the whole picture from just that, don’t you? The emotion, the place, the tone. She doesn’t say “you were embarrassed when we looked at your photos from childhood.” She shows you what’s happening. It’s the oldest rule in the book: Show, don’t tell. She’s an expert at creating a big picture in a few words.

To get a little more advanced in the writer’s tool shed, Taylor also loves to break out synecdoche: making a part of something stand for the whole. She’ll say “four blue eyes” in “State of Grace” and you get the picture of her and someone else looking eye to eye. She describes someone in “Blank Space” as “new money, suit and tie” and again, a few words paint the whole picture. If you look closer at her lyrics, you’ll find they’re stuffed full of moments where she employs snyecdoche: She’ll open a song with simply “Midnight.” She’ll describe an argument by simply saying “a slamming screen door.” I could probably write a full length article simply listing examples.

Her use of synecdoche ties into the basic idea of show don’t tell. To write like Taylor Swift is to create as full a picture as possible in as few words as possible. It’s concise, restrained, and simple. She doesn’t dazzle you with fancy words or overly complex narratives. She doesn’t waste time. And it’s probably because she only has three or four minutes to tell her story. (Worth noting her lyrical masterpieces, “Dear John” and “All Too Well,” are both over five minutes) This is an approach to writing that resembles two unlikely comrades: The Beatles and Ernest Hemmingway.

Did I just compare Taylor Swift to Ernest Hemmingway? Yeah. They may write about vastly different subjects and in different genres and mediums, but their central philosophy seems to be the same. To be clear, concise, and evocative.

  1. Reblogged this on christianfictionwritersblog and commented:
    This is a great example of a writing style. I plan on utilizing it as I write my short stories, to get used to it for my novels.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mandibelle16 says:

    Agree. Love T Swift, from the very beginning. I’m hoping she does return to some of her country roots in the future 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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