Welcome to the third tool in my series on Songwriting Tools. In my book “Song Maps – A New System to Write Your Best Lyrics” I mentioned in passing a new Song Map: Gradual Reveal. For those readers who have written in to me asking for more information about it you certainly deserve this since: a) you spotted it in the first place, and b) you took the trouble to write to me! So here it is.
Gradual Reveal is a brilliant alternative to Timezones, Places and Roles if you want to tell a story without being specific about any of them. I love this Map because it enables us to create a deliberate sense of anticipation and suspense until the payoff, which is saved for later in the song, e.g. the Bridge or last line of V3. It also enables us to paint a picture that starts with a blur and ends up in HD Quality before landing the payoff.
It’s a great Map to add to the 7 universal Song Maps covered in the book because, like those, it also lends itself to any lyric-driven genre – Pop, Country, CCM. It also helps us use the powerful lyric writing technique: “Show, don’t tell”. This is because by definition we are using the amount of information we disclose as a way of systematically moving the lyric forward.
In terms of difficulty, I’d place it somewhere between Places and Literal/Figurative.
What does Gradual Reveal looks like?
Gradual Reveal can be represented as follows:
How to use Gradual Reveal
To use Gradual Reveal it might be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the central theme or idea you want the title to represent? Is it strong enough to write a song about? Will it resonate in the genre you are writing in? When you find this, it will become your Chorus idea.
- What are the essential key elements needed to set the scene of the song? Literally, if you were watching the very first opening frames of a movie of your song, what would you be seeing, feeling, hearing, touching, smelling etc. Who would be in the picture? What “place” (in the broadest sense) are they at? This is V1.
- What new elements of the picture you are paining need to be filled in to set up an effective payoff? What do they look like? How does this make your picture more granular? This is V2.
- What does it all mean? What is the payoff? Can the picture you’ve painted in V1 and V2 resolve? How can the listener relate to the picture in front of them? What are the lessons to be learnt from this picture? This is your Bridge, Outro or Refrain.
While I haven’t got space here to write a lyric, in my book Song Maps, in Chapter 5, the Writable Idea and Lyric for the Places Map, “How Many Times” is a good example of Gradual Reveal even though it also follows a Places Map. Check it out.
Some points I’d make:
- Holding back certain details (clarification of the relationship between the singer and the person they are singing to) adds an element of deliberate suspense to the lyric until V2 arrives.
- The trick with Gradual Reveal is to hold enough detail back at the same time as disclosing enough detail to keep your listeners engaged with the lyric at each stage of the song. Economy and concisness of words are important to getting this right.
- A couple of the commercial examples below were actually written for movies and it’s worth digging into the context of these to help decode how they work a little better.
Commercial Examples of Gradual Reveal
Here are some commercial examples I’d also suggest you look at to see how this Map works:
Pop: “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri
Country: “You Should Be Here” by Cole Swindell, “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry, “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton
CCM: “The River” by Jordan Feliz
Jazz: “Black Coffee” by Ella Fitzgerald
If you have a copy of the Song Maps Workbook handy you could take a similar approach to Timezones, Places or Roles, by simply substituting the respective structure with that of Gradual Reveal.
So this is Gradual Reveal. I’d encourage you to have a crack at writing with it because it’s very cool when it’s executed well and demonstrates strong, grown up crafting as well as being very effective in communicating the emotion of a song.
Feel free to share this! If you had a moment to drop me a line I’d love to hear how you get on at firstname.lastname@example.org.