Recently, NPR posted this story: The Ballad of the Tearful: Why Some Songs Make You Cry. It features Adele’s “Someone Like You” and explains why, technically, in terms of the music itself, this song elicits emotion. The post offers audio of the chorus as an example, focusing on the word “you.” Here’s the whole official video.
How does this relate to writing?
Well, there are lots of elements that make a song successful emotionally, including the lyrics, the key, the dynamics of voice, and appoggiatura (from the NPR article), but there’s also a poetic, linguistic element: alliteration.
There are words and phrases that sound like what they mean. “Lovely” is one example. “Shut up” is another. “Please be quiet” is yet another. While the latter two have similar meanings, the first sounds much more harsh than the second.
Alliteration is the repetition of vowel and consonant sounds. Assonance is the repetition of vowels while consonance is the repetition of consonants.
Phrases can sound liquid, with words fluidly streaming into each other, and phrases can begin or end abruptly, like my name.
Then, there’s rhyme, which usually involves assonance and makes phrases easier to remember. Take a look at part of the chorus of “Someone Like You”: “Never mind, I’ll find . . ..” There’s also rhythm to consider: a stressed “Nev-,” an unstressed “-er,” a stressed “mind,” followed by the same pattern in the next two lines (“I will find/someone like”) and punctuated by “you,” which musically hits the resolving note.
Are you still with me? The best songs work poetically and linguistically as well as lyrically. They tell stories so that we remember them better. They rhyme in unexpected ways (and do not use a repetition of a word as a rhyme–ew!). Then, the voice cracks in all the right places, and, boom!, you’re on the floor sobbing.