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Steal (Writing Tips) from Taylor Swift: Motifs and Self-Reflection |

How to build a body of work that feels nuanced and deep…by thinking less

(See this post on editing the ‘All Too Well’ 10-Minute Version, or this one on voice using

As someone who grew up wanting to be a songwriter, then became a writer and editor of

After all, you only have one or two hundred words to tell a story in a song

The simple definition of a motif is a repeated pattern or image

The gist of it is that they reinforce themes and connect moments by reminding us of something

Motifs, at their best, are not only a repeated image like a Christmas tree, but a meaning

The Christmas tree is there every year, but it means something different when you hang your mom’

There is example after example after example, which can be found in the explanations on Genius, or

Taylor received some critical flak when the album Red came out, and she felt she lost ‘Album

What it had instead was a sort of lyrical unity, exploring what it means to be deep

Losing him was blue like I’d never known Missing him was dark gray, all alone Forgetting

I wrote [“Red”] about the fact that some things are hard to forget because the emotions involved

Seven years later, Swift released the album Lover, and she ends it with a song called ‘Daylight

About how everything is simpler, quieter — brighter — in the light of true love

When the song came out, people’s reactions were the strongest to the bridge

Jonni Reactzz pauses right after this line is sung to say she must be the greatest songwriter

In a response to a comment on this video Jonni Reactzz says ‘The reference to Red took

In a line that is beautiful but not mind-blowing alone, Swift pulls an entire album’s worth

Remember, motifs add up to more than the sum of their parts, and this one comes in

The top comment on that upload where the track name ‘Maroon’ is announced?

In fact, without any citations from Swift herself, the ‘about this track’ information on Genius says,

While “Red” describes a love that was “burning red,” this track is a more grown-up version of

It shows that shades of red were a constant in the relationship, but maroon is a brownish

To see the song as in conversation with what she’d written a decade earlier

Eight months before Swift released her fourth studio album, Red, John Green released his bestselling novel The

This book has a specific motif that showcases what Swift does so well across her body of

Near the beginning of TFiOS, as it’s often abbreviated, Hazel and Augustus hear friends of theirs

”’ The line follows them around the book, and it replaces love for them

Green does with ‘okay’ what Swift does whenever she references red — or any shade thereof

Motifs can show friendships, or siblings, or a parent-child relationship whether they are good or bad or —

There’s no deeper meaning, and it’s something said in relationship to a specific moment

The line is breaking up, and so one of them says, ‘Are you here?’ The other responds, ‘

Then let’s say later one of them gets news their sister was in a car accident

They’re still long distance, and one of them calls and says what a mess it all

The other one sits on the phone with them and says ‘I’m here

And their friend walks up to them, fresh out of an Uber with a suitcase behind them

In my current book, I have an idea for the line that will mean ‘I love you,’

When I need to add meaning, I comb earlier parts of the book, looking for something I

And since I know I do this, I try to leave breadcrumbs to use later

I bet I’ll go back and use it later for a reveal, but I don’t