What is a song plot?
Sure – all songs have them, and as a songwriter you’re supposed to create compelling plots with interesting twists or takes on life, but how do you get started?
There are five core elements of a plot. We’ll highlight them, and give you a simple way to approach plot in your songs.
Lets start with making sure we have a core definition of “plot” – and not just the diabolical kind.
In it’s most basic literary form, a plot has the following characteristics:
- A series of events that make up a story
- Acts as the foundation on which the characters and setting are built
- Organizes information and events in a logical manner
- Creates anticipation, tension, resolution based on how the events relate to one another in this sequence
- Introduction: Characters and settings are established and main problem is introduced
- Rising Action: A series of events build up to the conflict
- Climax: Main point of the plot and turning point of the story – highest emotional point
- Falling Action: Winding down of the story where results of events and character actions are heard
- Conclusion/Resolve: Everything is tied up in a bow – happy or tragic ending
1 Choose A Song Idea
This is an over-arching theme that creates the foundation of who your characters are, how they react to things, and the events that will occur in your story.
You’ll add some language to give it more precision later, but for now, a general direction, or theme is all you’ll need.
This is not an exhaustive list – it’s just meant to capture some of the more common themes you’ll run into in songs. And I have added “Murder” so we don’t exclude the blues!
|Wise Decision||Love/Passion||Heartbreak/Loss||Loss of Faith|
|Fun/Vitality||Fear||Hold In Confidence||Strength of Convictions|
|Injustice||Unwise Decision||Doubt||Pain of Loss|
|Remorse/Regret||Jealousy/Anger||Moment of Weakness||Crazy|
|Hurt||Murder||Faith In Something||Remember Past|
To see a theme in action, check out this song breakdown: Eric Church “Talladega”
2 Choose Your Point Of View
|1st Person||2nd Person||3rd Person|
|I – We||You – You||He – She – They|
Combine the below with your point of view to give your main character an identity:
|Song Prompt: Speaker Character Options
|Friend/Neighbor||A Family||Enemy||Religious Figure|
3 Choose The Event Perspective Of The Speaker
|Thinking/To Self||Talking/To Others|
Combine the below with your perspective to create an emotional context for the song & conflict options:
|Song Prompt: Emotional Baseline
|Regret||Patience||Giving/Full of Heart||Hard Times|
|Unapologetic||Lack of Desire/Unfeeling||Dependent||Disapproval|
4 Choose A Point(s) In Time For the Events
|Now – Here||Back Then – Ago||Someday – There||Between Any Of Them|
5 Choose The Place For The Story
|None||Specific “Here”||Changing Place|
|If a thinking lyric in speaker’s head, may not have one!||Specific, identified place where the plot is unfolding||May move from place to place depending on the song verses|
|Song Prompt: Place List|
|A Room||Restaurant/Bar/Club||Street/Road||Special Place To You|
Source: Adapted from The Songwriters Idea Book by Sheila Davis