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
Senseless Act/Action Friendship Kind/Thoughtful Shame
Warmth/Compassion Joy/Pleasure Justice Betrayal
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

More Point of View Options


Combine the below with your point of view to give your main character an identity:

Song Prompt: Speaker Character Options
Husband/Wife Father/Mother Teenager Grandparent
Boyfriend/Girlfriend Child/Baby Parent Other Relative
Friend/Neighbor A Family Enemy Religious Figure
Confidant Mentor Mistress/Secret Lover Lover


3  Choose The Event Perspective Of The Speaker


Internal External
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
Concerned/Truthful Fair Troublemaker Acceptance
Apologetic/Sorry Desire/Want Strength/Self-reliance Approval
Regret Patience Giving/Full of Heart Hard Times
Unconcerned/Liar Unfair Do-gooder Denial/Rejection
Unapologetic Lack of Desire/Unfeeling Dependent Disapproval
Hopes/Dreams Impatient Taking/Heartless Good Times


4  Choose A Point(s) In Time For the Events


Present Past Future Moving
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
Home/Away Vehicle Park/Garden Town/City
A Room Restaurant/Bar/Club Street/Road Special Place To You


Source:  Adapted from The Songwriters Idea Book by Sheila Davis