5 Steps To Building A Song Plot

There are some core elements of a song plot that you’ll need to know to help you build a compelling song plot. The great news is, we have five steps you can follow to build yours.

As a songwriter, creating compelling plots is expected. Plots with interesting twists or takes on life. But how do you start?

Well, you would buy Sheila Davis’s book The Songwriter’s Idea Book and follow her advice!

I’ve revised her grids over time, and added some of my own variations.

There are five core elements of a plot. We’ll use in a step-by-step sequence to start building a song 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.

Definition Of A “Plot”

The following characteristics make up a plot:

  • 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

Sequence Of A Plot

  • Introduction:  Establishes characters and settings and introduces the main problem
  • 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:  Results of events and character actions and the story winds down
  • Conclusion/Resolve:  Everything is tied up in a bow – happy or tragic ending

Let’s Start Building A Song Plot

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 can add some language to give it more precision later. For now, a general direction is all you 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.

Wise DecisionLove/PassionHeartbreak/LossLoss of Faith
Senseless Act/ActionFriendshipKind/ThoughtfulShame
Fun/VitalityFearHold In ConfidenceStrength of Convictions
InjusticeUnwise DecisionDoubtPain of Loss
Remorse/RegretJealousy/AngerMoment of WeaknessCrazy
HurtMurderFaith In SomethingRemember Past

To see a theme in action, check out this song breakdown: Eric Church “Talladega”

1st Person2nd Person3rd Person
I – WeYou – YouHe – She – They

Help: Point of View

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

Song Prompt: Speaker Character Options
Boyfriend/GirlfriendChild/BabyParentOther Relative
Friend/NeighborA FamilyEnemyReligious Figure
ConfidantMentorMistress/Secret LoverLover
Thinking/To SelfTalking/To Others

Combine the below with your perspective to create an emotional context for the song & conflict options:

Song Prompt: Emotional Baseline
RegretPatienceGiving/Full of HeartHard Times
UnapologeticLack of Desire/UnfeelingDependentDisapproval
Hopes/DreamsImpatientTaking/HeartlessGood Times
Now – HereBack Then – AgoSomeday – ThereBetween Any Of Them

Step 5: Choose The Place For The Story

NoneSpecific “Here”Changing Place
If a thinking lyric in speaker’s head, may not have one!Specific, identified place where  the plot is unfoldingMay move from place to place depending on the song verses
Song Prompt: Place List
A RoomRestaurant/Bar/ClubStreet/RoadSpecial Place To You

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