Great songs engage the listener, take them on a journey, and reveal new and interesting details with each next section of the song.
Think of your song like a mini film. You want to set the scene, explain the main character’s problem, show how they resolved it, and give interesting details about how they got there.
How do we do this? Song plots!
Using song plots to plan your song can make writing lyrics for it much easier – especially as part of our 7 step songwriting plan!
Song plots help you understand what you are going to write about in any given section of a song, making pulling together the right words for that section much easier than staring at a blank page wondering where to go next.
The easiest way to learn about song plots is to look at famous songs and see how they were constructed, so let’s do that here…
Adele – Rolling In The Deep
I heard that you’re settled down
That you found a girl and you’re married now.
This describes how things are now (pretty rubbish).
Never mind, I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
This section describes how things will be better in the future
You know how the time flies
Only yesterday was the time of our lives
Verse 2 goes back in time and describes is how it was
No worries or cares
Regrets and mistakes
They are memories made.
Who would have known how bittersweet this would taste?
This bridge steps outside of time, and describes what Adele has learnt from the situation, performing a bit of self-analysis and growth.
So – we could loosely describe the plot of this song as:
Overall theme: Life isn’t great
V: How things are now
C: How things will be better
V2: How things were before
B: What I’ve learned through this journey
Bruno Mars – Locked Out Of Heaven
Never had much faith in love or miracles
Never wanna put my heart on the line
But swimming in your water is something spiritual
I’m born again every time you spend the night
The verse describes how you make me feel.
‘Cause your sex takes me to paradise
Yeah, your sex takes me to paradise
The pre-chorus explains why you make me feel that way.
‘Cause you make me feel like I’ve been locked out of heaven
For too long, for too long
This chorus is a statement of “this is how you make me feel”.
Can I just stay here?
Spend the rest of my days here?
This bridge asks how we can keep the feeling going.
So – we could loosely describe the plot of this song as follows:
Overall theme: You make me feel great
V: Describe how you make me feel
PC: Why do you make me feel that way
C: How I feel about you
B: Can I keep feeling this forever
John Legend – A Good Night
I had no intention I would get fucked up tonight
When I looked in your eyes and they went through me like a knife
Verse 1 sets the scene, and describes what just happened.
I can’t think when you’re looking like that
Can’t breathe when you’re moving like that
Tell me when you’re gonna do me like that (yea)
The pre-chorus describes how I feel about what’s happening.
But everything’s gonna be alright
I think I just met my wife (yeah, I said it)
I know it’s gonna be a good night
I think I just met my wife (alright)
The chorus describes what’s going to happen (it’s GOING TO BE alright).
Maybe it’s the music or the red stain on your lips
I wonder when’s the right time to go in for a kiss
But I’m thinking past that lover, I’m ready to meet your momma
If I’m being honest, I’m being honest
Verse 2 continues from verse 1, and describes what’s happening now.
Baby, baby, baby
You got me talking crazy
I figure if I say it
You just might be my lady
The bridge contains an observation about how I feel about all of this.
Overall theme: You make me feel great
V: Describe what happened
V2: Describe what is happening
PC: How I feel about what’s happening
C: What will happen
B: How I feel about you
If there’s anything I’d like you to take away from this, it’s that pop songs rarely happen entirely in one time period – all three of the songs we’ve looked at here jump back and forth from the past, to the present, to the future, describing how things were, and how things will be, giving the song movement from the listener’s perspective.
They also make use of different narrative concepts – the verses describe scenes or situations, the pre-choruses describe feelings or changes of state (transitional), the choruses very often encapsulate feelings or future states to provide the listener with an emotional release point, while the bridge provides an overall observation or life lesson.
Have a look at some of your favourite songs, see if you can identify the song plots, and then keep these jotted down to use as a guide in your own songwriting!