Editing Rant: Defining Plot

Defining Plot through Music Video

I had a teenager writer ask me about what a PLOT actually is a couple-few years ago (went looking for the date and found it: 7/12/2019). This is the very long email I sent in response.


So there are two videos that I watched recently which may help with defining plot.

Let’s take Miss Independent by Kelly Clarkson and Fighter by Christina Aguilera.

Miss Independent – the song lyrics – has a journey of change. (google search “Miss Independent by Kelly Clarkson Lyrics”) Miss Independent starts defining the character, and foreshadows her change of character. Next verse is her hesitation to change. Final verse and chorus is her deciding to give love a chance.

Miss Independent – the video (see below). Is more of a news report than a story, though most news reporting attempts story-like elements for engagement. You start with the end, where you see the party aftermath, then see party scenes – silly string, karaoke, pool time, and other fun things. Every now and again you get the hint of the guy. BUT this is more just like a bunch of disconnected scenes – you don’t get a romantic payoff, you have no character growth, no decisions are made, nothing changes. You can see that there COULD be a plot there if emotional transitions were added and the scenes connected, but right now it is a video hodgepodge. Cool but not a plot – maybe a story-idea, but no plot. Plot has a structure.

So for Miss Independent you have a plot in the song but not one in the video.

The reverse is true for Fighter, where the song doesn’t really have a strong plot, but the video does.

I wanted to really bring Fighter to your attention because of the Mermaid and Monster short story we were discussing last night. That story was a metaphor story both heavy-handed (nearly laying out everything word for word in case you couldn’t get who was the “mermaid” and who the “monster”) and didn’t really carry the metaphor well, because even with all that you were still asking what was the point the writer tried to get across.

Fighter’s video is incredibly surreal, and carries a metaphor storyline well.

For the lyrics (google “Fighter Christina Aguilera lyrics” and remember to open it up to get all the verses), you have a background-infodump more than a plotline. No one is changing and there is no clear beginning, middle or end (just like in the Miss Independent video – where we got a middle and end, but no beginning). Fighter is also an emotional character study – part of the reason there is no change of the characters. So Background-History and Character-Sketch, even good Worldbuilding, but no Plot.

Then you hit the video, where the plot is metamorphosis, again a change. It reflects an abused woman escaping her abuse to come into her true self by creating a metaphor with butterfly collection where the characters are stuck behind glass and pinned down, to eventually flying free after pulling out the pins and throwing them away.

A complicated two-layer linked metaphor – with the dancers creating a metaphor to butterflies, then the butterflies creating a metaphor of an abused woman transforming to strong woman. Beginning starts in the glass, middle is throwing off the pins, ending is transforming to a stunning white butterfly / and a red skirted fighter capable of walking.

Change needed for Plots – This is a fun video for me “Road Trip” by VoicePlay (I like Acapella).

Initially, you would think that the plot is a road trip, after all that is the title of the video. And that is where the story starts, but a road trip is just a type of action sequence getting a person (or group) from point A to point B.

That is not where the CHANGE is happening. The change is the music selection in the front seat. The beginning is just turning the music on and getting an unacceptable song. Middle of the plot is conflict, mediation with help of the back seat –SIDE PLOT BREAK (with a beginning, middle, and resolution there too) – and finally a full-circle ending of acceptance what cannot be changed.

I really enjoy VoicePlay for their ability to mime a full plot-driven story with a song collection. This one is not only a story, but several side-plots with an opening vignette story of trying to get into the car, and other side items which are not stories like the “aerosol” can and buckling the seatbelt.

I am going to define a plot for a story as (1) beginning, middle, end; (2) a structure, (3) something changes.

Webster’s Dictionary: the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.

SEQUENCE and INTERRELATED are the important parts of this definition. (sequence = beginning, middle, end; interrelated = structure)

I should mention this includes the plot where the beginning and end are the same, but you have a middle with changes – this is the “full circle” type of plot device. So after the entire story, there is no change if you only look at the start and end – but there is power in choosing not to change after something acted upon the character. In the case of the Road Trip – which is a one version of full circle, they start and end up on the same song, the characters’ middle with conflict changed them from rejecting the song to accepting it.

Well, I hope this helps. I had fun figuring out examples on the way home and will be making a blog out of it.