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. 

Flash: Claims a Warrior’s Heart

Photo by Gioele Fazzeri on Unsplash

The noise echoed out into the darkness beyond the fur-curtained windows of the unnamed bar. Jareek had followed it inside, enjoying the laughter, though not participating, admiring the skill of the bard, who managed to keep her instrument in tune despite the dampness seeping in from the nearby fen with its ghost lights and quiet monsters. What he could do without, is the braggart telling loud stories from where he and his companions held court in the center of the room.

The hooded fae signaled the server for another drink from his far corner where he could watch everyone in the room and all three doors. She dropped the warm foaming beer on her way to refresh the mugs of those closer to the storyteller, scooping up two coins in return. She passed the one bearing the previous king’s face onto the bard and kept the newer, unshaven coin, for herself.

“Then we chased those evil fairy-kind back to their trees, reminding them to stay out of the plowed lands of men.”

Most of the humans and the handful of non-humans present, roared in approval, stomping feet.

A few understood the plowed lands of men would keep expanding until those within the trees could retreat no more. And when that day came, a steep price would be paid. The fairies always demanded a price. Those humans were more respectful of that coming day.

The local tree line had been cut back during the winter while the tree-bound slept. The price demanded for the treaty violation had been avoided by Springdale hiring these mercenaries to protect them. A debt avoided is not a price paid.

Jareek had been in human lands long enough his green skin faded to human brown, and his bark roughened skin matched their thin smooth hides. He was not the one to demand the price. He didn’t enough know the local treaty blooms. Still, he had been called to Witness – the same calling which pulled him on and on. From one end of the continent to the other, to witness and add it to the Memory of all fae. The gift of Memory wasn’t kinder than any fae gift, but it was more lonely than most.

“Another story Warrior Draymond! Tell us of outsmarting the Cap!” The request came from a dwarf. They and humans didn’t fight over land, yet. The small folk lived underground and the humans above, but humans liked the shinies the hunched creatures found. In other parts of the world, the youngest of the races have started to hunt out underground treasures on their own. Memory only knew of one incident where humans and the underground fae had crashed over their hunger for riches. It hadn’t ended well for the dwarves.

Jareek pulled a sip of the nutty beer.

Pity the dwarves refused to work with their fae brethren, thinking above and below are two separate energies, not understanding the trees reached deep and stood tall, connecting sky, land, and the dark.

“Ah, the Cap. That is a story and a half.” The bearded man nodded. “I’ll need food to keep my stamina up.”

More coin landed on the table than had passed to the bard all evening. A smaller fellow beside the hulking man scooped it up before waving four coins to cover the roast beef the bar was serving this evening. The six mercenaries would eat well on the braggart’s tongue and bluster.

Meanwhile the harpist underlined the story with some of the best satire Jareek had enjoyed in a while. Av Manag Dirlick. Sounded like a lovely tune, and the songs the humans and most fae sing to the tune are about lying in the grass with your love and watching the cloud go by. For the Caps, though, the song they sung, half a key lower, is about rolling in fields of blood after a battle and claiming those closest in an orgy the likes of which humans would never understand.

Silently laughing, Jareek had to stop drinking otherwise he would spray beer everywhere.

The other songs played through the night could have been a human being the typical unaware of other communities. But this was too perfect.

Jareek lifted his second lid, releasing his sight, his fae eyes glowing if anyone looked under his hood. A glamour covered the harpist. The fae Memory Gatherer closed his both lids, calling deep within to his gift giving him not just the sight many of the fairy have, but All Sight needed for Memories. He could feel it was nearly time for what called him here to begin. He didn’t reopen his eyes, but now he saw everything in the bar, and in the kitchen beyond the bar, in the floor above, and the cellar below, and out in the street.

The harpist was a Cap, the punisher of treaty breakers. The glamour’s red hooded cloak hid her blood-soaked cap, the leather vest and legging dyed in the blood of her kills. Her red hair curled close to her chalk-white cheeks. Her scent – cinnamon and iron – burned into the Memory alongside her song of warning.

“Our deal struck, a heart for a hand, we shook and the Cap joined us on our mission into the Reedy Swamp.” Draymond paused to take a bite of the beef.

“Stupid Cap should have got paid up front.” The dwarf declared. No dwarf ever took credit. As they said, the ground doesn’t wait to settle.

After washing down some bread with the local beer, the mercenary agreed. “But if he hadn’t joined us, we wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.” He launched again into his story.

The harpist changed her tune so subtly when the fighter betrayed his ally, Jareek nearly missed it. Av Truist y Pae.  

Inside his head, the unsung lyrics all children are taught buzzed.

Strike a deal, make a pack
Trade the thing, no one lacks
Price for price, common costs.
Good transactions together
Are tree to moss.
False faith, stolen skill
Never do, the act is ill
All suffer, feel the loss.
Call the Caps, demand the fee
Attack those who disagree
A broken charge is impure dross.
Treaty words must bind
When by hand signed
Otherwise, trust is lost.

Trust is the only currency of a civilized society. The fae adage was so ingrained into their species, it become part of them. Lying among the civilized ceased being possible long before the gods crafted humans. The fact dwarves could still lie said a lot about them. The ability to lie meant they had more dealing with Caps than most of the fae races and hated the enforcers in the amount equal to their interaction.

A few of the patrons around the crowded room were humming along, before the words in their heads overcame the bluster of the blowhard’s narrative. They started turning their heads toward the bard. One by one, the laughter and movement of the boisterous crowd faded. The harpist strings vibrated deep, hitting with almost bruising strength as the tune carried in the gathering quiet. A few of the smarter ones slid out the doors to the front and back. The server and her kin made themselves scarce as well.

Jareek would need to see them reimbursed if the damage exceeded the normally expected price of a public establishment.

The red-haired fae winked at him when Draymond finally realized he was losing his audience. She ended the song with a loud flourish, overriding his complaint about her music. Flush raised up the human’s throat as he pushed away from the table and approached her on the other side of the central fire.

She placed her hands against the vibrating strings, instantly silencing them.

“What to hell, girl?” Draymond rested his hand on his sword hilt, not in a threatening way. Anyone who wore a sword knew the ease of the stance, and the need to always be aware of position of the sword within a crowd, which having a hand on one end helps. The fact the mercenary carried nearly four feet of iron, plus various other weapons on his person, and remained half-armored, the heavy metals plates removed before the night’s drinking began, plus likely outweigh the harpist by a factor of three, that was the threat.

The red hood fell back. Jareek knew the human saw a gorgeous redhead on the younger side, old enough to travel, young enough to be enticed to staying in a town if the offer is good enough. The cost of the road is heavy until one is so used to paying it, the traveler soul forgets the burden. Older human entertainers Jareek had met seemed to delight in the rootless life.  He hoped to reach that age someday, though two hundred years of hard travel had not brought him the inner peace humans seem to find so easily.

The strikingly beautiful fae plucked a few notes, this one strictly a human love song. Her voice mixed in, words holding promise, as she looked up at him under her lashes. “I come, I come for a warrior’s heart.”

The song spoke of longing of a woman left behind when her man went to war. She follows him until they are reunited.

I claim, I claim my warrior’s heart.”

“Look girl, if you want to bed…”

The Cap’s voice grew louder. “From my father, a hand, to a warrior’s cause. I come to claim a warrior’s heart.”

Jareek’s opened up both lids.

Draymond might have realized the danger he was in, before the Cap dropped her glamour. His sword had been pulled nearly three inches out of the scabbard before the Cap’s claws ripped through his chestplate, ribs, and lungs.

A heart for a hand, A deal agreed. Betrayed, betrayed. Call the Caps to claim a Warrior’s heart.”

The vibrato of the Cap’s voice, stung with revengeful joy, as she pulled her hand out of the mercenary’s chest, holding his still beating heart.

As the man toppled, the Cap looked at his five companions. “Betrayed, betrayed, a contract undone. Those who participated shall die, every one.”

The Memory Gatherer felt his heart flip watching her leap across the fire at the other mercenaries. Flames, red, orange, blue, and rust reflected against her well-oiled leathers. The Cap was lethal beauty in motion, matching her gift of Song.

Never let a Siren sing her words. Words have power. Backed by music and magic, they become reality.

(first published 3/9/2022; words 1,744)

Series: Warrior’s Heart

  1. Claims a Warrior’s Heart – link to 3/6/2022
  2. Unexpected – Link to 3/13/2022

(Inspired by The Dragonborn Come as sung by VoicePlay featuring Omar Cardon. See below.)

Daughtry: Heavy is the Crown

Daughtry has dropped a new video and it is amazing. So glad to see the band return to its roots. I know it cost the members a lot to leave the directed control of the RCA record label, but the pencil pushers didn’t understand Daughtry.

The tearing beat, the strong words, and the superhero-touched video. Not the pop-candy mainstream labels like.

To me, the song is about acceptance of duty and leadership.

Voice Play: Warriors

I’ve had several songs on YouTube I’ve been playing on repeat. The (Imagine Dragons) Warriors cover by Voice Play has been a constant companion during quarantine.

The instrumentals, the pounding, the self-acknowledgment of accomplishment.

Don’t you DARE turn away. You will RISE!

F is for Finish

There were so many instruments in the room to explore and James went from one to another; except the mouth instruments, Mom said you don’t share those. He stopped when he realized he had been hearing his mom’s call tone on his tablet for a while. Opening the case, James swiped the tablet to see his mom’s face.

“You okay! Are you okay sweetheart!” His mom’s panicked face filled the screen.

“Yes Mom.” James looked down at his tablet.

“Why aren’t you at home?”

“I went to a job interview.”

“A what?”

A smile spread over James face. He had surprised her. “A job interview.”

“Where is it? How did you get there? Are you okay? Do I need to come?” Question after question came faster than James could answer, so he froze staring down at his mom until she realized what she had done and stopped to breathe.

After a long inhale and exhale, James knew his mom had done her reset and he didn’t have to answer anything she had just asked. He waited for the questions he needed to answer. “Where are you?”

“I’m at 439 West Franklin Avenue.”

“That’s halfway across town!”

James smiled again, and his mom smiled softly back at the rare expression. “I took the bus on my own.”

His mom brought a hand to her mouth, pressing her fist against her lips.

“If I may?” A deep voice interrupted. James had forgotten Mr. Hartgrove was there.

“Who are you?” His mother asked when the large man’s head came over James’ shoulder.

“The Duke. Owner of a recording studio downtown, Pickin and Strummin. Just thought to let you know I will be hiring James here as a studio musician.”

“You … ah.” His mother inhaled and exhaled again. “You know he has … special needs.”

“Yeah, Miles Hammer walked me through a few things and I know I’m going to need to learn a bit more, but it will be worth it.” Mr. Hartgrove put his hand on James’ shoulder who quickly stepped away and turned to face the man, backing away further. The man wiped his face before muttering, “Yep, need to learn a few things.” After shaking his head, Mr. Hartgrove pulled back his shoulders, standing bigger and wider than ever before. “Can you turn the screen around so I can talk to … your mother?”

“Yes.” James said, doing as the man asked, but not coming any closer.

“Sorry by the way. The Hammer told me not to touch you or the tablet. My bad.” Mr. Hartgrove spread his arms wide, before nodding to the screen. “Mrs. Cohn?”

“Yes?” The woman’s eyes bounced around the room now showing.

“We need to talk. Your son just played some of the best damn rainbow I have ever heard, over four hours without repeat and on every damn thing I got here. I want him. I can’t pay him much and it will be mostly part-time gigs and nothing outside of the studio, but it will be honest work.” The Duke shrugged, for most people what he and his company could offer was insulting unless they bled music.”If he is okay with it, I’ll drive him home and we can talk over dinner. I’ll have Miles meet us there?”

“I took the bus here.” James said.

“Which mean he needs to take the bus home,” his mom explained from the screen.

“Alright, I got to close up shop and get things together, anyway. How about I meet you at seven? Wherever you are comfortable. I’ll bring Chinese or pizza.”

“Stuffed crust pizza, with mushroom and pepperoni but no olives or sausage. Tomato sauce. It isn’t pizza unless it has red sauce. “

Duke looked up at the kid holding the screen. “Alright, pizza it is. Any particular chain?”

The End


A to Z Short Story List Breakdown

Rainbow Spectrum (A to F)

4/1/2019 – A is for Adapt
4/2/2019 – B is for Bus
4/3/2019 – C is for Courage
4/4/2019 – D is for Duke
4/5/2019 – E is for Eclectic
4/6/2019 – F is for Finish

Next story: Marathon Party (G to M)