One of the most important things that’s happened on my little vacation here is i’ve have a chance to talk to my good friend Kevin Hulburt about the 2nd Act of The Dieselpunk Opera. I’ve been waiting to finally have someone face to face to throw it out to. There’s been a hole or two that i’ve felt needs filled, not to mention gain the type of clarity that comes with throwing it back and forth with someone.
It can be helpful in ways unforseen. All i really wanted to do was poke at the holes in the 2nd act but before he would let the conversation progress he kept on insisting on hearing all my ideas of the 3rd Act, so he could understand the context of where it all was going. This is good because it allowed us to talk a lot more about the overarching themes, the big stuff the piece is saying behind the plot and the characters.
Here’s how i perceive the creation of an Act and the piece as a whole, just in case you find it of any interest. This is not something i learned anywhere, i never went to school for either music or writing ( i didn’t go to college for anything actually, i dropped out my sophmore year with a perfect 0.0 grade average), i’m just a guy who obsessively does it anyway and has dedicated my life to it even if it means i will die penniless and unknown (although i’m hoping for that not to be the case). So the whole… method i’m about to talk about doesn’t come from anywhere, it’s what i discovered while making the Steampunk Opera and will continue to explore and build upon as i make all three of the operas: the Steampunk Opera, Dieselpunk Opera, and Atompunk Opera.
Each Act in these shows must have two things: a Plot Arch and a Character Arch.
Obviously a Plot Arch means something must happen. This happens which leads to this. Boom. A Plot. Based on the need to tell a story using songs in a 20 something minute timeframe, we must make plots that can survive this format.
There also must be a Character Arch. Our featured character must either go through some type of inner decision, transformation OR moment of revelation. The moment of revelation is more important to me that a transformation.
Both 1st Acts for The Steampunk and Dieslepunk Operas illustrate this. In the Steampunk Opera Annabelle destroys the Doll and that song is her key moment of character. There is a key decision, a transformation, but motr important to me is a moment of Character Revelation, where she is revealed to us. In that song we see HER. We see her inner workings and her dealing with the emotional crisis. An emotional crisis is ESSENTIAL for me to do anything. The plot brings about an emotional crisis which i then use to bring out the character.
In the Dieselpunk Opera Act 1 we have John O’Brien. His moment of Character Transformation technically ovvurs during the last song, but the imPORtant moment is in the song before that, Act 1 S5 (Daddy Left). In this song is the Character revelation and to me, the single central piece of the entire Act. The heart of the Act.
That heart is EVERYthing. I am not writing a book. A cool plot is not good enough. I am using music to tell the plot and music is emotional. Each Act only works when there is an emotional heart to it.
The weakest Act, according to these rules, is Act 3 of the Steampunk Opera. Our lead character is Byron, but we never gain real revelation as to his character. His Character Arch, his moment of crisis never really moves us because he never becomes the heart of the Act. Actually, Amelia is the heart of the Act, but she is not the dominant character. I had a lot of plot to get through and so this 3rd Act worked out the way it did, but it never does hit the moment of heartache other Acts do and only by beefing up the importance of Amelia did any heart to the Act come out.
But there’s two more things. So we have our all important Plot Arch and Character Arch. There’s still two more things which i consider. There’s overarching themes pertaining to the entire piece. In The Dieselpunk Opera two of the deeper themes are narra… hang on. I was almost about to tell wasn’t i?
If you want to accuse me of trying to make some poofed up shite which is an epically pretentious wank (to use my colloquial British) you would be absolutely correct. I do in fact inspire to make an epically pretentious wank. What can in say? It is honestly the type of thing i most want to make.
So there are deeper themes running around in it all, and no less in The Dieselpunk Opera. I will say this: you should be able to listen to the Acts, listen to the whole thing and think two things above all else: “Wow, those tunes were awesome.” and “Wow, that story is killer.” If you do not think that above all else i have failed. If the piece is full of all this deep meaning crap and hidden layers and subtle discussions and points and yet the songs and the storylines are lame, than my work is worthless. It must work aesthetically first and foremost. The deeper themes and layers only matter if… well… if the music and characters and story are cool.
Still, the overarching themes are important to me and i consider them and Kevin was an enormous help keeping them in clear sight while deconstructing the piece.
So. I have my 2nd Act. I have my character, Constance, (i’ve had her set to go for awhile now). I have the plot (also had that but there was a hole which is now filled). I have the entire map of the 2nd Act set out and now i can start filling it with melodies and song structures. What i am missing is the 4th and last thing. This no one can help me with.
Constance must have her moment of emotional crisis. I know exactly where it’s going to be. I even know what prompts it and in general what it’s BAScially about. But that is not enough.
Constance moment of crisis must reflect some deep pathology within myself. Something i can pull from, something DEEP i can pull from in order to fuck you all up along with me.
Annabelle has her fear of failure. You think i make that up? The circumstances of her life are made up, that fear is mine. John O’Brien in the 1st Act of Dieselpunk has his father issue. Dude, i have father issues coming out my ears. You have no IDEA the father issues i’ve got going and now i have a child of my own and have to work out how to be a good father with no role model to pull from. (a lot of men go through aspects of this). So John’s crisis was EASY to pull pathology into. Once again, the plot is made up, the deep knots of emotion released are mine.
This must hold true for Constance. Constance’s moment of emotional crisis must be mine or you will not be moved. And i WILL move you. I WILL fuck your heart. This is the 4th puzzle piece which must come into pkay in order for me to create a successful Act. I can even hear her song. I just have no lyrics yet. I do not know what i’m crying over yet. (This is exactly how Annabelle’s Lament occured, by the way. I had the song written, but no lyrics. I sat down one night, wrote the entire song’s words. The next night threw them away and wrote them again from scratch getter deeper. The third night, vowing i would keep doing this every night until i had something THAT DIDN’T SUCK i pulled from a deep fear that i didn’t want to otherwise discuss and finally wrote passable lyrics.)
So there you go: Plot Arch and Character Arch. Keep in mind larger themes that extend over the entire opera and which must build their full fruition in the final Act, and make sure your moments of emotional crisis come from stuff that fucks your own heart up. Stir in a pot until congealed and let cool. OH ! And write good songs, cause otherwise all this won’t mean a damn thing.