Character Arc Vs. Story Arc

15 Feb

We are now middway through the 2nd Act of the Atompunk Opera and things are getting weird. The music, the sound of it especially has started making itself and is going interesting and odd places. We’re firmly in atompunk sound, as far from the original steampunk sound as we’re likely to get. I’m using the same principles in building the instrumentation, but it’s all plastic and electronic. And not cutting edge electronic, i can’t use that stuff, this is retro future. I have no idea what i’m doing but it’s happening anyway.

Other concerns involve the story and characters. There is a fundamental question in building each Act that can be difficult at times. It involves getting the right mix of story arc and character arc.

I have a plot to run through. Here in the Atompunk Opera it’s pretty damn involved. Stuff needs to happen. At the same time, i need each Act to focus around a specific character, even when there’s a bunch of larger plot stuff that needs to happen. Getting the balance right can be tough.

The first time i really had to struggle heavily with this was in the 3rd Act of the Steampunk Opera. I had a bunch of stuff that needed to happen, and my central character of Byron didn’t really have much space to actually BE in it. Since no one writes me angry letters about how much the 3rd act of the SO sucks (and occasionally i’m told Bryon is one of someone’s favorite characters in the opera) i rest easy that it wasn’t a complete fiasco.

The Atompunk has a very clear lead character in the 1st Act, and while the remaining 3 acts will continue that trend, the fact is, the 2nd and 3rd Acts are a bit more complicated and there are other characters who have story arcs that need to occur in these Acts despite that they are not the “lead character” of the Act.

Striking this balance is challenging and is a major task in sticking to the format of there being a “lead character” in each Act. I am absolutely dedicated to this being the case. The New Albion trilogy should stand as a united trilogy, with certain things holding each of the 3 operas together. The format of the lead character for each act is  a central one of these, although it is mutating as we go through the operas.

George RR Martin has done this rather nicely in his Song Of Ice And Fire books (Game of Thrones for you show watchers), but he has 900 pages to work with. Hell more if he wants. If he says the next book is 2000 pages the publisher will sigh, but won’t even put up the mildest of fights. The man can do as he pleases. The thing is, he has the written word to work with, and i have several songs. I have to get across a plot in lyrics without getting bogged down reciting a plot and ignoring the character emotions that are the heart of the songs. How much plot? How much character? Simple is better for me, but the Atompunk storyline is interesting enough and essential enough to the tale i must tell of New Albion in the Voodoopunk Period that sometimes simple is not an option. Also, i’m building off of what i’ve been learning since the 1st Act of the Steampunk Opera. If i keep doing a tale like Annabelle again and again, i won’t ever get anywhere else truly interesting.

So… as i write the music i try to keep the larger plot of the Act in mind. Thing like: okay, but the 4th song i think i’ll need to use the Narrator to chime in with plot details so let’s start the song with a short Narrator bit and i’ll worry about what specifically to fill it with later. The body of the song will be the Lovers. Can i use some lyric bits in the song to get across a plot detail so i don’t have to put another Narrator bit in? Probably. Let’s assume so. So… beginning of the song will establish the Lovers’ lovey doveyness, the middle we’ll have them cook up their plan and then we’ll us the last bit to rock out because it’ll be fun. Okay, great. Next song. Will i need a Narrator at the start or can i use character lyrics or other subtleties to signify the next plot point?

Should the type of orchestration i use change for the Lovers’ song since it appears outside this Act and will reoccur elsewhere in the opera? This song was initially rockabilly and now i’m like, REALLY electronic. I’m not even using acoustic drums this Act. Should i have this song break the sound i’ve established… no, they are singing the song in the framework of the 2nd Act timeline. The music needs to respect that. Can i marry rockabilly with the plastic sound i’m using for this Act? Hmm. But the song didn’t respect the 1st Act sound when it came in. Zip is a rockabilly dude. All right, let’s just keep this all in ind when i sit down to start work tomorrow and ultimately we’ll see what sounds good and makes sense and follow it.

And also… maybe i could use acoustic drums sparingly in the Act whenever a character exhibits a very intesne emotion, something intense and real that transcends the stylism of the world around them…  okay, keep that in mind too.

Well cadets, that ends my little discussion of the trials and tribulations of making the AO today. See you tomorrow.

1 Comment

Posted by on February 15, 2014 in Uncategorized


One response to “Character Arc Vs. Story Arc

  1. Patrick Plonski

    February 15, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    Cool stuff. Rockabilly disco? Intentionally referencing/playing with existing styles of music is a fascinating artistic device. You can say a lot with a little because we’re already used to the cultural associations of things.


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