This post will contain minor spoilers for the upcoming Bonus Act. If you don’t want to know anything, definitely don’t read.
I started this blog at the beginning of the steapunk opera writing process (the day i played the first note) for several reasons. A huge one was to teach myself about steampunk but another was to show my process. In the interests of creative transparency i continue that practice and will in some regards walk you through the making of the bonus act, with some allowances for major spoilers being kept secret.
So i know i have to make a bonus act. I need to come up with another story and a music angle. Let’s take ourselves back a week, to when i had absolutely nothing and no ideas.
Having no ideas is not a big deal if you haven’t actually tried yet.
So one night i’m about to sit down and do my usual nightly routine when the power goes out. (the power would go out daily for the next 5 days, but this was day one). I stay up long after everyone else has gone to bed. There is no electricity, so i have have nothing to do other than sit out on the porch with a few beers and watch the lightning. (MASSIVE lightning). It occurs to me this a good time to see if i can’t get the process started.
How to start from nothing:
Do i have any ideas floating around? Okay, i know the male will probably be a red haired gangster. Okay, that’s something. No era, could be anytime. Maybe start it a generation before the SO? Maybe… i don’t know.
Any music ideas? Anything?
Well, i was sitting on a desire to make something that contrasts tribal drumming/chant music with industrial sounding music. That has my interest. I was going to save that maybe for some project down the road.
Why save it? Don’t horde ideas. The more you use the more come to you. Just use this idea now. You like it. When you need ideas later they will come as they always do. They come because you let them come on out not because you horde. (this includes bad ideas, but you can just toss them and move on.) Let’s use this one and see what happens.
Okay then. If we say we’re going to start with the idea that i’d like to make some tribal vs. industrial music then…. well hell, the first premise writes itself. Tribal… we’re not starting an generation before the SO, we’re starting a generation before New Albion even exists. I’ve already established that the Albino Tribe who lives in the tunnels underneath New Albion are native to the region. There’s my tribe. And that means we will use a time travel plot device so one of them can go to some aspect of New Albion between the 3rd Act of the SO and the end of the DO. It’ll make a great musical bit when we end the first song with its tribal drumming and catchy chanting and go BLAM into some awesome, majestic industrial audio soundscape. That will work great. Okay, since the premise seems to be going on its own, let’s keep following it.
(for those who worry i’m giving too much away: 1. Everything i’ve told you thus far is revealed in the very first song. No biggie. Secondly, this piece is not like the AO. The Atompunk Opera was all about the reveals. The AO is essentially about truth to balance the DO which is essentially about illusion. In the AO everything is either a mystery waiting to be revealed or what you think is one way turning out to be another. It is about finding out the truth of things in every regard, whether painful or awesome. In this Bonus Act, there will be some surprises, definitely, but i don’t need to keep a lid on so much.)
From that premise, conceptual ideas came and came and came until finally i shut them down and said enough. Plot points, details, angles, things i can incorporate from the larger mythology…. ENOUGH. I don’t need all these. Not yet. It is useless to continue. Grand ideas are a dime a dozen. They mean nothing without the heart and soul. I need the characters and the character arcs. Otherwise the opera has no emotional core.
The next day i was taking a walk with my wife (2 months pregnant and in full nausea mode. The only thing that helped are long afternoon walks). She told me a very sad story about a boy in the village. it was so sad… i realized it was perfect. The detail that struck me the most was that it was a perfect detail for my male’s backstory. And if THAT was his backstory, clearly his character arc would start at Point A and end at Point B. Because he would have this character detail that would drive him to go from A to B. It’s good. I have my male gangstery guy.
The female eluded me. I certainly knew her Point A: she’s the member of the Tribe who goes into the future. But what is her arc? Why? What doesshe do and what is the change that occurs to her over the piece that makes it interesting.
I had taken my 5 year old to the village schoolhouse to ride his bike. He was riding it in circles around me when it struck me: The female character has this defining trait. Whoa, this trait is not the kind of trait she would have starting the album. But that’s what makes it so COOL. AND… let’s really work with this. Her character arc is NOT going from Point A (1st song) to Point B (the trait i just thought of) over the course of the album. No, she is at Point B the next time we meet her. I can play with this trait for msot of her songs. Her arc is going from B to C. But B is SOOOOO cool and has SOOOOO many possibilities to work with especially when writing melodies for. AND i’ve never asked Lauren to do this, and Lauren would be GOOD at it. She’d be potentially really good at it.
Okay, so now i have my characters. I know their story arcs more or less, i know the male story arc better than the female, but know the female character better. If the male character is like THIS, then he must a have song like THAT. Just so with the female. Clearly the female will have a song like THIS. Oh, OH, oh…. okay, i get a snippet of the male singing a little lyric line, only… that kind of sentiment is exactly what the female would sing… SOoooooo, we have a connecting motif between them. It’s kind of beautiful and tragic. (Big secret: i kind of sort of love beautiful and tragic. Shh, don’t tell anybody.) Well this sort of suggests what their connection would be. And that snippet used near the end after setting it out a couple times before would make a really powerful little moment. We all know i like to repeat a phrase or melody and then pull it out again near the end in order to try and acheive a very dramatic, emotionally powerful moment.
As days go by from there, the little things start coming to me. For instance, last night i realize something awkward and uncomfortable about myself and then realize it’s an issue the male lead would have. So we can use it. it’s what makes Soul. I am no longer writing about some foreign character who exists in imagination only. No, this aspect that makes me uncomfortable now gives something of actual personal meat i can use to make him breath reality.
I come up with the basic why and what the female is doing, the big reveal of exactly why she’s been in the future doing whatever specific thing she’s been doing while sipping water at an outside table after having picked a bunch of onions from my brother in law’s field. The onions were going to go to seed if we didn’t pick them then. Since i live in a foreign country people babble on around me and i don’t understand most of it (unless i reaaaaally try) and i sort of space out…. and in this case i came up with the big idea of what the female is doing and how it all ends. I started chuckling out of nowhere and the two women talking paused to glance at me, nodded and resumed conversation.
So… i’m in very good shape. What i’m missing is the middle. I’m missing what is happening in the middle and what specifically brings the two leads together. I’m missing what happens that propels the male to make the deciding step from Character Point A to Point B. I’m missing the details of exactly what both leads are doing when we meet them in the main time and what event propels the plot forward.
The middle plot point should be Simple. I have a good premise, good characters, very good ending. I have lots of song possibilities and especially some possibilities that aren’t about forwarding the plot but great emotional songs to really dig into the audience’s heart.
I decided the first night of the thunderstorm that while i need narration, i will not use a singing Narrator. This is not one of the Operas. We will use a narration device… the male can actually speak as if we are hearing him by playing a tape in a tape recorder we found laying about. These spoken bits can occur whenever i need them and be used to get the plot across as well as appropriate character insights for color.
And there we go. That is how the beginning of the process occurs. Nothing to something.
The next step: i should start writing. Not just writing this down, i don’t need to, i know it thus far. I should actually sit and write it out as a story. Usually that fills in the plot points. For the DO, acts 1 and 2 were written by sitting in a neighbor’s yard while my kid played with theirs, and one afternoon i wrote Act 1, the next afternoon i wrote Act 2. ( i went back the next day specifically because the afternoon before had gone so well, i figured the environment was working.) Since i speak the language so badly, people exchange pleasantries with me and then leave me to be.
So next i shall sit and write it out like a story. When you actually write it out something happens that makes ideas come and fill in the blanks.
Okay kids, that’s it for today. I don’t mean to navel gaze in public, but this is my personal process. I throw it out there just for kicks and giggles.