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Character Background 4: Byron McAlistair

We have now reached the 3rd generation of McAlistairs, Byron the son of Edgar and Fay. Who is he?

He is a politician, aspiring to be Mayor of New Camden. His platform is heavy on the need to keep government small and out of everyones’ affairs, and a strong accent on fear that the government will soon become an invasive force, a police state which will rule it’s citizens with an iron fist. He also stresses a return to more traditional society and believes the city’s moral compass is disintegrating fast as exemplified by the youth and their embrace of the religion of Voudon for their new subculture. His campaign is very dynamic and energetic and in fact he’s more than a bit of a rabble rouser.

This political stance does not come out of nowhere. Since his father Edgar ended up with his mother Fay through a rather nasty act of coercion, their marriage was a truly awful one and Fay despised Edgar. Their son Byron picked up on this and he too resents his father deeply. Government, that is to say authority, represents his father, and after seeing his mother’s misery he does feel deeply that authority is coercive, invasive and should be kept severely in line, if not done away with as much as possible while still keeping order. He does not consciously know that his politics are mostly him railing against his father, but he wouldn’t be unduly shocked should he have the revelation.

He is not an anarchist, mostly because after his father Edgar died while he was in his teens, he was left with his mother Fay, who he loved and whose gentleness kept him from rebelling to the point where he dismissed the notion of societal order. Had his father lived this would likely have happened.

It should be noted here, that although this will never be used in the opera, Edgar died rich, immensely powerful and absolutely alone and miserable. His family life was cold and devoid of any love. His warmth of companionship came through high class prostitutes. He tried affairs, but due to his immense wealth, they often turned ugly, with the women attempting to blackmail and bleed money from him and thus his safest option was a few favorite professionals. He died of slow poisoning. Fay lived to see him become miserable and finally killed him slowly and in an untraceable manner.

It is after Fay dies that Byron, in his grief, turns to politics to try to fix the awful world and deal with his anger over her death and a lifetime of resentment toward his father. This all comes out in his political stance, which is impassioned and makes him very noticeable and quite popular amongst a certain segment of New Albion.

Byron is gay and it should be noted that this fact does not come into conflict with his political convictions. However he has no lovers and perhaps few if any real friends. What he does have is Jasper the Doll. Jasper the Doll, who was first brought back by Annabelle and then again by Edgar (since he was in fact Fay’s father) is still in the family, passed down to Byron. In fact Byron bonded with Jasper while still a child and now in adulthood continues to keep Jasper with him at all times. This type of behavior is not uncommon in New Albion these days. Many citizens take a certain special Doll, that is a dear departed loved one, with them wherever they go.

A question could be raised as to whether Byron is attached to the Doll obsessively  because he is stuck in the comfortable child-like relationship he had with Jasper which was similar to a child and his teddy bear, or whether Byron is in fact someway in love with Jasper and therefore unintersted in pursuing real world sexual and romantic relations. This is unclear, perhaps even unlikely, but what is clear is that Byron desperately wishes Jasper could communicate more openly and intimately with him. Despite his attachment to the Doll, they never the less have a huge distance between them because of Jasper’s lack of communication.

While he is pleading with Jasper on a one to one personal level, these kids are getting together and enacting these huge, garrish, blasphemic Voodoo rituals, channeling and venerating the dead, and it anger Byron outrageously. All this feeds into his political passion and positions and makes him all the more charismatic.

Naturally, in Byron’s love for Jasper is wrapped up his misplaced love for his father. Unable to love his father out of resentment, he kept his father emotionally distant, which was easy since Edgar spent more and more time away from his family and terrible home life. Thus Jasper’s emotional distance resembled his father, but Jasper was passive and harmless, unable to inflict any sort of pain and torment on the world. Or Byron. Jasper’s hyper passivity is the perfect antithesis to his father’s central act of cruelty.

Jasper, the Doll, is meanwhile learning how to use his ability to transmit radio to work out a way to communicate with the living, so that he can acheive his ultimate objective of being dead again and released from his miserable existence living in the mannequin body.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Character Background 2: Edgar McAlistair

As we move into the 2nd Act, we arrive at the 2nd generation of McAlistairs, Annabel’s son, Edgar.

Who is he?

At the outset of the 2nd Act he is young, early to mid 20 something, no older than 25.

He is Annabel’s son. After the events of Act 1 she eventually married. Her husband was an intelligent and caring man, not very interesting or charismatic, but he could keep up generally with most of her conversation, was kind in all the small ways that make home life pleasant, and was meak enough and able to get lost in his own bookish interests that he didn’t mind Annabel’s absences when she would lock herself in her lab for days on end.

Edgar loved his father, but his father’s meakishness and boring demeanor prohibited him from being a notable role model for the boy. Edgar was always  much more enamored with his mother, who was loving and doting when it occured to her to be, and so unusual, unpredictable and interesting that he all but worshipped her.

The additional quality that cemented his adoration was the fact that while she was a loving mother, she was distractable, moody, and capable of wandering off to work out a theory or locking herself in her lab for days on end. She was not always available, either mentally or physically. This made her almost like a drug to Edgar, for he never knew when she would disconnect again.

This might have had consequences in Edgar’s teenage years, but sadly, Annabel did not make it that far. She died when he was 11 and he was raised from there on solely by his father. The loss was unbearable to Edgar. His sadness and longing and rage were almost impossible for a 12 year old to deal with.

He hit adolescence immediately afterwards.  While young men typically like to “play the field” and wrack up romantic and sexual experience, Edgar was instead very focused, loyal, and rigidly monogamous. He has abandonment issues with women, and becomes very attached to a woman,  or in his young life, girls. Girls of adolescence naturally are not so focused and like to play the field themselves, and Edgar could be very attractive at first since he has a certain intensity, but his over attachment quickly turned them off.

However, once into his early 20s, this ceased to be an issue with the right woman, and Edgar found her. Fay is an exceptionally bright young woman, well schooled, looking for a professorship in the liberal arts, and interested in security and settling down. Edgar’s attractiveness, intelligence and unswerving loyalty were the right combination for her and they fell in love and remained together for several years, with eventual marriage being a given assumption.

Unfortunately… Edgar is bright and has a little bit of family money, nothing lavish but a modest amount to get by with, but he is absolutely unfocused, with no idea what do with himself. He has an ability for practical and tactical brilliance, but he cannot become interested in a task or career for any length of time. Since he has enough money to get by he can afford to quit whichever career he has recently lost interest in and go back to moping around the house.

This eventually drives Fay crazy. It is a major contention in their relationship.

Edgar is capable of moping around the house for weeks at a time before finally going back out to try his hand at some other pursuit, which he always eventually gives up on, only to plant himself back home and begin the moping process again. As much as Fay loves him, over time this becomes a cancer in her heart towards him.

When Fay eventually meets Sillof (note: see, i told you i’d use his name!), a young, dapper, bright and incredibly industrious man of business, who is building his own series of stores successfully from the ground up with his own vigor and positive focus, he is irresistible to Fay. Fay is the perfect compliment to Sillof, artistic where he is practical, soothing, clever and of course poetic, for Sillof  is not poetic at all, and finds it to be the most wonderful quality he can imagine, one he himself cannot possess. They are drawn together, and despite her love for Edgar, she cannot resist Sillof and leaves Edgar heartbroken and abandoned again.

And thus we begin the 2nd song of Act 2 (the first song of each Act is always a Narrator song, a tango, which brings us up to speed on how the city of New Camden has changed in the passing generation).

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Character Background 1: Annabel McAlistair

Annabel McAlistair:

As the 3rd song opens, we are in Annabel’s private lab, where she is about to attempt to animate a mannequin construct. Who is she?

Annabel definitely has the neurotic (mad) scientist thing going on. But this is of course matched by an intense loneliness and feeling of helplessness in social interactions.

Annabel was raised by parents obsessed with an Ayn Randish philosophy that prized achievement over everything, most notably the development of social relationships. Annabel was discouraged from wasting her time on social bonding, particularly on rabble who had not yet made a name for themselves. The idea was that she could develop social bonds later in life, after she had risen to the top of her field in science, and thus would have access to the other great achievers of the world, whose company were the only ones worth having to begin with.

While this has certainly produced in Annabel deep obsession with her work, it has also produced deep and profound loneliness. She has made up for her lack of well developed relationships through a rich inner fantasy life. She has carried on romantic relationships for months on end through sheer mental fantasy. She is not disassociative, and is not out of touch with reality. She knows she is fantasizing. It is her only way of fulfilling herself emotionally.

In addition, her feelings of self worth are inherently tied to her level of achievement. Until she achieves some sort of notability, she remains worthless. While she does not necessarily agree with her parents’ philosophies, she is a product of them nonetheless.

Annabel was awkward and exceedingly bookish throughout college, with few friends and no romantic relationships of any depth, aside from a few drunken hook ups which did little to alleviate her uncomfortability with social bonding. She was deeply in love from a distance with a boy named Jasper who was scarcely aware of her, and after 2 years of this, through pure chance, she did spend an exquisite evening with him that ended in a wonderfully romantic kiss. He was already betrothed to another in an arranged marriage by his parents and quite upset about this and some of his and Annabel’s conversation had revolved around his frustration with this.

It was almost immediately afterwards that Annabel was expelled from school. She had been in conflict with several of her professors over the possibilty of some theory, and had set about to prove them wrong. However, in order to do this she had stolen corpses. Caught, she was expelled.

Her parents were perfectly pleased, believing that any individual of any great potential must inevitably conflict and be shunned by a mediocre world. This, they were confident, would drive the Acheiver ever onward, to greater glory.

They died within a year of Annabel’s expulsion.

They left her a sizable property where her lab is located and a tidy sum of money. Annabel’s never ending experiments are all she has and she has worked alone down in her lab for several years since all this has occurred. It is hard to achieve success or recognition through such a hermetic lifestyle however, and since her basic sense of self worth relies on this eventually happening, she is troubled instead of ultimately content.

She does go outside the house every Sunday in order to experience the world as best she can, and much of what she sees becomes fodder for her fantasy life.

She has kept tabs on Jasper, is convinced that his marriage was a nightmare (and in actuality, it was very bad) and when she reads of his death is shocked and heartbroken, as he has always been her one true love and has played a key role as her imaginary husband in many of her daydreams.

She is a genuis, though. Really, truly a genuis, and she has been experimenting with life and death. She believes she can bring him back from the dead and put him in the body of a mannequin construct. She steals one of his possesions (for the DNA ultimately). She sees this as the possibility of a whole new life for him and her. He can live again, away from his horrible marriage and family and with someone who will love and adore him and who can keep her company.

The song is sung by Annabel in her lab as she is nearing the moment when she will attempt the final step of the process. She is in a manic state, largely due to the normal hyper state she enters when she is immersed in her work, and additionally due to her emotions.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Plots, loops, and coincidence.

After deciding on a steampunk opera,  i had the small issue of coming up with a plot.

A friend was visiting from the states and together we went to Belgrade for a few days. While there i saw a book in a bookstore, which stood out not only because it was one of the only things in English in the entire place, and not only because i was blindingly hung over and could only focus on a narrow slice of the world to being with, but because of it’s title. Escher Loops.

I don’t know the book, have never read it, but i was fascinated by the idea that the plot for the Steampunk Opera could be a narrative escher loop:

Escher stairs

The piece would have 4 Acts, each relating to the other in ironic situations and motifs, and the end of the entire piece ends up in some way back at the beginning.

I was delighted by this idea and tried to think about it further, but good Lord that hangover…

The next day, after seeing my friend off at the airport, i began the 3 hour drive back to Soko Banja, and it was on the car ride that the story unfolded.

It did not quite adhere to the Escher Loop idea so firmly, but it does in some ways loosely hold to it.

Now since i clearly can’t just give the plot away point blank, i will say this: the opera takes place in a fictional city, at the moment, New Camden.  Probably early 20th century. The world it inhabits is one of alternative history. For the sake of the opera, the actual world history is irrelevant, however, i’m building it anyway just for the sake of immersive world building. I’ll post the alt history in a later post. But i do know that the American Revolution was roundly squashed by the British and there is no United States. New Camden may be one of the Northern American industrial cities, which is of course British.

The opera has 4 acts, about 20 minutes apiece.  Each act follows a different generation of a particular family line. The singers/actors in one generation are different characters in the next, although that how their interactions change and switch and situations between them turn, can be quite interesting. There is a narrator and her songs are a mix of dark cabaret and tango music. The opera opens with Annabel McAlastaire, a brilliant but slightly emotionally off kilter scientist, attempting to bring the dead man she was in love with back to the land of the living.

One thing that occured to me while working out the plot: i like irony in my plot. There’ll be a bunch of it (hopefully not too contrived), but in reflecting on coincidences and stories, i realized that if one is told a tale which has all sorts of fortunate coincidences, the audience will dislike it,  more strongly the more synchronicities it has. But tell a tale in which all manner of UNfortunate coincidences occur, ones which serve to screw the protagonist in more and more clever and ironic ways, and the audience will enjoy the hell out of it and find it endlessly amusing.

Go figure.

(My plot is neither of these. I’m just saying.)

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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