Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Identity, Essence and Trilogy Story Arcs

So, my latest project is a trilogy and I'm just getting going on Book 2. Writing a trilogy is moderately terrifying to me, because I've read some great ones and others that I've given up on after book one or soon into Book 2. The trick is to keep escalating the stakes/tension while still having them as high as they possibly can be in each book (not holding back). So, I'm a little nervous heading into Book 2.

I already have a fairly detailed synopsis for Book 2 and a sketchy one for Book 3 (which both went out on submission with the manuscript for Book 1 -- and I hope to announce exciting news about that soon -- probably in September) but before I got too far into the second book, I wanted to stop and do a little brainstorming.

If you read this blog often you might know that I can hate brainstorming my own stories with other people. But this "hate" is really only true if I'm not ready for input yet. I like to have the basic world/plot/characters, and the overall kind of story I want to tell, firm in my mind before I let other people into my brain. Probably because the two people I brainstorm with most often are AWESOME at story ideas and I end up feeling as if their ideas are better than mine, or things head off in the direction of the books they'd write given the same idea, not the book I'd write... And then I start emitting "back off" vibes and they shut down... and little brainstorming happens... (And we drink instead, which is good, too...)

Anyway... Monday night we did a little brainstorming for my Book 2 and 3 and it was pretty awesome. I already had a 10 + page synopsis for one and a 5+ page one for the other... so really it wasn't about coming up with stories, it was about making them better. Adding some surprises. Taking out the weak/obvious choices and plot points, most of which were the first things that came to mind when I wrote the synopses (very quickly) (under pressure) before we sent the manuscript to I'm not allowed to say who...

Anyway, one of the coolest moments for me (because I'm a total craft nerd, okay: nerd nerd) was when I realized one of the ideas we came up with, or an epiphany I had during our discussion, fit so well with Michael Hauge's Identity to Essence character arc method.

Now, he teaches it in the context of a single story (screenplay or novel) but what I realized was that it was (hopefully) going to fit for me across the three book story arc with one particular bit of her character growth.

If you've never heard Michael Hauge speak, or read one of his books, or bought one of his DVD's => DO! Now!!   Here's a handy link. Writing Screenplays That Sell

But in a nutshell, the identity to essence concept is that over the course of a story, a character moves from who they think they are/how they see themselves (their identity), to their true selves (their essence). And the truly changed character emerges when the identity and essence meld. (At least I think that's what he says... This isn't sounding right to me now. If I'm wrong, I don't want to know right now, because I'm still high on my epiphany.)

Okay, I broke down and looked it up. I was merging Michael Hauge's Identity/Essence concept with the late Blake Snyder's Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis concept. Or what he calls the thematic progression of the hero's journey. (Blake Snyder's Save The Cat!. Go buy it. Now!!!)  Actually, I think my epiphany fits even better with Snyder's verbiage, so I'll go with that. ;)

What I realized that while each of my books has an internal character arc itself (I hope), the overall trilogy will have one, too. Yay! In the first book, the protagonist, Glory,  completely defines herself by one particular trait (a power she has). Which could be defined as her "identity", but it's also the "Thesis" in terms of this overall trilogy character arc. It's who she believes she is and for that particular trait, she pretty much still believes that trait defines her throughout Book 1.

In the second book, she'll have rejected her identity, that is: she'll be doing all she can do deny that she's defined by that trait (power) and she'll be essentially rejecting/denying it. So, to use Snyder's terms, this will be her antithesis stage -- which I think will continue on into the early parts of Book 3.
Then, I hope, during the course of the third book, she'll find the balance and be in her "essence", to use Hauge's term, or she'll find Synthesis to use Snyder's. To quote him, "...the hero gains the knowledge to combine what was and its opposite to form a synthesis of everything he has learned." (See why I think Snyder's works better? Because it merges the two... And she can learn she can be both her identity and her essence... or that her identity doesn't completely define her...)

I don't know why this got me so excited. But sometimes it helps me to see my your story in an overall way that makes sense. Helps in those rare instances where one can glimpse the forest and not just all the trees.

Will this hold up as I write books 2 and 3? Who knows. Ask me again in a month when I'm neck deep in my first draft and whining about how hard it is to write a book. Because you know I will.  ;)


Molly O'Keefe said...

that was some good brainstorming - my favorite was when I brainstormed all the stuff you'd already thought of.

but I love this arc you've got going and I think as you write it will help keep her poignant and interesting not just in a "watch out for crazed mind reading freaks" but in a "who am I? and what do I want?" kind of way. Good stuff.

Eileen said...

OH . . . that is fascinating. I'm going to be gnawing on that all day until I can get to my laptop and my WIP. I can do that with every single freaking character in that book. They all start out thinking their one thing and becoming another. Some of them turn back into the thing they thought they were, but others become something totally new.

Maureen McGowan said...

Eileen, both Hauge and Snyder have some great insights into combining external plots with character arcs. My problem with "plotty" books like the ones I'm writing now, is to not ignore the internal journey.

The identity/essence thing is so smart. He does a great workshop for romance writers. Where I don't agree with everything he has to say about romances, (like there must be a big misunderstanding. Really??), I loved when he said that the love interest is the one person who sees the other character's essence, even when he/she is still in his/her identity stage. I thought that was kind of beautiful.

Eileen said...

Nice. I often use his plotting outline when I'm writing a synopsis. I've never heard him speak, though.

I really like this identity/essence thing. I need to spend some time thinking about that. I mean, how often do we have to face that we aren't who we want to be? Sometimes it feels like every freaking day . . .

Anonymous said...

That was some good brainstorming. It's always fun to brainstorm your books. we'll throw random ideas at you and somehow you find a way to make them sound smart, when really, you're the smart one.

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