Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Mirrors and Echos

I read an interesting chapter on using mirror events and repetition in plotting in Ansen Dibell's book last night . Now, this doesn't mean the literal repeating of words, it means having events in the plot that subtly echo events that have happened previously in the story. A mirror event is essentially the same thing, but echos the opposite of the previous events. She uses the example of the second movie of the "classic" Star Wars trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, as an example. I'm sure I'm not going to remember all of the parallels she mentioned in this example, but I'll try to give you a few. As most of you undoubtedly know, the movie has two plotlines going on simultaneously: the Luke/Yoda line and the Han/Leia line. Lucas uses mirrors and echos to tie the two plotlines together.

  • The movie begins with Luke being nearly frozen to death. The movie ends with Han being frozen into a death-like state. Han rescues Luke from freezing by use of a lightsaber; in the next movie, Luke rescues Han in the same way.
  • The Han/Leia storyline is an external struggle against the forces of evil. The Luke/Yoda storyline is an internal exploration of the same issues.
  • Luke fights the phantom Vader in the cave on Dagobah. Because he wins the battle, he loses ("Vader" turns out to be Luke). At the end of the movie, he battles the real Vader. Because he loses the battle, he wins (he escapes Vader's clutches).
  • Han undergos physical pain and suffering under Vader's torture. Luke undergos physical pain and exhaustion under Yoda's training. The former is intended to tear the hero down; the latter is intended to build him up.
  • The Han/Leia storyline contains a major revelation ("I love you!" "I know."); Luke's storyline does as well ("Luke, I'm your father.").
  • The Han/Leia storyline shows Leia discovering a part of her internal makeup she never knew (she can love a rogue like Han); Luke discovers his deep internal connection to the Force.

There were a lot more, some striking, like the first one mentioned here, and others that were more obvious. What I found appealing about this chapter is that I feel this can help me take my storytelling to the next level. Sure, you can recount the events of the story in fascinating dialogue, great action, beautiful wordsmithing, etc. and tell a really good story. But there are a number of ways you can tell those events, and if you can tap into the reader's psyche by subtly arranging scenes that use mirrors and echos, you can make your fiction even more powerful. There is a huge element of craft here that I find extrememly appealing. I think this is the kind of thing that separates out the pros from the campfire storytellers. I've never consciously thought about this type of thing, and I really think this is the type of thing I need to know to consistently write good fiction, rather than just trusting to instinct as I have to this point.

Fascinating stuff!

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