Monday, October 24, 2011

The Multiplicity Premise

A few thoughts from my two current nonfiction #fridayreads.

This post is about the creation of story and the organic process that entangles character-driven action with plot. 

As every author knows, having a story line is just the beginning. It's then necessary to develop the narrative. A good narrative is an organic process that builds on itself and begins to take on a life of its own, often leading an author in directions he hadn't anticipated. (pg. 36)
Rifkin's quote is in reference to government pilot projects and "siloed" agendas that don't fall under the umbrella of a unified go-green-to-save-the-world narrative. Thus, they might be great projects, but there's no urgency to them, and no story for them to find place within.

Next, I want to present the multiplicity premise that forms the basis for Internal Family Systems Therapy by Richard C. Schwartz.
It can make sense to think there exists, inside your brain, a society of different minds. Like members of a family, the different minds can work together to help each other [or to harm each other], each still having its own mental experiences that the others never know about. (pg. 16, Marvin Minsky)
Schwartz shows with this premise that Multiple Personality Disorder is simply an extreme polarization of these individual internal entities. We all have these individualized parts, he says, and they sometimes work together and they sometimes don't. That's why you might say, "Part of me loves him and another part of me wants to shove his face in the wall." Actually, this is exactly true!

Photo from Teen Tweens Blog
When we act on emotions, we put one or another of our internal entities in the lead. Often, when we make emotionally charged decisions, we act opposite what the majority of our not-so-extreme parts desire. We will be acting against our Self, our seat of consciousness, which "contains the compassion, perspective, confidence, and vision required to lead" (pg. 40) our disparate parts.

With these ideas in mind, let's turn to characters, the movers and shakers of our written worlds. A certain amount of verisimilitude pervades even our most fantastic worlds. Our art most closely mirrors reality in the way our characters act. If we accept the multiplicity premise, our characters (who are not usually the ideally balanced and harmonized minds a therapist hopes to help her clients become) will act out of emotion with polarized entities swapping the leading role. A Needy Child will sometimes take the reins, giving way to a perfectionist Great Protector, getting hijacked by a Fearless Rebel. A self-deprecating Bossy Schoolmarm does damage control, leaving the Needy Child to lick her wounds.

The narrative -- the organic process by which story skein spools and unravels -- is organic because it's chosen by the human minds involved, specifically those of the characters living within it. In this analogy, characters are dynamic, and authors sit as compassionate, all-perceiving, confident, visionary Self-Leaders, bringing the cacophonous sound of multiple minds finally into accord.

So, authors? How do you deal with characters acting with extreme parts in the lead? Does the plot suffer when art mirrors reality this way? Do we, as authors, need to reel our characters in?


Reviews and Interviews: Jeremy Rifkin's The Third Industrial Revolution
The Huffington Post (Excerpt)
The Huffington Post (Review)
The Diane Rehm Show (Interview)
Energy Bulletin (Audio Review)


  1. Hmmm...good question! I think sometimes we need to reel our characters in because the characterization does not fit the plot. I find some novels I've read do this. They mean to create a twist within the rising action, and that twist does not jive with the characterization.

  2. Oh no, no, no! Never reel them in. The fact that characters are so dynamic, that they are multi-dimensional makes them real and relate-able. It's the warring of each component within a character that makes their choices interesting and therefore the conflict engrossing.

    I'm very interested in these concepts as the current anti-hero in my WIP is exceptionally polarized, physically so. That IS the conflict, the morphing of his unbalanced mind, or minds, if you will.

    Love this post! Very smartly written, Lora. Excellent!!

  3. An anti-hero current? Why? We need heroes more than ever. An anti idiotic-hero current...yes and anti cliche current, anti-predictable endings current...

  4. I love what unikorna has written about heroes.

    Lori, this was a very stimulating post.