first stab at plot structure

i’ve been working in my notebook, writing down things in longhand. it’s been many years since i’ve done that. i wrote my first unpublished novel entirely long hand in the first draft. and that was maybe 25 years ago.

i have been consumed by the idea that my family will hate me if i dare to write something so poisoned as a fictional story of how everyone decides to kill mom.  but jim tells me that if i’m not offending my family with what i write, then i’m not doing it right.  it’s not art if it’s not hitting a nerve.

but i’ve figured out a way around it.  there are two things about telling a story.  there are the events, and there are the people who experience these events.  i’m going to use certain events, like a vacation taken without mom, but i’m going to be putting different actors in the roles of siblings, and seeing what they would do.

the first thing i have to do is whittle down the number of characters. i can’t deal with having 6 kids, the way my actual family is.  i mean i can deal with them, but there are too many to explain.  i need a simplified family structure and simplified dynamics.  i need to reduce the family members to archetypes and specific examples of people i despise.  i’m going to use birth order psychology to describe my siblings because it’s one of those wonderful stereotypes that work well.

(at the moment i’m carrying on an instant message dialog with my ex husband, who’s up fretting about our daughter, who’s being 21 at the moment.  it takes away from my concentration writing this blog entry, so i’m going to quit in a minute.)

so, from 3 girls and 3 boys i’m going to reduce it immediately to 2 and 2.  the oldest child, that’s me.  i’m going to roll several other people into the character, one a flagrant alcoholic and hippie, the other a religious wacko.  the second child, that’d be my sister, she’d be the neurotic perfectionist and overachiever, but i’ve got some real humdingers to draw the characterization from.  the third child, the bully who has to be in control. my ex the ax murderer is the main influence in drawing out that character, because my real brother isn’t mean enough.  and then there’s the youngest child, that’s the addicted blacksheep con man.  i’ve got plenty of examples there, none of which i can name because they might recognize themselves if i said who they were.  this way i can roll in some really interesting people and the only people who’ll think i’m writing about them will be my own siblings.  the real examples will never see themselves in it.  i’ve just got to convince my family that it’s not them.  actually, what i write will be so nasty that they’ll think i’m talking about them even if i bent over backwards to use other people as characters.  like jim said, if it’s not offensive then it’s not sharp enough.  and mom, she’s kali and medusa, who so outshine my own mother for wickedness and craziness that she might as well be june fucking cleaver.  i can work with that.

so, on to the plot.

i got it said in 9 sections, which is doing pretty good.

mom’s inhumanity to her children. kali incarnate.
mom sits at home and causes trouble for her kids. calls them up, makes them spend time doing things for her. nothing’s good enough, guilt trips.  asks prying questions, disapproves, lectures.  screaming histrionics.  says really mean things.  abusive.  thinks she’s being kind, reasonable, subtle, feels wounded and unappreciated thinking about writing letters to her ungrateful children disinheriting them all.  nobody’s going to understand wanting to kill mom unless she’s a holy hell.

the kids in their castles, compensation for their horrible childhoods.
then follow up with episodes at each kid’s house, in order of conversation, or reverse order. something. show the kid all grown up with spouse and kids and job.  show how each kid has compensated for the dysfunction of their childhood.  oldest is dedicated rebel and free thinker, 2nd is brittle and perfectionist, 3rd is a control freak and bully, 4 is a conniving addict.  each has a functional life but spends time worrying and looking for approval.

vacation without mom, reverting to childhood.
mom’s off touring egypt.  the siblings gather at the beach for a nostalgic vacation.  everybody acts like they did as children.  fights, taking sides and ganging up, tattletales, the side negotiations and alliances.  (then we’ve got some backstory to deal with, how there was a falling out between the 3rd and 4th kids, with the 2nd siding with the 3rd against mom and the 4th.  the oldest stays neutral, brokers peace.  absent mom, they fight among themselves.  their only point of agreement is what they think of mom.  everyone agrees she needs to die soon.  various objective reasons.  various agendas and hoped-for outcomes (money, property, peace).  each reacts like one of mom’s characteristics (hypercritical, boor, victim, harpy).

disgruntlement, endless torture, the holes we dig.
everyone goes home and rethinks their schemes for getting rid of mom.  heated arguments from vacation give way to practicalities.  doing nothing is so much easier.  mom keeps the pressure on, demanding more and being less patient and loving.  kids chafe but still respond, nobody openly defiant yet.

xgiving at moms.  reasons if you need them, new resolve.
holiday when everyone bashes mom when she’s out of the room, and then make faces.  various drunken displays.  mom throws a fit because nobody respects her (treats her like a queen).  everybody says what they think of mom to each other.  each says how they’ll kill her.

the kids plotting and scheming, mom’s paranoia, 1st round attacks go awry.
another visit to each kid’s house to see how plans are shaping up.  interaction of spouse reveal motives of each party.  each sets their plan in motion.  each harbors particular ill will toward another.  each one’s spouse is sleeping with another sibling.  not everyone is involved in killing mom yet.

secondary plans, 2nd round attacks, people die.
each plan develops and each plan goes wrong.  now secondary plans are laid against siblings as anger grows.  there are casualties.  things still seem in control.  siblings form alliances against each other.  every one schemes with at least one other against the rest.  everybody has more than one allegiance.  secondary attacks on siblings are made, things go wrong.  attacks on mom are re engineered and relaunched, things go wrong and  people die.  still there’s a holdout or two.

fiance? all bets are off.  open warfare vs. the power of prayer, more death.
then mom announces a fiance, and all the kids see their inheritance melt away.  she’s particularly nasty and hurtful about it, and this brings in the last holdouts.  things get vicious and open between the siblings.  attacks on mom become improbably with miraculous escapes attributed to prayer.  mom’s prayers begin to show signs of supernatural intervention, altering probably outcomes for events, like the kids who died first or worst were the ones mom was maddest at.  everyone’s secret love affairs are revealed, early enough that people are still alive to react.  maybe each is revealed before they die off.

all dead, eldest charged, mom praying for her.
finally they’re all dead except mom and the eldest, the good daughter.  she’s been uninvolved the whole time, always a mediator, never a snitch.  she’s telling the tale at this point and now she’s in jail, charged with multiple murders, facing life in prison because things she’s done have contributed to each death.  mom is still alive, married to mr. xian wonderful who is sleeping with the eldest, but mom sleeps with the eldest child’s husband so it’s even.  she never stops praying for her daughter, who she always wanted to see more strictly controlled, for her own good.

so, that’s what i have at this point.  notice that the descriptions keep getting more and more vague as the story goes on.  that’s because i don’t really have any idea how it’s going to work out, who’s going to die when, of what.  a lot of that isn’t important at this point.  i can see the conflict being pushed along by the 2nd and 3rd siblings, and then the 4th gets dragged in, and then the 1st.  we also have everybody’s spouse to get into the act.  at first some advise mercy, but eventually they scream for blood.

that’s eight threads plus mom and the fiance.  that’s a lot of twisting.  and there’s the love angle, also.  the 3rd sibling is sleeping with the 4th’s wife, the eldest’s husband is sleeping with mom, the 2nd sibling i’m not sure about, maybe she’s sleeping with the 4th sibling, the eldest is sleeping with the fiance.  that’s 4 more threads or entanglements.  we’ll discuss that later, along with character traits and relationship arcs.

i guess that’s about enough for now.  i’ll let this ruminate overnight and see what i come up with.


1 Comment

Filed under plot

One response to “first stab at plot structure

  1. Hi,

    Thank you for the great quality of your blog, every time i come here, i’m amazed.

    black hattitude.

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