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  1. #1
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    Review outline/help with next scene

    Hello there.

    I am planning on writing a story about the young life of an eventual closeted conservative politician. This is sort of a coming-of-age tale. In addition, there is also a greater family drama at work. I think my story really has a theme about what people will do to obtain and keep power and what sacrifices must be made to do so. I haven't written it yet as I'd prefer to map out the idea first so I have a direction where to go.

    Anyways, here is WESTPORT.

    Westport is a town along the Delaware River about 20 minutes from Philadelphia. It's a largely blue-collar, Irish-Catholic town of 45,000. There's nothing fancy about it -- largely connected rowhomes with a few single family units thrown in for good measure. This also takes place in 1994.

    The main character is Jason Ryan. He's a freshman at a nearby state college, majoring in political science. He's a bit bookish and shy. This is largely because he's harboring a secret. He has finally admitted to himself he's gay and has embarked on his first romance with an older student on the swimming team.

    This is hard enough, but he has a unique background from growing up in Westport.

    His mom, Janet, raised him alone. His father has never been in the picture. Janet has always been a free-spirit, as she left home right after high school ended as a "seeker" attempting to find herself. She traveled with the Grateful Dead, spent time in Haight-Ashbury, lived in an ashram in Oregon but eventually moved back to Westport shortly after she was pregnant, and also to help look after her sick grandfather who essentially raised her. (He has since died.) Janet has done well for herself. She's a legal-aid attorney who also has been involved in several high profile death penalty appeal cases. However, despite her liberalism, she is not someone anyone would describe as warm. She's a bit aloof, condescending, etc. She also has always been very wishy-washy with Jason. Her work have always been her priority with Jason secondary. However, she does not realize this, as her "right on" politics makes her believe she's a great mother.

    Janet was raised with her slightly older cousin, Linda. They have been diametrically opposites their whole lives, with a relationship dripping in tension.

    However, Janet had some help raising him. She knew Jason could use the presence of a strong male influence. And she certainly had that.

    The patriarchal Mayor Joseph O'Grady was the third O'Grady to have the title "Mayor." While on the face gregarious and good-natured, O'Grady was known in the backrooms of the Republican ward offices as someone who could cause heart attacks with the slightest peer over his glasses. And he was married to Janet's cousin, Linda.

    Linda and Janet were raised together and more like sisters than cousins. However, they were completely opposite sides of the coin in terms of politics and life. Linda was very skilled at the art of using gossip and bully tactics to fend off any rivals to her husband's throne. And she was also very bossy in the interpersonal family dynamic -- always doing her best to ensure family dinners and the like were spent in the way she imagined. She, like her husband, loved having this type of power.

    Part of their power also came through their life in the local Catholic parish. The town had an older population, with Catholicism still being a major part in shaping the community. Being a "good mick" went a long way in Westport.

    Mayor O'Grady and Linda were very good to Jason when he was younger.

    Linda was never able to have a child of her own. In fact, she had a miscarriage right after she and The Mayor were married. This happened the same week Janet left town to "discover herself and the world." And this explains a lot of her animosity towards Janet over the years. She needed family and support, and Janet left to follow some hippie rock band. Linda also wanted to always put her claws into Jason -- part out of a desire to have a child of her own, part because of her need for power (especially in the family dynamic), part out of her form of love. But she carefully balanced this over time. Jason saw how manipulative Linda could be, especially her evil cackle when she used her power at the expense of some else. He also knew of the interpersonal power struggle between Linda and Janet, and knew both of them were pulling at him subtly at various times in his life. But she was also Linda was also very nice and generous and -- most importantly--maternal to him. As he spent so much time in their house, Linda often had to be the one to lay down the law. And she was also often the one there for a shoulder to cry on.

    Of course, it never hurt for the town to know how Mayor O'Grady and Linda were oh-so-kind to their nephew, raised in such a difficult position, and a cute boy at that always smiling in photo-ops.

    Jason was exposed to a lot of the world of power in his formative years. He spent a few hours in the backrooms of their town seeing The Mayor hatch his plots and intimidate some and reward others. He saw all that power could convey. And he also saw how loyal people were to his family, and realized that even as a teenager adults would even do him a token favor ("Jason, would you like a Coke or anything?") if The Mayor was watching. The Mayor told Jason that he would pass along the family mantle to him one day if he wanted.

    Part of his exposure to power also came because of the family's activities in the church. While Janet had some issues with Catholicism (and dabbled in Buddhism at points in her life), she did admit the "social justice" wing of the church had a profound influence on her. She didn't mind Jason exposed to Catholicism and was strong enough (and confident enough in Jason) to think he'd be able to make up his mind on his faith when he was older.

    Jason also directly benefited from The Mayor and Linda's power. While smart and bookish, he didn't live up to his full academic potential as a teenager. This was largely because of his sexual confusion and pain and depression, none of which he could express to anyone. (It's 1994 -- society, especially in a blue-collar town like this, isn't as tolerant of homosexuality as it later became.) However, The Mayor threatened to take away the town-issued job of the head of The UNICO society, and Linda blackmailed his wife ("I know all about your affair with your neighbor."), forcing them to give Jason a full scholarship despite other more qualified students applying for the same program.

    Mayor O'Grady faces the stiffest electoral challenge of his life. Matthew Bryant, a 35-year-old Democrat on the council, is staging an uprising of sorts while posing as a reformer. He's gained some traction due to a few unpopular decisions O'Grady made over time.

    Jason's upset and scared about his sexuality. He breaks down and talks to Janet, who has advocated on behalf of gay teenagers. She gives more of a clinical response like a lawyer to a client and less of a maternal one. Janet, however, in turn reaches out for help. She confesses what has happened to Betsy, another cousin in town. Betsy, however, ran afoul of Linda a year ago. As a result, her job as a secretary in the town's recreation department was looming over her head. To get back into Linda's good graces, she tells her about Jason.

    This worries Mayor O'Grady and Linda. It's still very Catholic. If word about Jason's sexuality were spread, it would sabotage all they had built. After all, if Mayor O'Grady can't keep his house in order, how can he run a town?

    This leads to Linda to confront Jason at the family function. At first, it's in secret. But it gets louder ("You should have spoken to me about this first. I would have dragged you to Monsignor Brennan by your ear and thrown you to your knees so he could put proper sense into you.") and Janet intervenes. She stands up on behalf of her son, but in a matter that doesn't put him first. ("Homosexuals face a lifetime of oppression!") Linda tells Jason she was more of a mother to him than his actual mom, and one day he'd realize that. And, most importantly, Janet would realize this, too.

    Jason is outside collecting his thoughts as Janet is getting the car. The Mayor walks out. He's upset but controlled. He tells Jason that he's putting the family name at stake, and that's disappointing after all he's done for him. And he knows what Jason wants more than anything -- the power that comes from running a town; the notoriety and joys of always having a table for you open at the popular pizza place down the block; having yes men kissing your ass and quaking in fear when you enter a room. And now all of this is in jeopardy because of the "choice" he made.

    All of this is looming over Jason as he's back at school. Jason's lover dumps him in a cruel fashion -- he wasn't interested in dating; the older boy and two other homosexual students have a thing for taking the virginity of other students. With his heart broken and humiliated, Jason blames himself for what has happened. There is also he looming Catholicism he was brought up with, and the constant thoughts that he has harmed his family name and cost himself a future in politics (and losing the power he has seen and craved, since he has so little power over his sexual identity), he knows he has to do something.

    This prompts him to meet with The Mayor and Linda. He tells them how sorry he is, how wrong he has been, and how he does not want to cost the family its name and prestige. And he can tell by looking in Aunt Linda's eyes there's one way he can show his loyalty to the people in his life who can bring him to the political and social power he has witnessed, benefited from, and craves more than anything else. He tells Linda what she has always wanted to hear. She was a better mother to him than Janet ever was. He should have told her first. And, yes, he needs proper sense put into him.



  2. #2
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    I'm also looking for brainstorms as to what comes next after Jason comes to Joseph and Linda? How do they react? How will Linda use this to strike against Janet? How will Jason be kept in line? And how will he be rewarded for his loyalty?

    Really stuck on that part.

  3. #3
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Well, first, Jason will not be kept in line. He'll almost surely falter one way or another in his homosexuality, no matter how ardently he vows to cling to the "straight and narrow". no matter how much loyalty he feels. He will falter and probably at a critical political time, the more critical the better, in my opinion.

    I think it's pretty evident what Joseph and Linda will do. They'll take him to the church as they promised. Catholicism is a legalistic religion of works - do this, and you're good with God. Say 100 Hail Mary's, and that gay tryst of yours is erased. This is the kind of counseling he should receive - that if he does whatever the church considers "good", that will solve his problem - but of course, it doesn't. He's still as gay as ever, lol, but for a time, he'll probably act "cured"...until he falters at that crucial time.

    I think initially, they reward Jason by treating him even more as a son, buy him gifts and become more emotionally involved in his life. Or at least, that's probably how he would view it, but in fact, they're simply grooming him to consolidate their future political power. They want him not as a son, but as an ally, though they'd never admit it out loud.

    I don't know, it's up to you. There's about a zillion scenarios.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by PhillyWriter View Post
    I'm also looking for brainstorms as to what comes next after Jason comes to Joseph and Linda? How do they react?
    “They can’t yank a novelist the way they can a pitcher. A novelist has to go the full nine, even if it kills him.”
    ~ Ernest Hemingway

    Here's the thing: Only you know the structure of the story, the climax to which the scenes are leading up to, and the purpose of each scene. So only you can write the story.

    We're not reporters, following our characters around and creating a detailed history of fictional characters, with, "This happened...then that happened...and after that..." Each scene serves a purpose, part of an integrated whole. So unless I know your story as well as you do, my suggestions cannot be what you need. For more on what I mean, try this article on scene structure.

    The thing to keep in mind is that plot doesn't sell the story, because plot can only be appreciated in retrospect. It's writing that makes us want to keep on turning pages. It's involving the reader, emotionally that generates the desire to know more. So while you need to know the background of the story and the characters. the reader is interested in your protagonist's now—as they say, story not history.

    So my suggestion is to know the structure of your story, and of stories in general, better before you worry about driving the characters around.

  5. #5
    Rogue Mutt
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    To some extent I agree that this is your story and so ultimately it's up to you to decide what should happen. But then it wouldn't be any fun not to kick the idea around a little.

    I'm not sure just how far you want to go in your book, but I think overall I'd structure it in three main parts.

    Part 1: would focus on Jason when he's a teenager and just realizing his sexual preferences, but something scares him from "coming out" like maybe seeing the bullying of another kid for being gay or something like that. So he decides to stay "in the closet" for the time being. This would be a good time to introduce a female character who can be a good friend and maybe have a thing for him that's not reciprocated.

    Part 2: Jump ahead to college, basically where you're starting your outline. He's still not upfront about his sexuality, but then the cute swimmer guy picks him up. For a time he's happy and then it all comes crashing down when he gets dumped and goes to his family and friends, who not that supportive. So he decides that he's going to go straight and repress his urges. This is where it's good to have that female friend I mentioned, because then Jason could turn to her and take her out on a date and get serious with her even though he doesn't really want to.

    Part 3: Jump ahead to when he's middle-aged and has married the girl from Part 2 and maybe even managed to have a kid or two. His political career is taking off and he has become a favorite of Evangelical Christian types. Then he sees some cute young guy (maybe a new office page or something) and eventually gives in to his impulses to pursue the hot young guy. But when someone (maybe even the guy) threatens to expose his secret, Jason has a couple of options. One is to come clean and hope for forgiveness. Or he could go to the party and maybe they have someone who rubs out the blackmailer and sweeps the scandal under the rug, though not before Jason's marriage is irreparably damaged; his wife might publicly stand by him, but in private she wants nothing more to do with him.

    Maybe that's a larger scope than you were hoping for.

    If you haven't already, I'd suggest reading basically any novel by Michael Chabon. Not only is the writing excellent, but there's always a closeted gay character. Also if you haven't, watch Robin Williams's final film "Boulevard," which is an excellent story about a closeted gay guy who gives in to temptation.

    And you can also read this book.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Oberon View Post
    Well, first, Jason will not be kept in line. He'll almost surely falter one way or another in his homosexuality, no matter how ardently he vows to cling to the "straight and narrow". no matter how much loyalty he feels. He will falter and probably at a critical political time, the more critical the better, in my opinion.
    .
    Yes, this is what I'm going for. However, the fall might not come at the present time. But it might come years later, when Jason is the mayor with greater aspirations and a wife and kids, but with a very close aide threatening to go public with the real terms of their relationship. But, yes, he can't keep his sexuality or sexual identity hidden. It just might hinder him later in life than what I'll cover in the book.

  7. #7
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    I see things happening, but there seems to be no central problem that the protagonist needs to solve. Twenty years of trying to hide his gender bias seems like angst not drama. You need to think in terms of scenes and the cause of the rising tension that drives him within them. You've given an overview of the story, but where do we, as readers come in? Where do we meet him? That should come close to the inciting incident, and build from there.

    Here are some suggestions from Kurt Vonnegut
    1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
    2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
    3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
    4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
    5. Start as close to the end as possible.
    6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
    7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
    8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

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