1. PhillyWriter
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    PhillyWriter New Member

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    How should these characters respond?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by PhillyWriter, Nov 9, 2015.

    Hello there. I'm working on a story about a blue-collar town outside of Philadelphia in 1992, and the town's most prominent family.

    MAYOR JOSEPH O'GRADY is the family patriarch about the age of 60. He has been the mayor for 20 years now (and followed in his father's footsteps). His wife, LINDA, does a great job pulling the strings behind-the-scenes, and fully knows the power of gossip and rumor spreading and all sorts of petty ways to fend off anyone who dare cross their paths. They are staunch blue-collar Catholic Republicans. The local parish is still a source of electoral power and those deemed as good Catholics usually win the election. (However, a young attorney in town is threatening their hold.) And despite their power plays and the many swords they have put in people's backs, the local community still holds them as a pillar (it also helps many owe their jobs to them, too).

    JANET is Linda's cousin. However, they were essentially raised together like sisters. Despite that, they are opposites in every way. Janet even left the town for a few years to follow the Grateful Dead. She's politically liberal, is a token Catholic. And she and Linda have detested each other for years and constantly embattled in their own family power struggle that manifests itself in things like "No, you'll bring the chocolate cake to dinner" types of squabbles.

    JASON is Janet's 19-year-old son, and a sophomore at a nearby state college. He's bookish and nerdy and has recently come to accept himself as a homosexual. He agrees largely with his mom's politics. However, he was also very close with his Aunt and Uncle. They never had children of their own and treated him like a son. And he also got to see the fruits of their power, especially after the Mayor banged on a bunch of desks to get him a scholarship to school.

    PLOT TWIST 1: Jason has come out to his very accepting mother. She told one trusted family member who then brought this information to The Mayor and Linda. The next time they see Jason (at a family function), Linda pulls Jason aside and lets him have it. Our family name is more important. If people know about this, you'll ruin your uncle's career. You'll ruin what we have. You might lose your scholarship. You're lucky I don't drag you by your ear to Monsignor Brennan right now so he can put sense into you. Unlike that mother of yours. Janet intervenes. How dare you say that to my son, Linda. Janet and Jason leave, with Linda saying "Of course you'll realize I'm right."

    PLOT TWIST 2: It's two weeks later. Jason's at school, depressed over this whole situation. He sees a newspaper story about his uncle's campaign. He is about to call his mom but stops. He gets in his car and drives to The Mayor's house. Mayor O'Grady and Aunt Linda are shocked to see him. He says he needs to talk to them. They bring him to their den. He gulps. He says he knows how wrong he's been. He knows the family name and status is more important than his feelings. He won't act on these impulses and promises he'll stay good. He'll dedicate all his time to helping his Uncle get reelected. And he also tells Aunt Linda that he realizes she was right. He should have come to her first with these feelings so she could set him straight. Unlike that mother of his. Please, I'm so sorry for any trouble I've caused, how can I make this up to you?

    HELP NEEDED: After Jason's shocking remarks, what do Aunt Linda and Mayor O'Grady say? How do they react physically? On top of the town politics, there's also the interpersonal dynamic. They have taken their nephew out from under Janet's watch. He's chosen to serve their power and live under their thumb. He's willing to repress himself and betray his mother because he knows he benefits from their rule.

    And after he leaves their presence, what do they say to each other then? Obviously this might be slightly different.

    I'm at a real loss in this part of the story.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I hope you don't mind unsolicited advice but I find Jason's actions unbelievable. His main motivation seems to be a ruthless thirst for power, but that doesn't tally with somebody who's come out as gay when surrounded by anti-gay people. Surely he's been struggling with denial/secrecy for years, imagining all sorts of terrible reactions if he confesses? Yet he makes the decision to come out - which takes a LOT of strength - why? If he's finally decided "screw it, I am who I am and they'll just have to deal with it" he isn't thinking like a calculating power-hungry man. If he thinks it'll be no big deal he's a really stupid character because his family's reactions are completely predictable. The relationship with his mother needs exploring too - he comes out to her and she's supportive, which suggests love and trust between them both. Then in the blink of an eye he ditches her to get in with his aunt and uncle? Why didn't he ditch her years ago and move in with them and all their cash? I just don't get it.

    Anyway, to your main question. You know your characters much better than anyone on the forum (I hope) but judging by the info here, I would guess:

    Linda - A feeling of triumph and satisfaction that she's won Jason from her awful sister. A desire to twist the knife in further by making sure Janet KNOWS Jason has turned on her. Perhaps she calls the 'trusted family member' to gloat, knowing it will get back to Janet. Perhaps she buys Jason an expensive gift that he doesn't want to part with (A flashy car? A house? What's important to Jason?) giving him another reason to please his aunt and uncle, and rubbing it in Janet's face that they can give Jason what she can't. Maybe she makes Jason publicly announce his new allegiance (at least, in front of Janet).

    The Mayor - I don't get much of a sense of his personality from what you say. Probably follow his wife's lead?
     
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  3. Theoneandonly99
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    Theoneandonly99 Member

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    I agree with Tenderiser, and in fact he summed up pretty much most of what I wanted to say. It really seems somewhat unrealistic to me. The changes that occur within Jason just seem so jarring and sudden.

    Questions though: Is Jason doing this just because of the privileges that he'll get from siding with his Uncle/Aunt? If so, does he pretend to really love his Uncle and his Aunt but deep inside he still loves his mother more? Or does he really think of himself as 'wrong' and develops genuine emotions of love and trust towards his Uncle and Aunt and even begins to repulse Janet?

    Either way, I suggest that something dramatic - no idea what it is - has to happen during those two weeks after the family function that clearly justifies Jason's decision to switch sides to Joseph and Linda. I think that would really flesh out his character more.
     
  4. PhillyWriter
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    PhillyWriter New Member

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    Good points. I'm going to add in these details:

    1) Jason's being groomed by The Mayor to take over the family business one day, as it were, despite his mom's objections. He's young and impressionable and seeing the benefits of power and all it affords is something that anyone might want to aspire to.

    2) Jason told his mom but it's not like he's happy about his sexuality. He was brought up Catholic. And along with dealing with his sexuality comes a depression he hides very well.

    3) He thinks he's falling for an older classmate, who was his first sexual partner. It turns out the older classmate was using him and breaks his heart.

    4) This isn't the end of the story. The second act has Jason repressing his sexuality and siding with The Mayor and his Aunt and destroying his relationship with his mother. But he sees the err of his ways and knows he can't change his identity and sexuality like that and makes amends with his mother.
     
  5. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Just wanted to say that I think this could be a great premise, but you have to realize that the main conflict is Jason's conflict with himself. I don't think it's unrealistic to draw a character who both wants to be true to themselves, and has other priorities (like ambition, or greed if you want to call it that) that get in the way. You just have to make it clear from the beginning that he really does have both these impulses, and at the beginning of the story the former is ascendant, but for some reason or reasons the will to power wins out. Otherwise you risk the reaction of the other posters in the thread, i.e. Jason's later actions just seem out of character. But I do think Jason could be a great sort of tragic, tormented Faustian character if you do it right.

    As to your original question: I imagine that the mayor and his wife would be pleased, and actually shower Jason with affection and possibly material benefits (a job, or something). It might even spur Linda to improve her relationship with Janet, simply to cement her new relationship with (or power over) Jason. Powerful people get what they want through a careful balance of carrots and sticks--having used the stick and now gotten Jason into line, I imagine they would switch over to carrots pretty quickly. A friend of mine once described this approach as "breaking their teeth and then feeding them marshmallow", and in my experience it's a pretty common tactic for powerful people.
     
  6. PhillyWriter
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    PhillyWriter New Member

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    Ah! I actually completely thought of some new twists to the set-up that will help show Jason's tortured decision.

    Janet is a single mother. Jason's father left the family as soon as possible and has had no connection with them for years. Despite the struggles, Janet has done well for herself professionally and works as a legal aide attorney. She could make more doing other attorney work, but its where her heart lies. However, her work is busy and she's also committed to a series of other causes (and yoga class). And despite her liberalism, she's always been more clinical and cold in her personal relationships (hence her being single), and especially so with her son. She relies more on "How To Raise A Child" textbooks as opposed to any natural maternal instinct. She also has an ego (it runs in the family) and believes herself to be a wonderful "open mother"with a strong relationship with her son, even though that's not the case at all. She has a well-meaning but self-centered nature that has placed a gap between her and Jason she doesn't recognize one bit.

    However, she knows Jason should have a strong male influence in his life. And what better one to have than the town's alpha male in The Mayor? Even though she disagreed with a lot of his politics, and she had a history of personal problems over the years with Linda, she always respected how much time The Mayor devoted to helping her son, especially since she knew what little time he had.

    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). 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. He always appreciated that, especially due to the emotional gap he has with his mother.

    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 1992 -- 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.

    Jason attends a nearby state college, which gives him freedom for the first time. It's close to home but the scholarship allows him to live on campus. There, he explores his sexuality and begins a relationship with an older senior. Jason becomes emotionally attached very quickly.

    Jason breaks down and tells this to Janet, who has worked on the behalf of bullied gay teenagers in the past. She didn't know her son was gay. But she was there for him, but in a more clinical perspective than maternally (as is her nature). But this was stressful for her, too. She broke down to a "trusted family member" and told this to her. This same family member, however, fell out of favor with The Mayor and especially Linda, with her patronage job as a secretary in a town department dangled over her head. She betrays Janet and tells Linda and The Mayor about Jason.

    The election season has heated up and, for the first time, The Mayor may lose his seat due to a handful of unpopular decisions he recently made. The young hotshot attorney in town (whose dad was a thorn in The Mayor's father's side) is growing in popularity. And he also knows the levers of power. If he found out Jason was gay, that would be a very good whisper campaign, especially in the still very Catholic community. After all, how much of a leader for the town can The Mayor really be if he can't even keep his own house in order?

    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. His lover realizes he was using Jason to get back at a previous boyfriend. He breaks up with Jason in a very cruel manner. With his heart broken (and regret and blaming himself even though he is not at fault, as your first broken heart will do to anyone), the 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. 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.

    So after all of that...

    How should The Mayor and Linda react?
     
  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Much better!

    My answer about their reactions is still the same, but I'm more convinced about Jason's motivations and actions. Plus, I feel much more sympathetic towards him and to Linda, which is good, but perhaps less sympathetic to Janet. That could be good or bad depending on where the story goes.

    Good job with fleshing it out.
     

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