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  1. Simon Crim

    Simon Crim New Member

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    Looking for story conflict

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Simon Crim, Jan 9, 2017.

    First off I'd like to say this is my first post so sorry if it's in the wrong area, or poorly explained or whatever.
    So I have this story I'm writing with setting, characters, and a broad idea of where I want it to go but I can't seem to think of an actual conflict for the life of me.

    Setting: Real world so nothing too supernatural or whatever. Small town in the state of Monatana in the US. Modern day.
    Quick Summary: 18 year old Kaine and his 15 year old sister Beatrice run away from their abusive father (driven to alcohol addiction after the death of his wife) and find themselves in the small town of Harlem, Montana. Kaine manages to land a job at a post office and Beatrice is going to enroll in the local high school. Kaine tries his best to keep their identities/past a secret as he feels that he is an adult who can take care of himself and his sister. The two being homeless are currently staying in an abandoned barn on the outskirts of the town.
    Kaine: Depressed, not good with people, completely broken from the abuse he lacks any sort of optimism and considers the only good in the world to come from Beatrice, who stays optimistic.
    Beatrice: Constantly thinking and telling stories in her head as a way of escaping reality, this results in her usually being happy as well as zoned out, her optimism fascinates Kaine. She also acts a bit younger than she really is and along with Kaine, lacks very good social skills.
    Conflict Thoughts: I've considered the 2 getting mixed up with the abuse story of some other character, perhaps they stumble upon something that. I have also seriously considered how the father may come looking for them and he eventually finds them or something along those lines, the only problem there being I don't know how I would stretch that out or what to do after or whatever.

    So, yea. I don't really know if people here answer that kinda stuff or whatever but if help is possible, it'd be nice.

    P.S. It's late and I'm tired so lord knows if any of that made sense.
     
  2. SethLoki

    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    What about the work at the post office? That may be an avenue: Kaine's new superior being so much like his father, yet tempered by the work environment, his aggression manifested only verbally...but Kaine's overly receptive to it and traumatised...

    Or the barn. Authorities/owner want them evicted...

    Or Kaine conflicts with Beatrice over the affinity she develops for a 'new boy'—he's way too overprotective...

    And then there's his inner conflicts, his introspection, where he always lands in the bad places his memory forces him into...
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2017
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  3. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    1/ I don't know what it's like in the US, but "no fixed abode" doesn't read too well on a job application in the UK - especially for a semi-official post such as the Post Office. I'd suggest helping out on a local farm may play better; or at the store.

    2/ Googling Harlem, Montana, it's got a serious poverty problem, a lot more women than men - especially so under 18 (men leave town looking for work? Especially young men? So why do your characters come here?), and has over 40% Native American population. Any of those could be a source of conflict. It's also quite crowded...twice as densely packed as Rhode Island, so small houses (a lot of trailers?)

    A point to note, only around 200 kids in the three schools (238 under 18, split 107 males, 131 females and if my guess about young men leaving town to work is correct, from 14 to 18 it's going to be 2 girls to every boy - and about 10 to 15 kids in each year group - and about half of them being Native American), so small classes, possibly very cliquey? And ,with the shortage of men, the best will be severely fought over - especially if the top jock takes a liking/is nice to the new girl from out of town?

    ETA: One thing that surprises me is that the median age is 37, same as national average; but the percentage of 0ver-65s, at 16.6%, is a LOT higher than the 13.1% of the national average. Especially surprising when you consider that Native Americans have 7% over-65s, and over 40% of Harlem is Native American, so the non-Native Americans here are SERIOUSLY long-lived! Probably irrelevant to a YA book, but that's 134 men and women (38 of those widowed) out of a population of 808 sitting and rocking on their porch, and only about 24 being Native American. Or having to work on because they haven't got much by way of a pension fund.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2017
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  4. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Active Member

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    Sounds to me like you have more than enough conflict here already. At least of the internal variety. You have teenagers struggling with abuse, social skills, homelessness, relocation, trying to become adults, the loss of their mother, an abusive father that may come looking for them, the possibility of sexual abuse with the sister? If the father has sexually abused the sister (or the brother for that matter) I would strongly recommend that you DO NOT tell the reader that explicitly. Not at first. That will be in the back of our heads as we read it. We will always be wondering what the father did to the children to shape the situation we find them in. There are endless opportunities to string us along with this. To tease us. You can drop hints all over the place. Something like "Kaine remembered how dad would look at Beatrice. How his lips used to fall open when he was drunk." (you get the idea)

    If anything, it sounds like you're looking for a story here. Some kind of driving action, an A to B to C plot that can carry these emotions and frame them in a way that the reader can follow without resorting to endless interior monologue. There are many ways to do this. The easiest would be to have Kaine fall in with some shady characters or get mixed up in something dangerous. Take your pick there. That could churn up all sorts of things from Kaine's past, namely regarding his father. Like maybe we see him becoming like his father, even if Kaine is oblivious to that. That is a great source of conflict right there. A good guy that has the bad guy lurking inside, the sins of the father, the trappings of adulthood, etc.... Though that may not be a tone you're shooting for at all.

    Also, you say this is a modern day but it screams Depression or Postwar rural America to me. Where the heartlands of America were strewn with the displaced and disenfranchised and two teenagers could easily disappear from the grid because there was no grid to speak of yet. I think executing this in a 2016 setting would be very difficult. Beatrice would never be able to register for school and the police would be all over a couple of kids hiding in a barn. Even more so in a tiny Kansas town, where I would imagine any new faces would be registered immediately.

    Hope this helps. There is a lot of potential here. The plight of the two kids grabbed me immediately.
     
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  5. making tracks

    making tracks Member

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    Have you ever read 'Midnight is a Place' by Joan Aiken? The story isn't really like yours and it's for younger readers, but it has the basic crux of being an older brother figure and a younger sister who end up alone in London and the book is about how they try to survive together. It might give you some ideas about the kind of dynamics you want between the characters and see how she moves the story along.
     
  6. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    The OP said Harlem, MONTANA...

    But, you are right about a small town; 800 people. Everybody will know everybody else, and an incomer will stick out like a sore thumb; because the town's chief export is young men (it's got a much higher than average percentage of pensioners, and a very lopsided gender distribution) Kaine will be one of only a dozen guys in town of around his age.

    Incidentally, policing is done by a private company, Fort Belknap Police Department, which employs between 20 & 49 people. (The US employs over 1 million police officers, so about 1 in 30...this would equate to 27 officers for a town the size of Harlem, but they probably also cover the countryside for a dozen miles around, but you'd also expect fewer officers per head than a major city where drugs/gangs etc. would increase the need for policing)

    ETA: The police department presumably also covers Fort Belknap 3 1/2 miles away, 1,200 inhabitants and over 90% Native Americans, and administrative centre for the local Reservation. This would make "under 49 officers" less than 1 in 40 of the population, in line with my thinking about less organized crime. Although, would the Casino at Fort Belknap be a potential for organized crime? And for Kaine to get his hands dirty?

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2017
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  7. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Simon Crim - Or all of the above. I can see taking all of these into account could make for an excellent story. It sounds to me as if Kaine needs to develop self-confidence and the ability to cope with the world, rather than retreat from it. And maybe confrontation with certain aspects of himself. Such as maybe his overprotectiveness for his sister is driving him to become controlling and aggressive like his father (without benefit of alcohol) ...and maybe driving his sister away?

    When she enrolls in high school they'll need to have concocted one hell of a story, including a current address within the school district, records from her previous school, parent/guardian figures who are willing to sign forms, etc? This is not going to be easy to do, in a small town where everybody knows everybody else and strangers stand out like sore thumbs. She won't get enrolled without these things in place, and she might well be reported to the police as a runaway, if the school suspects she is. The school WILL suspect she is, unless the story is water tight. So you might be on shaky ground here. This is a potentially LARGE plot hole. Tinkering slightly with her age could solve the problem, though ...if she's over the age of mandatory schooling (whatever that is in Montana), that would solve the problem, although she may need to be able to prove her age, if asked for it (birth certificate, passport, driving license, etc?) However, it would also mean she couldn't attend high school.

    The other thing you could do is set the story back in the 19th or early 20th century, where lots of people were on the move and fewer questions got asked about age, origins, etc. But if you do that, make sure to do your research thoroughly. The Montana Historical Society is a wonderful organisation that can give help in this direction. Just google them and see what they have to offer. I've been a member for over 20 years (although I live in Scotland) because my novel is set in 1886 Montana, and I needed to do extensive research for it. I like the organisation so much I have remained a member.)

    It might be an idea to introduce a helpful adult character or characters into your story as well.

    This could go in all sorts of directions. It has LOTS of potential. I'm delighted that you're not choosing the easy way out for your characters, and are setting up a story that has a lot of depth to it. Good luck with your project!
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2017
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  8. Seren

    Seren Active Member

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    All of these ideas sound great, so I don't really have any more to contribute. However...if the sister is 15, isn't her father her legal guardian? What's the law in the USA surrounding the fact that she's run off with her adult brother? He may be an adult, but if he's not her legal guardian (and as their father is still alive and they were living with him before hand, I don't see why he would be) aren't there going to be quite a few law issues arising? That's fine if it's what you've planned and you're aware of it, but if it isn't, this is a plot hole you need to fill in. Her father can report her missing to the police, as her brother has essentially kidnapped her, and if the news reaches the small town then everyone will know who they are and turn them in. With the older brother, it's not a problem: he's 18 and so he's entitled to leave. His father can come looking for him himself without getting the police involved. But the sister complicates things.

    I don't live in the USA, so I could be completely wrong. And you may already know this/decide you actually think this is great and you do want the police to get involved. But it's something you need to think carefully about either way. Unless I'm talking nonsense. :)
     
  9. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Active Member

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    Ooh, great idea there... having the police get involved would set up the third act beautifully. Especially if you set this back in the Depression with creepy small town sheriffs... maybe one of them is their father's drinking buddy... all sorts of things you could do here with graft, corruption, small town justice, etc... As per the rest I think the consensus is pretty clear, you won't be able to execute this in modern times without a preposterous amount of explanation. The only thing worse than a plot hole is an elaborate explanation as to why it is not a plot hole. That's like shining a spotlight on the plot hole and putting flaming arrows around it.
     
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  10. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    As I understand it, conflict doesn't have to mean conflict between people; it can be person versus circumstance rather than person versus person.

    If Kaine has a job and he's a legal adult (at 18 I think he is), I'm wondering why he lives in a barn? Why doesn't he rent an apartment for himself and Beatrice, and just try to keep Beatrice out of sight?

    My thought: Let's assume that Kaine is pretty academically smart. I believe that in the US Kaine is old enough (once the abuse is taken into account) to be declared financially independent and thus get financial aid for college. But he can't do that while hiding and caring for Beatrice. If he abandoned her he could move on to an adult life free of his past.

    So, internal conflict within Kaine, and possibly conflict between the two of them whenever Beatrice acts like the teenager that she is. Or maybe she's the one pushing him to take the risks that could get him into school. After all, if he can hide her on his Post Office salary, why can't he hide her on his student stipend?

    You could give this a timeline "spine" by having some sort of competition for a scholarship that drives the calendar and events. They apply, they lie, someone finds out the lie, they negotiate with the someone, things like that. Maybe there are competitors for the scholarship. That sort of thing.

    If Beatrice is 15, maybe you could overlap a timeline for her, because isn't it possible for kids age 16 to apply for independence in some states? So they're racing to get the scholarship, and that effort puts them at risk of Beatrice being discovered before she can apply for independence.
     
  11. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Simon Crim - I just did a bit of checking, and apparently the dropout age in Montana is still 16. (All states require that age or higher, so Beatrice won't be able to live anywhere in the USA at the age of 15 without going to school.) In order to enroll her in school, she'll need parents or legal guardians, a verifiable address in the school district where she is enrolled, etc. There will need to be a transfer of records from her previous school system. This is indeed a plot hole you'll need to plug in some way. She can't just 'turn up' and start school while living in somebody's barn.
     
  12. Arcadeus

    Arcadeus Active Member

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    Thought about having her in hiding? Like the father could even find him, but he denies knowing where his sister is, even though he's hiding her and taking care of her. Police add tension, schooling adds tension(As in how to get her schooling while she's hidden because he wants to be able to take care of her. Whether that be an attempt to befriend a teacher that betrays them, or something else.)

    There are a lot of options for conflict. Just think of yourself in the situation, and imagine what kind of issues you would run into. Basic survival being one of the toughest, as well as how to get the job. Odds are, lying about a place of residence/past work/ pretty much past life. Hell, give a warehouse as a location. Depending on the era/ laxness/ security level of a job, they often will just make sure you have it filled in.
     
  13. Simon Crim

    Simon Crim New Member

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    These are all amazing comments, much more than I was expecting so thank you! I always thought of the school thing as being a problem but kinda pushed it aside so I will certainly look more into the possibilities there. I also like the idea of the depression era story as a way of adding more sense to kids randomly showing up. Thanks again!
     
  14. Vortex Theory

    Vortex Theory New Member

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    Shadowfax has a good point about eligibility to work at the Post Office. There are entrance exams and a pretty thorough screening process, and not having a verifiable mailing address would definitely hamper that process. And as with any government job with above average benefits like a pension, union, etc. there is usually a waiting list of applicants who would all be more qualified than an 18-year-old with no permanent residence. I've worked in the print & mail industry for almost two decades and just to get a state job in a mailroom took one of my coworkers over six months of being on a waiting list, and he had years of experience. A job with the USPS, especially one in a small town where turnover is low and positions are scarce, would be even harder to come by.

    It would be more believable if Kaine had to take odd jobs as a day laborer or other low-paid work, and that in and of itself would generate conflict - they're living in a barn with no running water or electricity and what little money he's able to earn is barely enough to feed them, let alone get them out of this desperate situation. Maybe they're forced to steal food/clothing/toiletries, drawing unwanted attention from locals and authorities, and if she does manage to get into school by some heroic effort she'd be mercilessly teased for not only being an outsider but having to wear the same clothes every day and lacking the basic sanitation to wash them, let alone even shower... hell maybe she even quits school over it and he resents her for it after all he did to get her in, and starts to act toward her in ways that echo their abusive dad which forces them both to confront their deepest fears.

    You could even take it one step further, get them past all that and to a point where things are looking up (he gets a steady job, they find a place to live, she becomes more accepted at school) and that's when their dad comes looking for them, the police catch up to them, the school finds out she falsified her transcripts, etc.
     
  15. Simon Crim

    Simon Crim New Member

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    Y'all are making me wonder why I ever thought a post office was a good idea lol. I'm scrapping that idea so thanks for that
     

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