1. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    What is at stake?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by ChaseTheSun, May 12, 2017.

    There's a TL: DR version at the bottom of this post! Sorry if I ramble!

    I know the WHAT of my plot, but I'm having trouble nailing down some of the WHYs.

    As it stands, unmarried younger sister allows married older sister to secretly adopt - not legally, just by private agreement - her 'bastard' (such a horrible word) child. The motivations for this are strong because it's in the 50's, which places the women within a veritable hotbed (freudian slip?) of child/marriage related stigmas and social expectations. Younger sister doesn't want the small, narrow-minded town to know she has fallen pregnant out of wedlock. (why does this matter?) Older married sister sees an opportunity to rescue her own shameful reputation as the 'barren wife'. (why does this matter?)

    Obviously, this child-swap needs to come back and bite them on the backside. Hard, preferably. And there needs to be a really powerful reason why they would keep this secret for the next X number of years. Social stigma and small-town small-mindedness are not enough of a motivation if I want these to be believable and meaningful characters worth rooting for.

    As it stands, I've decided the younger sister gives her child to her older sister, but then a year or two later falls pregnant again. (Really, Cecilia. Keep it in your pants.) She can't just give a second child away. She decides to give parenting a go. After all, this time she is out of school, is a bit older and hopes people will be forgiving. People aren't.

    When the second child dies tragically in a drowning accident as a toddler, Cecilia's going to lose her grip, something will snap inside her (not sure whether this is permanent or temporary). Her words to her older sister will haunt Eleanor "I want her back." - Referring to the first child, which C gave to E several years earlier. C feels that getting back her first daughter will fill some of the void of losing the second (well, losing both, effectively).

    So that death and the "I want her back" trauma will be part of the climax of the book.

    But WHY does any of this matter?

    I can't figure out what the stakes are. Why have the sisters shaped the entire last 4-6 years around keeping this secret? It has to be bigger than prejudice. There has to be something more at stake. And I can't for the life of me figure out what that should be.

    TL: DR - What would motivate two sisters to keep a private adoption secret from their family and town, with the impending sense that everything will unravel and major ramifications will be had should anybody find out?
     
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  2. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    I don't know why you think this isn't enough! I'm convinced by these motivations. If you're worried, just weave in a scene where we see what happens to a woman who has a child out of wedlock: thrown out of her home, nobody wants to employ it, nobody wants to associate with her, etc. Do I recall that the opening mentions a woman who drowned and whose body was found in the river? I don't know if she already has a place in the plot but, if not, perhaps she could be a woman who committed suicide after falling pregnant out of wedlock...

    But I think you're fine. I wouldn't read this and ask, "Where are the stakes?"
     
  3. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    I was worried that it would just make the girls look really vapid and shallow, if all they were worried about was what people think of them...

    Yes, the idea was that the woman in the opening sequence committed suicide after falling pregnant due to prostitution. I like your idea of weaving in a scene showing the repercussions for a woman in this situation. That could work!

    My overall wordcount has been steadily going backwards instead of forwards over the last couple of weeks. Pretty disheartening. But if you are right and these motivations are strong enough, then maybe I've finally found the ladder to climb over this wall!! It's felt pretty insurmountable of late!
     
  4. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Not if their reputation has deeper ramifications on their lives than just, say, not being invited to the best parties. If it affects their prospects and their ability to achieve what they want in life.

    I think you're fine. :)

    A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian would be a good study, maybe. It deals with two women who deal with pregnancy out of wedlock: one in Edwardian England and one in WWII England. One gives the baby up, the other keeps it. The main character is neither woman, but follows both of their stories. She starts out with all the prejudice one could expect of a nice middle-class girl of that era, but by the end of the book she's changed her mind completely.

    It's a YA book so should be a pretty quick read. I read it as a teenager and was left in no doubt about the choice - or lack of choice - those women had, and what their decisions would mean for them.
     
  5. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know if you want to try working it in, but a huge motivation for this kind of thing can be religion—or the strongly-held religious beliefs of the community, and maybe the sisters' inability to leave the community for whatever reason.

    I know this could happen, because something very similar happened in my husband's family (peripheral family ...a cousin of his father's.) They were very devout Catholics, living in the time span you suggest, in a rather remote part of Ireland. The cousin became pregnant at a very young age (I don't have a clue if this was voluntary sexual activity on her part, or something more sinister.) At any rate, she had a son who was raised as her brother, because her parents pretended the boy was theirs. It only came out many many years later, when somebody blabbed. Obviously a few close family members knew, but as far as the world at large knew, he was the child of lawfully married parents.

    I don't know the ins and outs of the situation, or how much the local church was involved (or not told) but it did happen.

    The woman never married, and she and her 'brother' lived together to the end of their days.
     
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  6. NobodySpecial

    NobodySpecial Contributor Contributor

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    Finish first, then edit. Trying to edit along the way will drive you nuts.
     
  7. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    So long as it matters to the characters I don't think you need anything else. It's not like this is a hard sell for the reader... not a Beloved I-killed-my-kids kind of thing. In a small town reputations are everything. It's essentially your whole world.
     
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  8. Minty Talons

    Minty Talons Member

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    Their father is a prominent politician/aristocrat/businessman who might lose everything in the scandal?
     
  9. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Yeah, I've been toying with quite how much religion should come into it.

    As it stands, they come from A Good Methodist Family but it was definitely more the Catholic church who played a large role in applying pressure to these situations. I'm not sure the Methodists ever took babies off mothers in the same way. I could change them to Catholic easily enough.

    Religion is a necessary element to drive the plot and bring authenticity but it's also at risk of becoming larger than life and taking up too much of the stage, upending the more low-profile (but important) themes.

    So what happened when that person blabbed and the story came out? Do you or your husband know what any of the fallout was (for the woman or get son/brother or the family at large)?

    Nah he's a returned serviceman. But E's husband is the town banker, and I've been toying with what the repercussions might be for him if the story gets out. Could be interesting.

    Thank you to everyone for your input!
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It was all very hush-hush. I only found out about it after my mother-in-law died, and my husband told me about it. Because he was just a child at the time, for the most part, he wasn't told much at all. As a child, he visited this 'brother and sister' several times. They lived in a very isolated state in Ireland, where there was no road to their house. It was reached only by a track leading over the hills. My husband clearly remembers having to leave their car at the side of the road, and carry suitcases up that track, which I believe was around 2 miles long. He remembers them both, but they were quite old at the time. What he mostly remembers was their strange lifestyle. They had to carry water in buckets from a stream, and didn't have indoor plumbing at all. They raised a few sheep and chickens, etc.

    The circumstances are shrouded in the past, and were never common knowledge ...although their isolation might mean the villages nearby DID know. At any rate, it's all very story-worthy. And it did happen. My husband has a photo of them, and also a photo of their house.
     
  11. QueenOfPlants

    QueenOfPlants Active Member

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    I can only chime in with the general opinion: The fear of being ostracised is enough.
    Particularly when the girl is so young that she can't simply leave the town. She is stuck there.

    And these women grew up with all the prejudice. They have internalised it.
    It's easy for us today to say "I don't care what people think", but these characters - deep down - think the others are right. They are ashamed.

    It doesn't even need that much religious influence. At least not in the family itself. If you have one or two in the town that take offense with an unwed mother, it can be enough to poison the entire climate.

    And even today having a child at young age (and without having a reliable partner) can destroy your entire life. You drop out of school, you have trouble finding work, you end up poor.
    It would even be a strong motivation today for giving up the child. Let alone in a time where you would become a social outcast on top of it.

    The "barren wife" thingy should be researched again.
    I don't know inhowfar women were looked down upon in these times for not conceiving.
    But even if not - just wanting to HAVE a child is a very strong motivator. Look to which length couples go nowadays to conceive or adopt. How downcast they are if it doesn't work. I find it completely believable to have the sister adopt the baby just because she couldn't have one of their own but wanted one.
    If you have her husband nagging her because of her barrenness on top, it's also ok, but not even necessary.
     
  12. making tracks

    making tracks Active Member

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    I agree with everyone that fear of that kind of stigma is definitely strong enough alone. The amount of hate that can be directed at a person for no real reason is incredible - everyday things like going to the shop would be incredibly stressful and you would feel more and more isolated, lonely and probably end up turning some of that hate on yourself. That said, if you still want another reason maybe it was in the best interest of the child - either that they did not want the child to grow up ostracised in that way or the younger sister just wasn't in a position to afford clean clothes and an extra mouth to feed?
     
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  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'd suggest doing some research about what illegitimacy meant in the fifties. Would an illegitimate child be ostracized from other children? Mistreated by teachers? Barred from potential friends' houses? Would the mother of an illegitimate child have trouble getting a respectable job or renting a respectable home? I believe that all of these things were true.

    Also, remember that women were severely handicapped in employment, even without the reputation issues of having an illegitimate child. A widow with a child was respectable; a woman with an illegitimate child wasn't, and would probably have an even harder time getting decent employment. For example, I think that it would be inconceivable for a woman who had had an illegitimate child to get a job as a teacher.

    This site:

    http://pages.uoregon.edu/adoption/topics/illegitimacy.htm

    states that "Before the 1960s, unmarried mothers were usually considered undeserving of the public benefits offered to impoverished widows and deserted wives. They were generally denied mothers’ pensions, which virtually all states granted beginning in 1910, and Aid to Dependent Children, a federal program created by the Social Security Act of 1935. (Divorced women and non-white women were also excluded.) To be illegitimate was to be shamed and shunned."

    The whole page is probably worth reading.
     
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