1. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Which death would be more tragic?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by ChaseTheSun, Mar 15, 2017.

    I'm at a crossroads. I have to make a choice about which direction I take my plot, and I want to know which of the options you guys think is more tragic/interesting/believable:

    A 5 year old drowns in a river during the chaos of bushfires ravaging her family's farm and neighboring towns. When recovered from the river, not a burn is on her body. Scores of people died in these fires, and she is listed in the toll and yet it wasn't even the fire that killed her. Her mother had recently given up the girl's younger sister for adoption, which means the mother goes from mother of 2 to childless.

    Or:

    A 17 year old is killed in a road accident in a town far away from her family's home. She discovered a terrible family secret and ran away to come to terms with it, which is how she came to be caught up in the road collision. The accident occurred around midday in front of a primary school. The school children were in the yard on lunch break and witnessed the collision and now children as young as 4 are being questioned to help police piece together the facts.

    Which, if either, do you find more interesting? Depending on which I choose, the entire plot will change direction (and I can't choose both, as much as I would like to!)
     
  2. hirundine

    hirundine Senior Member

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    I think the five year old sounds more tragic, but to me the part about the mother having given up a second, younger child seems illogical - usually people give their first child up for adoption and keep the second. Keeping the first and giving up the second just seems illogical to me.
     
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  3. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Thanks for your thoughts. :) Without knowing the backstory, such a situation could sound unusual. However unusual doesn't have to mean illogical. ;) The adoption happens regardless of which scenario I choose. It's the backbone of the entire plot.
     
  4. Rani99

    Rani99 Member

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    I think the first one, about the 5 year old. It seems very tragic that mother was left without any children. And how she would regret of giving up the other child.
     
  5. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    I think I have been leaning towards this option. And that is precisely the reaction I want to create in the reader; that the previous adoption makes this loss doubly tragic. Thanks for your thoughts! :)
     
  6. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    I'm thinking of still having the 17 y/0 run away when she learns about the family secret. (This would be roughly 14 years after the other child's drowning death.) I'm tempted to push this plot development to its limits: have this event (girl running away) be the climax to which the book has been building for its entirety, and in fact end the book on an open note: the search continues for the teenager, but the reader is left to decide whether she is ever found or not.

    The 17 year old is the younger sister who was given up for adoption. So now both families have lost their daughters. Although one might come back, so that's a positive, right?

    Would this make you too angry? :p
     
  7. JE Loddon

    JE Loddon Active Member

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    The police wouldn't question four year olds. Even with parental permission, they couldn't rely on anything the four year olds told them. 'It was a dragon! It ate her!' I think the first one is more tragic, but you have to be careful. If an incident involves multiple deaths, its hard to paint just one of them as more tragic than the rest. Could almost come across as dismissive of the other lives lost.
     
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  8. Forinsyther

    Forinsyther Member

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    I think the five year old too to be honest, they have to live with the tragedy for the rest of their lives.
     
  9. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    In terms of something I read in a book, the emotional impact will depend much more on how well I know and care about the characters, rather than some objective scale of relative tragedy. Like, reading your descriptions didn't affect me at all, emotionally, because I didn't know the characters. But if you'd written the scene, given me some time with either of the characters and let me get to know them, connect them to people I love in my own life, etc., then either death could be really upsetting.

    Alternatively, you can build the pathos through the reactions of those left behind. So if I was given scenes where I spent time with the grieving mother of the toddler and made to feel her loss, it would be tragic. If I was shown the impact of the teenager's death on her family, her friends, her school, then that would be tragic.

    I mean, if we're looking for objectivity, then I guess it's slightly sadder that a toddler dies than that a teenager dies - at least the teenager got a chance at a bit more life. But if we're looking for emotional impact on readers? Either could be brutal, if you write it well.
     
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  10. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    @JE Loddon Thanks for the note about the incident deaths. It's a great point. I wouldn't want to paint one death more tragic than the rest; however having an 'inside view' into one family's grief makes that death more personal (and hence more tragic) simply by the nature of the reader's exposure to those individuals' grief. All the deaths within one incident are equally tragic from a general stance, but the sense of tragedy is enlarged/made more confronting when one 'knows somebody who...' I believe this is just a general fact in society, it doesn't cheapen or dismiss the other lives lost.
     
  11. Caveriver

    Caveriver Active Member

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    Without echoing the opinions above (impact based on familiarity with the characters), I tend to lean toward the 17 year old. I tend to feel like the death of a child in a story is a bit overdone, and a bit of a cop-out. Like, it must be more tragic simply because the child never had a chance to live his/her life, poor mother- such a loss- watch her cry; why didn't someone save the poor helpless baby?? :cry::cry::cry: I'm past it, honestly. I think there are few authors who can truly capture a mother's grief of losing a young child, and the rest are just reaching for an easy emotional plug. Not to mention, if she just gave up one child for adoption, I tend to wonder how attached she could really be to this one??

    On the other hand, having seen first hand the carnage of a fatal auto accident, my vote would be for that. If you want to play on the innocence of the children, describe all the horrible things they are seeing, and show how they react (or don't... are kids truly sociopaths? I've heard it argued.) I agree that the cops wouldn't interview the children- at least not without parental presence/permission. Are there no teachers at this school?
     
  12. muckzulo

    muckzulo Member

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    Keeping the second and getting rid of the first is illogical.

    It makes sense for the women to give up the younger sister if she wasn't ready for another child.
     
  13. hirundine

    hirundine Senior Member

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    That's not quite how I meant it. I meant, it's usually the first child that parents aren't ready for, so they give it up. Then they have the second years later, by which time they are ready. That's why the idea of keeping a first child and giving up the second doesn't make much sense to me - although I suppose if the original poster had given more information on the situation and context, it might make sense for things to be the other way round.
     
  14. Toomanypens

    Toomanypens Member

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    Both are bad ways to go...

    I heard of a story of a young boy who was left on the shore of a cold river while his parents went out on a boat. He was told to wait there I guess...
    Anyways the boat capsizes and the parents drown in the freezing water. The boy then starts running back to town for help but it gets dark... He goes to sleep and it drops below zero. However during the night three beavers find him and sleep with him, keeping him warm.

    Another story is of a homeless dog, who arrives into town with a newborn baby, umbilical cord still attatched, in its mouth. It found this baby in a trashcan and brought it to town, where it was taken from the dog to the hospital and was perfectly healthy.

    Both are crazy, the first one is more positive I guess, the second is enraging.
    My point is, the story of neglectful parents is key to both, and they are tradgic in their own ways.
    Which story is better in my opinion is the one you find easiest to write to conclusion!!!


    Personally though, I think "baby dying in a river" is more peaceful than it dying in a fire.
    Like, drowning is a calm way to go, burning alive isn't. So its the same for me as baby drowns in a pool, except with the added aspect of the fire making it harder to prevent.
    Car crashes are EXTREMELY relateable... once met a girl whos fiance died right next to her...
    Its also a bit too common to create intrigue, so if you did it youd have to do it right, give it justice, not just "wham, crash, done"

    Either road you choose, develop it well,
    Best of luck
     
  15. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Member

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    Personally I would say the five year old. Younger is almost always more tragic. I'm also intrigued by the second child being put up for adoption? That's a nice plot you have there, good luck :)
     
  16. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Loved by a Sweet lady. :) Contributor

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    I am going to be the odd-man out, and say do both.
    If you are going to mess with your readers emotions
    go for it. The reader can decide how each event effects
    them by giving them an option of sorts. It seems you
    have it setup to where both are going to happen, so
    why play favorites when it comes to which tragedy
    is worse?

    It is those that are reacting to the events that will
    really drive home the horror of the situation,
    which will only add to the emotional aspect of it.

    The big thing is you have to ask yourself how
    would you react if you were in their shoes.
    After all they are an extension of you, as you are
    the one who created them.
     
  17. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    I hear what you're saying about the young child being a cop-out and cheap emotional plug. And it's this fear that had me questioning which death to go with. However plot-wise, having the child die is going to have way more impact and thematic value for the overall story arch. And it's reality that young children can tragically die - just like anybody of any age - so I guess if I can find a way to do it tastefully, it's no more or less cheap than killing off a teenager?

    It would be a real shame to assume or suggest that a mother's choice to surrender a child to adoption somehow hints at a lesser connection to future children she might bear.

    Really? "Logical"? How can we reduce a powerful, complicated, emotional and potentially traumatic decision down to the black and white world of what is and isn't logical?

    The mother is a young foolish teenage mum who bears the brunt of society's archaic fury at her promiscuous ways, especially when society continues to punish the child even from its youngest moments for the sins of her unmarried mother. The young mother is lucky enough to have supportive (-ish) parents who allow her to stay in their home and take responsibility for her actions by raising her child and making other sacrifices in her own young life (drastically reduced romantic, professional and social prospects). By the time she falls pregnant with a second, she is horrified at the thought of going through that entire traumatic situation all over again. Horrified at the thought of putting her family - her parents, especially - through that again. Horrified at the thought that this will be the second and final nail in the coffin of any hopes she has to 'make it' - find a life partner, build a career, be accepted in society, etc. I don't know how to give you the rest of the context without giving away major plot spoilers. Suffice to say that she and another person benefit hugely from her decision to adopt out. The family who adopt the second child are key characters in the story. She saves her skin. It's a secret adoption, so nobody but her closest family members ever know she was pregnant a second time. The secrecy obviously becomes a major plot device, among other things.

    Thank you :)

    Haha. I specifically said I can't do both. :)

    Thanks everybody for your thoughts!! You've helped me make my decision and your concerns about different aspects of the ideas have helped me clarify - for myself - the all important question of WHY I should go with the one I've chosen. Which, incidentally, will be the bubba. Poor kid. At least drowning is more peaceful, apparently!! ;)
     
  18. texshelters

    texshelters Active Member

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    The five year old death is better because of the circumstances surrounding the death. And to be honest, I am SICK TO DEATH of plots with god-damn car accidents. There are other ways to die, writers and film makers!!

    Moreover, watch "Manchester by the Sea" for what NOT to do with a tragic death. Don't just tack it on and and make it all about the whiny father, mother, survivors. Show the actual event, don't just talk about the pain endlessly.

    And it sounds exactly what you do with the fire and the farm. Keep it up!

    Peace, Tex
     
  19. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Member

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    Yes, also this. The circumstances of her death as a five year old are intriguing all their own and if you want to, you could use it for plot later. I like all my plot to have more than one direction I can go in, and I like to go whatever way I like, smoothly. If that makes any sense.

    There's a lot of possibility and mystery around the five year old plot and car accidents are just... Well Tex said it, lol.
     
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  20. Caveriver

    Caveriver Active Member

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    Each to their own, I suppose. I was simply honest about what crossed my mind as a reader. Take it or leave it, as is your right.
     
  21. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Ahmahgawd agreed!!!! That particular plot line sort of necessitated the car accident but (no disrespect to any and all -including myself - who've been touched by the world's road tolls), frankly they make for boring and cheap drama that comes across as convenient and unimaginative. I was biased against that plot line from the start but wanted to give it a fighting chance... but most comments here have just confirmed my bias!

    Hmm. I need to figure out quite how to do this (I agree it would make it more powerful). As it stands, M goes missing in the chaos and is found later. There is nobody there to witness the drowning, so I'm not sure how to show the event. Maybe after the fact, through a coroner's report?

    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, and it was never my intention to shut down a conversation with you. :) I was just concerned by the idea that a woman who gives up a child for adoption might be presumed a less loving mother to her other kids. It seems unfair, in a way. But of course that is your view and you have your reasons for that, so I don't mean to diminish that. I appreciate you engaging. :)
     
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  22. Sigma Zed

    Sigma Zed Active Member

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    Both of those are tragic. I would say the five-year-old drowning during a fire has a twist of sad irony. The other one, the seventeen-year-old lived more of their life. Both lives mean something, however, a mother losing a child is more tragic than a person seeing someone die. Good luck!
     

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