The other day, I wrote out the first few paragraphs of a story in the form of a Craigslist ad by a teenage girl from rural Georgia who wanted to be adopted by an intown family so she could get away and go to a better school. This story has a lot of potential clichés involved, and today’s post is me going through them in order to invert several of them.
So what would happen in Clichéworld were Lucy to be adopted by an intown family?
- The classic one would be “the past ain’t over”. Someone (an ex, a parent or sibling) from the rural area will follow her to Atlanta and make her life difficult.
- Or, the variation on that theme would be that she can’t let go of the past: that she introduces downscale dysfunction into her new environment.
- The father, older brother, etc. of the new family develops a sexual obsession with her: the classic dad falling for the nanny story.
- She’s exploited by the new family. The low-key version of this is she becomes the unpaid nanny and maid; the high-end version is the family pimping her out, literally or figuratively.
- Or, she figures out that the family is exploiting or molesting the younger children she’s in charge of, or that the family is running a criminal enterprise.
- She becomes the favored sibling, and the real child of the family is envious, or violent. Especially if the real child is off at college or whatever and has to return.
- She has a younger sibling of her own who she wants to “rescue” from the rural environment, but that sibling is problematic in some way—or just doesn’t care for city life.
- She is in no way who she claims to be: she’s not a “boring grind”, but rather has some crazy agenda that she’s not telling anyone about.
So I want to write a story that isn’t a cliché, or that inverts these clichés, or uses them as red herrings for a murder mystery plot. True drama comes from the intersection of character and situation. I want to put her in a situation where she’s expected to respond like someone from rural dysfunction, but chooses not to—and then, I want to put her in another situation where acting like someone from rural dysfunction is in fact the appropriate response, but she doesn’t want to do it.
The parallel in my fiction to this is Rage Will Consume You First, where Abigail, the heroine, who’s trying to renounce violence, needs to engage in it. Lucy’s problem is going to be a little less immediate, but structurally similar. I’ll outline it more clearly in the next post.