Plot help

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Mike Dickson
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Plot help

Post by Mike Dickson » October 12th, 2010, 9:48 am

Why would competiting American farmers want to kill each other?

That's the question I need answered.

Competition? If so, what about the competition would cause one to kill the other?

Thanks to all of you!
Last edited by Mike Dickson on October 12th, 2010, 10:43 am, edited 1 time in total.

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airball
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Re: Plot help

Post by airball » October 12th, 2010, 10:31 am

I don't know that there's a lot of competition between pig and cattle.

Historically speaking, it's sheep and cattle farmers who had the hardest time getting along. It had to do with how the two animals grazed - sheep take it down to the roots, which ruins it for cows. (At least I think this is right. Worth looking up.)
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Re: Plot help

Post by Margo » October 12th, 2010, 10:44 am

Agribusiness can mean big money. That can always be the bottom line motivation. But what's the conflict?

-- conventional ranch methods versus organic free-range methods (emotions among the public can run high on that). You could even have an ELF-like group involved.
-- evil and/or greedy biotech company comes up with new product that goes into feed or is injected that increases production but will only give it to farmers willing to sign certain contracts to use only their farm products (pesticides, antibotics, seeds, additives). Maybe other farmers suspect there's something wrong with the product and try to get it banned, causing bad blood between them and the farmers who are signed on with the biotech company. Maybe the biotech product is polluting the environment or contaminating competitors' farms or local organic farms. Maybe an animal rights group is trying to prove the new additive causes the livestock horrible pain.
-- war over water contracts...BIG deal in western states...
-- big argibusiness corp is using political connections to have air quality laws rewritten to exempt them from burdensome reporting requirements at the expense of small independent ranchers.
-- rezoning drama with rich agribusiness interests paying off officials to allow them to put super-dairies in environmentally sensative areas without the expensive mitigation measures...


That's off the top of my head. I think of more if you'd like.

As to your second question about competition...besides money....lots of farms have been in the family for generations. In bad times they've had to mortgage farms that their families used to own outright. If a competitor puts you in a position of not being able to pay your mortgage, the family is losing more than a piece of land and a job. That's their heritage. Their family built all that with bare hands, etc...
Last edited by Margo on October 12th, 2010, 10:55 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Plot help

Post by Margo » October 12th, 2010, 10:51 am

Crap, I forgot. You could get the railroads involved. THAT makes for some drama. Here locally, we have farmers and value-added processors who have used feeder lines off the railroad for years. A few years back a hedge fund buys a railroad company which then buys the local railroad and all the feeder lines. The new company sets a huge minimum on the number of boxcars a client had to order each time to avoid a prohibitive fee. So the local farmers and businesses can't use the feeder lines because of the expense, so the railroad goes to the appropriate commission (can't think of the name) and asks for permission to abandon the feeder lines as infeasible (allowing the railroad/hedge fund managers to rip up the tracks to sell for scrap at about $1 million/mile -- depending on the type of track). The locals scream bloody murder because they know once those track are ripped up, environmental laws will make it almost impossible to ever rebuild them.
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Mike Dickson
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Re: Plot help

Post by Mike Dickson » October 12th, 2010, 11:37 am

Here is my basic plot. Keep in mind I thought of this about two hours ago and thought it may be worth more thought.

The setting is a small farming community.
A not so popular farmer in the community calls an old nemesis of his to come out to the farm as he has something to show him.

A little background- The nemesis is a newspaper columnist who has known the farmer for many years. They do not get along at all, you could say they strongly dislike eachother. In fact, most people in the community dislike the farmer.

When the columnist arrives at the farmers home he shows him the body of another local farmer murdered inside his barn. The two farmers have also had bad blood for years. The farmer tells the columnist he didn't do it and is being framed. He called out the columnist because he is sure to get the blame for this murder and is asking him to help find who's setting him up.

Think of their relationship similar to Grumpy Old Men but deeper hatred. They don't care for eachother but may help out if the other is in danger.

So I got this far and thought that it would be possible that there is a third farmer involved who may have something to gain if the other two farmers are out of the picture. One dead, one in prison.

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Re: Plot help

Post by polymath » October 12th, 2010, 12:17 pm

People take things personally. They clash over the slightest slight. Transnational corporations, nations, individuals, size of an entity doesn't matter, though the larger the machine the more intertia to overcome, momentum to build, the slower the response, perhaps the more likely cooler heads will prevail.

For narrative purposes, personality has more to do with why farmers might clash than what they clash over. Disputes over water rights invariably involve depraved indifference by one or more parties and a feeling of being slighted by other parties. The Western range wars between cattlemen, sheepherders, and farmers had to do with water and grazing and fencing rights.

Cattlemen had political and economic advantage from apparently serving the greater good by bulk production. Sheepherders apparently contributed less to the greater good, and as airball pointed out, sheep destroy a range land by tugging plants roots out of the ground. Cows only nip down to the ground. Horses leave grasses close cropped but don't take the entire blade stock like hungry cows can with sparse grazing. Farmers fenced lands to keep hungry grazers out of their hard won, vulnerable crops. Farmers least served the greater good, their 40 acres or so fed the farmers' family, and not much else.

Cattlemen took it personal that sheep destroyed grazing ranges, that farmers fences' blocked their access to common law public grazing lands and water. Sheepherders took it personal that cattlemen wouldn't share, they weren't much bothered by farmers except their fences. Farmers took it personal that cattlemen and sheepherders didn't respect their individual property rights.

Farmers are as likely to clash over the same issues anyone does, an unintentional or intentional slight. Plantation owner William Byrd II fancied himself an openminded, enlightened individual. Byrd owned the infamous Virginia Westover plantation in the early half of the Eighteenth century. Almost a kingdom unto itself, self-reliant industry, manufacturing, pastoralism, agriculture, society. etc., it was the single most profitable British American enterprise in its heyday. Byrd had a conversation with his master shipbuilder. They amiably discussed the delights of cornbread. When Byrd offered the shipwright a piece of cornbread to share in an companionable manner, the shipwright took umbrage from Byrd's patriarchal condescension. Corn was considered fit for livestock and servants, not a proper food for a man of accomplishment like the shipwright. He stormed off and quit. They didn't come to blows or seek to kill one another, but I'm sure it crossed their minds.

The Hatfield and McCoy feud is a classic tale of folk killing each other over a slight. The original slight being the sides the families chose for the U.S. Civil War, known to the Hatfields as the War of Northern Agression. The McCoy men enlisted in the Union army, the Hatfields enlisted in the Confederate. One of the Hatfields killed one of the McCoy men when he returned home early from the war with a busted leg. Later, a dispute over a hog ignited the feud. The feud escalated over a Romeo and Juliet romance with a twist or two.

Boundary disputes are a common cause of farmer contention. Debts, favors unrepaid, personal squabbles, one thinking he's better than another in a status and social standing way, slander, libel, etc. The more trivial a slight, the more potential for pathos. Of course, the slight being trivial in the beginning, for purposes of narrative drama, escalation of the contention toward climax and denouement is the ideal. It takes two hard heads to have a feud.
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Re: Plot help

Post by polymath » October 12th, 2010, 12:43 pm

Three rivals for land suggests to me a family involvement. Say, three relatives contesting a family estate. One thinks the others got more than their rightful share. It's not just about real property value, also interpersonal family relations. A son thinks he's due the entire estate of his deceased parents by right of primogenture. But equal shares are awarded to two cousins who had close ties with the partriarch and matriarch. The son was estranged from his parents over a previous slight. He feels further slighted by the will, which has been tied up in probate court for ten years. In the event of one cousin's death and the other's wrongful gain from the death, the entire estate would go to the son if they have no heirs. So they'd all have to be on the young side or perennial bachelors, which isn't credible to my way of thinking. Family means unpaid labor helpers, large families means plentiful free labor.
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Re: Plot help

Post by Mike Dickson » October 12th, 2010, 1:48 pm

polymath wrote:Three rivals for land suggests to me a family involvement. Say, three relatives contesting a family estate.
I'm not thinking family, and a squablle over land is too predictable in my opinion. Perhaps the water issue would make a better story, however killing one person while simutaneoulsy framing the other to get rid of them both over water seems tough. What if the third farmer (the killer and framer, he he) is the last farm down the water pike or whatever you call it? he could be getting shorted or suffering because the other two farms are using more than there share.

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Re: Plot help

Post by polymath » October 12th, 2010, 2:44 pm

A water squabble would do about fifty years ago when open air water rights (riparian rights) weren't as clearcut in the U.S. as they are now. Farmers dependent on water get water or they have difficulty financing seed and operating expenses at the bank, who de facto owns the crop until the farmer gets paid. Dryland farming is far more commonplace for cereal grains, irrigation for truck, vegetable and fruit, farming. Irrigation farming anymore in the U.S. is mostly through pipelines from secure well sources or reasonably assured surface water irrigation sources in unseasonably dry times. Or wet farming in regions with crops taylored to natural rainfall predictions. Riparian rights are widely considered within government eminent domain purview in the U.S. In Britain it's a Common Law purview undergoing gradual reform, which causes all sorts of contentious disputes.

Small rural farms might have water squabbles if their access to open air water is through property and access rights easements. However, rivers and streams are generally natural boundary lines separating properties in rustic situations. They do change their courses. It's not unheard of for one property owner to lose acreage to another when a course changes. Though they typically work out their differences in court. And oftentimes within a few years the changed courses revert in favor of the original acreage loser.

Another possible complication is farm ponds for watering livestock silting up from sediment erosion flowing downstream. There's frequent squabbles between farmers, developers, and pastorals over that issue. Upstream soil disturbance is frequently blamed, but the immediate cause is actually livestock waste washing into the ponds during rains and the ensuing overnitrification causing the ponds to silt up and die due to algaefication.

Farmers generally aren't in direct marketplace competition anymore. Government farm subsidies assure a fair minimum return from production in order to assure the national food supply. Plus bank mandated, goverment subsidized crop insurance also protects investments. And farmers are generally right neighborly in regard for each other because they have no overt reasons for contention and overt reasons for cooperation.

What's the personal slight that causes problems (complication) to begin with? is the question I'd start with. From there, what's at issue then should causally ensue. And questions remain, how and what do both the murderer and the framed farmer stand to gain from the murdered farmer's death? Motive, means, and opportunity, plus mens rea (criminal intent), shape the four corners of criminal acts. If the dead farmer has no heirs to run the farm, someone else will come along who will restart operations.
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Re: Plot help

Post by Mike Dickson » October 12th, 2010, 3:55 pm

Polymath,

Thank you for your time and thoughts on this. I appreciate how you take the time to explain yourself so I can fully understand. You have a gift.
As far as the plot goes, I'll maybe twist some things around and see where it goes from there.

With all your wisdom regarding plots, is there a formula one would use to develop a simple plot? I don't need a bestseller, what I do need is a finished manuscript to say I did it but I find it difficult to develop a 'simple' plot. They keep turning into conspiracies.

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Re: Plot help

Post by polymath » October 12th, 2010, 4:28 pm

Okay then, a relatively simple plot;

Journalist summoned by allegedly framed farmer. Indicates overt first-person narrator central to the dramatic action and therefore present or aware of all salient actions. The inciting crisis. Whether the journalist is also the protagonist will be determined later perhaps. As it is, he's in first position by default. Readers will atuomatically attach to him as reader surrogate for closest narrative distance.

The farmer didn't first summon police, a first refusal, maybe the sheriff, maybe a state bureau of investigation agent. He wants a fair hearing in the court of public opinion because all the superficial evidence points to him and he doesn't trust law enforcement to dig deep. On the other hand, he's already committed one overt criminal act by not immediately calling the police. Interference with a criminal investigation charges are likely. He can be held in jail for that alone, and remain in custody as a person of interest while the murder investigation goes on. The act of calling the journalist is presented as a credible panick action and as a mens rea, a guilty act suggesting his guilt. Doubt is subliminally planted in readers' minds as well as the journalist's.

The journalist prompts him to call the police and a lawyer. He balks, second refusal, but acquiesces soon enough. The police want to give short shrift to the investigation because their first impression is the farmer is guilty. The lawyer and the journalist insist upon following proper procedures. A forensics unit is called in while the farmer is hauled off protesting his innocence. Third refusal.

The journalist isn't confident of the farmer's innocence. His first refusal is internal doubt, but with the lawyer, the police, the farmer's kin, he's openly doubtful either way.

All that's bridging complication and rising action until the main complication arises for the journalist. He discovers from the farmer's kin that there's also bad blood with another farmer. He's still in denial, doubt, and is a second refusal. Forensics turns up supporting trace evidence implicating the other farmer, but the superficial evidence trumps the circumstancial evidence in the district attorney's, law enforcements', and the journalist's mind, third refusal.

The journalist uncovers tipping point evidence implicating the other farmer. Relays it to law enforcement, and the focus shifts to the other farmer as the person of interest. Climax point, tragic crisis because the journalist is still doubtful, more doubtful than before, and so on.

Falling action, the wheels of justice focus on convicting the other farmer and exonerating the first farmer.

Final crisis, evidence the journalist uncovers independently more fully implicates the first farmer. He's the one with the most to gain, and has taken full advantage of the motive, means, and opportunity to implicate the other farmer. Calling the journalist is revealed as part of the criminal plot to evade detection. Malice and forethought mean a first degree murder indictment.

The journalist realizes he's been an unwitting dupe of the first farmer. He has a crisis of conscience. Does he make a public confession or a swallow his principles? Though in rural setting, if he's portrayed as a hard-boiled cynic and the countryside as bleak settings, it would qualify as a noir genre mystery. For a literary genre slant, the question of poetic justice predominating or secondary to society's need for Old Testament retribution through the criminal justice system could be challenged.

Denouement? Justice prevails or the guilty go free?
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Re: Plot help

Post by Mike Dickson » October 14th, 2010, 5:04 pm

Possible short synopsis.


Joe Hayward is a successful equity trader visiting his family from New York. Holding a celebrities status, townspeople come to visit him at the local restaraunt. Will Ryland, journalist and family friend, takes notes for next weeks paper. The conversation is heated when farmer Walter Brown voices his distain for Wall Street insiders labeling them crooks.

Appeasing to Walter's request the following day, Will finds Joe dead in Walter's barn. He listens as Walter pleads his innocence claiming he's been framed. He prompts Walter to call the police and a lawyer. Will chastises the Sheriff for condemning Walter at the scene urging him to follow proper procedure. Suspicious of Walter's sincerity, Will has doubts of his innocence as Walter is led to jail.

As the court of public opinion damns the suspected killer, Will begins his own independant investigation. Meeting with family and friends, he begins to develop a timeline of the days events. He conceals his doubt narrowing his thoughts of innocence. He discovers from Joe's kin that there's also bad blood with another local, Harold Wright.

Forensics turns up trace evidence of Harold's guilt. Keeping his investigation close, Will uncovers additional supporting evidence implicating Harold. Doubts to Walter's participation lighten. Will relays his findings to Sheriff Chapman and the focus shifts to Harold as the person of interest.

Harold's detainment causes animosity and division in the community. A witness steps forward with testimony previously ignored. Will's internal battle of guilt subsides as Walter's call to him is revealed as a part of the criminal plot. Harold is released and charges are dropped.

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Re: Plot help

Post by polymath » October 14th, 2010, 7:51 pm

Good bare bones mystery plot sketch reminiscient of '50s era true crime and mystery narratives. I'm assuming it's for an exercise in writing and perhaps an assigned writing project, so I'll be a little freer with sharing my creative vision, hopefully, without too much imposition.

At this point, I'd suggest looking at character motivations and stakes, especially the focal character, be it solely observing, reporting narrator, maybe also main character at the center of the investigative action, and perhaps protagonist who experiences the most character transformation and/or is most pivotal to the outcome. The latter has the closest narrative distance potential.

I've projected the journalist as the be-all reader surrogate for the sake of close narrative distance. The murder victim as pretty much an inanimate object except for some backstory for his motivations that brought him to his death, the murder suspects' motivations as agents of the journalist's outcome, and their backstories for why they're suspects.

Motivation-wise, I see the journalist arriving at the murder scene and seeing a routine police blotter crime, maybe a crime of passion or a crime of greed or both, and not caring much either way. He wants a career-making story with longer legs on it. A once and done story he's got. He wants to check it out, see if it'll spin to higher proportions. Perhaps the journalist has a reputation for hard hitting stories indicting law enforcement for rushing to judgment. Then that's his internal motivation and externally the first suspect's motivation for calling him in. Because the first suspect convincingly professes his innocence, the journalist is nonconsciously willing to believe him for the sake of the news story. Willing, albeit unwitting, suspension of disbelief. Coincidentally, that's also one of many challenges confronting a writer with a novel inspiration. Willing suspension of disbelief. Metafictive.

It would also call readers' judgment into play from the get-go. Perhaps relying on dramatic irony, where readers are convinced but the journalist isn't entirely convinced, at first, the first suspect is guilty. While the journalist struggles convincing himself the first suspect isn't guilty, readers' increasing doubts would follow along.
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Re: Plot help

Post by Mike Dickson » October 15th, 2010, 8:29 am

polymath wrote:Good bare bones mystery plot sketch reminiscient of '50s era true crime and mystery narratives. I'm assuming it's for an exercise in writing and perhaps an assigned writing project, so I'll be a little freer with sharing my creative vision, hopefully, without too much imposition.My bucket list actually. Learn as much as I can about writing, write a novel, get published, learn a foreign language, and learn an instrument.

At this point, I'd suggest looking at character motivations and stakes, especially the focal character, be it solely observing, reporting narrator, maybe also main character at the center of the investigative action, and perhaps protagonist who experiences the most character transformation and/or is most pivotal to the outcome. The latter has the closest narrative distance potential.Side bar-I find writing according to closest narrative distance difficult and wicked exciting! That's one reason I chose this setting. It'll give me opportunity to use a wider range of narrative to hone my craft -bucket list-learn to write.

I've projected the journalist as the be-all reader surrogate for the sake of close narrative distance. The murder victim as pretty much an inanimate object except for some backstory for his motivations that brought him to his deathAgreed, the murder suspects' motivations as agents of the journalist's outcome, and their backstories for why they're suspects. Yes, but is that o.k.?

Motivation-wise, I see the journalist arriving at the murder scene and seeing a routine police blotter crime, maybe a crime of passion or a crime of greed or both, and not caring much either way.Could be. I made the connection as family friend to keep it open as to how close he may be to Joe and his family. He wants a career-making story with longer legs on it. A once and done story he's got. He wants to check it out, see if it'll spin to higher proportions. Perhaps the journalist has a reputation for hard hitting stories indicting law enforcement for rushing to judgment. Then that's his internal motivation and externally the first suspect's motivation for calling him in.Is that enough? Because the first suspect convincingly professes his innocence, the journalist is nonconsciously willing to believe him for the sake of the news story. Willing, albeit unwitting, suspension of disbelief. Coincidentally, that's also one of many challenges confronting a writer with a novel inspiration. Willing suspension of disbelief. Metafictive.

It would also call readers' judgment into play from the get-go. Perhaps relying on dramatic irony, where readers are convinced but the journalist isn't entirely convinced, at first, the first suspect is guilty. While the journalist struggles convincing himself the first suspect isn't guilty, readers' increasing doubts would follow along.
Having no clear approach to writing I'm using the snowflake method to build my characters and plot before I begin to write. I need to spend more time understanding what makes up my characters. What do they like, dislike etc. I'm telling you nothing new, just working this out in my head. Then I can create a long synopsis to use as my outline. I'm a total planner and won't move a foot without having a plan on how to get there. My wife can't stand it sometimes.

Writing a book is such a challenging thing to do. I love the difficulty, I love that I know virtually nothing about it. I would like to know as much as you in an instant but missing out on the time it took to learn, grow, and have those ah-ha moments, is worth the wait.

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