It's Complicated

by | January 24, 2015 | General | 4 comments

by Kathleen Bradean

For the past two years, my family’s drama has been building to a bad ending. A real life bad ending. In a book, it would be a great ending, somewhere between a trashy Dynasty catfight and the bleakness of Fargo, a train wreck that Dominick Dunne would have appreciated.

The friends that have followed the play-by-play of this drama have asked if I’d ever consider writing a screenplay or a book about it. It’s no fun to live through, so stepping back to look at it as a writer gives me some much needed distance. Looking at this sprawling mess from that distance, I can see the strengths and weaknesses of it as a piece of entertainment. (And believe me, from a gallows sense of humor perspective, some of us in this family find whats going on both grimly amusing and horrifying in equal measures.)

It’s amazing how a seemingly normal family can be torn apart when they’ve been nurturing a Cuckoo egg in the nest.  (Some cuckoo birds are brood parasites which lay their eggs in the nests of different species. When the eggs hatch, the larger cuckoo hatchling  pushes the other chicks out of the nest or crowds them out to get all the food, often exhausting the unwitting foster parent birds with it’s constant demands for more as the step-siblings that didn’t get shoved out starve to death.)  Any reader with siblings could relate to this warning tale, and elderly parents could learn a thing or two about defending themselves from predatory children. So this story would work as fictionalized true crime or as non-fiction.  

But writer me also sees the structural flaws in this story as a story.

1) It sprawls over many years as the build-up to the denouement.  That could be condensed, or the writer could opt for a James Michener (does anyone remember his work now?) length tome.

2) there are so many fascinating side stories that could be woven in, but they might hopelessly muddy the narrative. Which of these stories would the writer chose to write? The alleged financial crimes against the sister? The alleged elder abuse and alleged financial shenanigans committed against the mother? Any of the many other alleged scams and frauds now coming to light? How do you pick? How do you narrow down the focus while preserving the wide scope? And which trial would be the dramatic highlight?

3) there’s more than one villain. One is so over the top as to be almost unbelievable to the reader. Seriously. After a while, a reader would say “Come on. in real life, no one would do that.”  We often find ourselves saying to the latest events “Really? Really? Un-fucking-believable.”

All this musing has been a good thought exercise on storytelling. While side stories and just one more example of heroism or villainy might seem to drive home the point, we have to keep our narratives focused and tightly written. I’ve often said that writing a novel is like hiking through a forest. Many writers begin their work knowing the starting point of the tale and where it’s supposed to end up, but picking the path between those two points is often a mystery that unfolds as the writer writes. Finding that right path is as much art as it is craft.  The tale should not wander off the path to pick pretty flowers. Nor should it take the scenic route. It’s okay to tell complicated stories, but those demand the most focus in the narrative,

I hope some day to be able to report a happy ending to our family drama. Life doesn’t usually give us closure though. I think that’s why people crave stories. They have a decisive end.

Kathleen Bradean

Kathleen Bradean’s stories can be found in The Best Women’s Erotica 2007, Haunted Hearths, Garden of the Perverse, The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 6, and She’s On Top in print. Clean Sheets and The Erotica Readers and Writer’s Association websites have also featured her stories. Writing as Jay Lygon, her stories can be found in Inside Him, Blue Collar Taste Tests, Toy Box: Floggers, and the novels Chaos Magic, Love Runes, and Personal Demons. Read more about Kathleen Bradean at:


  1. Jean Roberta

    Oh, Kathleen. I hope you're far enough away not to be splashed with metaphorical blood. (Or real blood, if it comes to that.) You're so right about the appeal of stories that get neatly resolved. I've been advised to seek out my relatives to get "closure." I was also advised to do that with my gothic marriage in the 1970s. I'm tired of explaining that in the real world, warring factions rarely fall into each other's arms and reach agreement. (I love "Lysistrata" for that reason. It was about the real war that destroyed the city-state of Athens, but in the play, everything ends with a feast & an orgy.)

  2. Kathleen Bradean

    Some things are simply unforgivable. Asking the victim to let it go is unconscionable. I'm sorry people belittle your experience by suggesting you get over it.

  3. Lisabet Sarai

    Kathleen, I'm so sorry for the complexity – and the pain. I agree with Jean – real world stories are often too messy and ambiguous for fiction.

    • Kathleen Bradean

      Thank you, Lisabet.

      I agree. This is all too absurd for fiction.

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