Sunday, April 29, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Father's Hands

A long time ago, the parent of a friend of mine was shot by police during the commission of a crime. He didn't die immediately (people seldom do; that's our visual media sugarcoating reality for us and for its own convenience) and my friend saw him before he died, but he was not conscious and my friend said he didn't look like himself, except for the hands.

My friend has a large family with a complicated dynamic. The father's role in it had dysfunctional elements, but even the family members least fond of him felt at the time that the crime came out of left field. It required considerable rewriting of personal history, with reshuffling of facts and interpretations of events so that different elements received different emphasis than formerly, in order for them to make sense of what happened. Some did this with greater ease than others. My friend was the one closest to the father, and has constructed his response to the event in such a way that the action was the result of a physical pathology. Other members of the family have constructed their life stories differently. The simplest description of what happened is, that the dead member became an easy scapegoat for a lot of things for a lot of people, and it is impossible for an outsider to judge how fair this is.

Me being who I am, my empathy for my friend, could not prevent my latching onto the story elements. First, the hands. Second, the unrecognizability of the person on life support. Third, the mystery of what prompted the crime. Fourth, the contradictory, simplified memories created to overlay upon the complex reality of an entire family's life in response to this single event.

Fifth: My friend travels a lot on business. Sometimes, inevitably, in the immediate wake of the event, these travels intersected the paths of someone who resembled the dead father so much as to require second or even third looks.

So I thought, what if, one time, the postmortem double kept reappearing? What if my friend started receiving communications, and became convinced that the father was not dead?

That's a thriller. That's a thriller with a lot of potential, actually, for good and ill. The father could be a hero or a villain or a victim, depending on the real reason for the crime and who that was lying in the hospital with the father's hands. It could be a straight mystery thriller, or a supernatural one, or science fiction; it wouldn't matter, as long as the storyteller didn't get so distracted by shiny McGuffins and bait-and-switch plot as to lose track of the core process of the survivors' continual need to rewrite their lives and their relationships based on events centering on this person.

As you can probably tell by the awkward, stilted way I've described the case, I'd as soon cut my hands off as write this, even after all this time. The potential for hurting my friend is too great. Even if I did everything right and the stars aligned and I got an Edgar and a major motion picture deal, if I followed the plot into a dark corner for which my friend couldn't forgive me, I'd be the loser by it.

Even now I'm really hoping I succeeded in stripping out every possible specific detail that could hack somebody off.

I had a conversation with my friend's SO that brought the subject back into the front of my mind. I trust now I can let it sink back into obscurity.


  1. Talk about using your own experiences to inspire your story! Great thinking.
    I thought I'd drop by to let you know that I'm giving you an award. You'll find it on my blog:)


  2. interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you

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