Boston Marathon Bombers Story Arc…. by Nancy Brophy

Putting together a cohesive story is difficult. If it wasn’t, everyone who thinks to himself, “I could write a novel,” would. And it would be a best seller, otherwise why write? And really how difficult can it be? We’re surrounding by stories every day.

Stories must have two arcs – External and Internal. The external or plot simply answers the question: What is the purpose of the story?

The external arc must be tangible. In action/adventure such as the recent events in Boston that is easy enough to see. Indiana Jones is going after the Skull, the Arc or the sacred rock. Frodo has to dispose of the ring. People have to save themselves from a disaster. The world is coming to an end. The Titanic is sinking. A run-away Russian submarine is on the loose.

The Boston Marathon bombing has a pretty straight forward external arc. Create mayhem, destruction and death – first at the marathon and then Times Square. It is the story of small men with small dreams. Movies have taught us that a big man’s dream would have been the overthrow of the entire nation.

We all know every story must evoke emotion and a senseless bombing scene will not garner public empathy. There must be a secondary or underlying arc that builds on the emotional storyline.

Once the Boston marathon bombers were captured, what was our most pressing concern?

Why would anyone do this? And we still don’t know all the details. But many of us are waiting with bated breath, because we want the story to have a nice tidy ending.  We don’t want to hear that the men were simply crazy or misguided. We want to know what they thought they would accomplish and whether or not they believed they would get caught. A couple of day ago I learned that three of the younger brother’s friends helped hide and destroy evidence that had been stashed in his room pretty much in open sight. That doesn’t sound like a guy who was worried about the consequences of his actions.

One of the most shocking facts was that his friends volunteered to destroy the evidence. Where is their social conscience? How does friend loyalty trump the death of innocents? And worse where are the parents of these young men? Why aren’t they jumping up and down screaming at their sons, “have you lost your mind?”

The underlying arc must satisfy those details. It must show growth and must have a satisfying ending. For me, that usually means the evil get punished.  Having written that, I’m sure you can imagine how I would like the Bomber story to end – not just for the younger bomber but for his friends, as well.

Each of the protagonists must have both an internal and external arc, not to mention  the only female lead on American soil needs her two arcs as well. With enough characters the story line resembles a complex genome map. In this case both brothers had arcs, but so did the wife and the mother. I’m sure the friends also had storylines, but they appear to only be spear carriers, not plotters.

Personally, I find it difficult to believe that the wife was totally unaware of what was happening, particularly as the husband became more and more verbal about his radicalization.

And the mother…

Well, the mother is a piece of work, isn’t she? Another reason I suspect so many of us write about dysfunctional families –we are surrounded by them. Apparently being Russian does not exempt anyone.

The truth is none of us would write the bombers as the heroes. We would choose the story of one of the three who died, or one of the 260 bystanders who lives changed forever because they lost a limb, or even those who lost a family member.

The boys aren’t heroes, but I bet they wanted to be. Apparently they didn’t watch enough American television to figure out that protagonists seldom set out to become heroes. They just are.


Posted on May 4, 2013, in General and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Maggie Jaimeson

    Real life is often significantly more tragic than stories can ever be. I believe you are right that we will never know the full truth and who knew what. I can guess at lots of reasons for the friends covering up. Maybe because I’m PollyAnna, I don’t want to believe they knew for sure their friend was the bomber and willfully tried to cover for him. I also have to disagree with you that the wife had to have known what was happening.

    Assuming she wasn’t abused or afraid for her own life or her child’s, there is a great process of rationalization that occurs (particularly in women) when confronted with possible ongoing or potential illegal activities–whether it’s child molesters, ponzi schemes, hitmen, or radical terrorists it works the same. Here’s the thing. When a woman says “I didn’t know” I believe her. At least I believe that she didn’t WANT to know and was able to build lots of rationalizations to explain away things that were said, done, or seen. It’s not that she didn’t suspect something. Of course she did. But she chose not to believe it and once that decision is made all her energy goes into rationalizing that reality. The rationalization steps go something like this.

    Step 1. “The man I love couldn’t possibly be doing X, I must be hearing/seeing/thinking wrong.”

    Step 2. “There must be something I’m doing (or a “bad” friend is doing) that makes the man I love even consider/talk about/make plans about X. This is not him. Of course, he isn’t really going to follow through. It’s just talk. It’s a blip in our relationship because something is bothering him. There must be something I can do to change this thought.” That is step 2 happens if the spouse ever allows herself to consider beyond step 1.

    Step 3. “He is acting/talking even more about X. If I tell someone about it that means it’s real. What if it’s not real? What if this is a mental illness, but not a real plan? What if my telling gets him put in jail when all he really needs is help? How will my children survive without a father. Who can I call to help him through this blip in his life and not go to the police? He really means no harm, it’s just something is bothering him/hurting him.” Again, to get to this step requires going through the others. The worst part about this step is that it is paralyzing. Nothing can happen because there is no rationalized answer for getting help without going to police. She knows this but keeps looking for a different answer anyway.

    Step 4. The aftermath is either denial or self-blame. Both are inadequate. Denial of knowledge is easiest because if you accept you had sufficient knowledge but did nothing (see Step 3 paralyzing) it is pretty hard to live with it. Also, if your rationalizations were as good as they had to be to get to this point, just because something happened doesn’t mean you still don’t think it was a “blip” in life and just needed some mental health assistance.

    Self-blame is no more helpful because you are wrapped up into all the could of, should of stuff that you can’t think straight or be helpful to the law, yourself, or your children. All you want to do is hide and die and somehow make this reality change.

    I think the above steps make for an interesting novel arc for a literary novel, or maybe a crime novel based on real events. The problem for me is that there is no good ending. There is no HEA. There is not even a hope for H within the scope of the novel. It’s just all sadness and living with the reality that some people become disenfranchised either because of actual events or perceived events. And some of them do horrific things.


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