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Masterplots Theater: K is for Kinsmen
Welcome back to Masterplots Theater.
You just sat down to work on your next book and it features an explosive family relationship. If it spans decades of betrayal, abandonment and emotional scarring, chances are you’re writing a Kinsmen story. The Kinsmen is the classic family drama. It’s what most people call the family saga. For our A to Z series this year F was already taken, so I opted for the older term Kinsmen to bring you this fantastic masterplot.
Kinsmen Plot Notes:
The framework of this story is conflict between family members. It’s siblings against siblings, parents against children, or husband against wife, etc. It’s a story dripping with emotion, long festering secrets and generational rivalry. It never hurts if gobs of money or the fate of the universe are at stake.
This character-driven story often features a dual narrative structure. It’s infrequently told in a linear timeline, opting instead for lots of flashbacks.
The main characters are sucked into a family conflict. This may or may not be preceded by family harmony. The trigger event is often an external conflict. War, social movements, and any race, class or gender issue is fair game. As the family internalizes the external conflict, they pick sides and this stresses the family and splits them apart. Even friends are pressured to take sides. A few characters will do their best to stay neutral or play peacemakers.
The fight may invoke clear good vs. evil divisions or be morally ambiguous, leaving value judgments to the reader.
The Kinsmen is often confused with the Institutionalized masterplot. The critical difference is the characters’ backstory. The Institutionalized characters don’t have pre-existing relationships, shared history and blood bonds. Also at the core of the Kinsmen masterplot is a twisted sense of love, honor, loyalty and commitment. One of the books that is often categorized incorrectly is THE GODFATHER. You will see it called an Institutionalized, but it’s a Kinsmen.
Most black-sheep relative and prodigal son stories are also Kinsmen plots.
This story usually resolves with a horrible casualty that leaves one or both sides morally wounded, or seeking to end the conflict for the sake of the remaining family members. However, it can end with a happily-ever-after if both sides learn to forgive.
Example to Study:
This is such a common masterplot it’s a challenge to pick just one, but someone asked me to mention when we got to the dominant masterplot for Star Wars and we have arrived. There are other plot layers to this space opera, but the theme that tugs at our hearts is 100% Kinsmen.
FATHER-SON FEUD: Looking at just the three center films, we can see Luke and Darth Vader are the key. Although separated and reunited under strange circumstances, this relationship evolves into a contest of wills between father and son. It is an echo of the contest of wills that evolved between Anakin and Obi Wan in the first three films. All six films include problems in father (or surrogate father) and son relationships.
TWISTED LOVE: The deeper layers of Anakin’s character, including his ability to love, is established in films one, two and three. His devastating downward spiral paves the way for his reappearance as a chilling villain in film four. Yet it also plants the seeds of the family resolution of film six.
RESOLUTION: There are still two movies to go, but based on the first six we have a HEA of sorts to this Kinsmen tale. We know that Darth makes a deathbed change and a big part of that is because of his love for Luke. This reconciles the Darth and Luke father-son feud and the father-son feud between Obi Wan and Anakin.
BONUS: It’s important to remember that these six (now eventually nine) films were created as one story. The character arc of all these characters needed to sustain a long multi-generational timeline. We already know the Kinsmen aspects of Star Wars will continue, but we have no way of knowing how it will evolve. It will be interesting to watch.
I suspect you don’t need much help to find a Kinsmen book. THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo is a great start. Or try this Goodreads link for more.
We hope you enjoyed K is for Kinsmen and we invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater, L is for Love Story.
Please share your thoughts on the Kinsmen in the comments below.
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