Masterplots Theater: K is for Kinsmen

Kinsmen Masterplots TheaterWelcome 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:StarWars

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.

Future Research:

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.

Thank you for joining us today. Other episodes in this series include:
A is for Adventure
B is for Buddy Love
C is for Chosen One
D is for Dystopia
E is for Escape
F is for Fool Triumphant
G is for Gothic
H is for Happily-Ever-After
I is for Institutionalized
J is for Journal

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.

Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, educator, and historical consultant. She writes mystery fiction, with diverse characters and a touch of snark. She's currently working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook( However, Pinterest ( is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

23 thoughts on “Masterplots Theater: K is for Kinsmen”

  1. Can’t say I’m really into Kinsman. I don’t knwo why, family dramas, especially if they span many decades, have a hard time trying to involve me. Though I well aware there are lots of very good kinsmwn story out there.
    Just not my kind, I suppose 😉

    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

    1. I have to agree with you. I have read and seen some I’ve enjoyed, like Star Wars, but the writer needs to be great. Otherwise the story can come off as muddled, overwritten and just too darn long.

  2. I never knew this was the name of the plot. I’ve always heard it called family saga. I learn something new from each of your posts. It’s interesting how this masterplot transcends all genres. I remember reading The Thorn Birds when I was FAR too young to read it. My grandmother caught me reading it several times over the summer and continued taking it away from me. It was the same summer she confiscated Valley of the Dolls. Hey, I had four older siblings, all in high school and I was in 6th or 7th grade. I was a pain in their butts. Roots was a great family saga (Kinsmen plot) and The Godfather (book and film) is on my short list (top 5) favorites of all time.

    Melissa Sugar

    1. The term Kinsmen is old! Very old. Family Saga is what most people call this one. Yes, The Thorn Birds is one, Roots is too. I almost mentioned them, but I thought the link was more useful.

      Since you know The Godfather very well, do you agree with me that it’s in this group? Or do you think it’s in the Institutionalize group?

  3. I can’t think of a book for some reason. What immediately popped to my head is the TV series Revenge, Scandal, and Gossip Girl. Though I’m not sure if Gossip Girl truly fits the Kinsmen plot. Great post! I’m looking forward to reading about the love story plot, which is my favorite. 🙂
    Visiting from the a-z challenge

    1. Hi Grace, I haven’t read the Gossip Girl books and I’ve only watched the TV show a few times. So I’m afraid I can’t help you with that one.
      You don’t long to wait for Love Story. : )

  4. I need to read through this more thoroughly later, but great subject matter. I have my own novel to write and love reading about different plot devices!

  5. I am clearly the biggest geek on the planet. Just reading that someone trained as a professional historian almost gives me goosebumps! I’m a lawyer and a writer, but OMG, if I could choose a third career… And by the way, this was a really well-done post!

    1. Thank you! I knew I wanted to study history from a young age. It serves me well in creating fiction. There’s many centuries worth of data shoved inside my head. : )

  6. I’ll have to come back to read this when I have more time. This is more up my alley, plot-wise. I have to figure out how to edit my first draft of this type of novel. It’s a multi-generational novel and I’m sort of lost with the historical aspect of it. Lots of characters. Lots of conflicts. I’ll have to come back to this one!

    1. Let me know if you have questions or need help when you do. I’d be happy to talk about your project. Is this the one you wrote for NaNoWriMo last year?

  7. Awesome post. I’m learning so much about plots! Something I haven’t thought of reading or watching movies. Real master class. Thank you!

    1. That was the effect we were going for. : ) We wanted to cover so many of the masterplots that everyone would eventually spot theirs.

We love comments and questions.

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