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Returning to Fratricide

About six months ago, I performed a reread of my novel (and my NaNoWriMo partial) and decided that the projects were ones I want to return to. Subsequent to that, Boston was hit with one of the largest snowstorms in its history. Then, shortly after that melted (three months later), I decided I was moving. That process wrapped up about a month ago.

Regardless, I’ve now started really thinking about a rewrite of my first novel, knowing full well that I haven’t been able to write something at that scope since. Besides being able to go through the process, there’s something in there I want to save, something I do believe is worth saving.

My plan with rewriting the novel is going to be just that, a rewrite. Though I will refer to the draft and make character considerations based on what I’ve written, this is going to be from the ground up, and a lot of things are going to be quite different. The characters will be mostly the same, though shuffled around- the story will still focus on the interplay between two fraternity brothers at different stages in their lives, Scott Stiles and Lance Deckard. Scott’s romantic misadventures will still play a role. A corrupt Greek System and crimes committed by said system will be central to the plot.

What’s different, at least in my reimagining, is a tad more dramatic:

  • No longer taking place at a fictional school. My plot direction is no longer as compartmentalized as it was in the previous iteration. As such, inventing a school whole cloth gets weird and strains my suspension of disbelief. It was a proxy of CMU anyway, may as well capitalize on my 4-6 years of traumatically ingrained college memories.
  • Less/no murder and/or gunplay. It’s kind of dumb and lazy, isn’t it? Why would the stakes be that high? Not saying there won’t be any murder or gunplay, but it has to make sense.
  • More “Greek”. In some ways, the fraternity backdrop was window dressing in the first draft, though it did provide an organizational impetus for the story to occur. As I’ve read it, reread it, and thought about it, I have way more to say about fraternity life than I thought I did initially.

In some ways, Fratricide evolved as Scott Stiles’s fucked up coming of age story. The thousand foot view of the plot is very simple and will not change in the rewrite: Scott discovers the meaning and importance of brotherhood and male friendship (two separate but related topics), love, and self-worth as he is forced to make difficult decisions about what is most important to him. It’s really no surprise that I wrote this as I was struggling to determine what my life meant, and my struggle was reflected in Scott’s struggle. At my current age, my existential struggles more resemble Lance’s, which may be why this is the point where I try to write this book again.

Ultimately, the characters are the thing from the first draft I want to change the least. Five of the characters (Scott, Lance, Grace, Melissa, Colin) started to evolve and get personalities of their own, and they’re all coming back in this version. But what needs to be added is more about the story. The characters evolved, fairly well, around a clusterfuck of an unbelievable story. And in the intervening years, it was proven again and again that truth is stranger than fiction. This is what we like to call an opportunity.

At CMU, many years after I put this novel draft to bed, the fraternity Beta Theta Pi was kicked off campus for sexual misconduct. While it was not at the level of what was described in my story, it was an astonishing display of disregard for not only another person but also good judgment…and it serves as an indication that this type of shit happens all the time. In seeing that, I not only started to get a plot idea, I also realized there’s a question I’ve been dealing with for a long time, but one brought to the surface in the last year or two in light of many news events.

How do I, a white male alumnus of the Greek system, justify its continued existence?

The “white” and “male” signifiers are important, though not for the needs of any “privilege-checking” I feel I need to do (I have my perspective, and while it’s no more important than anyone else’s, it’s the only one I have). Instead, there is the important consideration that the Greek system a white man gets involved with is, culturally speaking, vastly different than that which a black or Asian man gets involved in, or that which a woman gets involved in. And in some ways, the white male Greek system is probably the most toxic in its current iteration (and yes, I realize the system isn’t segregated anymore, but the roots are important, otherwise there wouldn’t be Black or Asian Fraternities). But this isn’t an expose, hell, it’s not even non-fiction. Instead, I have a vehicle to further explore my thoughts about the Greek system, but also, through my characters, explore the experiences that shaped my time in college and let me still be proud to wear letters at appropriate occasions. I feel like the average outsider doesn’t understand what the fraternity experience brings to a college-aged man other than getting drunk and getting laid. I’m very depressed by that fact. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that my brothers, both in my fraternity and in the Greek community more broadly, have been empowered by their organizations to do some extremely shitty things, most of which fall under the umbrellas of either hazing or sexual assault. I’m depressed by that fact as well.

Though this may bring my own narcissism to the fore, I don’t think there’s been a “Great Fraternity Novel.” I don’t know whether it has to do with the degree to which men who go Greek in college are predisposed to writing, or the cultural biases inherent in the fiction writing community, but this seems to be a topic never covered with any seriousness. That being said, it represents an interesting cultural touchstone, and with the evolving view of higher education today, one that can serve as a microcosm. I’m excited to return to the setting I began to craft, and hopefully will have something interesting to say.

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