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The Stand: separated character arcs

Posted August 28 by John Birmingham

I had reason to breakdown down the chapter structure of The Stand for my End ofthe World project over at Patreon last week. TLDR: I ws worried about the structure of my own epic and wanted to stress test it against King's. The 78 chapter breakdown is here, free to read. But having dne that I then set about teasing out the individual arcs for the main heroes/narrators. A fascinating process which gave me some real insights into the way The Stand works and how I might take a few lessons from that for myself.

The main lessons?

Each of the main characters has a sympatheic cause we can get behind before everyone starts dying. And each has a sepcific narrative role. Stu, for instance, is largely passive in his early arc, but wth purpose. He carries the A/Story of why the superflu got out and destroyed the world.

I thought fans of the Stand might enjoy or benefit from seeing the silo effect I created for each of the main narrators.


STU. “Hapscomb’s Texaco sat on Number 93 just north of Arnette…”. Stu Redmond and friends sitting at the local store, bitching about the world. A car cashes into the pumps. The occupants are sick, dead or dying. An ambulance takes them away.

(STU). “Norm Bruett woke up at quarter past ten in the morning to the sound of kids fighting outside the bedroom window and country music from the radio in the kitchen.” Norm, Hap and Ralph are all coming down with colds. Hap wonders if it might be something more.

STU. “In the dim light that comes over the land just after sunset … Vic Palfrey rose out of green delirium to brief lucidity.” The good old boys in Arnette are dying. Vic is in containment. Guys in space suits everywhere. Stu Redman is also contained, but not sick. His is getting pissed off and scared at being a lab rat. Arnette has been quarantined. People are dying.

STU. “The red light went on. The pump hissed. The door opened.” Stu Redman finally gets some answers. He’s immune. His friends are dead. He trolls Dietz by coughing when he doesn’t get the information he wants. He has his first dream of Mother Abigail and the Dark Man.

“STU Redman was frightened.” His hospital is more of a jail. The orderlies wear guns now. He thinks the surviving doctors are going through the motions. He’s watching the news now, looking fo signs. He sees a few. He thinks about escape.

STU. “That same evening, as Larry Underwood slept with Rita Blakemoor and as Frannie Goldsmith slept alone, dreaming her peculiarly ominous dream, Stuart Redman was waiting for Elder.” Stu escapes.

STU/GLEN “At first Stu accepted the sound without question; it was such a typical part of a bright summer morning.” Stu meets Glen Bateman and Kojack the dog. They have cold beers, sandwiches and become friends. Bateman has theories. They discuss their dreams. That night Stu has a nightmare that he’s back in the lab.

STU/FRANNIE/HAROLD “While Larry Underwood was taking his Fourth of July spill only a state away, Stuart Redman was sitting on a large rock at the side of the road and eating his lunch.” Stu is carrying a rifle now. He left Glen behind. Harold and Frannie ride up on Hondas. Tense meeting, but Stu and Frannie connect. Harold is resentful. Openly hostile to Stu. They eventually partner up and head west, picking up Glen. Stu realises he does want Frannie.


____


FRANNIE. “There was a long rock pier running out into the Atlantic Ocean from the Ogunquit, Maine, town beach.” Frannie Goldsmith is pregnant. Her boyfriend is hopeless. She falls over and bites her tongue.


FRANNIE. “It was late afternoon when Frannie went out back to where her father was patiently weeding the peas and beans.” Frannie is much closer to her dad than her mom. They have a moment that lasts many pages. She tells him she’s pregnant. He is a perfect parent in response. They both know her mother won’t be. They have a real talk about her relationship, how her mother has changed, her dead brother. Family saga time.


FRANNIE. “There was a grandfather clock standing in the far corner of the parlor. Frannie Goldsmith had been listening to its measured ticks and tocks all of her life.” Frannie’s family history told as a tour of her parent’s home. Nasty confrontation with her mother. Her dad defends her. Slaps Carla Goldsmith. It escalates even more. Frannie’s dad comforts her after.

FRANNIE. “The Harborside was the oldest hotel in Ogunquit.” Frannie is staying the hotel, writing a letter to a friend about her troubles. She makes a few phone calls, including one to her useless boyfriend. Her dad tells her that her mother has a cold and is still hysterical. Another call from her father. An ambulance has picked up her mom.


FRANNIE. “There was a strawberry pie in the fridge. It was covered with Saran Wrap and after looking at it for a long time with dull and bemused eyes, Frannie took it out.” Frannie buries her dad. Scenes from around town. Harold Lauder visits. She dreams.


FRANNIE. “There was a small park in the center of Ogunquit, complete with a Civil War cannon and a War Memorial…” Frannie nurses Gus Dinsmore. He dies. She is in shock. She finds Harold, mowing his lawn. They drink warm Koolaid. Harold is sad. But also smart. He suggest going to Vermont, to a government research lab. He paints a sign on the roof of Moses Richardson’s barn. They leave.

STU/FRANNIE/HAROLD “While Larry Underwood was taking his Fourth of July spill only a state away, Stuart Redman was sitting on a large rock at the side of the road and eating his lunch.” Stu is carrying a rifle now. He left Glen behind. Harold and Frannie ride up on Hondas. Tense meeting, but Stu and Frannie connect. Harold is resentful. Openly hostile to Stu. They eventually partner up and head west, picking up Glen. Stu realises he does want Frannie.

—-


LARRY. “Larry Underwood pulled around the corner and found a parking space big enough…” Larry returns to New York, a success who feels like a failure. The city is falling apart around him, but not because of flu. Long recap of his overnight success, after years of struggle. Wayne Stuckey tells him how it is. He’s a chump, surrounded by parasites. Second part of chapter is a long exploration of his relationship with his mother, who loves him, but doesn’t think much of him. The first longer chapter. 6-7K words.


LARRY. “Larry woke up with a hangover…” Up to his old tricks. This time with an oral hygienist. That doesn’t work out. Ugly scene. ‘You aint no nice guy, Larry!’

LARRY. “Larry found a tired-looking black woman on the lobby level…” Larry find his Mom at work. She’s a cleaner in an office building. He is embarrassed by her and for her. She judges him. But she cannot abandon him. She’s got his number. Reduces him to near tears with tough love. He goes to the movies afterward. A man is coughing.


LARRY. “It had been so long since Larry had been in Times Square that he expected it to look different somehow, magical.” Larry is still in New York. His mom has a cold, and stays home from work. He goes out for a walk. Calls a friend. She says everyone is worried about ‘this flu’. When he gets home, his mother is dangerously ill. He rings the hospital. It’s in chaos.


“LARRY Underwood sat on a bench in Central Park on the morning of June 27, looking into the menagerie.” New York is almost dead and Larry might be going crazy. Monster shouters, dazed survivors, ‘Chance of a lifetime, man’. Larry regrets his split with Rudy. He meets Rita Blakemoor. They have a lunch date.


LARRY. “‘I want to get out of the city,’ Rita said without turning around.” She’s right. Manhattan is a charnel house. Larry has noticed she is older, too. They eat eggs and plan an escape. We get the deets on their brief relationship. They kit up and walk. Apocalypse scenes. Things are tense between them. Rita runs away. Larry goes into the dark Lincoln Tunnel. She catches up with him. They exit NYC.

“LARRY woke up at half past eight to sunlight and the sound of birds.” Happy 4th of July! Rita kills herself with pills. Larry acknowledges some relief. He ain’t no nice guy. Leaves her body in their tent. Almost kills himself on a Harley. Sleeps in a park. Feels like he is being watched.

___


NICK. “They set on him sometime after dusk, while he was walking up the shoulder of US Route 27…” Nick Andros, a deaf-mute, is mugged. Comes to in the lock up of Sheriff John Baker. Baker, a good man, investigates the attack.


“NICK opened the door between Sheriff Baker’s office and the jail cells and they started razzing him right off.” Sheriff Baker has arrested Nick’s attackers. The are all in the same jailhouse. Nick has dinner with Baker and his wife. She has a cold. We learn Nick is smart. He communicates via written notes. He writes his life story for Baker. They get to know each other by working together. Dr Soames examines Nick’s injuries. Baker has caught his wife’s cold. He goes home. Nick is in charge of the jailhouse. Baker doesn’t show up the next day. Nick needs to feed the prisoners. Runs into Soames who tells him Sheriff Baker is dead. A dozen people in town have died of this flu. The town is cut off. This is a ‘breakout chapter’. Captain Trips is off the leash now and gathering pace.


“NICK Andros pushed aside one of the curtains and looked out into the street.” Nick nurses Jane Baker. Breaks into a truck stop, takes food. Rides bike to outskirts of town. Decaying bodies on road. Explores town. Most houses silent. A few sick and delirious occupants left. Releases the only surviving prisoner. Sees a newscast abut ‘superflu epidemic’. Outbreaks reported globally. Jane Baker dies.

NICK. “At twenty-two minutes of nine by the clock over the sheriff’s office doorway, the lights went off.” Power fails to the jailhouse where Nick is staying. He is attacked by Ray Booth. Fights him off.

“NICK Andros lay sleeping but not quiet on the bunk in Sheriff Baker’s office.” Still in town, Nick almost dies of an infected scratch. He has fever dreams of Mother Abigail. He takes a bike and rides out of town.

6 Responses to ‘The Stand: separated character arcs ’

Therbs asserts...

Posted August 28
I like the breakdown . Sort of like crib notes for an Eng Lit assignment. I'm sure Mr King would approve.
Haven't read The Stand for a couple of decades or so ever since my copy went walkabout. Now you've made me long for it. Guess that's what Kindle's for.
*click*

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted August 28
I listened to the extended audiobook with Thomas last year. It was great to revisit just for fun.

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Nocturnalist mutters...

Posted August 29
And not just the character arcs in isolation, the way he overlays and interlocks them is just amazing. The example that always stays with me is the Nadine Cross/Larry Underwood/Lucy Swann triangle.

That is such a goddamn perfect piece of literary watchmaking. All three parties are fully human, all flawed but all desperate to get to what they see as the best end point. All their actions unfold with perfect logic from who they are and what they want, and there's no way to fault any of them when you stand within their own story and see where they're coming from. Even when you see the disaster that unfolds because of the choices they make, where could any of these three basically good people have chosen differently?

Admirable, enviable work.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 29
Yeah, that triangle in particular always impresses me because there is no right choice for Larry to make. Either way he goes, with Nadine or Lucy, he ain't no nice guy.

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Dave W is gonna tell you...

Posted August 29
I first read The Stand in my mid-teens. And embarrassingly I tend to re-read it every couple of years. In terms of characters I note that King said something along the lines that people kept asking him what happened to So-and-so afterwards, like they'd kept in touch and written him letters.

I guess that's a sign right there that the characters are really well done.

Glen Bateman is my favourite. Cynical, frightened, smart.

And just because I can: M-O-O-N, that spells Nebraska! Laws yes!

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NBlob ducks in to say...

Posted August 31
One of my favourites. Been to long. Failed to remember 17 d.

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