Feedback needed! Pitch for The Road To America - General / Literary Fiction

Good day Nick! :smiley: I have a new plot that’s slightly dear to my heart and it’s a little daunting to part with it, but let’s do this for the greater good. Still struggling to get a foothold of a good plot, so I hope I can get your insightful feedback! :smile:

Title: The Road To America
Genre: General Fiction / Literary Fiction
Audience: YA/NA and anyone with interest in culture-based fiction
Length: 50000 to 60000

SUMMARY:

In the South Indian fishing village of Ratthinampakkan, 17 year-old Anbazhagan ‘Anbu’ Muthusamy daydreams about dropping out from school and striking jackpot by catching thousands of fish. That is until affluent 18 year-old Vetrimaaran Anbarasen is the first boy of the village to enter a university out of India: in America. Anbu visits him with his friends and Vetri describes America in enthralling detail. Anbu gets infatuated with the fantastical America in his head.

Days pass. Vetri returns briefly from America. Anbu and his mates find an address in Vetri’s notebook and as a prank, write a letter to it in. Anbu volunteers to post it. He surprisingly gets a reply from Trevor, Vetri’s batchmate, who accompanies Vetri to the village. This strengthens Anbu’s infatuation. Unbeknownst to him, the picturesque fantasy Trevor had of the village doesn’t match with reality and he leaves, and the exchange abruptly ends.

Staring at the only bungalow in the village, Anbu vows that he, too, would go to America. Stealing the little money his father had, Anbu sets off to the city to find what Vetri called ‘American Embassy’. When he tries to enter it, he is called a ‘beggar boy’ and dragged away. Insulted, he vows to succeed. Forcing his way to the smart kids’ benches, he meets studious Abirami, a girl who helps him improve.

One day a year later, a terrible storm hits their coast. Anbu’s father and brother drown. Being the eldest, his ailing mother begs Anbu to drop out and go out to fish for income. Unable to part with school, he searches for night work in the city – only sewage cleaning is offered to the villagers. Anguished but with no choice, Anbu accepts.

Amma’s ailment worsens. High cost of medications forces Anbu to drop out and fish – but Amma dies five days before he is to join the fleet. He takes this as God’s plan and throws himself in studying for his entrance exams. His arithmetic skills finally gets him a job as a shopkeeper’s accountant.

The exams finish. Anbu emerges as the top in the village, but he isn’t near the top 10% in the state of Tamilnadu. Unable to apply to American universities and dejected, he goes to visit a recently-returned Vetri to lament, only for Vetri to confide that his father had actually sold their ancestral land to forge his marks and force him to America. America is hostile – Trevor now calls him a ‘fisherman’s son.’ An introspective reflection makes Anbu realise a comfortable life doesn’t have to be in America. He applies and graduates as a computer scientist from Mumbai’s Institute of Technology, and his sister goes to Australia after passing her exams in flying colours. Finally peaceful in life, Anbu then builds a good hospital in remembrance of his mother, serves his community, and tutors the youngsters in the village. And in a few of them, he sees himself – and they, too, might embark on The Road To America.

MAJOR ARCS / PLOTLINES
  1. Anbu’s internal struggle with the harsh external world – mainly he has to battle poverty and societal norms in order to attain what he thinks is success, and also not give up and lose hope in harsh times.

  2. Anbu’s internal transformation throughout the book – he has to realise that the dream of having a great life in another land had is, in itself, societal construct of ultimate success. He has to then transform from a boy who bases his dreams on society to a man who knows what he truly wants.

  3. Anbu and Abirami will have an unfulfilled romantic subplot – Abirami, as a girl, would be arranged to marry a wealthier man so the family can sustain.

THINGS TO HIGHLIGHT

BOOK STRUCTURE: The whole book will be first-person and from Anbu’s perspective.

NOTES:

  1. This book was heavily inspired by The Village By The Sea, Malgudi Days, and the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

  2. As a South Indian, this plot was born out of the unquenchable desire to show the world how it is like in my culture.

  3. There is a lot of cultural reasoning that goes behind Anbu’s decisions. I accept that the heavy cultural aspect might be tricky to connect with the audience, but the journey, the struggles, and the dreams of the protagonist will definitely resonate with them.

Thank you very, very much for your help. I hope that with your feedback, I will be able to write this book – it really is quite dear to my heart.

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I’m struggling with following this plot a bit. It seems to introduce unique conflicts or plot threads and then resolve or abandon them for each new paragraph.

He wants to drop out of school and fish.

His friend goes to America for university. He thinks America is cool.

He randomly sends a message to a random person from America loosely related to his friend. The person shows up and leaves.

He steals money and goes to the city to meet a girl who helps him improve (why does he need to improve? He is trying to go to the Embassy, not university). She disappears from the plot.

A random storm occurs and kills his father and brother. This doesn’t change anything for him (he wasn’t about to make university but now has to choose) and he gets a job.

A character named Amma(?) is sick and then dies, causing him to study more (which he was already doing?). He gets another job.

He does well in the exams but fails to make it to university. His friend returns and says he went their because of his family and America is kind of lousy. Anbu then decides life is fine anyways and gets another job building a hospital and then tutoring.

A few issues with this, so long as that was accurate:

Anbu doesn’t have any major motivation. He wants to fish for a fortune (why? Just to make money?) but instantly abandons that for America just because it sounds nice, then he does other things, then decides to try and get into university. His love of America, for example, appears almost instantly. It’s not like a lifelong dream or big thing that is built up so it’s not a particularly strong motivation and when he loses it, it doesn’t mean much since it was never that big a deal.

Otherwise, Anbu is a very passive character. He does almost nothing in relation to world events. Even the climax is something mostly out of his control. He works hard, doesn’t achieve, but somehow learns a lesson that leaving his home isn’t worth it, not because he saw the value of his home (he has mostly been treated poorly and everyone around him dies) but just because he didn’t get to where he was trying. That’s not very aspirational, more like “well, guess if I can’t leave here, it’s okay to stay.”

I think the concept of exploring an anti-immigration storyline is really fascinating. Having a character be infatuated with leaving his home and country to go to the seemingly magical America is a pretty traditional immigrant story. If that person saw and learned the value of their own country (so probably not through death and intense poverty) and also saw the true face of the place they thought they wanted to be (racist, in turmoil, wealth disparate) and this culminated in learning something about staying in their own home, that’s interesting. If you’re going to pursue that though, your plotline has to be very consistent throughout, and the things that happen along the way have to have relevant lessons to the character’s journey. If things are random or teach a different lesson, it means you won’t culminate in anything.

Last note, give your character agency. They need to make choices and take actions to progress their own plot. If, instead, bad things happen to them or around them to instead move the plot, your readers can’t connect with that and can’t speculate with “what would I do with that choice?”

I am really fascinated in this exploration of a local community and of making your own home better as opposed to the traditional narrative of leaving behind a bad place to go to a land of opporunity.

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@nick
Ah, I see I haven’t explained certain things properly. Ah it’s so hard to condense all my flying thughts into 500 words…

The idea of someone going off to a new land (a city or a state) is touted by the village right from the start, but many boys don’t really dream about finishing education and succeeding, instead falling to the usual trope of ‘I’ll rather follow my father’s footsteps and be a fisherman.’

Anbu also initially falls in that categories. But after he witnesses the dangerous life of his brother and father together with various insulting incidents, Anbu becomes dissatisfied with the dream of joining a larger fishing fleet to make money. He realizes that a life like that is very unpredictable, and he himself have lived through it.

It isn’t an instant abandonment because he goes through phases of questioning.

The letter exchange happens after Anbu is infatuated with his idea of America and is thirsty to know more. But this is a foreshadowing of how the outside world saw him and his world as inferior, and when the Americans show up, their aloof attitude is overlooked by a zealous Anbu who bombards them with questions, asking them about America, and trying to solidify his infatuation.

Oh no, I misrepresented it… He doesn’t go to the city to meet the girl. He goes to the city to ask the Embassy about how he can get to America, like how his friend had done. He then gets insulted, returns to the village, gets insulted by his teacher for not being able to study well, and then decides to change himself around and seeks her help for studies.

She’s a strong moral support and love interest. I forgot to add that in.

And yes, he can still go to university. He’s still schooling.

He had decided to change his life around and finish his education in order to write the State Exams and graduate to get to university, but as the eldest son he is actually forced to choose between dropping out to fish or continuing school. He chooses the latter because he wants to reach his goal, but that makes his path even more difficult. He refuses to accept defeat, simply.

Amma means mother, I forgot to mention! :cry: His mother is ailing (without them knowing), and she shares the dream of Anbu succeeding in his pursuit. When she dies, it breaks him and he struggles to get a grip in life, but the support and love he gets from the other villagers and friends prop him up again. When she dies, Anbu has another choice to make: leave his dream due to his grief, or go on with it with more fervour. To him, the success would have elevated his mother’s life and his family’s life.

He fails to make it to America’s universities, but not university. He has plenty of options in India itself and he can easily get into one, but America has been portrayed as a Land Of Dreams and a fantastical place by the village, and going there would have elevated his whole life, brought immense pride to the village, and sculpted his name as someone extremely successful.

But her doesn’t get to America, that’s the point. He doesn’t realise that he has built such an extreme dream, a fantasy of sorts, that had cemented as a goal. He struggles to shed the fantasy, and that is when Vetri’s experience and lamentation makes him analyze everything he had done.

Oh man, I forgot to add this in too? I really can’t summarize well! :sob: Anbu becomes a computer engineer in Mumbai’s university (another state in India).

He doesn’t decide life is fine. He is extremely hurt that people who had supported him and loved him and propped him up has to still go through all the pain he did, and he sees the divide between the society – the affluent succeed, the poor struggle to. His pain then redefines his goal: he really wants to make his village a better place. Build a good hospital so another son doesn’t lose his mother. Build better schools so youngsters with dreams can work towards it.

Poverty. His family goes through hunger and he is extremely attached to his family. The pain all of them go through is a main factor that drives him to find a stable and good life, unlike the one they were in. His initial assumption of ‘fishing will get fortune’ is broken when his father and brother do not succeed in that.

Actually in villages they grow up with stories and folklore, so America is persistently one of them. Seen as a fantasy land, Anbu doesn’t think he can make it – but his friends does, and the lines of fantasy and reality blurs.

He doesn’t really stay, he goes to Mumbai to study. It’s a small victory in a sense. Just that his dreams get painfully scaled down in reality – he doesn’t get to America. It’s a classic example of ‘aim for the moon, you’ll fall among the stars.’

Anbu’s love for the family and the village is indeed what still ties him to his village – he is attached and he can’t let go. He knows that in no way is the village the reason for his pain, it is just the way life had been constructed around it.

I guess I have to work out this very well too. Bad things do happen, but he does have a choice in every situation.

I actually set up a foreshadowing for every situation because they aren’t random – people have died due to fishing storms, Amma’s ailment is drawn out but untreatable. They are all in his natural world – this is an internal vs. external conflict.

I am still at the basic level of understanding the true depth of my writing, but what I would say the main lesson is that the rigid structure of one’s external/natural world and the harshness they face does not have to be accepted passively. There is light at the end of the tunnel in some form – it may not be total freedom, but it is a betterment from your usual state.

Oof, I guess it’s hard to condense everything into a pitch I guess.

This just made my day. :sob:

Thank you so much Nick! I really appreciate you taking your time to analyse and reply to me! You’re really so helpful, it’s amazing how you still take time to support the WP community. :smiley:

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