Stitches Story Structure

In rite of passage stories, the protagonist’s goal is to ignore a difficult truth about their life which is plain as the nose on their face, or in the case of David Small: the lump on his neck.

Why do they ignore the truth? Because facing it would require a change they are afraid to make; it’s scary, and maybe if they ignore it, it’ll just go away and it won’t be a problem anymore. Unfortunately, (unless it’s a tragedy) that is never the case and the protagonist must mature to bear the pains that come with growth.

For David, facing the truth that led to his throat cancer and the removal of a vocal chord (thus rendering him mute) would mean separation from his family; a scary situation for any adolescent, but it’s what he must do to survive.

Spoiler Warning! Below is the plot structure of Stitches using Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet as the basis for the breakdown (see my review of Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat, an excellent storytelling resource). For an explanation of each “beat” please refer to Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. Thanks!

PREMISE: Stitches is a rite of passage memoir about David Small, a boy who realizes his parents have given him throat cancer.

Opening Image: David, at the age of six, draws a white rabbit in the family room, while in the kitchen his mother expresses a silent rage through an unspoken language (her “little cough”, slamming the cabinet doors, moving her dinner fork just so, etc.). This story will be about pregnant silence.

Set Up: Each family member deals with pregnant silence in their own way: David’s father punches a speed bag, his brother bangs on his drums, and David, already a sickly child due to sinus issues, feigns illness. By being sick, his mother nurtures him, but he also must endure his father’s therapy. David’s father is a radiologist and – in compliance with the medical opinions of the time – tries to cure David’s sinus issues with x-rays.

Theme Stated: One day, while at his father’s hospital, David ventures on his own. As he slides across fleshly-waxed floors in his socks – something he has been told not to do – David spies a fetus preserved in a jar (this will come to represent the Theme). Frightened, he runs away, leaving his shoes behind. The loss of his shoes and his rebellious actions result in his mother’s silent fury. David learns that it is very wrong to disobey.

Catalyst: David’s brother shows David a picture of a “growth” in one of their father’s medical books (foreshadowing what will come). Uninterested in disgusting pictures of “growths” David prefers to escape reality through drawing and playing Alice in Wonderland.

Debate: But can David truly escape his reality? As David and his mother travel to visit his crazy and sinister grandmother, we are introduced to David’s bunch-of-nut-jobs family tree. Can David escape the reality of his family? Can he be different?

Choosing Act Two: Alone with his grandmother, six-year-old David stands up to her putdowns and bullying. This results in a physically abusive punishment.

B-Story: And when his mother doesn’t fight for him against his grandmother, David assumes he deserved the outlandish punishment. That night he dreams that his family has placed him in a coffin. Standing over his body, Grandma calls him a fool and says, “He needed to learn” (Theme: Obedience).

Fun n’ Games (Promise of the Premise): Five years later, a growth is noticed on David’s neck. Claiming they have no money to offer David medical attention, his mother proceeds to go on a shopping spree, buying things for herself instead. David remains quietly obedient, while his silence grows heavy with anger. He even imagines the lump on his neck is pregnant with the fetus (his urge to disobey is growing).

Mid-point: Over 3 years later, David is finally in a hospital, preparing for surgery. But during the initial surgery, they find his growth has become cancerous. He wakes to find he can no longer speak. They had to remove a vocal chord. “Ack!” is all he can say, now. Quiet anger is no longer a choice.

Bad Guys Close In: Voiceless, with grotesque stitches spanning his neck from ear down to collarbone, David has no place of solace. At school he has no friends, no outlet, no voice, and at home they continue with criticisms and pregnant silence. Desperate for an escape, “screaming on the inside”, David lashes out by stealing a car and by running away from boarding school. Even when he tries to talk about his cancer (or whisper, as his one remaining vocal chord grows stronger), his parents shut the door, refusing to discuss it.

All is Lost (& Whiff of Death): Due to his behavior, it is advised for David to see a therapist – represented as a human-sized, pocket-watch-toting, white rabbit. The white rabbit allows David to finally talk about his anger and provides David with the truth he has ignored for his entire life saying, “Your mother doesn’t love you.” David cries.

Dark Night of the Soul: David’s tears turn to rain. It rains for a number of page spreads as David mourns, until there are no more tears to shed.

Choosing Act Three: David meets with the white rabbit several times a week, feeling cared for and protected by an adult for the first time. Over the course of a year, he is able to escape down the rabbit hole to healing while his family falls apart…

Finale: One afternoon, David arrives home early and catches his mother in bed with a woman (her secret shame is revealed), his grandmother loses her mind and burns her husband alive, and his father admits that through the x-rays he gave David during his childhood, he gave David cancer (but he’s not interested in making amends). At sixteen, David moves away and finds a haven at art school. Gradually, he makes a life for himself, returning home only once to see his mother before she dies. At the hospital, they share a silent moment of forgiveness before David leaves once again, stopping by the fetus in the jar – it is no longer scary.

Final Image: In an epilogue, David describes a dream he had. In the dream, his mother requests that he follow in her footsteps and in the footsteps of his grandmother. He refuses.


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  1. 03/08/2010 at 11:50 PM
  2. 03/15/2010 at 6:03 PM

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