A Thriller on the Trap of Group Dynamics

Place a group of people under one roof and after a while each may take on a role in a somewhat hierarchal way. The same can be said for a large family. I come from a large family and have experienced sibling rivalry. My first novel, conceived when I was 17, is inspired from my experiences of coming from a large family. Only afterwards did I conduct some research into the dynamics of a large family.

The Chain of Command in the Family

Members of a large family often fit into roles, although no two families are alike. Parallels can be drawn between the social structure and a family unit: the older or eldest sibling will often have a lot of emotional clout and influence over the younger siblings. In some cases, this older person may take on the role of a ‘sub’ parent, bearing the expectations and responsibilities of the actual parents.

Younger sibling may take on various roles within the family system; one may play the scapegoat, or the black sheep; the awkward one who perhaps gets into scrapes. This individual could either become withdrawn or a tear-away. Another sibling might be the funny one, the one who makes the others laugh, a bit of a jack-the-lad, comic or showoff. A similar sibling might also be gifted in some other way. A younger sibling might play the opportunist. A bit crafty, this sibling takes advantage of circumstances to get his or her own way and always seems to get away with it!

Hierarchal Order of Family Psychology

In very large families, the younger ones are at risk of being overlooked. These individuals may have a poor sense of identity, particularly when outside the family unit. In all cases, the siblings use various means to get their parents’ attention or to make their mark, whether by positive or negative means. Years after leaving home, when I get together with my siblings, I feel these old roles pall over us like dusty old cloaks. Yes, I have lived through the experience of the large family dynamic and decided to write a novel about it.

Story on Gang Structure

These roles can be adopted in gangs after giving in to peer pressure to belong. In my novel, A Hard Lesson, I implanted these familial roles into a dark version of a group structure – in this case, a criminal clique headed by a controlling psychopath called Kurt. Kurt operates in a derelict house called the Hollows, where he can partake in illegal activities and organize his cronies in peace. But crime is not really what this novel is about. It is more about the dangers of breaking out of any established group system.


Fiction Thriller on Criminal Psychology

A Hard Lesson is told from the viewpoint of a young teacher who gets a sneak inside view of a clique system via her boyfriend, Frank. However, Sarah remains firmly an outsider to Frank's circle of friends but witnesses the control the leader, Kurt has over the other members. Sarah is assigned to tutor a horrendous pupil, Josh who suffers dyslexia and who also belongs to the same group system.

Story of Peer Pressure and Shame

Frank is the opposite of Josh. He is witty, good-looking, socially-adept and always gets the girl. We can see how Frank and Josh are placed in the group setting in relation to the aforementioned family roles.
I had great fun writing the scenes between Sarah and Josh. Put two disparate people in the same place, and the scenes will write themselves. The results are cracking dialogue and great tension. Josh throws everything at her. Despite his odious games of 'teacher and pupil,' Sarah keeps coming back to teach him, week after week.

Individual versus Gang Ranking

Desperate to keep Josh engaged, Sarah sets Josh assignments on erotic art. I shall give no spoilers here, but the butterfly effect begins to emerge. A small and insignificant event starts to have unforeseen effects upon Frank's life and his friends. The question poses itself, what happens when people start to abandon their roles? After all, any hierarchal system is at odds with the individual. It would seem that Kurt has a spanner-in-the-works. And this psychopath doesn’t like people interfering with his little clique.

Criminal Psychology in Novels

I wrote A Hard Lesson because I had a lot to say about group dynamics. This novel would never have been written if I had not come from a large family. I don’t believe the characters would have had the same depth and their drives might not have convinced. Belonging to any group system can endanger the individual. Certain forces can break it down, but with great risk: love, fear or a radical belief. How many times has a young child feared telling their parents that they didn’t want to go the family way?

A Hard Lesson by Charles J Harwood
Copyright is asserted © 2012
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Image credit: Nattu (Wikimedia Commons 2013)
References: The Benefits and Disadvantages of Large Versus Small Families: Psychology Today (Vivian Diller PHD (Nov 11 2010)