The Truth Is Hard To Tell
TRAGEDY, JUDGMENT, SELF-REFLECTION/IDENTITY
LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE
• JENNIE – 30S. DEVOUT. DEDICATED. STEADFAST. JUDGMENTAL.
• PHILIP – ELIZABETH’S HUSBAND. HE’S SO WRAPPED UP IN HIS OWN WORLD THAT HE OFTEN DISREGARDS THE EFFORTS HIS WIFE PUTS FORTH ON HIS BEHALF.
• ELIZABETH – JENNIE’S NEIGHBOR. INITIALLY, JENNIE IDOLIZES ASPECTS OF ELIZABETH’S LIFE AND ENJOYS SPENDING TIME FOR HER, BUT HER VIEWS SHIFT WHEN ELIZABETH LEAVES HER CHILDREN IN A HOT CAR.
• ELI – 80S. A MAN SUFFERING DEMENTIA SYMPTOMS AFTER THE DEATH OF HIS BELOVED WIFE. JENNIE ATTENDS HIS FUNERAL.
• JARED – JENNIE’S RELATIVE THROUGH HER HUSBAND. HE RUNS AWAY FROM HOME AND BECOMES HOMELESS.
• FANNY – JENNIE’S NEIGHBOR WHO ENCOURAGES HER TO THINK DIFFERENTLY ABOUT HER RELIGIOUS PERSPECTIVE.
Smile. Nod. Bake a perfect cake. Dress your children well and turn your head against anything you find distasteful. Even if it’s your neighbor... or your own family. There are skeletons hidden all over the South. It’s OK. Look how perfect your cake is! This is your story. You own the truth.
Target Gender: Universal,Female Leaning
Charleston, South Carolina
Based on a True Story
Status: Yes: self-published
Year Published: 2018
Jennie tries so hard to be a godly woman, loving mother, attractive wife, attentive neighbor, and dutiful sister, stepmother, daughter, and aunt. The problem is that everyone keeps getting in the way of her success. If it weren't for circumstances and, well, people, she could be just about perfect.
Echoed by the fall of the Twin Towers, Jennie's world comes crashing down as she tries to make sense of it all. Sadly, heroic action does not always follow good intentions. Within the matryoshka structure are the interrelated stories of eight characters that together form one complete narrative.
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Mature Audience Themes
Plot - Other Elements
Plot - Premise
Main Character Details
Name: Jennie Walters
Key Traits: Complex,Engaging,Naive,Narcisstic,Uneducated,Religious,Patriotic,Strong Moral Code,Gracious,Desperate,Charming,Insecure
Additional Character Details
Key Traits: Aspiring,Charming,Complex,Desperate,Faithful,Gracious,Educated,Leader,Religious,Secretive,Funny
Additional Character Details
Key Traits: Complex,Desperate,Educated,Insecure,Underdog,Blunt
Additional Character Details
Key Traits: Charming,Clumsy,Complex,Desperate,Engaging,Honorable,Naive,Modest,Uneducated,Selfless
THE TRUTH IS HARD TO TELL is dark Southern literary fiction—with just enough laughs to make you question your salvation. These stories unfold as through a glass darkly: we see the characters as they see themselves, and we also glimpse them through our anti-heroine’s eyes. You will have to decide for yourself which version is the truth. Or perhaps it is something altogether different. The New York Times bestselling author Lee Smith (Dimestore; Last Girls) says, “Virtuoso writing and apocalyptic vision characterize Ashley Atkins's utterly original and fascinating novel. Brilliant writing marks this serious look at contemporary America.” As written, set in Charleston, South Carolina, around the autumnal equinox of 2001, THE TRUTH IS HARD TO TELL lends itself perfectly for direct adaptation to a full-length motion picture or limited scripted TV series. However, with a full cast of complex characters, multiple storylines, and deliberate open-endedness, it could easily be adapted for a longer-running dramatic series set in the present-day American South.
Jennie tries hard to be the perfect Christian woman, the perfect wife, and the perfect neighbor, but her neighbors and family members don’t make it easy. Jennie forms a bond with Elizabeth, but when Elizabeth accidentally leaves her children in a hot car, killing them, Jennie begins to question everything she thought she knew. Through Jennie and Elizabeth, and a range of characters that are tied together in unexpected ways, this book studies a variety of characters, and the way they make their ways through life.
Authors Writing Style: EXCELLENT
Franchise Potential: FAIR
Accuracy of Book Profile
The logline is quite vague at the moment. Detailing a little more of the actual plot in the logline would give readers a clearer view of the story they’re about to dive into.
Draw of Story
The writing in this story is impressive and it will immediately draw readers into the story. This writer has a knack for character development, vivid descriptions, and world building.
At times the perspective unexpectedly shifts from one character to another in this story. It can be confusing, and a little difficult to keep up with the shifting point of views at times. Certain storylines are also far more compelling than others. Eli’s story, for example, doesn’t seem to fit into the greater narrative as well as others do. Weaving these characters together in more memorable ways would be beneficial, as would cutting back to Jennie’s story more frequently, in order to better ground the narrative.
Use of Special Effects
THE STORY DOES NOT RELY ON SPECIAL EFFECTS
Primary Hook of Story
The hook of this story is the way it explores real, nuanced characters and a variety of themes and issues. Each character looks at life differently. Each character faces distinct personal struggles. The tragedy at the heart of this project would also likely draw readers and viewers in from the start. It’s a strong hook.
This story would likely have a relatively large fanbase, especially with female fans and fans of twisting and surprising character studies. The relatability of the characters would also likely provide a little something for everyone to connect with.
With the right team attached, there is a chance this project could be adapted into a prestige mini-series. The actress portraying Jennie would probably have particular Awards potential, as the role would require a nuanced and emotional performance.
Similar Films/TV Series
BIG LITTLE LIES. DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE.
What’s New About the Story
The way that this story simultaneously follows a large cast of characters is very original. Certain characters, such as Jennie and Jared, also stand out as being particularly original. Tying these characters even more closely to each other and focusing in on certain themes could make this project more unique.
Jennie is a nuanced and emotionally fascinating character. She is a strong pivotal protagonist, as she sees the world in such a unique way. Cutting back to her more frequently and adding more historical context to her character to help explain why she is the way she is would make her stand out even more.
Uniqueness of Story
For fans of character dramas with flashes of dark comedy and unexpected plot developments, this project is a rare gem. Further revisions, as noted above, would make it shine even more.
Film: Indie, Streaming TV Series: Cable, Limited Run / Mini-Series
While this project isn’t as strong as it could be at the moment, the interesting premise, strong writing, and compelling characterization of certain leading characters certainly deserves consideration.
Through the eyes of a highly religious woman, this story paints a vivid picture of the modern world and the way different characters play a part in it. When the woman’s neighbor leaves her children in a hot car, leading to their deaths, she questions everything she thought she knew about herself and the world.
What We Liked
The writing in this project is superb. The characterization is interesting and original. The premise is topical, and a wide variety of audiences would appreciate the different perspectives reflected in this story.
Film: As it’s written now, this project would be an easy film adaptation. It has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and the ending feels poignant and satisfying in a dark way.
TV: The characters in this script are perfectly primed for a mini-series. There are numerous storylines that could be explored through future episodes, and the way that many of them intersect in each other’s lives would make for a satisfying and surprising series.
Low Budget Potential.
Strong writing and plotting.
When Jennie moves into a new home with her husband Philip, she is glad to make a friend in her neighbor Elizabeth. Jennie meets her neighbors and does everything she can to be the perfect Christian wife, though Philip doesn’t always appreciate her efforts. Jennie’s carefully curated life takes an unexpected turn when her daughter Rainey begins experiencing strange symptoms.
Readers also meet other characters:
- Jared, a young and troubled man that is kicked out of his home after selling drugs. He longs to return home, but he tries to make his way on the streets. He falls into mental illness and begins eating cat food.
- Eli, an 85-year-old man suffering from Alzheimer symptoms, struggles to take care of himself after the death of his wife.
- Avery Garrison spends most of his time in online chat rooms.
- In a hospital waiting room, Melanie learns that her 7-year-old son Matthew’s cancer has returned. The prognosis is grim.
- Kinsey recalls snapshots of her life as she contemplates suicide.
- Alison and John get into a fight, and John leaves to drive to a meeting with a doctor. He tells the doctor that he needs help. He scares his wife and other people, but he doesn’t want to do it and he doesn’t know why. He comes home and he and Alison seem to be in a good place, until she tells him he’s been cheating on her and she wants him to admit it. Even though John denies the accusation, Alison tells him that he’ll agree to whatever she says.
Back with Elizabeth and Donald, Elizabeth decides she needs some time away. She prepares for her trip, and before she leaves she takes her children out for a treat. She returns home and packs, and then she realizes… her children are still in the hot car.
In Jennie’s home, Philip informs her that his mom told him that Jared ran away from home, revealing that Jared and Philip are related. Readers also learn through Jennie that Eli has died on his birthday. She attends his funeral, though she didn’t know him well. Soon after, Jennie is on the phone with her mother when she watches the Twin Towers fall. The tragedy deeply upsets her.
She has cake with a neighbor named Fanny, who reminds her not to take herself or her religion so seriously. Just be decent to your neighbors. Jennie seems to take this in. As she’s leaving, she runs into Elizabeth, who looks unwell and tells her she’s going away for a while. The police arrive, and Elizabeth pushes Jennie into her home.
Jennie, horrified by what she feels Elizabeth has done to her children, takes her kids to the beach. Afterwards, she spots Jared, homeless and confused. She drops her parents off and returns to help him, but she ultimately turns away from him, deciding against it.