I’m a bit disappointed that I trashed my own outline yesterday by coming up with another reasonably OK idea. So, I will back up a day and see if there is another way to interpret the original events by changing the milleu.
OK, what if the setting is not contemporary at all, but fantasy? I had tried to steer away from either historical or fantasy worlds on the assumption that it would either require lots of research or lots of other preparation to make the world believeable. However, if I don’t do *something* I will fail to start at all. At least fantasy can be generated by imagination rather than depending on research.
So, assume a fantasy world, locally ruled by a hierarchy of nobles. Assume the inland areas produce crops and livestock, the ocean areas produce fish and serve as trade hubs. Lines of transportation and trade routes are still rough around the edges, so in order to make a living as a “merchant” (meaning trader) you mark up the cost of goods sold five times or more to pay for armed escort for you and your cargo. Similar deal for sailors only much more so, and ocean-going routes are not quite safe enough for reliable passage.
In this world, most folks will inherit the business of their fathers (if male) or be expected to marry (if female) to provide their future livelihood. However, second sons would have some freedom: either they would continue to stay with the household and work the family business, or they could apprentice with other craftsmen able to take them in.
Then there is the all-important issue of magic. Magic is an innate ability, and either you have it or you don’t (having it is extremely rare, at most one child per village per 3-5 years). If you’re found to have the ability, usually manifesting around puberty, you are whisked off to be trained where you are not as likely to be a danger to yourself or others (and where the secrets you learn can be kept in the family – think Psi Corps). About the only time magic users travel from their academy/monastery is to visit villages and scan adolescents for their ability. Magic items are also extremely rare and valuable, sometimes being traded, usually handed down within a family.
Elves and other non-humans can be found, but only by travelling great distances, and travelling is not considered a safe activity.
In this variation, the gift is magic, though there is likely something uncommon about this hero’s magic; perhaps it is stronger than usual but occurs later so he is not found to have it at age 13 or 14. I’m not sure about the competition or how the main characters get to be rivals. One ideal is that the competition could be between apprentices of a certain craft to see who gets to be named the best and gets to marry the crasftmaster’s daughter (who is also an apprentice?)
Another idea, perhaps the children all take lessons together until they reach a certain age and are selected for apprenticeship by various local craftsmen, and are competing with each other so they will earn good placement (assuming they don’t already have a place within the family business). That could set up A, B and C as rivals.
Anyway, whatever the rivalry plot, it’s clear that it will be overshadowed near the end by the discovery of A’s ability.
Not sure what the “dark path” is that C starts onto; maybe he is just jealous of A over B’s affection, or protective of B (if he’s her brother?) He may or may not die in order to redeem himself.
Some things I want in my story
1-12 An unlikely hero A, placed in a difficult situation and acting well
Starts off unsure of his place in the world, ends up with a changed role
2-12 a competition or rivalry
A/B/C are all competing in some way, perhaps for an apprenticeship
3-12 love, perhaps between apparent rivals, a and b
Starts as rivalry, develops in to love, kept secret, finally revealed
4-9 a magical gift
Hinted at in 1, exposed in 4, shared secret in 9
3-11 Someone who falls from grace, or betrays himself, but hides his flaw: C
Hinted in 3, revealed in 6, resolved by a noble death in 11
Rough order of events, subject to change.
1 First introduction of hero A, with a hint of unrest
2 Introduce the competition, first introduction of the rival B
3 Introduction of C? Or something else here.
4 When A discovers his/her gift, doesn’t know what it is at first
5 When two rivals discover they are in love (A and B)
6 C doesn’t like A and plots to harm him or sabotage his work
7 When there is an argument between B and C
8 When two lovers are forced to compete (A and B)
9 When B discovers the gift of A
10 Fight between the hero and the betrayer (A and C)
11 Death of C, in a way allowing C to redeem himself
12 When A has to give up his career or station