This week’s assessment comes from Jordan. In her WIP, her heroine, Marni*, a former law enforcement officer, is abducted the night before her wedding. After much tribulation, the fiancé gets her back two hours before the wedding.
Jordan wants to know if it would be psychologically feasible for a character who had just been through an abduction to want to continue with the wedding, the idea being that she’s not going to let anything “ruin the day or keep her from getting married.”
She also wants to know what ill psychological side effects Marni might suffer.
* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.
I emailed Jordan to find out if there was any other traumatic history with abduction in Marni’s backstory. Jordan said she’d never been abducted or worked an abduction as a beat cop or FBI counter intelligence. I also wanted to know Marni’s history with the abductors and how long she was abducted (to rule out Stockholm Syndrome). Jordan emailed that Marni knew both of them, as they were all members of the same parish for about 3 years, and that she was only abducted for under 18 hours, and slept during some of that time.
I want to answer the second question first, as perhaps that might be the most helpful for other readers, and then get down to the more specific question regarding the feasibility of Marni’s reaction second.
Being abducted or kidnapped is definitely a traumatic event. Many things factor into the traumatic nature: it was unexpected, the person wasn’t prepared for it, the person felt powerless/helpless, someone else was intentionally cruel…all these things add to trauma. (Even more so if it happens in childhood or if it happens repeatedly, FYI.)
Some people are just more susceptible to psychological and emotional trauma. Who fits this bill?
1) A person already under a heavy stress load (planning a wedding could qualify…)
2) A person who has already suffered a loss or series of losses
3) A person who has already been traumatized before (especially in childhood and especially if it’s a trauma in the same manner, type or event)
So already Marni’s case is looking pretty good. Because Jordan indicated Marni had no prior trauma, then Marni has a better chance of rebounding from the abduction scenario than someone who had some previous red flags.
Now, that said, there are absolutely normal reactions to these abnormal, traumatic events that anyone could have. If I were you, Jordan, I’d pick one or two of the following symptoms to maybe focus on. If your intent is to have her go through with the wedding (which I’ll go ahead and say I see as psychologically feasible…if done right), you don’t want to give her too much baggage up front to process in 2 hours.
Physical symptoms to trauma include: insomnia/nightmares; high startle response, increased heartbeat, fatigue, agitations/edginess, muscle tension/aches/pains, difficulty concentrating, sweating…and several others. I’d pick ONE.
Emotional symptoms run the gamut, but here’s some likely possibilities: denial, guilt, shame, self-blame, shock, disbelief, anger, mood swings, irritability; feeling hopeless, confused, afraid, anxious, disconnected, numb, sad; withdrawing from others. I’d pick ONE or possibly TWO.
Usually these symptoms fade with time, lasting anywhere from a day or two to several months. Of course, with post-traumatic stress disorder, anything that reminds the victim of the trauma can make symptoms reappear.
Now for a little lesson about what trauma actually does to a person. Trauma disrupts the body’s natural equilibrium, freezing you in a state of hyperarousal and fear. In essence, your nervous system gets stuck in overdrive. Successful trauma treatment must address this imbalance and reestablish your physical sense of safety.
One way to address the imbalance is to discharge the pent-up energy in a physical way. If you can find a way to bring about one of the following: trembling, shaking, sweating, crying, laughing, or goose bumps, then it’s more likely Marni’s reaction can be contained. It might be cool (no pun intended) to have her in a meat locker, trembling all over. The physical reaction of her body can process that pent-up energy so when she comes out of the trembling, her nervous system returns to its state of equilibrium. You could have Marni state how “normal” she feels…and even be shocked at this.
Of course, you’ll want Marni to process through her trauma-related thoughts or feelings. This could be done en route to the church or something. And if you’re going to have her get counseling at some point before the end of the story, it could also be done there. But myself, I’d have her process with the groom-to-be at least a little before the wedding.
The key is if Jordan's personality is strong from the beginning of the book. She doesn't have to be an "alpha female" exactly, but if she's a fighter, independent, determined and tenacious, then I think you can definitely pull off this chick wanting to go through with the wedding of her dreams. She can just brush herself off, reapply her lipstick, and walk the aisle if her character personality affirms this. So make sure there's nothing in her backstory that might preclude this type reaction...and go for it. :)
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