We’ve got our first secondary character assessment on The Character therapist, people! I nearly clapped when Steena from Chocolate Reality emailed me back and confirmed that Rhonda* is indeed secondary in this spiritual thriller! But I gotta tell you…she’s WAY interesting. Read on.
Rhonda is a 46-year-old cookbook author. Never married, although she had one child, Ned*, when she was 16 years old who was the result of a rape. Her parents, local ministers, “covered up” the pregnancy by telling the congregation that Rhonda’s mother was pregnant. So Rhonda’s little boy becomes her “brother.” Ned—30 by the time the book starts—is the main character. Rhonda was raped by Stan*, a boy 4 years older than her whose alcoholic father murdered his mother. Rhonda’s family took him in, and he had been Rhonda’s hero. Now, at 50 years old, he’s the “bad guy,” playing head games with Rhonda and using his sphere of influence to manipulate her. Rhonda suffers panic attacks when she sees Stan and has an intense fear of him.
* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.
Steena has re-written Rhonda many times, something we can all relate to. When she started, she thought Rhonda was 30 in her head, but when she discovered Rhonda’s relationship to Ned, the main character (i.e., when Steena realized Ned was Rhonda’s son), Steena needed her to be older, but not “too old.” (Steena, by any chance are you a Pantster?)
Steena wants to know how she can make Rhonda’s reactions to the rapist and her “brother”/son be more realistic. Also, she wants more consistency with Rhonda at her current age of 46.
Let's start with young Rhonda. At the tender age of 16, she gets raped...for many women, their worst nightmare. But she wasn't raped by a stranger. She was violated by someone she knew; worse, someone she looked up to. Then, just as the initial shock wears off, she misses her monthly period and then her body begins to change, from that of a youth to a soon-to-be-mother. Her nightmare doesn't end, but now includes a 9-month gestation of a child conceived in the worst way possible.
Being raped is a traumatic and shaming thing, but Rhonda's is even more so because the ramifications of her rape--a child--are now being "covered up." Francine Rivers wrote an excellent book about a woman who carries her baby to term after being raped. It's called The Atonement Child. So good, and it gives some ideas of how Rhonda might feel, even though the heroine is older in Francine's book.
Depending on how Rhonda handles stress, her response could be very different. But I imagine that any young teen faced with the difficulty of raising a child she hadn't wanted, conceived in an act of violence with someone she probably thought she could trust, would feel some relief at her parents stepping in to help take care of the child. She likely doesn't know how to feed a baby or change diapers or deal with cholic or burp or bathe a baby. She's really just a child herself. With that in mind, it's feasible that she could slip right into her normal teenage role, but things wouldn't be business as usual.
Why? Because she gave birth. Any female who's ever sat on that table, legs splayed wide, to bring life into this world, knows the other-worldly connection a woman can have with this tiny infant that she's never met. A 16 year old might not fully grasp all the significance in the way of say, a 26-year-old, but she's certainly old enough to feel a bond. I imagine her being in awe of this child she carried, perhaps even scared to hold him, thinking she's not experienced enough or might hurt him. She might even be proud of how beautiful he is as she lets her mother cradle him in her more matronly arms.
As she watches him grow from her "sisterly" role, I imagine she looks on with more interest than average as Ned learns to crawl, walk, potty train, and ride a bike. Depending on how the parents deal with this, it may or may not look odd. Many 16-year-old older siblings babysit and have a lot of involvement with younger siblings, so it's not a stretch, really, for any level of involvement she'd have. She could easily go in lieu of her parents to the school principal's office at 30 years old when her 14-year-old "brother" gets suspended. So lots to play with there, even if these interactions never make the book. They still make up Rhonda.
The older she gets, maybe the more she'd want to "claim" him, too. More life experiences = more confidence. Her parents might try to talk her out of it..."for the health and well-being of Ned." This could be a source of contention with her parents, for sure. But you mention that her parents die (or at least her mother) and that Rhonda steps up to take care of Ned more, so it might be a very natural response for her to want to tell him. But I'd think as his mother, she'd also take into account how the revelation would affect him.
Oooo--total aside here, but one scene I'd just love to read...gosh! it'd be so poignant...is a scene where Ned gets married. Every mother has the right to sit at the front of the church while her offspring ties the knot, and I just wonder what Rhonda felt in her sisterly role relegated to a position other than her own? My own heart just about breaks thinking about that. And what about when she would get to dance with him? Oh...so sad.
But back to my assessment...ah, yes. The revelation. You mentioned in our emails that Ned experiences a heartbreaking loss of his family in a car crash. He gets mad at God, and turns his back on him, at which point lots of bad things happen in the town in which he is a pastor. Only once he starts to believe in God again does he learn the secret that Rhonda is his mother. Talk about PUNCH. Best-seller, Steena. Seriously gripping stuff.
I think it would be better on Ned to learn the truth in some sideways manner. I would think Rhonda wouldn't tell him due to everything else going on with him. If he truly leans on Rhonda for emotional and moral support, than her revelation would possibly devastate him. But if he kind of put two-and-two together on his own, I would think he'd be more likely to see past the 30-year lie and know his mother had lied to him with good reason, at least in her heart. (And no, I won't get into the debate about good lies v. bad ones, but feel free to do so in the comments section.)
One way I thought about doing this would be for Ned to have some contact with Stan. A cool twist could be some little-known fact about Stan, like a health deficit or allergy, also being present in Ned. Give them both an unlikely mannerism to boot and it wouldn't take a smart preacher-man to figure it out, especially given Rhonda's reactions to Stan, but it's just a suggestion.
So on to those reactions to Stan. Panic attacks would be a result of some post-traumatic stress Rhonda has regarding her rape. If you're wanting the man to be really mean, I'd have him play with her mind by sending her to the place where the rape happened. That would really do a doozie on poor Rhonda. (Aren't we authors mean?) People with PTSD will go to extreme lengths to avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma, including people, places and things. Extreme lengths. So this could garner Ned's attention.
Her fear isn't going to lessen because she gets older. The old adage of "time heals all wounds" just isn't true for everyone. The way you wrote Rhonda's initial meeting with Stan sounds like it's dead on. She's be beside herself, so it's very likely she'd let something slip, like the fact she had a baby, so kudos on that. But she's a MOMMA at heart. If Stan were to threaten Ned in any way...big Momma Bear would come roaring. I think it'd be a fantastic way to get Rhonda to face her fears of Stan.
Man, I want to read this book! Great job. Hopefully I've been of some help. As always, questions welcome in the comments section to continue the "session."
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