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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Teen Bonds with Lasting Impact

Today's assessment is for Raquel. She's writing a contemporary romantic suspense about Rainey* a woman with a traumatic past. Beaten and abandoned at a bus station at 8, she awakes from a coma with amnesia. She enters the foster care system and is disappointed by an almost-adoption before going into a locked-down high school where she truly doesn't belong and gets picked on. But one troubled boy, Tate*, befriends and her protects her in the tough school, actually killing one of Rainey's bullies in self-defense, which brings about their separation when Tate leaves the school.

6 years later, she's handing out blankets to the homeless at the start of the book and encounters a hurt man in an alley. She discovers that it's Tate, and she gets him to the hospital. Turns out Tate's a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent working a case in San Diego, where she lives. Eventually they work on a case together because the drug ring he's after is operating through free clinics like the one Rainey runs for runaways.

Through her clinic being burned down by a thug, the DEA wanting her to help Tate with a sting, and being abducted by gang members, Rainey questions her faith and her purpose. She's not sure if God has abandoned her or if she's supposed to be reaching out to the hurt and lost on the streets.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Raquel wants to know: How would Rainey react to a returning love interest? How would the increasing danger and trouble affect her since she'd been in a similar situation as a kid? Would her faith be renewed...would she become bitter? Would she be reactive, or proactive? Would she be whole, or still be searching for the parents that hurt and abandoned her? Would that still be a major issue with her?

I think you are definitely asking the right questions to get to the inner workings of Rainey's psyche. I'd say you're on a roll, actually.

Many people come from a past far more tragic than Rainey's. Her background, while sad and definitely dreadful, wouldn't be enough to hold a strong-willed woman back. She could have all sorts of diagnoses from the events of her past, most likely post-traumatic stress disorder. She could also have an Acute Stress Disorder (which usually only lasts a few on it to read more) from any of the things you mention happen to her 6 years later, like getting abducted by gang members.

You've written in a "returning love interest," and that makes things interesting. The bonds and attachments we form in high school are perhaps some of the strongest in our memory. Especially the bonds that ended abruptly and left little closure. We can probably all recall a painful breakup with someone we thought we were "in love" with and find ourselves wondering where that person is now.

Tate represents that sort of bond for Rainey. Him showing back up is going to be pretty huge for her, especially if you don't have her already attached to some other guy. They'll be drawn to each other, the bond will be tentative at first, as if remembering the painful separation, but eventually, they'll slip back into the comfort of having known each other so well. That attachment can strengthen Rainey as she goes through all these calamities, since she'll be going through it "with" Tate (and likely, as a direct result of her even knowing Tate). That's really going to seal that bond.

I think if you play up the intense emotional whirlwind Tate's cropping up will put her through, I think you can get away with her moving from one misfortune to the other without being the shell-shocked victim. People react differently when they're in love. They can scale mountains, fight bad guys, put on a brave name it. Case in point:

In the movie M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, Ivy Walker is in love with Lucius Hunt. So when he's stabbed, she sets out through Covington Woods to go get medicines for him from the towns. What happens to this blind girl with love on her side? Her escorts bail on her, she nearly falls into a mud pit, her cape made of the safe color yellow is now completely brown, she is chased by one of the Those We Don't Speak Of creatures, manages to kill it by sidestepping just in time for it to careen to the mud pit, then she runs headfirst into a fence that she then proceeds to climb...blind, I might get to a road where she encounters a man she doesn't know who thinks she's a little loco, gets the medicine, and then is on her merry little way like, "Oh, all in a day's work." But Ivy Walker pre-Lucius would have scoffed at setting one toe into Covington Woods.

So, even if you don't want the love interest to blossom too soon, the reader will follow along (in my humble opinion) if you give them enough sizzling expectation before all the stuff starts really happening. Don't underestimate Rainey's desire to help Tate with his job. Perhaps you'll need to up the stakes for Tate so that ups the stakes for him wanting Rainey to help. Maybe he needs to be up for promotion, or the drug ring has something to do with one of his own family members. I think Rainey would give life and limb to help him (after the initial awkward phase of "why did you leave me to deal with the fall-out of you murdering that boy all alone?" of course)...because Tate gave the same thing to help her so many years ago.

Which brings me to that event when she was in high school. You wrote that Tate killed the boy in self-defense. What if it was in defense of Rainey? Perhaps that's what you were implying, but I took it as the other boy came at Tate instead of Tate really saving Rainey from harm's way. But if you make the backstory more involved, that would increase Rainey's feelings of needing to repay the one act of kindness she was really shown her whole life. I think she'd be proactive for sure if this was the case, not reactive. Make sense?

You make the call on the parent issue. She was beaten and abandoned, and you said she didn't remember where she was or who she was, even. So you can make that a major side story for her (because it would be), or leave it alone if you feel you've got enough going on in the book. I don't think a reader would question her not trying to search for her parents. After all...look what they did to her. Maybe she'll visit the woman's grave who almost adopted her a few times, grieving for the lost family she could have had.

If you go this route, I'd think Rainey would be a very lonely young woman, maybe not depressed, but searching. Maybe she throws herself into the dangerous street work because she doesn't have anything to lose...not even a cat or goldfish. She could even be reckless at times, going where others don't dare go (maybe that's where she finds Tate). She doesn't have anything grounding her, holding her back. But Tate could change all that.

About her faith...that's so individual, it's a hard call. Some people are strengthened and upheld in their faith through trials. Others are brought low, and need assistance to set themselves upright again. The answer for this question might be found in Tate. Do you plan on him being a Christian? Saved from his wayward youth? Or is he bitter and disgruntled, maybe poking fun at her wavering faith? I think these questions will help you consider how to handle her faith response to all the crises.

Long, I know, but hopefully this has given you something to chew on. It was a rather complex (but intriguing!) situation you set up, with multiple questions that I did my best to touch on all of them. If I missed some burning question, or a new one cropped up, drop me a comment in the section comment and I'll do what I can to help. Thanks for writing in!

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

Q4U: Do you ever struggle between making a character devout in their faith or struggling? What pushes you over the edge to decide on either path?

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Steena Holmes said...

that was good! I have another character I need help with in a book I'm starting - I'll have to email you soon.

For me - where their faith lies usually has to do with their storyline and how strong it is. For one character I needed his faith to be weak while the sub character's faith was strong. The weak faith opened alot of 'holes' in his personality, showed alot of flaws ect. It was a great plot for me.

For the characters above - the way I read it, Rainey was held a weak wavering faith while Tate was a little bit stronger. Not a lot - he still has lots of questions and could be swayed somewhat though. It will be interesting to see what the author does :)

Raquel Byrnes said...

Amazing job, Jeannie. Thank you so much for addressing all those questions for me. I feel like I learned a lot from your character breakdown and I'm glad I'm on the right track.
You did touch on a few things I was mulling over. Tate's self defense act was in the interest of protecting Rainey. Another boy tricks her into meeting him by lying that he has information about her parents. Also, Rainey's willingness to move mountains to save Tate is tied into her fear of losing him again.
I tried to make her connection with the runaways an exceptional one because I feel she would identify with lost kids. You are right about letting the other things in her life fall away, she gives up her apartment to keep the shelter open. I am also thankful for confirmation that Rainey would be able to weather all of the calamities because of her incredible drive to get to the other side of the mess to be with Tate.
Again, I am grateful for your insight and advice. Thank you!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

steena - i'll look forward to hearing from you!

raquel - glad you feel like you're on the right track. sounds like you were already planning some of the things i suggested, which makes me feel like I MYSELF was on the right track. :) thanks for the shout out on your blog.

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating that people are writing about this stuff. This stuff all happened to me in my real life and I became a registered nurse and a muslim after being christian for so many years. I have gone through every chapter you are writing about in the fake world of writing, I have gone through for real. Wonder if I will ever have normal relationship. Maybe the therapist will know. I live with my son and 2 cats happily but would like to overcome my past.

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