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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - A Daughter of the King

This week's assessment comes from Vickie. She's written in a doozie of a backstory for her heroine, Shelly.* Shelly was a ward of the state before she was 2, and at 4, she was placed with a young couple who started the adoption process. She was inundated with attention and fine things, only to be sent back into the system a few months later when the couple discovers they are expecting their own biological child. Shelly is then placed with a much older couple, who go the distance and adopt Shelly, but they are distantly related to the younger couple, which puts her in occasional contact with them.

At five years old, Shelly communicates little, sucks her thumb, occasionally wets the bed, and is later discovered to have some minor learning disabilities. Her adoptive parents never waver in their expressions of love and determination to help her through whatever she faces, but Shelly never quite believes she belongs, never quits waiting for rejection. She grows into a remarkably beautiful young woman with an artist's eye, but her inability to believe in her own worth keeps her from realizing her full potential in school, in her career, or in her relationships. At twenty-five, she attempts suicide.

*Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Vickie wants to know: Would her childhood problems be consistent with the circumstances? What would convince Shelby that she's truly a daughter of the King? What would it take for her to believe in her worth as God's child and begin to enjoy the abundant life he has waiting for her?

Sounds like you've definitely built up some circumstances in her life that would lead to her inability to see herself as worthy of love. It would be consistent for her to take this feeling of inferiority, of never measuring up, with her through life on many different planes, as you've indicated with school, career, and relationships.

When people have low self-esteem (which is essentially what you're describing), it can take many different forms. Yes, in the extreme sense, it can lead to suicidal ideation (thoughts) and suicide attempts or completions. When people don't feel they have a reason for living, that nothing they do will amount to anything, these types of feelings can persist and become a driving force.

One sure thing to help her esteem dive to the depths (enough to consider suicide) is if the child of the younger couple is somehow around and she would be comparing herself to this child (who would be almost 5 years younger than her, I realize, but in her mind, Shelly would think she was given up for that child--whoever you might consider making them be and how involved in the fringes of Shelly's life you might want them to be. Just something to consider. That would be really powerful, I think.

What I didn't see in your character sketch is any reason, aside from a mention of faith, why she would see herself as something worthy. The faith element alone might not be enough (I know--*gasp*). I think that if you really built her art into some sustaining force in her life--like if she's not painting, she's contemplating ending it all--then turn it from something she does to heal inwardly and give it some outward value, then you could easily write in some little thread of hope for her (aside from the faith component).

It's hard to explain to people who never have seen someone on the brink of committing suicide...but telling them that Christ is bigger than what they're going through just doesn't always work. It's not to say that I don't believe that all things are possible with Christ, but just that the person suffering might not believe that. You want to be realistic, and they are so low, so turned in on themselves, that that concept sometimes isn't feasible. You didn't mention if Shelly was a Christian, and I didn't take it to mean she wasn't a Christian when she attempted suicide because lots of Christians reach the end of their rope and think suicide is a viable option. Sometimes, a person needs some tangible reason to stay--even a very small thread can be significant.

What came to my mind was maybe some public relations or human resources man from a home for the elderly sees her paintings (not sure how, but you could figure that out) and wants to have Shelly paint more to decorate all the rooms in the home to bring brightness and cheer to them. You could throw in a lot of symbolism about how bright she chooses to paint, but yet how dark she sees her life. The painting itself could just open some doors for slowly start to see worth in her talent, if nothing else. Painting could be the avenue for her to eventually see herself as God sees her....maybe a poignant scene where she paints over a "ruined" canvas...I just see lots of room for symbolism of you go this route, but you maybe thinking I'm totally off, which is okay!

I also think giving her a someone from the elderly home she might meet when she agrees to go to a presentation for the press or something. This person would have a history of rejection--perhaps by her very family, as many elderly might feel that way when they are put in a home by family members unable or *unwilling* to care for them. But the difference will be her countenance, her attitude, her smiles. This is where the faith element will bring your story the most bang for your reading buck. Faith in action, right? Let Shelly see someone worse than she is not just eeking out an existence, but reaching out and accepting the inheritance of being a child of a King.

Hopefully this gives you some fodder to go deeper with Shelly's plot. My usual disclaimer always applies....if I misread your sketch, then please feel free to email me or shoot me some comments below. I want these assessments to be as helpful as possible!


Today, I'm blogging over at Inkwell Inspirations about author aliases: to have or not to have! I'm hoping it'll be a lively discussion, so be sure to get your two cents in!

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Susanne Dietze said...

Thanks for the post, Jeannie. Rich assessment! It got my brain going.

So happy to have you on the Inkwell today! Thanks for guest posting!

Jaime Wright said...

Great assessment! :) Such interesting book characters are brought up here! love it!

Linda Glaz said...

Love how she created this character's background so soundly. Wonderful job.

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.