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Monday, June 6, 2011

Character Clinic: Day 1

In an attempt to make a dent in my queue, this week is Character Clinic Week! There will be one assessment every day of the week except Friday!

You can find me blogging today over at my fab crit partner's cybercorner, Katie Ganshert, on the importance of a character's family of origin. There, you can leave a comment to be entered to win my Writer's Guide for Creating Rich Back Stories, so stop by and say hello! I'm still celebrating the launch of my new new website, so my friend Patricia Woodside is also chatting me up at her blog, Readin' N Writin' with Patricia! Hopefully you'll have a chance to check it out.

Ralene's character, Cindy*, who is in her contemporary suspense, will be the first one on the couch. Cindy was raised with a workaholic dad and a mom who waited on him hand and foot. When Cindy grows up, she becomes a pediatrician and gets married, but her husband starts to abuse her. Cindy eventually withdraws from her family, friends, and quits her job--all in the name of trying to be a better wife to her husband. Eventually he goes to far and burns cigarettes on her back, at which point Cindy goes to the police. Other than a few smacks on the hand and a restraining order, the police don't do much. Cindy files for divorce quietly and then disappears, taking as much as she can from their joint account and moving to a small town where no one knows her or her past.

Ralene wants to know: What lasting effects would this experience have on her? What quirks might she have picked up? How would she relate to people after being abused and shut in for so long?

Interesting character tension here. You've got a well-trained doctor who doesn't understand relationship dynamics very well. Of course, many doctors are book people, not people people (which is why we get those boors with bad bedside manners). But since she went into the field as a result of her sister's untimely death when she was young, it makes me think she'd be more about the people--helping those who are hurting, etc. 

But then you throw in this wrench of her husband abusing her. From what I've understood about domestic violence, it's rather insidious. It starts off with one or two the heat of the moment. He's usually very apologetic, bending over backwards to make amends, and the woman believes that it was more of an accident than anything else. Then it happens again. The cycle of abuse becomes more ingrained, though, with each round. Eventually, the woman is literally trapped in a living nightmare and doesn't even understand how she got there.

So it's not a plot hole that she's a doctor and is in this abusive relationship, but it does give her an inconsistency and almost hypocritical element to her personality, as no doubt she would intervene with one of her patients at the first sign of abuse. In fact, that would make for a great back story of what finally gets her to quit her job...maybe she just couldn't take the hypocrisy. Helping others crying out for help when no one is coming to her rescue. Just a thought I had.

She finally leaves the man (which, I've said this before, but it bears repeating--women leave an abuser on an average of 8x before they finally leave for good), but probably not without some failed attempts prior. She gets to a new town to start over...but she's damaged. What might this look like?

1) Trust will be a valued commodity. Her modus operandi has been to close in on herself, probably for two-fold reason: 1) keep people at arms length so they aren't drawn in to her abusive story and 2) her husband refused to allow her outside contact. (Think Sleeping with the Enemy with Julia Roberts. She was essentially alone in that big house, miserable and unable to tell anyone what was actually going on behind closed doors. In fact, this would be a great movie to watch for research purposes, because Julia moves to a small town to "start over" and she is very reluctant to talk to anyone or allow anyone else in to her newly discovered life of freedom.

2) She'll likely live in fear. She'll peek over her shoulder and constantly look around her for the husband to show up and claim her back. This will give her a steady anxiety that will become her status quo. She'll just learn to live with it--unless you've tied up the husband string much earlier in the book. I had a client who just couldn't get on with her life, even with the guy in jail. She lived in constant fear and paranoia that he was either going to get out and hunt her down or that he had friends or relatives out looking for her, watching her. 
3) Romance won't come easy--at least not for a while. It'll be anxiety-producing, just the thought of getting intimate with someone again. She will have just rid herself of one monster, why would she want to risk it again? The client I mentioned flat out told me that she'd never be in another relationship again. This isn't the case for all abused women--in fact, many of them get right back into another abusive relationship. It's almost like they seek it out. But I'm going to give Cindy the benefit of the doubt, due to her training and education, that she knows better. 

4) Her quirks will focus on lessening attention to herself. She has just lived a life for years that was like walking on eggshells. She didn't want to give her husband the slightest provocation to abuse her--whether that was a late dinner, pants pressed incorrectly, or not dressing the way he liked. She has probably spent countless hours trying to just blend in to the scenery. I imagine she'd take these kinds of quirks away with her to the new town. The less PR she gets, the better. (So to throw a speed bump in her plans--draw her out with some plot point that forces her into a spotlight, even if it's just on a church committee or something. She won't like it.)

Hope this gives you a starting off point!


Katie Ganshert said...

Happy to have you on my blog today girl!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

thanks for having me lady!

Ralene said...

Great assessment, Jeannie. You actually hit it right on the money as far as why she finally quit her job. One of her kids (patients) was being abused and she had to work with a social worker to have her removed from the home. It hit a little too close to home.

Anyway, the rest of your assessment definitely gave me something to go off of. It's been a long time since I've seen Sleeping with the Enemy, I'll definitely check it out!

Mary Aalgaard said...

Great assessment. Very interesting. Trust is a commodity

Cecilia Marie Pulliam said...

Having been in an abusive relationship for seven years,(and then re-married to an amazing man) I can tell you you have indeed analyzed Cindy well. Her education will/should be a deciding factor in overcoming the cycle of abusive relationships. Once the red flags are known, she will most likey steer clear of any relationship where any are flying. Yet, her education will also tell her not all men are like her husband. There is the possiblity / hope of finding a good, honest, caring man, and having a wonderful realtionship (I did), but she will be very cautious. It won't be easy to gain her trust. Great post.

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