So you’ve dredged up a lump of your past and it’s sitting on your desk, seething at you.
Don’t let it win the stare-down. We have ways of making it talk.
The second way that we control the process is by deciding what reactions we will use.
You see, when someone undergoes a traumatic experience, their own reactions will follow certain patterns. They probably will react to the trauma rather than acting freely and with forethought. That is one way that abusers manipulate people– they know that their brutal actions will cause someone to react in certain ways. They count on it and use the instinctive reactions to cause even more pain.
But we are the writers now. We are in control of the situation. We can choose not only how our abused character acts, but whether or not they react in the same ways that we did, in a modified manner, or in a way completely different than how we, ourselves, acted in a similar situation.
Now is a good time to read books about abusive situations and overcoming abuse. The insight you’ll gain into the psychology of those situations will help you immensely in writing out these scenes. Books like “The Courage to Heal“, “Victims No Longer“, “The Wounded Heart“, and “The Sexual Healing Journey” are valuable resources for writing about abuse, even if you never experienced it yourself.
If you don’t want to read about the psychology of victims, that’s fine. It’s enough to live through it for some of us. We know the mind games and how they’re played. So now, we get to play them again, in our book. THIS IS POWERFUL BAD TRIGGER JU-JU . . . so be careful. You are delving deep into the heart of your pain. I would personally advise having a counselor or a close friend or partner on your speed dial. When you get those suffocating feelings of anxiety and stress, stop writing and talk to someone until the panic passes. It shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes, and then you can write again with a lighter heart.
The third way that we can control the process is by deciding What Happens. As writers, we are naturally in control of the ending of our stories. We have to consciously think about our payback to the abusers, however, because a bad ending will make the experience of writing about your traumas more traumatic instead of lessening the trauma. If your fictional bad guy gets away scot-free, that could be bad for you here in the real world.
In fiction, we can use the character arcs to make a larger point about the world. Those form the themes of the novel, and they are important. Choose what your trauma-related theme will be. What are you saying about the world through your fiction? What are you saying about abuse? Whether it’s “It’s better to put a millstone around your neck and jump into the ocean than to hurt a child” or “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, you have to pick the message of your novel. It may not be the primary message– the trauma may only be a small part of one character’s motivations– but the theme will be there, underlying the rest of the book.
Getting payback, even if it’s only through the pages of a book, is a powerfully freeing feeling. It will probably make it easier to dive back into that pit and haul out another radioactive element. So slaughter that monster, stake that soul-draining vampire, and send the villain into the teeth of a pack of rabid wolves.
You’ll feel much better once you do.
And your writing will be more powerful, now that you’ve opened up those mines of deep emotions to be used.