I’ve written a novel with a battered wife for a supporting character. Given the recent noise on domestic violence, it seemed appropriate to share the conversation I had with myself that led to my creating a fictional persona that an audience would believe.
Who is she?
She’s the mother of our main character.
Not a main character herself?
No. but she’s important to the story.
So you don’t have much time to present her in a way that makes sense to the audience.
He’s an asshole, a racist and a drunk.
That’s not enough. The audience needs more.
He beats her.
A wife beater. That could win sympathy. Why does he beat her?
Who the hell knows?
You better know. Otherwise, why should the audience care?
She’s a helpless victim.
The world is full of helpless victims. The audience wants to care. They want to form an opinion- good or bad- so give them something to relate to.
Did she deserve to be beaten?
Jesus, no. No woman deserves to be beaten.
Some people think otherwise.
Scum. Like the guy she was married to.
That’s good. Run with it. So, what’s her conflict?
She wants the best for her daughter.
Bullshit. All mothers want that. What’s her real conflict?
She can’t bring herself to cut the chord from her husband.
OK, now we’re getting somewhere. Why can’t she drop the bastard?
I’ve Googled domestic battery and trepidation is common trait among victims.
Then it’s a cliche. Besides, you expect your readers to study the issue on Wikipedia before reading your book?
She needs him.
She needs his money.
Are they rich?
Barely above the poverty line.
So this isn’t about lifestyle?
No, she’s barely hanging on.
Then why? Why does she need the guy?
She thinks it’s her fault.
Cliche. The audience will never buy it.
She has abandonment issues.
Another cliche. Besides, is your story about a damn psychiatrist?
You said that already. She needs his money.
That’s just her excuse to hide the real problem.
Go On. What’s her real problem?
She’s an alcoholic.
That’s it. Go write your character.
Why does the battered woman stay with the brute? No one in the real world seems to know except the victims themselves. In my character’s case, she has her reasons; demons that lurk deep in her soul that I as her creator need only hint at to convey her tortured state. Still, I realized it wasn’t enough of an answer to why she can’t pick up and leave. For that I needed a more obvious albatross, one the audience would accept. My story makes sense, which is more than I can say about the world. Looks like Twain was right about the fundamental difference between truth and fiction.