As an author, a challenging task for me is to create characters who possess value systems different from my own. I struggle to express, on paper, attitudes and actions that are contrary to my own belief system. Take, for example, swearing—or “cussin’,” as my sweet mother-in-law used to say. I don’t believe in taking God’s name in vain, and I find the “f-bomb” repugnant. Yet, what if one of my characters would be more authentic by spewing obscenities or by being sexually explicit or abhorrently cruel?
Some horrific stories, as in my novel, The Dark Room, are just too important not to be told. The Dark Roomdescribes the physical, emotional, and verbal abuse of a woman, her child, and her grandchild. Often Stella’s husband, Hank is drunk or high on drugs when he administers the abusive language and beatings. While the story is fiction, it represents too many true accounts of battered women and abused children.
I wanted The Dark Room and its characters to be authentic. I wanted real victims to recognize themselves in Stella and realize that whether the abuse is overt or subtle, they don’t deserve it, and help is available if they reach out.
To make Hank plausible, I had to create a persona that is wholly egregious to my sensibilities. Hank is cruel, controlling, filled with rage, and unable to express his grief in a healthy way. Instead, he tries to numb his emotional pain with drugs and alcohol. He lashes out and alienates the very people who could provide support.
Through research for this book, I discovered case studies that verified the authenticity of my accounts. The cruelty described in The Dark Roomis more prevalent in American society than most people realize or are willing to admit. Men from all walks of life beat and belittle women and children every day. These men are emotionally damaged and have a need to control and overpower others. They are attracted to those who seem least likely to fight back or tostand up for their rights as human beings. They convince their victims that they are worthless and at fault for their behavior.
If I have an important story like The Dark Room to tell, should I dilute its impact by writing a cleaned-up version? Do I tread on the side of caution or do I set aside my own discomfort to develop authentic characters? It’s a decision with which I struggle, knowing that my written words will outlive me. Perhaps I’ll never completely reconcile this issue. Overall, I feel a responsibility to my readers to give them authentic characters, but I draw the line at adding sensationalism and obscenity just to sell books.
Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: Diary in the Attic, Unrevealed and The Dark Room. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy Loomis Freeman. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com