Friday, June 4, 2010

That Part of Me Is Broken

I'm writing a book, you see, a novel, and that means I have to think about things. Not just plot and characters and dialogue, but values and ethics and judgment. Just when I think I have sorted out what I  think I know and understand, I have to examine why my characters act the way they do and then I get stuck in a bog.

Here's what happened: I was talking with a good friend, getting some advice and ideas about the novel I'm working on. The storyline involves a sheriff's deputy and her boss (it's a sort of inside-out murder mystery) as well as folk magic and Hoodoo. At one point the conversation with my friend focused on how law enforcement officers view victims and criminals. I found this part very interesting and started reading up on it from other sources as well.

We all tend to sympathize with crime victims, but apparently in certain circumstances detectives can come to sympathize with criminals as well, particularly in an abuse situation. You see, abusers were themselves abused. That's how they got that way. In other words, they started out as victims.

Once you understand the process, and the vicious cycle of abuse, you develop some sympathy for the abuser. The criminal. And obviously, this can cause problems for a detective who's trying to catch said criminal. So I should probably incorporate this ethical dilemma into my novel. But I have a little problem, since I like to imagine how my characters feel, and I can't manage to imagine this bit.

Apparently this part of my psyche is broken because I just can't stir up that sympathy. A number of years ago, when my mother told me how her father and uncle had abused and molested her, she expected me to sympathize with her and understand why she chose to abuse and molest me, but I just couldn't. And yes, I used the word CHOSE.

You see, I CHOSE not to abuse or molest my children. I CHOSE to break the cycle and not use my own childhood as an excuse to ruin someone else's childhood. Yes, it was hard. Damn hard. It required a lot of painful self-examination and healing work on my part. But I wasn't going to allow myself to become the kind of person so many of my family members are, doing something to their children simply because it's what was done to them. That's how 'fun' traditions like hazing manage to keep going - because no one takes responsibility.

So I'm going to drop my novel's protagonist right into this thorny dilemma. Who is really the victim, who is really the criminal, and what, if anything, does sympathy have to do with justice? She's not going to enjoy it. In fact, it's going to make her miserable. But maybe, just maybe, she'll discover where responsibility really lies.