Friday, February 26, 2016

Tranquil Violence

Now Playing: Trocadero - Contact Redux (feat. Meredith Hagan) 

Last week, I finished The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.

One of the most fascinating chapters deals with the issue of spousal abuse. It's called Intimate Enemies. In it, he places special emphasis in saying a woman stays in her abusive household as a choice.


 He calls it a choice straight out.

To say that's controversial would be an understatement. It's controversial to this day and will be for decades, probably.

He doesn't do it in a way that blames the victim, but he still calls it a bad choice, while emphasizing that it doesn't mean violence is a fair penalty for said bad choice. It's not about blame, but about a) ensuring a victim fully and truly understands her situation and what led to it and b) gives her the power to leave. (He doesn't spell out the latter part, but it's clearly what's being done throughout the book. Always, always telling you that listening to your intuition and understanding a situation gives you power).

As de Becker was a victim of abuse growing up, he describes the mentality of someone who has grown accustomed to the abuse from a loved one. He talks about how a victim's perception of their limits and of danger changes drastically. ("I'm safe right now because--even though he's holding a gun outside the room--he's not in the room with me"), and how the victim come to associate feelings of safety and peace as only being capable of being distributed by the abuser.

Over the years, I've read pieces by people who suffered abuse--sexual, emotional, physical, mental--but though they did a lot to give me perspectives of those who suffered and survived, The Gift of Fear made me realize how little I knew about the attackers. What they need, what they search for, how they push boundaries, how they receive "rewards" for their actions based off of their victim's responses. (Ex: contacting a stalker--no matter what is said to them--more often than just encourages them to continue pursuit).

This part stuck out to me the most:

"...far from the 'crime of passion'  that it's so often called, killing a wife  is usually a decision, not a loss of control. Those men who are the most violent are not at all carried away by fury. In fact, their heart rates usually drop and they become physiologically calmer as they become more violent."

I gotta add this quickly: when my dad saw this book on my nightstand, he made two guesses: 1) the information surely will be useful to me in life and 2) it surely will be useful to my writing.

It's true, of course. Plus, seldom do the things I learn not resurface in my work in some way. Information like that is important for research and believability, but I have to find a way to frame the actions of my characters and the emotions of the scene without ever jeopardizing the reader's suspension of disbelief.

That part of the book stood out because I realized I could use it to reframe a certain scene I wrote a long, long time ago. There are hints of that tranquility born in choosing this particular violent act, but I never really embraced it. If anything, now that I'm revising, I wasn't sure if I should shift the antagonist's mood entirely and have him just go batshit angry.

But though I haven't tried to rewrite the scene as such, I hadn't fully convinced myself it would improve it. Now I feel certain it won't. (I might still try, just in case, but I feel confident in the other approach.)

I'm thinking being true to life will ultimately strengthen certain scenes.  But we'll see what an eventual beta reader has to say.

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