How to write UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS - ADDENDUM

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I wanted to clarify something from the last how-to on how to write unhealthy relationships. I am NOT advocating abuse or rape culture or anything of the like. I find rape culture disgusting and I get incensened when I hear about it. My point of that how-to was actually the opposite, however, that wasn't clear, so I'm setting the record straight on my position: in this chapter, I'm showing how writing conflict in a relationship can be done without promoting abuse or rape culture.

Please click the EXTERNAL LINK (or type this in: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html?smid=fb-share&_r=3) for a beautiful and heartwarming article of victims/survivors of the Rwandan genocide who have reconciled with their attackers.

This is what I was trying to get at with the last how-to chapter. People can commit disrespectful and harmful acts against another, but they can reconcile when the assailant acknolwedges their mistake and recognizes and understands how wrong and awful their crime was. They feel horrendous guilt and then will work tooth and nail to earn forgiveness.

If you DON'T want the characters to reconcile (e.g. the perpetrator is the villain and they're supposed to do horrendous things, which puts those acts in a negative light), the opposite happens: they don't feel guilt, they don't apologize, and they don't take action to fix their mistakes and/or prevent others from falling victim to the same violence.

Rape culture is a completely different definition from what I'm talking about. Rape culture is when a guy rapes a girl and he's seen as good and mighty for doing it. Unwanted sexual advances from catcalling to unwanted touching to full-on rape is seen as sexy and attractive. The victim of the sexual assault is blamed (i.e. "what was she wearing?". The assailant doesn't think what they did was wrong, they feel no guilt, and they don't apologize or take action to repent. That is definitely a villainous trait and should be treated as such.

A story advocates rape culture and abuse when they make it look like the rape/abuse was justified, a good act, a deserved punishment. What I (hopefully) am getting across to you all is that when your character commits an atrocious act or crime against another, but they're supposed to be a sympathetic character to the readers, the perpetrator should sincerely and genuinely feel guilty about their act and work their butt off to repent to the person(s) they wronged and/or stop others from falling victim to the same crime.

So in other words, when writing your heroes and protagonists slipping and hurting someone, whether on accident or on purpose, all my points need to be there in order to put their crimes/acts in a negative light while putting a positive light on and encouraging repentence, change for the better, and becoming a positive influence. They need to:

1. acknowledge what they did was a crime, a bad deed, and a person(s) was negatively affected by it.

2. apologize (exception would be if their victim is dead or otherwise unavailable to apologize to).

3. repent, a physical act that displays their sincerity and motivation to change, right their wrongs, help their victim, and/or prevent others from falling victim to the same/similar/other crime.

Leave out a point, and your story likely starts leaning toward promotion of rape culture and abuse culture.

For example, there's a man who was drunk driving, crashed, and killed someone. (or it might have even been a couple people). He did jail time for it and now that he's out, he speaks at high schools all over the country about his experiences. He strongly sends the message to teens about the consequences of drunk driving and how to drink responsibly. Yes, he is a murderer, but you can see he's grown substantially since then and is dedicating his life to being a positive influence on others, trying to stop others from making the same mistake he did. I think that's commendable. What he did was wrong, but he's trying to make up for it, and that garnered my respect.

Another example, look at one of the stories in the article from above. The first speaker is the perpetrator of the crimes, and the second is the survivor:

Mudaheranwa: "I burned her house. I attacked her in order to kill her and her children, but God protected them, and they escaped. When I was released from jail, if I saw her, I would run and hide. Then AMI started to provide us with trainings. I decided to ask her for forgiveness. To have good relationships with the person to whom you did evil deeds - we thank God."

Mukanyandwi: "I used to hate him. When he came to my house and knelt down before me and asked for forgiveness, I was moved by his sincerity. Now, if I cry for help, he comes to rescue me. When I face any issue, I call him."

(Source: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html?smid=fb-share&_r=3)

You can see my points very clearly here.

Mudaheranwa said "...if I saw her, I would run and hide." showing that he acknowledged that he committed a crime against this woman and her family. He also felt genuine remorse at his actions.

Then he says "I decided to ask her for forgiveness. To have good relationships with the person to whom you did evil deeds - we thank God." Again, he acknowledges what he did was not just wrong or bad, but downright evil. And now he asks for forgiveness--the first step toward repenting.

Then we hear Mukanyandwi's side of the story: "Now, if I cry for help, he comes to rescue me." Her attacker not only apologizes, he physically comes to her rescue when she needs help. This is monumental. He didn't apologize and call it a day. He continues, to this day, to help her in whatever way he can.

This shows growth and love and forgiveness, and it's a beautiful thing. No amount of apologies or good deeds can erase the crimes comitted, but this is a huge step forward in becoming a better person from the mistakes made. For his compassion and humility and agency to right his wrongs, he has earned my respect. His violence was atrocious, but he changed for the better, and I respect the person he's become.

As I mentioned in the last how-to, abuse is when the perpetrator continues to dish out the abuse (mental, emotional, physical, sexual, etc.) to the victim over and over again, even after the victim tells them to stop. Rape culture is putting sexual assault in a positive light.

In these stories, at no point is anyone, victim/survivor or perpetrator, ever saying: "the acts committed against me were good. They were not crimes. They were justified, and the person is awesome/hot/cool for doing those things." That is the mentality of rape culture. I'm promoting and advocating the OPPOSITE, which is to acknowledge that a crime was committed, it was wrong, the perpetrator should feel guilt and shame for doing that, and from now on they will work their hardest to apologize to their victim(s) and repent. Their crime/acts will never be justified, but that doesn't mean they can't learn from them and grow into better people and be a positive influence on others moving forward.

There's a big difference between: "I burned your house and murdered your sister, sorry." "whoa that's sexy. do it again. you're cool." and "I am so, so sorry I burned your house and murdered your sister. It was the most shameful and atrocious and evil act I have ever committed and I feel so much guilt. So I have worked non-stop for weeks to build you another, bigger house. And I can't replace your sister, but here, I'll carry your groceries home for you every day. I'll step in if someone else is trying to hurt you, and I'll guard your new house from robbers. No words can ever express my guilt and shame at what I did to you, and I have ruined your life, but I will do whatever I can to make things better. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, but even if you don't, I'll still do whatever I can to help you."

My point is that if your hero-type character does commit a heinous act (because we're all human and not perfect little angels and Mary Sues, so we all will inadvertantly hurt someone else at some point in our lives), the way to not brush off the crime simply because they're the hero, and the way not to promote abuse/rape culture, is to ensure you have them feel remorse, apologize, and repent. If you don't do that with the character, it'll start promoting abuse/rape culture. (Unless they're the villain, in which case you're absolutely showing their actions in a negative light, which is fine.)

Make sense?

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