Part 2: The Reformation Of The Misunderstood Abuser

On the surprising internal relationship dynamics within a closed system.

A common “thing” in fiction (and in film) is the pivotal dynamic role of the evil man whose heart is melted, at the last possible moment, by a woman or child.

The evil man is often a murderer, and almost always some species of abuser. Here is the second horrible relationship mistruth propagated in fiction:

Abusive men can be reformed through the influence of an innocent female, or through the appealing eyes of a sensible child.

Reality: Abusive men do not change, because their behavior is rooted in a worldview of entitlement and control that literally influences every facet of their existence and self-perception.

For this type of writing to work, the “abusive” man must actually be a victim of abuse who is struggling to create order in a chaotic and fallen system.

The key here is that victims of abuse will stand up and change when confronted with an innocent woman, or a sensible child, but that actual abusers, when confronted with the same, will worsen their behavior.

Example of Poor Appeal:

Muriel was always the best when she cried; her eyes got bright, and the tears made her dark eyelashes form into sharp points. She helped me to remember that I was a good man, when she cried.

“I won’t go out this time,” I told her, and she gasped with relief.

“Oh, Jeb, I know there’s a better way than the killings, I just know it,” Muriel cried, her smile trembling through the wet streaks on her cheeks.

I gave her a benevolent glance. Women, I thought, and slipped off my muddy boots.

Example of Strong Appeal:

Muriel’s tear-streaked face made my heart shift inside my chest; I felt as if I was in an earthquake.

“Don’t go, Jeb,” she said. The fear in her eyes frightened me.

“Ben says it’s the only way,” I told her, a queasy spiral turning through my gut.

“We wouldn’t be here at all if you had listened to me before,” Muriel snapped. She swiped at her eyes, and the wetness on her cheeks glistened in the lamplight. “Can’t you see how he’s changing everything? You never carried a knife before, Jeb.”

The sting of her words was like a whip in my eyes. My hand found its way to the hilt of my weapon.

“I haven’t gone out before,” I told Muriel. “He doesn’t trust me yet.”

“If you go out, there will be blood on that knife,” Muriel said. I knew she was right, but I did not say so. “It’ll change you, Jeb.”

“I’ll stay the same,” I said.

“You’ll change,” Muriel insisted.

Tom appeared in the doorway. His nightshirt had fallen over one shoulder. He looked at me with wide, blue eyes, and I was ashamed.

“Is he going out to the killings?” Tom asked his mother.

Muriel looked at me, and then she nodded, and hid her eyes behind her hand. Tom stared at me.

“Are you?” Tom asked me. I nodded. “Why are you going?” he demanded.

“I don’t know what else to do,” I said. Tom’s blue eyes accused me.

“You could go and get the others, and you could stop Ben,” Tom said. “Then you’d be a hero, instead of a coward.”

“They’d come after you if I did that,” I said at once.

“Then we’ll all die,” Muriel said. Her lips hardened. “You’ll kill my heart if you go, Jeb. You might as well kill my body, and stay a decent man.”

I looked at them both, and my insides shook free from a lot of dust.

“Go and wake your sister,” I told Tom. “Get dressed,” I said to Muriel. “We’re getting away from here. And no one,” I added, looking straight at my wife, “is going to die.”

Writing abusers and non-abusers clearly is essential to creating and resolving conflict in fiction.