It seems like every other romance story found on the internet has aspects of abuse throughout the story. Whether this abuse is from one of the main characters to the other or from a secondary character toward a main character, the abuse is usually written in a way that makes it seem alright. In some cases the abuse is glamorized and in other cases it is glossed over as unimportant information.
This bothers me as there are many people who are victims of abuse and this abuse is neither unimportant nor glamorous.
There are ways to write about abuse that will highlight it for the serious issue that it is. However, before writing about it, the writer should research how abuse affects the abused and those around them. Only by knowing how people react to different forms of abuse can we give this issue a proper voice.
One of the easiest ways is to avoid writing about the actual abuse. Instead write about the consequences of the abuse. For instance, write about the abused wearing long-sleeved shirts and heavy foundation or flinching every time someone raises their hand. These let the reader know that something is wrong without going into too much detail which may be triggering for some readers.
Another way is to write about it from an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps your abused character has a friend or family member is suspicious. Maybe the abused character has worn more make-up than normal or is avoiding leaving the house by themselves. The suspicious character could notice that the abused character is talking to fewer people and is contacting those people less.
There are two ways this could play out. The first being that the suspicious character does nothing. They watch the abused character become a shadow of their former self. The suspicious character may not want to step in, believing they are imagining things.
The other thing that could happen is that the suspicious character could have a heart to heart with the abused character where they mention their concerns. This could either lead to an argument or to the abused character asking for help.
Keep in mind that many victims of abuse will stay with their abuser if they are forced to choose. There are many reasons for this, each depending on the person, however a main reason is fear. This fear could be for their life or that they won’t find someone else who will “put up with them”. If you want to find more reasons from survivors check out #whyIstayed and #whyIleft on twitter.
Regardless of how you write about the abuse, make sure that you are highlighting the abuse for the serious issue that it is. If you read over your story and feel the abuse is made to be unimportant or glamorized, take it out or rewrite it. Abuse doesn’t need to be a large part of your story but it is never a small part of someone’s life.
For more information about abusive relationships check out the following links:
3 thoughts on “Abuse in Fiction: Romance”
Thanks for your great insight. There are many issues besides emotional or physical abuse that need the same care. Race. Mental illness. Disability. As writers, we have to be aware of how our words may touch lives and be sure it’s in a positive way.
I absolutely agree. Any time we write about a sensitive topic we should make sure we are helping the issue instead of downplaying it. I’m hoping to write about other issues in the new year but I want to do a bit more research so I can truly do them justice.
Thank you for such a thoughtful approach to this topic. I’ve read books on both sides of the spectrum from glorifying abuse to truly showing the consequences, and it’s the latter that truly leaves an impact. Those who take the time to talk to those who have lived with abuse are able to write about it in a way that helps others understand rather than judge. This was a great post.