Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Writing Realistic Fiction about Domestic Abuse

Kathryn Page Camp

I’ve never experienced domestic abuse or gender violence, so why am I writing a blog on the subject? Partly because it’s this month’s theme and we were short of volunteers to write the posts. But there is more to it than that.

As writers, we are not limited by our personal experiences, and we often write fiction about issues we have never faced. Any good writer can tackle an initially unfamiliar subject after reading up on the matter, talking to someone who knows, or doing both. Because of the time limitations, I concentrated on the second method and asked a good friend who has experienced domestic violence first hand.

My friend and I met on a writer’s loop several years ago. She was using a pseudonym, and it was more than just a pen name. She was trying to disguise her identity to make it harder for her ex-husband to track her down. She eventually went back to her own name, and that’s when I learned her history.

In preparation for this blog post, I e-mailed my friend and asked if she could recommend some memoirs or realistic fiction for me to read. Here is her response:

I can’t recommend a good memoir or fiction on domestic violence. I read two that were free downloads, and both were disappointing because the women got out of an abusive relationship and went into a normal one and everything was happy and perfect, very unrealistic. Some women either struggle for a long time with their own short comings and failures or jump right into another abusive relationship. Why? We think we deserve it. And we believe we don’t deserve to be in a happy, normal relationship.

In a subsequent e-mail, my friend described her initial experience with the healing process.

After twelve years of being married to an abuser, I left and was directed to a support group.

All of the group members spoke negatively of men, as if there were no decent ones left on earth. Several members were under the care of a doctor for various conditions, including depression and insomnia, and needed medications for them. Years of low self-esteem had disabled them. A couple were on welfare. Some were overweight, dressed in sloppy clothes, used no makeup and didn’t even comb their hair, as if they didn’t care what they looked like.

One of the members was still working through healing thirty years after being free of her abuser. She had forgiven him but kept talking about needing more time to heal. How long does it take to get over something like that? Genuine healing takes time and is different for each person.

Does that mean things will never get better? Of course not. As far as I can tell, my friend is now relatively well-adjusted. She explains it this way:

But I changed counselors. My new one used encouragement. She pointed out all my good traits and the strong characteristics I still had. She doled out positive reinforcement but also helped me get a good job, a place to live and even a supportive church. Other people reassured me that I could have my own dreams, pursue them and reach them. I became so busy focusing on what I could do and what I could become that my past kind of faded over time.

Even so, she has not remarried and plans to spend her remaining years as a single woman. I have another friend who has what appears to be a happy second marriage, but it didn’t happen until she had been divorced for a number of years. The healing process for both women took a long time, and some scars remain.

So if you are writing a novel about domestic abuse, research the subject and make the story true-to-life. This includes the ending. It’s okay to end with hope or to have your character take the first steps along the road to healing. But don’t create a Shangri-La.

Instead, talk to someone who knows. Then make it realistic.


The picture at the head of this blog is an etching by Richard Newman, first published in July 1795. It shows that spousal abuse isn’t new, nor is the husband always the abuser. In the second panel, a husband begs for mercy while the wife threatens him with a switch from a bush or tree.


Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her most recent book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013), is a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at

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