For curious readers with a copy of the book, the chapter under discussion is entitled “Trafficking”.
I received perhaps one of the more bizarre compliments of my (admittedly short) writing career from a reader over the weekend. In reference to a scene that had some very unsavory people doing some very unsavory things, she commended me on how well I had developed the characters over a relatively short period of time. I’m not going into details here because I’m trying to avoid spoilers but I feel okay in saying that some pretty dark behavior is explored.
The thing that struck me was that my reader commented on the realism of the antagonists’ behavior in this section of the book. Said reader is a veteran Soldier who currently works as a Readjustment Counseling Therapist as the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs; within the breadth of her professional history, she has counseled a good number of people who have fallen victim to many types of detestable predator. From her experiences, she informed me that the characters in Commune Book One exhibited pattern behavior that she has come to expect from a certain kind of scumbag. Without her actually thanking me explicitly for the way the scene was written, I got the sense that she was grateful that it didn’t devolve into over-the-top melodrama or 1980’s-style Savior Fantasy (i.e. muscle-bound, machine gun totting superman saves helpless damsel).
I was really very happy to get this feedback, as the scene in question was one of the hardest I’ve ever had to write for reasons that should become apparent when it is read. There are so many things I’m trying to deal with in this series that are serious business and need to be done right; things that need to be tackled honestly. A lot of research has been done in a lot of areas with which I never would have come into contact in the hopes of depicting things respectfully rather than devolving into schlock exploitation.
I include the use of the adjective “strange” here in this article because, honestly, I didn’t do a great deal of research into the mindset of the predators that I’m depicting in this scene – I spent much more time looking into survivor behavior and coping mechanisms to ensure that the protagonist was faithful to life. It was important to me that the antagonists be better than two dimensional villains…and that was about it. I wanted them to exhibit behaviors that, taken in isolation, would seem humorous or even likeable; at no point did I want to have your basic, boring mustache-twirling antagonist. This would help to serve as an additional shot of cold water to both the characters and the reader when their more despicable behavior comes into play.
From the perspective of predator psychology, I tried only to dream up behavior that, to my mind, was truly horrific – the most human of evils, so to speak. There are two primary types exhibited in the scene in question: the simple blind, unreasonable rage and the more sinister evil lacking in all self awareness (evil that doesn’t realize that it is evil, in other words). The behavior of the respective characters developed naturally from these two psychologies. The fact that (according to a skilled therapist) I was able to produce an accurate portrayal of these behaviors naturally from within my own mind is a little off-putting…