To beat or not to beat

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
OPTIONAL QUESTION: What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?

MY ANSWER: I’m sure no one would be surprised by my answer. Many of my characters like to read, just as I do. Sometimes, the trait is involved in the plot. Other times, it isn’t, when it is irrelevant to the story, but most of my characters are readers.
It is pretty easy when a writer imbues her characters with her own likes and dislikes. We all understand ourselves, or at least, we think we do, so it is almost effortless, even enjoyable, to write such actions and emotions into our stories. Much harder is to make your characters do something that is anathema to you.

I’m working on a story now where my protagonist is so far from me as a person, I’m not sure we have even one trait in common. I’m struggling with one particular issue, and I’d like to vent it here.

My hero (let’s call him Tom) is a formerly military man searching for a recently orphaned, eleven-year-old girl to deliver her to her grandmother. He finds the foster couple the social services sent her to and discovers that the husband sexually abused the girl, and she ran away. Tom is blazingly angry. He still needs to find the girl, but before he continues his search, he wants to beat the sick bastard who abused her to a pulp. He could do it too: he has the training, he’s young and strong, and the logic of his personality demands the violence as a fit punishment for the pervert. But should Tom really beat the guy? Should I write the scene of the beating?

I’m an extremely peaceful person myself. I suspect I’m a coward. I never participated in any fights in my life. I avoid conflicts at all costs, but my hero’s fists are itching to punch the man who abused the innocent child in his care. I’m torn. Tom’s thoughts and actions are alien to me, but the story requires him to engage in a fist fight. Should I look for another solution? What do you think?


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23 Responses to To beat or not to beat

  1. It depends how quickly he reacts to things. If he’s a thinker, then he will want to but not. Or you could have him rough the guy up a bit and tell him that he could have done worse. It depends on age. When I was younger, I would’ve reacted first, but as I get older, the brain thinks it out first.
    Hope that helps.

  2. Maybe he could throw just one good punch as he’s leaving.

  3. patgarcia says:

    I’m going to come straight to the point and say YES, he should be the hell out of him or to the point that he knows that someone has that little girl covered with his protection.I would have them dualing in fisticuff or boxing.
    Next point: although you’re not familiar with violence, you could maybe find some boxing matches on YouTube. Look at some of the Ali fights, or Joe Frazier fights. Study how they throw their left fist or hook with their rights.
    Next point: You want Tom to trick into a dark place or an alley so that the police doesn’t interfere, and you want to make sure that Tom threatens him with exposure if he even goes near that little girl again

    So now you see how violent I am.

    Good luck with writing out the scene. Oh, you might also want to read one or two biographies on famous boxers and their techniques.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  4. patgarcia says:

    Sorry, I was so excited while writing that I didn’t write a word out completely. I meant he should beat the hell out of him.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  5. jenlanebooks says:

    What a dilemma for your character. When I’m counseling adult survivors of sexual abuse, I explain to their loved ones that the survivors had so much control taken away that they need to try to get control back (by deciding whether to report, for example), and that a loved one beating the shit out of the abuser often doesn’t help the survivor (especially if the loved one gets in legal trouble). However, this is a child, so it’s a little different. What if your character very much wants to beat the abuser, but believes it will be more effective to engage in the legal system by making a report to Children’s Protective Services and getting the girl into counseling? If your character is a military man, he may have more faith in the government/legal system than the average Joe. (Or maybe less faith depending on what he has seen.) I think you could go in multiple directions and give valid reasons for his choice. If he does beat the abuser, it doesn’t mean you condone violence since this is fiction.

  6. emaginette says:

    He’d be highly disciplined to make in the millitary. They have a code of honor—or at least they should. No. I’d rather he find the child/teen and have the abuser appologize to them. (Okay. The abuser might resist and get a bruise or two.)

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  7. I like Alex and Diane’s response. Think of the consequences to his mission too and whether it advances the plot in the way you want if he beats the person up. Because there would be consequences. Hope that helps.

  8. Erika Beebe says:

    I agree with Alex. It depends on how he learns about the information, and where the man is, and how much time has past, even the risk. What are his risks? The first reaction a young man may have is to punch or shoot someone, I would suspect. It may take awhile to calm down from that. Especially if alcohol is involved. Alcohol can give those who know how to fight, liquid courage, as I’m told from those I do know who get in often fights. I do think someone may take the law into their own hands. They may believe he’ll never get his own and maybe they even think he deserves a lesson for something like that. I hope I helped a little 🙂

  9. I like Alex’s comment. Reacting versus responding. Good luck with it, Olga!

  10. cleemckenzie says:

    IMHO you need to know who Tom is. Is he a hot head who uses his fists first, and then repents? Or maybe he’s a hot head, but never repents, never gives a second thought about how his violence affects others. Okay. He’s not a hot head; he’s a sensitive sort of guy with muscles. Well, you see where I’m headed. Who is he? What he does in this situation will show his character.

  11. rolandclarke says:

    I’m a pacifist at heart and have Quaker ancestors but have got into a couple of fights as a teenager – versus bullies when I was pushed too far. However, I’ve found the best and most memorable resolutions in books I’ve read are when the toughest character threatens ‘bloody revenge’ but pulls back in favour of the legal process – long-term punishment.

  12. Rebecca Douglass says:

    Looks like you’ve gotten some good advice here, but I’ll toss in my thoughts anyway. I’m thinking about two aspects of this. On the one hand, if reacting with violence is what Tom would do (which would require more than just being a military man; he’d need to be someone with either some impulse-control issues, or a history that pushes him to follow through with the desire), then he will do it. But there’s another consideration, which is the consequences of beating the man up, and you’ll have to decide if the story can manage those. If not, you might show him being far stronger by resisting the desire, maybe even making it clear to the abuser that he could pulverize him, but won’t out of respect for the rule of law, or to avoid the stain on his own karma or whatever matches his nature.

    You are brave, writing a MC who is so alien to yourself! Best of luck with that.

  13. Olga I’m a non-violent person myself. In the zombie apocalypse, I’m standing behind the bravest person I know that can shoot a gun at anything, living or dead. Yeah, just call me Negan, lol.

    But in the real world, I abhor injustice. I don’t see why the pedophile gets off because he was an abused child himself. I’m a social worker, and was an abused foster child myself. I don’t understand why abused children grow up to be abusers. If it was wrong when it happend to you, its wrong when you do it to your own children! So, I kinda sympathize with vigilantes. What’s legal, moral, and justice does not always agree, in my personal world view.

    I guess that is why I can write villains. From their perspective. Not saying any of it is legally, socially, or morally acceptable. But sometime, Justice/Revenge just feels right to me. So when I’m writing my good guy, I don’t believe he/she has to adhere to legal. Cuz (except for Canadians and Swiss, lol), legal justice and moral justice is not the same concept. Ever watch any Bat Man movies? Or any Superhero movies in general. Thats an exploration of what is Legal vs what is Moral.

    For your own dilemma, watch the old Charles Bronson vigilante movie Death Wish. It asks the same question you have here. May not be a beat down, exactly, but the same concept. Is it OK to kill a killer? When the legal system fails, should average citizens take whatever steps necessary to protect themselves from the true criminals?

    I think your (fictional) situation here is about justice. Does the dude deserve a beat down? Is the legal system going to believe the girl, or a trusted foster family? And, most importantly . . .
    If YOU, personally, were writing the laws, would YOU allow this injustice to happen? Do you have the imagination, or guts, to write a wrong even if it is contrary to your real world values.

    I love making my characters – hero’s or villains – do things in a fictional environment that I WOULD NEVER do in the real world. I allow my hero’s to do things that are legally wrong but morally correct; I let my villains have a sense of justice that even the Law is ambivalent about.

    My vote is for your hero to kick the guys ass. As a devout military man, his protective instincts say justice isn’t about legalities. And, more importantly, if this “beat down” is causing Author You so much distress; perhaps you are wrestling with some issues that this writing is meant to work out. Maybe not answer, but explain in your mind.

    Who is your character? Does he have an issue in the past that the legal system has failed to rectify? Is he a military man cuz he wants to kill without consequence? Or is he a true protector of the innocent? What, in his past that formed his world view, would “justify” his beating this abusive foster parent to a pulp, shy of killing him? How “in control” of his actions/reactions is he, and where will that lead the story?

    Maybe write the scene both ways. See in your mind (or story plot) how it affects the story/character going forward. Your story isn’t about your own personal values, its about the character’s values. You can still write in some of your own characteristics, traits, and values, but justify it through the MC persona. If author you can find a justification for beating this creep down, then you will be able to write it. If Author you needs your character to fantasize and walk away, then I’m sure you will find a way to justify walking away, and still find justice/satisfaction in the end.

    Have a great weekend Olga. Good luck with the scene.

    • Olga Godim says:

      Oh, Donna. I think in Canada, we have the same disconnect between legal and moral as anywhere in the world. But that is beside the point of my story. It is sci-fi, set in the future Canada, so I can make whatever laws I wish.

  14. Denise Covey says:

    Hey after the dissertation from Donna I really don’t have much to say. My opinion is that this guy is military trained, used to quick thinking and reactions. Faced with such an ugly situation, I see him beating this guy. Readers like fights, but interestingly I’ve read that sometimes the most powerful fight isn’t seen on the page. I get what that means. A lot of Shakespeare’s action took place off the stage.

    In my vampire novels, I have sword fights. They’re fun to research and write. A sword was the way people talked in the era I’m writing in.

    Hope all of this advice helps you to make a decision or supports the decision you’ve already made.

  15. Olga Godim says:

    Thanks, everyone. Your comments clarified my own view of the story. I know now what to do. You rock, folks.

  16. Chrys Fey says:

    I don’t think a full beating is the answer or would help matters for him, but if he was my character, he would definitely punch the bastard in the face. Maybe even pull him halfway up again to issue a threat to his face and give one last punch for good measure.

  17. You don’t have to jump to having Tom beat up the guy. He may have an internal struggle where he really wants to beat up the guy, but knows it won’t really solve anything.

  18. Nicki Elson says:

    Hmm…If he MUST get into a physical brawl but it doesn’t feel right to have him go all-out crazy on the guy, maybe limit it to a few swift punches and then the character pulling himself away before he can do the full damage he wants to??,

  19. Diane Burton says:

    As much as he’d like to beat the hell out of the abuser, he wouldn’t. He would find the girl, they would report the situation to child services (or whoever put her in that place) and report him to the police. A hero may want to inflict physical violence on another, but he would control the urge. BTW, how does he know the man abused the girl? If there’s evidence, that needs to be reported right away. Put this abuser in jail. The inmates will deal with him.

  20. Loni Townsend says:

    Wow, can’t believe I missed your post! You’ve probably decided which route to go by now (what did you decide anyway?). Hope it worked out well for your story!

  21. jlennidorner says:

    Will I like Tom more for beating the guy? Yup.
    But might he land in jail or something? Meaning the girl is on her own longer? And it isn’t like her life is likely going better.

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