Writing Uncomfortable Characters – Paedophiles

international-womens-day-love-mondays-300x300It’s International Women’s Day next week!

At work, I’ve been trying to organise a photo competition, photographs of women which help break stereotypes and broaden perception, while celebrating the strength and diversity of women worldwide.

So I’m trying to write something for a Facebook post, but it all seems to sound creepy:

  • ‘We are looking for photos of women…’
  • ‘Send us photos of your daughters…’
  • ‘We want to see pictures of women and girls…’

It took my colleagues and I a while to come up with something that didn’t leave me sounding just flat out weird. Surely it shouldn’t have been that difficult?

[side note: I was going to call this blog post ‘Women’s Day and Paedophiles’ – also weird]

Which leads me in a roundabout way to today’s post topic:

Writing difficult characters

So, my current work in progress is a horror (surprisingly), about a man that gets trapped inside an Elizabethan period stately home in the grounds of a local nature park near where I live. My protagonist, on a trip with a group of school children, is forced into, and is trapped inside, Wollaton Hall along with some other members of the public.

rabbit-1882699_640The idea started off as a bit of a joke, as we don’t really have any dangerous animals living wild in England, so for a long time I chuckled at the idea of people being trapped by rabbits, squirrels and deer. For a while I had debated writing the story as comedy, perhaps a spoof on some of the similar ‘trapped’-type novels / films, but when I started writing it, like most things I write, it quickly became evident that it would indeed lend itself to horror, so 65K words later, I have the first draft of a horror, which was not what I set out to write.

But I digress. One of the characters, a mini-antagonist if you like, was one that came to me one afternoon last summer. I was on holiday with my family down in sunny Devon when my wife and son decided they wanted to try surfing. Now I’m not sure of your knowledge on surfing, but [SPOILERS] wheelchairs and surfing don’t mix. So, I spent the day in the chalet by myself, with just a notebook and pen to occupy myself, which is when the idea for this character popped up. Don’t ask me why, as I was watching the Tour of Britain cycling on the TV at the time, and the sun was shining outside.

persons-933564_640So up from the depths comes this character, complete with name – Lloyd Jewell. Lloyd wears a tracksuit. He works in a factory. He drinks with his friends. He doesn’t wash his hair as often as he should. Lloyd seems to be a regular guy. He just also happens to be a paedophile.

I suppose the idea for Lloyd came from the knowledge that a group of school children would feature in this story, combined with asking the question ‘what can I do to put a giant spanner in the works?’ And so the idea of a group of children trapped in the Hall, trapped in with a paedophile, was born.

Now I’ve never written a character like this before. I know the old adage ‘write what you know,’ but I did not have the first clue where to start with this one. For some considerable time, I considered changing this character. I said to myself:

“Make him a regular, common or garden sex offender. That would be much better.”

Only I replayed that sentence through in my head – ‘A sex offender would be better.’ I have almost no knowledge of that either, save for a couple of years working at the youth offending team, and I found that turning my mind to that was as difficult as contemplating the mind of a paedophile, plus, try as I might, the Lloyd Jewell character seemed to work as a paedophile.

On to the difficult stuff

Now I realise that there are few taboos when it comes to writing, and I’ve always tried to ‘write the truth’ – people do bad things, and no one (except for my mum) says ‘oh dear’ when they could say ‘shit,’ and trust me, even into my forties I still have my mum’s voice in my head every time I write a character that says ‘fuck that.’

click to tweet

magic-cube-2399883_640But one thing that I have read a lot, particularly in submission guidelines, is ‘no child sex or violence towards children.’ So now I’ve got this character, partially formed in my mind, and on the other hand I have the ‘no paedophilia’ rule.

The first part of my dilemma I think I have already solved – despite what I’ve just said about writing the truth, I had no wish to show any acts of violence or sexual violence towards children in my writing. Not even close. In my outline, I wanted this character’s potential threat to hang over the story. I don’t actually want to show anything. I won’t show anything. I won’t say how I’ve wrapped up that storyline, as it is still liable to change! So I was happier with that, although I still worry sometimes that even that is too much.

The second part was a little more difficult. I don’t know any paedophiles, at least I don’t think I do. So my research will be coming from the Internet. Because of the subject matter, I didn’t feel comfortable chatting to people about it. I know that may sound strange to some, but for me, it was a thing. I wanted to know (kind of) what a paedophile is; the different types; what their state of mind is; what triggers this behaviour? does a paedophile know what they are doing? amongst other things.

I found all of these questions deeply troubling, primarily I think because I have children of my own and trying to put myself into the head of this man (Jewell) was uncomfortable. Asking myself questions like:

  • What would a paedophile do in a particular situation?
  • What makes a paedophile choose one child over another?
  • How would a paedophile ‘groom’ a child?

Even writing that now makes me feel uneasy, and I’m sat by myself, no one looking at what I’m writing, which leads me to another point, one that I acknowledge might be just silly, and that is what would someone think about me if they didn’t know me and looked at the search history on my Mac or my phone? I’ve worried about this before with a previous story, Die, Blossom, Bloom, (read it, it’s great, and it’s free!), where there was dismemberment. I had to research how difficult it would be to cut up a body, and how to dispose of the pieces. Ridiculous, yes? Somehow, paedophilia feels worse.

But it is written now (first draft, anyway) so for me the answer was just to ‘suck it up’ and realise that if I’m staying true to myself and the reality and harshness of the world around me, I need to write the truth in all of its horror.

My question to you is have you ever written a  that you found difficult (or uncomfortable) as I did with this one? How so, and how did you deal with it?

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