Writing a Strong Broken Character

A couple months ago I finished writing a romantic comedy that is close to my heart for a few different reasons. If you have read any of my books you know they are not just about romance and happy endings (even though they definitely have both) but they normally touch on something a bit heavier, sometimes darker.

This one is no exception. I wanted to write a character who is being emotionally blackmailed. This was an important subject for me because it’s something I experienced personally. I had always considered myself a strong woman. Not the most assertive one, but emotionally strong. Until the day I discovered I had been manipulated by someone I considered my best friend at the time. Worse even this had been going on for years. I lived in a state of confusion and hurt without a clue of who or what was making me so miserable.


Emotional blackmailers use traits of your personality (good qualities more often than not) against you. In my case, she used the fact I would do just about anything to help and/or defend a friend and turned it into a weapon against me. She also used the fact I choose to believe the best about people to make herself believable in my eyes. She was the victim, the one that needed help, everyone was out to get her. And I ate it up even when my conscience and common sense told me there was something wrong with her stories and/or her attitude.

When I began writing this story I wanted my main male character (who in romance are kind of expected to be alpha males) to be a victim of emotional blackmail. As I wrote the story I had the suspicion I was making him look weak, which was not at all my intention. Strength has nothing to do with this. The most put together, emotionally stable person can be the victim of one of these predators. Because make no mistake, these are predators as ruthless as any other.


I submitted the manuscript thinking that I would get it back with the comment, “he comes across as weak”. I was right. That’s exactly what happened. So now I’m faced with the challenge of portraying someone who has been “broken” by his girlfriend but still seems strong and capable–which he really is. Not an easy task but I have all confidence I’m on the right track. I agonized over it when I was writing it the first time, I’m agonizing over it now as I revise it. I want to be true and fair to my MMC and not make him look like the weakling he is not.

I’m hoping I can make my guy just as strong and awesome as he is broken and confused. Have you ever have to write a character like that? What did you do to balance his state of mind with his personal strengths?


Bullying in the workplace

Today I change my normal semi-literary pace to bring up a particularly painful and somewhat embarrassing subject; bullying in the workplace.

Like a lot of people I got bullied in school. In second grade I was bullied by a horrible teacher, in fourth grade by a group of black girls that hated me because I was white and another group of white girls that hated me because I was poor (talk about being stuck in the middle), and then again in high school God-only knows why—maybe my coloring (always sticking out like a sore thumb in a country of darker people), maybe my glasses, maybe I just looked at them wrong. Who knows? There really is no rhyme or reason for bullying. And that’s what makes it so insidious.


Now, I am a professional woman in my middle years and I thought all of that had been put behind me. Grown-ups don’t pick on others just because, do they? Well, it turns out that they do indeed. The motivation is not too different from that of the kid bullies; power, control, domination seems to be the operative words here and the main motivation for even adult bullies. Check out here for a great website dedicated to the matter of bullying in the workplace. I was astonished by how closely their scenarios matched what I have been going through since last year.


I am in my last week of my current contract with the school where I have been working for the past thirteen years. There is a lot of emotional baggage attached to this place, most of it good. I love my experiences with the students (even with the not-so-lovable ones) and with most of the staff. I was fortunate enough to work all these years with an amazingly supportive team of classroom teachers. They have always made me feel a part of the team, have always showed me personal and professional respect, and now that they have all retired still keep in touch. I just hope that I paid them the same respect and courtesy throughout these years.

There are also a lot of other staff members (teachers and support personnel) who I will miss and will always remember with gratitude and friendship.

Unfortunately, I also leave this school with a terrible sour taste in my mouth. For the past year I have been consistently bullied by my own team. I have been yelled at behind closed doors, told that I had “slacked” and “let my team down”. I have been “shunned” within my team and blocked from social media. Emails, which made me look incompetent and/or unwilling to do what’s best for my students, have been sent to the staff. It is depressing, humiliating, but the worst part is that my “bullies” took away my passion for teaching.

Bullies at work

I would like to know why. Why turn on someone who has never done anything to hurt you, or—as in my case—someone who has been there for you for years? Did you feel threatened by me? Was it a racial/ethnic issue? What was it?  I will never know because the truth is bullying does not occur for concrete reasons. I wonder sometimes if the bullies know why themselves.

Some will say I allowed them to do this to me. However, anyone who has been bullied knows that when you are in that situation you become isolated, suspicious, and yes, even a little paranoid at times. You don’t know who to trust or what to do because it seems like no matter what, it’s never going to be the right thing.

I hate that my enthusiasm for teaching has been stolen away from me for reasons I still cannot understand. I hate that I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I mostly hate this feeling of helplessness and constant doubt.

So, I leave this place with mixed feelings. On one hand, I am sad because I am leaving friends, kids, and their families behind. But on the other hand, I am thrilled and excited beyond words to know I will not have to look at the faces of those who took perverse pleasure in making my life miserable, especially this last year. I won’t have an anxiety attack every time I open my work email and see a message from one of them. There will be weeks, hopefully months, without the stress of fearing public humiliation.

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I want to tell those of you out there who may be in a similar situation that you’re not alone (but it does feel that way, doesn’t it?). And I want to tell those who knew what was happening and stood idly by; you are guilty as well.

Yes, bullies, you have won! You have been able to make me feel physically sick at times, you’ve taken away my good night sleep, you’ve made me what even terrible life events were not able to—an anxious, often angry person. Congratulations. I’m sure you are very proud of yourselves.