I spent a couple years blogging about surviving being stalked by my neighbor. During that time, quite a few readers sent inquiries. How should they write their own stalking stories? What advice could I give? Could I just do the writing for them? Did I know that I completely missed the mark for quality writing?
Had to stop and ponder all those requests. Answers to each inquiry had long "if you want to be a writer ..." answers. Especially for those emailed lectures on elements of good writing. Some admonished me to develop my stalker’s character, her motivations for harassing me, and so forth, since they were solidly missing. Others disliked the TV adaptation of my story's unsettling resolution: my stalker neighbor, somewhere out there, intercepting for her next victim. Couldn’t the episode just have ended with vanquishing The Neighbor?
All of these are excellent points … for a fictional detective story. Regretfully, real life breaks the rules for good stories. The true crime experience is nothing at all like a good Sherlock Holmes tale, read in front of a cozy fire on a blustery stormy night. X never marks the spot. The great reveal, where the villain confesses and apologizes in a dramatic courtroom scene, doesn’t happen. In fact, real life criminals tend to defend their bad behavior, even to the end. Nobody rides into the sunset. Endings never quite happen, devoid of resolution. Victims, even if they emerge victorious, are left with overwhelming tasks of rebuilding their lives. In my case, rebuilding included a sinking knowledge: after my stalker’s release from jail, she could move wherever she liked. Since she was a repeat stalking offender … hmm, how do I put this? … I hope and want to believe The Neighbor reformed. I also worry that maybe she hadn’t. I’m powerless to validate either scenario. So I agree with your complaints: my story has a crappy ending. Nonetheless, what you watched was absolutely accurate.
As for writing about my stalker’s motivation … here’s where I wish real life had an omniscient narrator. That’s the guy with a god-like role in your book, telling you, the reader, exactly what each character thinks, and what to expect next. Lacking that narrator in real life means that I will never fully know why The Neighbor targeted me. Even if I put on my journalist hat, and interviewed The Neighbor, it would put my safety in jeopardy and invalidate my stalking order against her.
Occasionally, I get hints for The Neighbor’s motivation. Reading an article about stalkers, pondering how the facts apply to my flavor of pain. Getting my hands on emails she sent about me, reading her frustration and rage over my ignoring her. Hearing her protests in the courtroom, implying that it was her right to terrorize me. Gut feelings that there were no good reasons, but that I just got too close to a repeat stalking offender. That's when I put the kibosh on pondering. Even though I write about being stalked, it’s still upsetting to delve too far into the details.
Knowing full on well that this ignorance affects how I write the story.
I mull these experiences while reading those requests for writing help. How would I explain every tool used to transfer the Dark Years to printed words? How would I explain what makes this type of memoir different from other types of writing? The short answer is: buckle your seatbelt and get ready for the drive. It's a lot of work.
Which is what I want to pass on for those of you wanting to write your own memoir about your own brush with evil: it'll be messy, not even remotely resembling an episode of Law and Order. Heat-of-the-moment reactions won't match readers' expectations (because while defending yourself, no one told you about that future audience's disapproval). Nobody speaks eloquently. Few are helpful. Neat-and-tidy resolutions are absent.
While drafting this post, I conned myself into believing I could condense the advice into a short list, but while looking at a rough draft of eight pages (and counting), its clear that attempts at short explanations still have long answers. So, I’ve broken this post into sections, which are listed below. I'll update the list and include links to posts after they’re complete.
- Why are you writing?
- What are your risks?
- What are you reading?
- Start writing, now!
- Take a writing class.
- Marketing your work.
To be continued.