Sol Fitzgerald is angry. A 24-year-old janitor at a private school, he's also an alcoholic. And he recently spent two years in prison for aggravated assault. All these characteristics and events are not his fault: they're the effects of sexual abuse he suffered from ages nine to twelve.
As a main character in my novel Crimes of Disrespect, Sol's bubbling hostilities and criminal record put him on the suspect-list early in the investigation of a double murder. By necessity, he looks into the incident, in which he himself had found two bodies in the quadrangle of Woodmore Academy, the elite high school where he works.
When I was sketching characters for Crimes of Disrespect, Sol's details came about in a circuitous way. At first, he was going to be a minor character, focused on early by the police but eliminated by an alibi. But then Sol "demanded" to be a bigger character: he would be a hapless young man whom trauma and circumstance dealt a blow. The police would take note of his violent record, he'd have a fuzzy alibi at best. So, if he was damaged goods, I needed to know why, which led me to develop his past sexual abuse in childhood and its results: his escape through alcohol and his subconscious rage.
A Map of Sol's Life
Exploring his character also required (as for any major character) that I imagine his life's timeline. As I writer, I find doing this invaluable for the current plot, flashbacks, and for character quirks and motivation. Here's the chart I made to capture Sol's timeline:
Sol Fitzgerald's personality and most of his struggles stem from being a survivor of child sexual abuse. For authenticity in writing such a character, I researched the challenges that survivors like him -- especially male ones -- face. I've listed three of the sources I consulted below.
Hope for Sol
What I've shown here is only a part of my research for, and development of, Sol Fitzgerald. Good storytelling has its foundation in character; plot proceeds from characters' wounds and their conscious and unconscious goals.
In Sol's case, his underlying need is for self-respect. But he blames himself, if only subconsciously, for being victimized and vents his shame through anger. Nevertheless, he's taking a high-school equivalency program. He wants to go to university and maybe, he hopes, put his musical bent to use as a high school teacher. He also wants to win back Tash, his girlfriend. By the novel's end, she has dumped him.
So, things aren't easy for Sol. But despite his alcoholism and childhood trauma, he sees that a better life is possible.
Copyright © R.B. Young
R.B. Young is the author of the novel Crimes of Disrespect and of short stories in Canadian and American literary journals. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.