5 min read

Writing About Child Abuse in Fiction

Writing About Child Abuse in Fiction
Wildflowers, My debut novella

It's been a while since I have discussed my debut novella, Wildflowers. Truth be told, reader, sometimes I love it and sometimes I hate it. I believe that is normal for debut books, at least!

Before I begin discussing my experience of writing child abuse into a piece of fiction, I shall present Trigger Warnings. These trigger warnings apply to the book, especially, but also to this post.

Trigger Warnings for Wildflowers by Vanessa Perry

  • On-page child abuse including physical, emotional, and verbal
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Grief
  • Death

Now that it's out of the way, we can discuss!

Why Include It At All?

Some of you may know and some of you may just be learning that I did not have much of a loving childhood. This is not a woe-is-me; it's merely a statement. When I decided to see if I could actually write a book, I decided to pour my very being into it. I will never make that mistake again (more on that another time). Really, there are a few not-simple reasons why I decided to include it:

  1. I wanted to tell my true story in a way that it wasn't entirely my story. The idea of a memoir made my skin crawl.
  2. I wanted any potential readers, however few, to know they're not alone should they have experienced child abuse.
  3. I was in a dark place and needed a release.

Also, this is ridiculously naive, but I frankly didn't know that many publishers (at least the small presses I looked at) have strict no-child abuse guidelines. Apparently, it's uncommon to write about such in fiction. Luckily, I was pretty confident I was going to self-publish Wildflowers from the get-go. It was entirely an experimental project. A passion project, I suppose.

On-Page vs Off-Page

So, I mentioned child abuse in fiction is pretty uncommon. On-page descriptive child abuse (especially physical) is practically taboo: at least not how I did it. And for good reason. Child abuse, in all forms, is utterly repulsive. And even if reading it is not triggering for everybody, I damn hope it's repulsive.

Still, I meant for the book to be harrowing and emotional and uncomfortable. Life is all of those things sometimes. Sometimes we have shitty parents and guardians. It's fact, even when it's written in fiction. I am simply not the type of author to avoid the tough subjects.

I know many people cringe at the thought of reading anything remotely dark, and that's okay. Despite being quite bubbly and optimistic, I enjoy reading and writing dark content because it helped me process things during my lovely childhood.

I chose to write the abuse on-page versus having it off-page or even fade to black because I wanted to drive home the point. Child abuse is sinister. I chose to show it in its hideously true colors.

It's not off-page and doesn't fade to black in real life.

But, How Could You?

Barely. That's how I could. Honestly, it was emotionally draining. For much of the writing, I felt quite detached. I have not had anyone say it, but I know the detachment shows.

Also, when I say "barely", that's one of the reasons my grand plans for a full-blown novel turned into keeping it concise as a novella. If could barely write it, I assume most readers can barely read it. A full-blown novel of awfulness? Readers would need a season-long mental detox. I would've stopped writing for a decade. None of us need that.

Would You Write Child Abuse into Fiction Again?

Not the way I wrote Wildflowers, no. Child abuse wasn't just written into fiction with Wildflowers. The book was about child abuse. And how children may process it (all humans are different when it comes to processing trauma). Hell, I remember my editor asking why Charlotte (child protagonist) may still love her mother, want to be around her, etc. Because, while some children may hate their abuser enough to wish they'd disappear, they may indeed also love their abuser and hope for things to change. It's as complicated as the human mind.

I won't ever write another book about child abuse, no. Will future books include it? Yes; I bring dark things into light. However, it will most certainly be off-page or fade to black at most. I don't have the will nor the desire to write something like Wildflowers again... Ever.

Advice for Writing Child Abuse into Fiction

First and foremost, make sure you can emotionally handle writing about such a horrible theme. You might think you can and then be surprised. Alas, here is a list of tips:

  • If you want to go traditionally published, do your research. Wasn't kidding when I said many publishers won't publish it, much less look at it.
  • If you want to self-publish, understand there is a large audience that will not want to read something with child abuse. That means it will be harder to market.
  • Be ready to tell people (trigger warnings, etc).
  • If you never experienced child abuse, and maybe even if you did, you absolutely need a sensitivity reader. Handle it delicately!
  • If you are writing about it, be prepared for intimate questions. People will assume you're writing from experience. If you're like me, they will assume correctly and can feel vulnerable to discuss. Set boundaries!
  • If it's not about child abuse, ask yourself if child abuse is necessary for the main character's journey/the plot. Don't write it for shock factor.

Should YOU Read Wildflowers?

Dear reader, this choice is entirely up to you. I initially marketed it as horror but I do believe it reads more dark fantasy. There are supernatural elements at play. Classic tropes with new perspectives. A creepy, cozy winter setting.

But it can be a tough read. It's a novella and you'll either speed read through it (also: no shame skimming the tough parts) or it may require you to consume happy media between tough parts (no shame in that either). Perhaps it won't bother you at all. Perhaps, you'll need to DNF. Please don't force yourself to ever finish a book that is too emotionally/mentally distressing.

Ultimately, if you are easily triggered by child abuse (or any of the other topics I listed above), Wildflowers is likely not for you. If not, give it a go! You may not find it too bad!

Where to Buy Wildflowers

You can buy Wildflowers here:

Wildflowers by Vanessa Perry

Wildflowers is a riveting tale that dives into the life of Charlotte.

Charlotte spends her time at her wooded cottage home looking after the house and taking care of her younger sisters, Anna and Sadie. While trying to manage a household, she suffers from abuse at the hand of her mother.

Ma has been depressed and grieving but, lately, things have gotten worse. Charlotte begins to wonder if something much more sinister is at play once strange things start happening in the home.

Charlotte fights her own demons and uncovers family secrets in a horrifying quest to get Ma back.

Read Now

Thank you for taking the time to read about my writing experience! Be sure to subscribe to get posts via email (after this post, future posts will be sent in a weekly/bi-weekly round-up of sorts: I will not inundate you with emails).

Want access to exclusive content like videos, fictional material, etc? For $5/month, you can become a Pumpkin Eater (paid subscriber) and get all kinds of cool extra content!