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My protagonist is crafty, resourceful, cunning, and principled. She finds herself trapped both physically (due to seclusion in a remote area of wilderness) and psychologically (by a controlling partner she had previously thought was virtuous). She willingly entered this situation but was unaware that it had been morphing into the present disaster for many years. Now she senses her world closing in on her.

My problem is this. If she's so smart, how was she oblivious to this happening?

NB. I refer to her as she but I don't know yet whether the protagonist might be a he instead! Their gender is not meant to be a focal point of the story. That said, if someone has a compelling reason to cast this character as male or female, I'd love to hear it!

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  • "if someone has a compelling reason to cast this character as male or female" It might be seen as a bit stereotypical for a woman to be on this side of an abusive relationship. Although you also haven't said if the partner is a man or woman, or alien or robot.
    – user54131
    Jul 27, 2022 at 5:52

4 Answers 4

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You're describing an abusive relationship. Women (and men) get caught in them all the time for all kinds of reasons.

It's a mistake to believe women who stay in abusive relationships aren't smart enough to get out. And frankly, it's a bit unkind to abused women. You should research abuse more if you plan to write about a woman in or near such a situation. Here's a list of eight reasons women stay in abusive relationships and none of them is because they aren't smart enough to get out... just saying...

A few other things come to mind:

  1. Your protagonist falls into this trap due to a fatal flaw or a lie she believes that allows the antagonist to get their hooks into her, and once she deals with the flaw/lie (a.k.a. grows, goes through a positive change, etc.) she can get out again (and if you don't want women to burn your book, the fatal flaw should never be lack of smarts...)
  2. No one is prepared to deal with certain kinds of people and the sad truth is that in many cases the only healthy thing is to up and leave (especially before you've gotten married, bought a house, started a company, or had kids...) And if you were in an abusive relationship and I told you this about your partner, I'd probably get a list of ten reasons I was wrong within a minute...
  3. There is a good reason why people say "he was such a nice person" about some of the worst people out there. I can't tell you if it's that bad people are able to hide it well or if it's that we're unable to see potential murderers, rapists, and abusers, or perhaps that society codes make it very precarious to call them out unless you have iron-clad proof... after all, you'll end up pretty alone after a few false positives...
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Because love is blind.

If s/he saw the trap coming, that means she didn’t trust her own judgement.

A relationship is always a risk. Two people make themselves vulnerable to each other, that is how we come to trust another person. This vulnerability sometimes gets us hurt. So there s/he is: a victim.

There is no living without risk.

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Hindsight is 20/20

Recognizing the trap requires one to know what the trap is and making the proper mental connections. We often fall into these even when we do, from a momentary lapse of judgment, exhaustion, wishful thinking, or just from being concerned about the wrong thing at the wrong time and not paying proper attention.

Romance often pulls the so-called "rose-tinted glasses" over our eyes. We tend to exarcebate the qualities and ignore the flaws of the loved person. Even when someone suffers abuse, they often bounce back and give the loved one "a second chance" which they don't deserve.

These are the cards an author can play to make the MC fall into the trap. Some uncharitable readers might get angry and call the MC dumb but so long you show these elements, most of the audience will understand why MC fell into the trap.

Only after the fact we realize how dumb we were. Drink 2 glasses of water if it never happened to you.

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Being smart is a double-edged sword.

Being smart doesn't only make you good at assessing situations and solving problems. It also makes you very good at rationalizing behavior and justifying beliefs you're attached to.

There is a long list of cognitive biases that affect people, and just being smart doesn't protect you from them. For example "confirmation bias" is a popular one, it means you look for evidence that confirms your beliefs, instead of evidence against it. And my golly, how much easier it is to find confirmation when you're smart.

She was invested in this relationship, and every bias in her brain has been trying to protect that investment. The good things got highlighted, the bad things rationalized away. That controlling behavior from her partner? Maybe he was just stressed, and moving to the secluded wilderness to get away from the hustle and bustle will fix everything. Oops.

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