Writing Your Own True Crime Story
Written by
She Writes
March 2019
Written by
She Writes
March 2019

This guest post was provided by Karen Keilt, author of The Parrot's Perch.

When I was 23, I suffered a traumatic event that completely changed the course of my life. Just four months after my wedding in Sao Paulo, Brazil, while my husband and I slept naked and vulnerable we were startled awake, yanked from our bed, physically threatened and abused, then handcuffed and taken from our home in the dead of night. We didn’t know if the men who took us were criminals or police. It turned out they were both.

We were held, beaten, raped and tortured for 45 days, until finally our family was able to raise the bribe funds required to obtain our release.

Following those horrific events, a suicide attempt on my part and alcoholic binging on my husband’s part, our marriage began to disintegrate and after attempts at reconciliation, I decided I needed to leave.

In doing so, I would face another terrifying challenge. At the time in Brazil, it was illegal to divorce or for me to travel without my husband’s permission. And it would be considered a crime if I took our 18-month-old son. In my mind my best-case scenario was that I would end up ostracized from our social network and family; the worst-case scenario was that I could end up back in the dungeon prison. I was trapped.

But in my heart I knew I could never be happy if I was forced to stay in a country that had so degraded and hurt me, and which forced me to stay in an unhappy marriage. I decided to take a chance at happiness. Without telling anyone, I planned my escape and took nothing but a small suitcase for myself and my son. I left behind everything I’d known since my birth.

I buried my demons deep within and set about trying to make a new life and pretending that the newly reinvented me was OK. For 34 years I lived a good life, a wonderful great life, still the, but which I’d learned was eating me from the inside out. I’d had episodes of anger and rage, of depression and loss, and I knew I needed to do something about it. But what?

How to Write About Trauma

Anytime we suffer a violation that affects our core, talking about it can be difficult. But writing about it can be even harder. I decided I didn’t have the courage to do either, so, seeking peace, I took up yoga instead. Yoga gave me the lessons and courage I needed to move forward.

I decided to write my story. And yes, it was a difficult task. I found myself alone at my desk reliving the events that hurt me and others. I began to wonder how others involved in the trauma would be affected by my story. There were so many things to consider, so many ramifications, including possible retaliation. It was frightening, but I knew that in order to truly cleanse my soul of the horrors I’d experienced I had to get it out.

To my surprise, I discovered that the writing was actually easy. I simply took a deep breath, closed my eyes, then began to write.

The story poured out. I worked non-stop as much as 18 hours a day, even reliving those horrific events as I slept then woke up wrote more. In three days I had finished a very rough draft of those 45 days and to my surprise, I felt a great sense of relief.

The hard part would come next. Everything I’d written was raw, painful to re-read. Instinctively I knew I had to get help in order to make my story palatable enough for others to read.

These were my steps. I hope they help you write your own story.

1. Make a conscious decision to tell the truth.

2. Ensure that you have time and privacy. (This is CRITICAL. Interruptions are the death of stream of consciousness).

3. Since this is a true story, you know how it begins and how it ends. Sit back and take the timeline through your mind. Watch it unfold as if it were a movie.

4. Then begin to write. Start at the beginning. Leave out details and descriptions. Write: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

5. If you can, hire an editor with true crime experience, but most importantly with whom you connect. This is a critical step. Fill in details and descriptions.

6. If you’ve hired an editor: Trust this person. YOU are not the expert. You are paying for their expertise, not their sympathy. If they suggest a change, they know better than you, so let go of your ego and let them do their work. If you absolutely cannot let go of some Thing, then go with your gut.

I hope this helps you put your story down. I believe it will help exorcize your demons. It did mine. I hope writing gives you the ability to look back at your experience without reliving its horror. Your book may never become a best-seller, but it will become your best friend. It will become your guru, your life guide. Someday you’ll be able to say; “Yes, I was * raped and tortured (insert your experience here) and my entire life course changed…..but I’m over it, I’ve moved on, I’m happy now.” And say it the same way you recall a broken bone or a lost job, that you shrug your shoulders over, knowing it did not beat you down.

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