Saturday, April 9, 2011

Before she cheats...what do you think?

I'm working on a story right now in which a married woman falls for another man, but I'm concerned that readers will dislike her. So my question is this: what would make you feel sympathy for a main character who loves her husband but discovers she has feelings for someone else? Would it depend on how far she took her feelings for the other man? How would you feel if she had an affair with him (slept with him)? What if she only kissed him? Would you feel differently if her husband were abusive? What if he wasn't abusive but instead loved her more than she could ever understand?

I want readers to like this character, but I realize I'm walking a fine line when it comes to adultery (if that's the path she takes). So what do you think: is a cheating main character ever acceptable? I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts on this. 


  1. That's a tough question and I'm not sure how to answer!
    My first thought was absolutely not, I could not feel sympathy for the wife. However, it would be interesting to read what she goes through, the discovering of these feelings and dealing with them.
    I think if she loved her husband, but wasn't in love with him, and she was up front about these feelings (the not in-love part), then I would find her sympathetic as long as she didn't act upon her feelings toward the other guy.
    What I think would also be interesting is how the romance develops between she and the other guy without crossing the line (while dealing with the end of her marriage or whatever may occur).
    I hope I didn't ramble too long! Good luck!

  2. How do you feel? How would you feel? What is her current situation - is she being tossed aside and abused or just ignored by her husband? Is she vulnerable? Or is she just in the right place at the right time? I would hate her if she was being selfish and carelessly hurting the ones who depend on her, but if she seems to need affection, (tho I wouldn't condone it by any means because we are all given a way to escape) it would be more forgivable if the situation was right.

    Happy to see you jump back on the horse =)

  3. I think you need to be careful not to be too unsubtle about it. Movies and TV overdo this kind of situation - they make the husband an abusive alcoholic, of just a plain old jerk. It sometimes surprisingly that the wife didn't cheat YEARS ago! But the reality is that married people do cheat, and it's not often "the fault" of their partners.
    I understand that you want her to be likeable, but the first thing to understand is that some readers will just be turned off by a cheating wife. Well, that's OK, because not every reader loves everything.
    What you need to be clear about, is WHY she is tempted to cheat in the first place. Off the top of my head: does she feel undervalued as a person, because "all" she is, is a wife? Does she have self-esteem issues and feel the need to prove to herself that she's still sexy? Is the new man someone from her past, who she wishes she'd married?
    If you as the author understand that thoroughly, then you can tell her story sensitively and well, and (most) readers will relate.

  4. Thank you all for your insight. You've given me some very good points to think about, and I really appreciate your help.

  5. Maybe it's just as simple as this other man listens to her, makes her laugh. Isn't that what we need to feel complete? Maybe her husband is preoccupied, maybe he has goals and agendas of his own. He doesn't need to be distant/aloof, or abusive, but if he isn't there to listen to her when she needs him the most, it might be enough to push her "over the edge"?

  6. Thanks, Carolyn. Those are really valid points as well. A distant husband--that takes things in a direction I wasn't thinking of. There are a lot of possibilities there...

  7. Oh, goodness. That is a tough question. I agree with Charlotte that what "you need to be clear about, is WHY she is tempted to cheat in the first place." I also agree with Carolyn that maybe "it's just as simple as this other man listens to her, makes her laugh." There's so much that has to do with the presentation that, in the end, I think it's that presentation that will be key. If you have a sympathetic character who folks relate to for other reasons, they'll want to understand why she's looking for something outside of marriage. And they'll probably be more favorable to her if she hasn't gone very far in any sense of those words! I had a friend who cheated with a married man some years ago and it was difficult to witness then, though it'd be much more difficult now. What kept me on the sidelines urging her out of the situation was my love of her--all the things that make her beautiful, and all the foibles that make her just another person trying to sort everything out.

  8. Deb, I agree. I've been thinking about this a lot over the past few days, trying different scenarios, and I keep coming up with what you said: that it will be the presentation of whatever I write that will make the readers sympathetic (or not) toward this character. Her reason for cheating counts too, of course, but a large part of it will be how I write her. Thanks for your comments!