Saturday, April 20, 2013

A to Z Challenge: R is for Revenge

Welcome to the 2013 A to Z Challenge!

This year, I’m focusing on two themes:  Emotions and grammar,
depending on which letter we’re on each day.

Today’s an emotion day!


R is for Revenge:  (noun or verb) to exact punishment or atonement for a wrong on behalf of, especially in a resentful or vindictive spirit; retaliation, vengeance. 

Come on, you knew I’d write about this, didn’t you?  After all, it’s front and center in my novel, The Mistaken, and what motivates the main character—normally a decent, upstanding man—to act out violently after the reckless death of his pregnant wife.  Frankly, I can’t think of anything more visceral than revenge. 

We’ve all had that aggravating feeling of wanting—even needing—to get even with someone who’s wronged us or someone we care about.  Most of the time, though, it’s just a fantasy, and that’s typically enough.  But what if it’s not?

And there’s the rub when you utilize revenge in fiction, at least with the story’s protagonist.  You want your reader to at least like your main character, but that could be difficult if he gives in to his vengeful fantasies. 

The trick, I think, is to get the reader to care about him first and foremost, then when he’s crossed, you feel his pain and resentment, and when he considers crossing over to the dark side, you can sympathize, even if you disagree.  But it’s important to show that transition, what’s provoking him and why fantasizing is not enough.

Here’s a passage from The Mistaken (edited for length):

 Whereas I once spoke to Nick about Jillian—my memories of her and our life together—I now shared my fantasies about gaining revenge on the woman who had provoked Jill into such reckless behavior...
They started simple, as visions of setting her house on fire with her trapped inside, or perhaps I would run her car off the road and down into a steep ravine where she would lie immobilized, entangled in the wreckage, unseen from the roadway far above. I had an endless reservoir filled with pernicious scenarios. I found that when I fantasized about a long, tortuous death, I felt a greater sense of vengeance and a considerable awareness of relief, as sick as that was. And I knew it was sick. But I didn’t care anymore. I wanted Erin to suffer....
At first, it gave me some relief to savor the vision of retribution. Yet, I always woke up the next day with the realization that Erin Anderson was still alive and well, walking the earth, enjoying her life, enjoying her family, while my wife was not, while my child lay eternally buried in Jillian’s cold womb six feet beneath the heavy earth, a tiny speck of immeasurable possibility heartlessly quashed into nothingness. I spoke to Nick about... how utterly enraged I felt, powerless and impotent.
At this point, Nick tries to talk Tyler into getting even, but he balks at the idea.

“…Ty, she’s the reason your wife is dead. She’s the reason you drink yourself into unconsciousness every goddamn day of your pathetic life…Why you can’t get the image of Jillian’s broken body out of your head.
“Remember Jill on that hospital bed, brother, the way they pounded on her chest, shoved tubes down her throat, and needles into her arms. You said it yourself. She died alone and afraid…How can you not want to be brutal right back?...”
Alone now, I sat back in my chair with a full bottle of tequila and drank… I thought about what Nick had suggested...She’d be gone forever. She’d lose her freedom, her identity, and her humanity… The more I drank, the more reasonable it seemed.
God, I wanted to do it, but how could I live with the decision?  Wouldn’t I be compromising my own humanity, as well?  Jill would be ashamed and disappointed if she knew what I was thinking. But then again, she was gone. She would never have the opportunity to live out her dreams. She would never see our child born. Everything that ever gave me reason to live had been stripped away, carelessly ground under the heel of a ruthless stranger. My humanity seemed insignificant compared to that.

But vengeance is not sweet.  It’s bitter and vile.  So if your character goes through with his plans, like mine does, you have to scuttle hard to show how it was a grave mistake, how remorse and regret urge him forward in his need for redemption, to set everything right, if he can.  And that, my friends, is not easily done.

Have you ever loved a character who went too far?  Were you able to forgive him?


Carrie Butler said...

LOL When I saw the title, I thought, "I knew this would be Nancy's R post!"

Then you called me out on it. :P Get out of my head, woman!

Murees Dupé said...

I allow my characters to get all the revenge they seek. I guess that is my way of getting out my feelings of frustrations and sometimes, actually very often, my characters go too far and have to redeem themselves after exacting their revenge. Great post.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

You made some great points about how to use revenge and lot let it make your character unlikeable.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Yes, I saw this one coming!
You handled the revenge well and didn't go too far. (Still really glad you didn't go any further.)
Revenge against an enemy one is already fighting is easier to portray, such as the ending of my first book.

mooderino said...

Revenge is never a good thing. Unless you can get away with it...

Moody Writing

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I think revenge and immediately the hair on my arms stands up. I'm left with a creepy, debilitating sensation in my stomach. Your passage recreated the feeling. Excellent excerpt, Nancy.

Robin said...

I agree. You must make your readership bond with your main character before he/she even starts down this road. If the audience doesn't care about this character, they will not understand the actions and be able to travel the road with him/her.

C. Lee McKenzie said...

Revenge is at the heart of a lot of literary work, and I'm sure that's because even if we haven't taken revenge, we've at one time WANTED to. We can all relate to the R word.

Empty Nest Insider said...

Riveting revenge passage Nancy! I think that many of us would like to seek revenge at some point. Fortunately, most people never act on it.


Rhonda said...

Really good advice. I so agree that vengeance is not sweet.

Visiting from AtoZ

Anonymous said...

Revenge is not a good thing, after all two wrongs don't make a right,
However I enjoyed your post,

A to Z Ambassador.

Mark Means said...

Revenge can be a tough one to get the audience to empathize with. I'll probably have a better view of it after I read The Mistaken :)