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
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
“…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.