You’ve heard it said that writers get their revenge in writing. It’s true. There’s also a saying that “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” While this is also true, I tend to serve mine lukewarm. I write about the offending person or develop a character soon after the affront because I want to skewer him before I soften my stance. However, thanks to publication delays, I have many opportunities to change my mind about inflicting unredeemable characters on the world. One person commented that some of my characters seem unlikable. She should’ve encountered them in real life before I cleaned them up. Even if you wouldn’t spend five minutes with my characters, hopefully they’re not boring.
As you may suspect, I selected this topic because someone deserving written wrath has crossed my path. You may wonder how I’ll portray the offender. Will I create a character like the one in Moral Ambiguity who visits rehab more often than she sees her mother? What about the malicious gossip in the same book who brings out the worst in her husband because she talks about the worst in everyone she knows? Perhaps it’s one of several characters I’ve created based on people who take advantage of the goodness in others.
I never know. Sometimes I’ve set out to paint a really sad picture of someone only to find their redeeming qualities, and I’ve had other characters intended to make one appearance and remain in the background for the rest of the story, but they instead stole the show such as Phyllis in Moral Ambiguity. Based on someone I had known, I needed her assistance in transitioning the story. As I wrote about this fictional Phyllis, I recalled how fun her real life counterpart was as the fictional version was always stepping in where she shouldn’t be. Eventually, I couldn’t get rid of this late arrival, and she was present until the end.
If I soften my stance, the completely unbearable coworker who made everyone’s lives a living hell because of her selfish and unsympathetic nature can become a lovable alcoholic who describes her unbelievable life between sips, as in the case of Sheila Wozniak in Tossed Off the Edge. At some point, I should find the real life counterpart and thank her for inspiring Sheila, for Sheila’s story was the perfect therapy as I processed those unpleasant experiences with a person I had grown to dislike.
I enjoy the subtle glimpses into the writer’s mind. There’s a great passage in Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons: “If she intended to tidy up life at Cold Comfort, she would find herself opposed at every turn by the influence of Aunt Ada…Persons of Aunt Ada’s temperament were not fond of a tidy life. Storms were what they liked; plenty of rows, and doors being slammed, and jaws sticking out, and faces white with fury, and faces brooding in corners, faces making unnecessary fuss at breakfast, and plenty of opportunities for gorgeous emotional wallowings, and partings forever, and misunderstandings, and interferings, and spyings, and above all, managing and intriguing. Oh, they did enjoy themselves! They were the sort that went trampling all over your pet stamp collection, or whatever it was, and then spent the rest of their lives atoning for it. But you would rather have had your stamp collection.”
Who, in real life, had driven Ms. Gibbons to include this very relatable description? I, too, have had someone trampling over my things recently, and they continue to atone for it when all I want is for them never to have messed it up in the first place.
Writers have great imaginations, but so much of storytelling comes from life experience. A story is easy for me if the characters write themselves. You may wonder who will my latest altercation become? Time will tell. I’m working on an opening line to provide the reader with everything he or she needs to know about the passive-aggressive machinations of someone who says, “You look extraordinarily beautiful today. You’re positively radiant! Have you ever considered support hose? I only mention it because of those ankles! Why the tears? I only mentioned it because I care so much about you!”
© 2015 by Patrick Brown
Visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1 to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”