Sunday, April 12, 2009

Best Served Cold

revenge--a planned hurtful response to a real or imagined injury, a deliberate quid pro quo orchestrated by a character against another character, group, or institution; an act meant to restore a perceived loss of status.

Revenge is aptly thought of as the writers' emotion, beginning with an "I'll show them,"the them being teachers, family, and friends who thought writing was beyond the writer's ability or an infra dig profession), extending after the fact of publication to the "them" of critics who may have provided sneering reviews. It is the writer redressing the history of failed romances, failed earlier writings, even failed academic careers; allowing writers to refashion past failures, disappointments, and real or imagined slights. A romantic rival may be rendered as a blathering nincompoop, an academic concept may make its way past the stony reception of a tenure committee to a Nobel Prize or, worst case scenario, a Guggenheim Grant. A former lover may come to regret an intemperate decision to break off a relationship. Revenge may even produce a reversal of a known historical event.

Perhaps the most iconic of English-language revenge stories begins where a ghost appears to direct his son, Hamlet, to avenge his murder,although Wuthering Heights has claimed a spot on the wall. One of the quintessential American tales of revenge, Poe's 1849 short story, "A Cask of Amontillado," sets the inertia in motion with the first line, "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge." Not quite a hundred years later, "Cask" had its second coming as James Thurber's "The Catbird Seat," in which "Mr. Martin bought the pack of Camels on Monday night in the most crowded cigar store on Broadway. It was theatre time and seven or eight men were buying cigarettes. The clerk didn't even glance at Mr. Martin, who put the pack in his overcoat pocket and went out. If any of the staff at F & S had seen him buy the cigarettes, they would have been astonished, for it was generally known that Mr. Martin did not smoke, and never had. No one saw him.

"It was just a week to the day since Mr. Martin had decided to rub out Mrs. Ulgine
Barrows. "

Business has been good for revenge in America. Just two years after the Poe story came forth, two novels, Moby-Dick and The House of Seven Gables set it in literary stone, where it has flourished ever since in such well-known appearances as The Great Gatsby, Charles Portis' remarkable True Grit, and Donna Tartt's The Secret History.

Back to you, England, for the says-it-all-in-the-title tale of revenge by Jeffrey Archer, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, and the earlier classics from Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.

Take a character. Insert into that character's backstory the fact of having been wronged or carrying a grudge for a family member having been wronged. Add a few measures of revenge fantasy, then start writing.

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