Behold, my most comfy t-shirt:
Some Famous Person wrote that writers do what they do for revenge and not money. My fortysomething brain can’t remember who wrote that. Poor witty person, what’s the point of being famous if people don’t connect you to your pithy cleverness? Anyway, while I would posit that while writers do what they do for any number of reasons, avenging one’s dignity and sensibilities is high on the list.
Once upon a time in a college classroom far, far away, I learned, to my great amusement, that Dante Alighieri placed his political enemies and other people he disliked into The Inferno. Down, down, down they go, what level they stop upon only Dante knows! Just ask him!
Other writers who profess a religion that discourages revenge still indulge themselves in this highly entertaining pastime. All for the good of the story, mind you.
OK, I’ll admit it, I’ve done it myself.
The notorious bully in my first novel was a composite of real live people, but the main ingredient was …. Bully, a real character.
Bully is attractive, charming, successful, and popular. Anyone who complains against her is written off as an inferior having a jealousy fit. When Bully drops occasional kindnesses, her victims are thrown off balance. Cunning and manipulative, unnaturally skilled in button pushing, this person will strike and you’ll never know what hit you. Never, ever think you have her confidence or her respect. Anything you say can be repeated by her for a laugh at your expense.
Even though I changed the identifying details, I managed to capture the essence of Bully. The black cloud of knowing her came with the silver lining of providing a fascinating character model. Who likes Mary Sue characters, anyway? Bully even rang true for my readers when they met her in an early draft of the novel, where the plot could kindly be described as a train wreck.
Since I’m supposed to be a Catholic, my activities must pass Gospel muster. So right now I’m choking on this verse.
I’m thankful Bully, the brilliant and charming, has better things to do than read draft three of my novel.
I can always justify what I did. There’s a difference between using life experiences for story generation and opening up oneself for a defamation of character lawsuit, isn’t there?
Personally, I found I could make better sense of my life experiences when I framed them through the characters’ eyes and not just my own. Also, channeling negative emotion into a believable story gave me a great cathartic relief.
After the catharsis came wisdom. Reader reactions vindicated Bully’s victims, thus evaporating the cloud of Bully’s gaslighting. Though my readers wondered what lay at the root of her nature. Some of them reminded me that today’s fans of fiction don’t like a villain who is 100% evil. IMO she’s a textbook case of how power corrupts. She does what she does because she can. But what do I know? I’m not her confidante. I’m not her therapist. I want to be neither.
After I eviscerated this person (and preened over the praise heaped upon my utterly brilliant characterization, ha), the tiniest bit of sympathy for her actually bloomed inside. Just a bit, where before there’d been a solid wall of confused loathing.
Exposing people for ridicule, attempting to punish, and seeking revenge to the point where a fellow human being is crushed… what does that accomplish? Will acts of revenge make the world a better place? If Bully knew how offensive the readers found her, would this defang her propensity for bullying, or delight her and drive her into more evildoing?
While justice should be sought when laws have been broken, and IMHO sagacity and assertiveness are necessary life skills, the best way to deal with people like her is another Gospel inspired set of words to live by.
Since taking the high road won’t give me the aforementioned benefits, I’ll have to see to it that a difference exists between the real live people and the character I created. I wouldn’t want them recognizing each other. In the unlikely event that my novel goes up for publication, I want to say without fibbing that my novel “is a work of fiction, any resemblance to real life persons, living or dead, is a coincidence blah blah blah.” Besides, I don’t want Bully’s lawyers serving me up with a defamation of character lawsuit.
What do Lantana flowers have to do with using real live people in novels? Nothing. I just thought them lovely. I’m ready to bash my head on a wall, because while “Lantana” is the genus name, I’ve been unable to locate the species name. Due to nature and hybridization, over 150 species of Lantana exist.
Lantana will take over and crowd out indigenous plants, and can be poisonous. But I’m not connecting the flower with Bully. Lantana has its uses, like being decorative and a favorite of pollinators and butterflies.
Anyway, the only satisfaction I get for all my usage of Bully as the main ingredient in a character composite is the smug look I can give her next time it’s unavoidable that we meet. Bwah ha ha ha ha.