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Friday, August 26, 2011

Writing’s Better Than Therapy (Or Jail)

Some people make me angry—very angry. I hate bullies and racists. I despise hypocrites. I have a special distaste for goody-two-shoes who screw you over while they’re proclaiming their own sainthood.
In real life, I’ve met a fair number of people who fall into one of my wish-they-were-staked-on-an-anthill categories. We all encounter folks that yank our chains. We run into them in business dealings, in homeowner associations, in churches, in local politics, at the grocery checkout, at the doctor’s office, on a cruise.
Too often these scoundrels never get their just desserts. The bullies push through their agendas. The crooked pocket more cash. Invariably, when the hypocrites humiliate a friend, we sputter, unable to find the perfect zinger to put them in their place. That comeback arrives when we’re tossing and turning at two in the morning with a “why didn’t I think of that” regret.
Except. Except. Yes! As a writer, I can dispense justice. I can expose frauds. I can deliver razor-sharp zingers. I can make certain the gods punish the wicked in excruciatingly painful ways. I can even rid the universe of evil characters with a few clicks on my keyboard.
This is great fun, extremely cathartic, and there’s no risk of jail. I’ll admit it. Villains and injustices are among the primary drivers of my muse. Since I write romantic suspense and mysteries, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My heroines need to be strong to match wits with these evil creations before they meet their doom.
So do I murder “real” people on the page—individuals I’ve encountered and despised at some point during my life? Yes in the sense that I try to capture the essence of their personalities. I think drawing on our experiences with people who rub us the wrong way allows us to make our villains more credible. For example, everyone knows a bully who doesn’t see himself in that light at all. His self-image is as a fighter for whatever cause he’s pushing, who won’t let the “idiots” who don’t agree stand in his way.
However, I really don’t murder, torture or defame any actual people. I’m quite careful about separating the personalities I use as a “base” for my fictional characters from the earthbound vessels they inhabited when I encountered them. In other words, my villains share no physical resemblance, habits, job descriptions or background with the individuals I’ve encountered (living or dead). Let’s say, for example, that I’ve been appalled by the actions of a male doctor who lines the walls in his office with sanctimonious platitudes, but commits Medicare fraud, and refuses to treat a gravely ill individual who shows up on his doorstep without insurance. In one of my novels, this “personality” might be transformed into a pious woman, who steals from a trust fund and verbally abuses her household help. Of course, I’ll still know who “he” is when my character bites the dust.
Naturally, there are many other things I love about writing. But righting (and writing) wrongs and injustices are very satisfying rewards in creating mysteries and romantic suspense.
When you read, do you identify your personal villains with those in a novel? Do you share the writer’s psychic pleasure in seeing wrongs redressed on the page?

11 comments:

Ellis Vidler said...

Excellent! You made me laugh. Killing off a few particularly unpleasant acquaintances in a novel is a satisfying experience. I definitely recommend it over the real thing.

Polly said...

Loved this one, Linda. Yes, retribution. I'm afraid I'm one of those people who holds a grudge. I'm not proud of it, but I do. It takes a lot to generate my ire, but screw me or mine, and you're on my S**T list forever. What a great way to get back at them.

Robin Weaver said...

Great post, Linda. And so true.

LJ Garland said...

Yes, ma'am! Love seeing the wrong-doers get what's coming to them! Fun blog! I'm right there with ya! :)

Judith Ashley said...

Linda, I really enjoyed reading your post. While I don't write mystery, suspense or where there is murder and mayhem, I do use the characteristics of people I know from real life in my characters. They may not see themselves in my work, but I know that particular personality quirk in character X comes from my perspective of who they are.

I'm more interested in the character overcoming and moving on with his/her life than I am with wrongs being redressed. Living a Great Life is the Best Revenge point of view.

bj said...

You have touched on my reason for being a mystery fan. Almost always,justice prevails in the mystery novel. Sorry to report that real life does not always bring justice.

Katleen Delaney said...

Linda, this was great. I, too, have taken my revege via in one of my books. I'm thinking of one in particular that gave me immense satisfaction. He met a most unfortune end and I stayed out of jail.Good thing. I look dreadful in orange. Kathleen Delaney

Paty Jager said...

Love your post! Killing off someone who really ticked me off(one of those hypocrites you wrote about) was how I wrote my first two novel length stories! I agree writing is my therapist, too! I've used it to battle several of my demons.

Linda Lovely said...

Glad I'm not the only one who has fun killing off people in print. Now if my book would just sell hundreds of thousands of copies so I could get double pleasure with Judith's Living A Great Life is the Best Revenge philosophy.

ElaineCharton said...

Love this! I do it as well. Tell people that if they get me mad enough they'll end up in my book. As a dead body. :) Very therapeutic.

Sarah Raplee said...

I love how it feels to have justice prevail in a story. Karma, irony - can't do without 'em. And yes, I do relate people I've known to people in books I read. Fun post!