August 16th, 2010


Something Wicked This Way Comes, Part IV: Revenge

“Revenge is a dish best served cold,” was stated in The Godfather.  It quote repeated with varying minor alterations, but the same meaning. I agree . . . with the real intention of the proverb not the misinterpretation. What? Misinterpretation?  Many believe the quote is says be cold blooded, but Maria Eugene intended it to mean: revenge (or vengeance) is better when considered, planned, and enacted when the victim least suspects. I value this interpretation because it allows for planning and logic.  And as a writer, planning and logic should be part of your process when exploring the TRUE motivations behind your antagonist’s revenge.


Revenge is a common motivator for characters. I mean, why not? Someone kills your mom, you go kill them. There you go, a story. And many would support such a “noble” cause.  But here’s the thing . . . some people don’t seek revenge.  Thus, your story is better served if you know why your antagonist or protagonist is choosing this route.


In order to show the why, the writer must understand what revenge is and is not.  People believe it is a source of justice for a perceived grievance, an eye for an eye, so to speak.  Dante argued, “vengeance is the love of justice perverted to revenge and spite.” Justice is restorative; it brings about peace and hope.  Vengeance restores nothing.  Sure for the few minutes after the wronged thrusts their anger (really fear) on the wrong doer, they feel better. The pain from the initial assault and loss will eventually overshadow that bliss, sometimes pulling the avenger deeper into darkness and despair.


Some argue that revenge is motivated by a need to1) save face, not appear weak or 2) reclaim control over human’s vulnerability to invasions and harm. In both rationales, fear fuels revenge.  Hey! I’ve talked about fear being a motivator . . . I hate to toot my own horn. J


But it is more than fear.  Other factors contribute to the likelihood of someone picking up an axe and seeking revenge.  The two strongest factors tipping the scale toward revenge are: how strongly a person clings to defense mechanisms such as rationalization or avoidance and if they don’t perceive social support. 


Later this week I will give some suggestions on how to weave the motivations for your antagonist into your story. Until then, can you think of a story that shows revenge done well?


I’ll go first.  I have always loved Hamlet and Snape from Harry Potter.