News and Clues

Before You Depart On A Journey Of Revenge, Buy Popcorn

Richard Castle on Feb 05, 2013 08:15PM

Revenge is like ice cream for our lactose intolerant souls. We want it so bad, but it tears us apart inside. I find it is one of the hardest motivations to write about. Perhaps nowhere else does human emotion resist the categorization of black and white so strongly. Revenge shines with a muted, indeterminable gray.

At least, I think so. The Bard disagreed. Shakespeare unambiguously detested revenge. Hamlet sets out to avenge his father’s murder, prompted by the desperate pleas of his patriarch’s tortured ghost, yet despite these seemingly valid motivations Bill found it necessary to banish poor Hamlet to that place where the rest is silence. Romeo and Juliet were star-crossed from the get-go, but not until Romeo took revenge upon Tybalt for the death of Mercutio did he cement he and Juliet’s tragic demise. Trying to parse out the different ways the thirst for vengeance screws over basically every single character in Othello would take the rest of this post, so just trust me when I say things end poorly for the vengeful in that story too. He agreed with Confucius – Before you depart on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.

Few writers in today’s media feel burdened by such moral clarity. You don’t even see the pretense of revenge’s dark side very much anymore. Wrath brings nothing but joy and the certitude of rightness; think nothing of the trail of deserving bodies in your wake.

The reason for this?

Revenge feels good. It raises the hairs on the back of your neck, it scoots you forward in your seat, it makes you keep on reading. It entertains.

I lack the Pulitzers to condemn entertainment, but still, I try not to ride on the revenge bandwagon. At least not fully. I may grab hold of the wagon’s bumper, and coast along behind it on my hoverboard (my metaphors take place in the world of Back to the Future II), but I politely decline any offers to get on. Nikki Heat’s quest for justice at times dips into revenge, but I try hard to show the destructive effects that has on her and her relationships.

I do this for no other purpose than truth. Truth may not seem like a priority to me, what with all the improbable places I made Derrick Storm parachute out of, but I hold it dear. Emotional truth grounds impossible seeming stories, and makes them connect with your audience. And the emotional truth of revenge is that it will tear you apart. It’s hard to see that in the moment. In the moment it feels like the only option, but I saw it bring the strongest person I know to her knees. I can only hope that if I am ever in a situation where I feel revenge boiling inside of me, I see as clearly as I do now.

Because digging two graves sounds really hard.


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