Holding a grudge in fiction?

Have you ever heard the authorial statement, “Be careful not to make me mad, I might kill you off in a book?” I used to laugh at that statement and say right on, right on. Until I tried it, that is.

I’m as human (I think) as the next person, and people have hurt my feelings or made me mad. But every time I plot a suitable revenge, it simply blows up in my face.


Because the people I create in my imaginary worlds become so real to me, they’re no longer the person I had it out for. My characters take on their own personas, they have their own problems and interests, and chances are they’re either ten times worse than the pathetic individual I wanted to invent, or they’re ten times nicer.

What’s a writer to do?

Deadly Recall - screenUse them as a building block, of course, then let it go. And you know what, I’ve found it really works. In Deadly Recall, I based an evil nun on one of the sisters (long dead) who taught me. I also increased the nefarious things she did to me exponentially and hoisted them upon my poor heroine, Eden. In the end, I understood Sister Agnes was not my former music teacher but her own character, with her own hurt feelings, her own set of values and her own character flaws. She was not the nun of my past. But … I will say this, there is nothing more therapeutic than writing about an incident in your upbringing and using it like a salve.

Perhaps it’s in Techniques of a Selling Writer, but I do believe this was a story Dwight Swain told when he taught at The University of Oklahoma. One of his students came in to complain about a grade the professor had given him. I just couldn’t buy into your characters, Swain informed him. What? the outraged student cried, how can you say that, they’re real!

Real people are boring, that’s why we shouldn’t write about them. And that student may have carried a grudge a little too far. People we know should be an impetus. In the end, our characters should be their own person.

Whatever you’re doing in life, grudges hurt only one person. The person holding them. Journaling or writing is one of the most beneficial ways to deal with it in a nonviolent, and, I believe, healthy way.

To humanity, our imaginations, and letting go.