Writing Life: Using Your (Real-Life) Antagonist

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been dealing with an unhappy person.  This person is angry at someone else, and I got caught in the crossfire.

I’m collateral damage.

Everyone who is “in” on the situation has reassured me that I’m not at fault. I’m simply an unlucky casualty in this person’s emotional (and, truth be told, childish) war.

I’ve told myself again and again to shake it off. Move on. Forget about it. It’s not me, it’s her.

But here’s the thing…

villainIt hurts when someone attacks you, even when you know they aren’t in their right mind.

Remember Dolores Claiborne?

Because this happened at an organization and just in my personal life, I’ve had to spend hours and hours discussing what should be done, how we handle her in her “fragile state” without making her fly (even further) off the handle.

A friend gave my favorite suggestion: have her committed.

He was voted down.

Even though part of me feels sorry for her, it doesn’t feel fair. I’ve had to endure unpleasant emails and verbal exchanges from her that were downright mean.

At this point, nothing I say will change anything. She has lumped me in with her bad guys because I happened to walk in the room at the wrong time.

In her eyes, I’m fair game.

She has become my real-life antagonist.

After a few (okay, many) deep breaths, I decided to take the high road, turn the other cheek, and dive headfirst into the role of the strong and unflinching heroine.

I’m not at all dramatic. how-to-deal-with-psychopaths

Even though I knew this was the best approach, a part of me wanted to fight back, to reach into my own bag of nasty, and give her a taste of her own medicine.

I didn’t.

I remained the sane, calm person at the crazy lady tea party.

But I didn’t totally let it go. I’m human after all, and I decided to get my own unique version of revenge.

Do you know want to know what I did?

I wrote her into a short story.

I cast her as the antagonist. I exaggerated her features and made her grotesque – the kind of ugly that makes babies (and grown men) cry.

I made sure she received her just deserts (a terrible, gut-wrenching poison that made her bleed from every orifice while simultaneously experiencing diarrhea and severe vomiting – it was awful).

torture in hellI made her hair fall out and her skin boil. I made her pancreas explode.

I made sure my paper antagonist suffered far more than I would ever wish on my real-life antagonist.

In short, I sent her to Hell.

Some might consider this petty.

But I wrote in the safety and privacy of my own home. I didn’t say anything I’d regret to the actual person. I haven’t shown it to anyone else. And it helped me behave better in person than I ever could have otherwise.

In fact, those involved are still wowed by how nobly I have been handling the situation.

(They don’t know me like you do, dear reader).

I did feel a (very) small twinge of guilt at my nasty writing streak, but I got over it quickly when I realized how ridiculous my short story is and how it will never make it off the hard drive.

I got over it because after writing the story, I feel better.

It’s true. By writing out all of my anger and frustration, I’m able to truly forgive and move on.

Plus there’s a bonus

Now have lots of raw material I might use in the future.

So really, I should thank my real-life antagonist.

But I won’t.

Have you ever written about a real-life antagonist? How did it go? I’d love to hear stories from you!

Writing Life: Fueling the (Creative) Fires

When your work involves being creative, it can be hard to come up with new ideas day after day, hour after hour. To maintain a creative life, you need to feed your creativity.

fire-buring-public-domainBut sometimes, no matter how hard we try to keep it fed, it starts to run low and we get stuck. That’s when we need a little help to keep that creative fire burning. I use three million and ten different tricks to help myself out of stuck-in-the-mud situations.

Okay, that might not be the exact number.

But as I’ve mentioned before, I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve. In fact, I stuff them into every pocket, hat, bag, and sometimes even undergarment that I own! The one I’m about to share may seem strange at first. You might wonder how the results will possibly work with your particular project.

That’s okay.

Let it sit and simmer for a while. Go ahead and keep it on the back burner because I promise that at some point when you’re stuck (which happens to the best of us) it’ll be ready and waiting for you to turn up the heat.

What’s my little trick?

journal-public-domainIt’s called “On This Day…” and its inception came from my experiences teaching writing to young people. After hearing numerous complaints that all sounded a lot like “I don’t have anything to write about!,” I made it a habit to start each session with a journal entry.

Like most of us, young people (almost always) benefit from a prompt to help focus their wide-ranging thoughts. After bumping into the website on one of my random yet eventually useful link-clicking adventures, I began using “On This Day” prompts.

The best part? There’s little planning involved.

I simply navigate to the site, find an event that happened on this day in history, and tell students to use it to begin writing creatively in their journals. Sometimes I offer a list of events and let them choose one, depending on the age range and characteristics of the group. 

Since I love writing, I enjoy joining in during journal time as much as possible. I’ve found that sometimes a historical event fills in a blank spot in a story, essay , and yes, even freelance projects on which I’ve found myself stuck.

This is because it’s not the event itself that works, but rather the idea it sparks, that makes it such a useful technique.

public-domain-women-and-historyWhere do you look?

There are several choices, but I like History.com‘s This Day in History. I still end up surfing around sometimes because the information varies. Here is a brief and incomplete list of possible sources to investigate:

Once you have the list, how does it work?

I think it’s easiest to explain by way of example. So here’s an example from last month. The tenth of October, to be exact, as that is the most recent day I used this exercise.

Many things porgy-and-besshappened on 10/10 throughout human history. I like to look at a long list of possible events because usually something strikes me and my brain is off and running. On this day, the event that jumped off the page is that on October 10, 1935, Porgy and Bess, “the first great American opera,” premiered on Broadway.

Whoa.

I love this opera. I used to sing songs from this opera in the middle-school concert choir. How did I forget that that was the day it premiered?

Okay, I probably never actually knew what day it premiered, but nonetheless… reading about it triggered a host of thoughts and creative avenues for me. Which is amazing because, on the surface, it’s not at all related to my current writing project.

As I followed the thoughts, I brainstormed.

Many don’t get used. In fact, most don’t get used. But I didn’t worry about that. I simply wrote down – without judgment or (too much) thought – everything that cames to mind for 5-10 minutes.

Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote for that day:

  • In middle school, I learned “Summertime” (song from P&B) for concert choir – I then got really into the opera and insisted on seeing it in person; led to a trip to the city where we got lost and mayhem ensued. What if MC (main character) does similar… gets into some show, goes to the city, gets lost… what happens when she’s lost? 
  • What if MC wants to play Bess in a local production but she isn’t black? Or maybe it’s not P&B but some other show and she doesn’t fit the director’s ideal “look” for the part… What happens? How does she react? Does she do anything to get the part? How do others react? 
  • What if MC is trying to write an American opera and uses P&B as the basis/inspiration – what could this be about? What is relevant today from P&B? What has changed? How can I change the opera to be new? How does impact MC’s life? 

You get the idea.

Don’t worry about it. Try it!

I think everyone can benefit from trying this technique at least once. It may not find its way into your story or art the first time, but the brainstorming process that results from looking at “On This Day” forces your brain into creative mode. And in creative mode is always a good place be.

Did you try it? Let me know how it went by commenting on this post!

Do you have your own trick? I’d love to read about it in the comments so I can tuck it in my sleeve and pull it out the next time I’m stuck!