Before outlining a novel, my thoughts are like a windstorm. I write poetry and draw, so thoughts are likely to come in snippets of phrases and images that I capture in notebooks scattered around the house. I never trust my memory. Interruptions chase good thoughts away—the doorbell, a clanking washer, my pups, a phone call…
I sorted through my thoughts to identify a central theme. For my latest manuscript, I isolated revenge and forgiveness. Two themes, then. I didn’t think you could have revenge without forgiveness or unforgiveness.
Sir Francis Bacon wrote an essay entitled “On Revenge,” stating, in part: Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out… Certainly, in taking revenge, a man is even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince’s part to pardon.
It was in Bacon’s quote, that I found my guiding star for “Old Sins.” An act of revenge is a kind of wild justice. A character wrongs another character. Order is disturbed. The act of revenge is an attempt to restore order. An eye for an eye.
To feel the texture of revenge, I read what others, in addition to Bacon, had to say. Prior to Shakespeare, Thomas Kyd wrote The Spanish Tragedy, casting Revenge as a character, which stood onstage for most of the play, serving with the ghost of Don Andrea as a Greek chorus. Shakespeare gave us his tortured Hamlet, who spurred by the ghost of his father, killed his uncle to avenge his father’s murder. In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, sought revenge against Antonio for many slights and degradations.
Myths. Juno imaginatively punished several lovely maidens who caught the wandering eye of her husband, Zeus. The ancient Celts told countless tales of revenge. King Lug’s wife strayed with Cermait, so Lug killed him. Then Cermait’s sons, in an effort to slay Lug, drove him into a marsh where he drowned.
The greatest enactor of vengeance was the Old Testament Yahweh: Vengeance is mine, thus sayeth he! Forgiveness came in the New Testament with the death of Christ.
In Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct, Michael E. McCullough wrote: Truth #1: The Desire for Revenge is a Built-In Feature of Human Nature. He went on to explain that as humans, we are hard-wired to experience vengeful feelings, and not so hard-wired to forgive.
My novel “Old Sins” began with a study of the theme. Next, I started to create a framework for the plot. Characters flowed into my mind. Look for my next post: My Creative Process: Plot and Character.