The Revenge Muse – Creating Characters Based on Real People (Without Being Too Petty)

Characters. I love meeting mine for the first time.  We’re virtual strangers through the first draft and BFFs by the final.  While often they are reflections of ourselves, characters (if we creatives allow them) can write their own story with us only punching the keys.

That said, it ain’t all unicorns and rainbows, either.

For writers, getting to know our characters can be a fun yet frustrating task.  You’re putting words into the mouths of make-believe figures who didn’t exist until you crafted them.  So what does that process look like when you’re creating a character based on a real-life human being?

Perhaps one you aren’t too jazzed about?

As tempting as it is to unleash your inner Victoria Grayson on the page, there are better ways to go about this. Creating a character based on someone you loathe – or, your revenge muse – takes thorough forethought. Going the ‘revenge by pen’ route can be a creative playground or a bitter landmine, backfiring on you (The Best Man, anyone?). Your approach to this delicate form of character development is dependent on your answer this not-so-basic question:

How do you develop the good, bad, & ugly of your revenge muse’s character without sacrificing the narrative?

Here’s a few things to keep in mind while you’re writing from your petty place:

  • Bitch in the First Draft ~ So you decide to write in a character who sounds a lot like, say, your ex-best friend. You can write specifics in the first draft that no one but you will see.  Once you begin your edits, however, kill those darlings. Rehashing in detail of how evil, spiteful, and arrogant your “character” without a good story behind it is not only a definite tell, but lazy writing. Get your grudges out in the first draft, keep the relevant events, and delete the extraneous feelings from your story (and, if you can muster it, from your life – more on this later).
  • Lead With the Good ~ Try leading with what makes your revenge muse lovable. Let’s say your revenge muse is a judgemental older sibling. Try flipping that into a concerned character who means well but always says the wrong thing. Add some comedy to highlight those bad qualities.
  • Give The Character a Clean Slate ~ While your revenge muse may be your cheating ex, restrain from pouring all of their scumbag traits into the character. This will give your character some creative room to grow and allows your reader the space to make up their own minds about how to feel about the character.
  • Your Perspective is Yours, Not Your Reader’s ~ If you decide to publish a story which includes a character modeled from the likeness of a person you aren’t fond of, those closest to you may be able to sniff it out in your writing.  Whether or not that’s the intention, understand that you may be the only one who feels that way about your revenge muse. If you base a character on your hard-as-nails father, it doesn’t entitle your siblings to see your old man in the same light.  Being cognizant of that will help keep your portrayal of the character grounded in the story.
  • Seek Closure ~ This is my most important advice about revenge muses. Once your WIP is final, use it as a closing card to the past. I understand this is easier said than done in some cases, but try to allow your words to salve the hard feelings. Besides, you just wrote a kick-ass piece of writing. Closure is your reward for your efforts. Good going, writer.

(c) Eliza David ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Instagram

3 thoughts on “The Revenge Muse – Creating Characters Based on Real People (Without Being Too Petty)

  1. And, if for some reason, you can’t separate those feelings, you can always write a short story about them being eaten by Zombie Bears*. Print it, burn it, let the universe deal with it as you move forward in life. 😉
    {*Insert chosen monster}

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