Revenge is the worst reason to write. Although I firmly believe in artistic freedom, it makes for poor literature when writers use storytelling for personal grudges. A clear and unfortunate example comes from the recent Manhunt, a horror novel from Gretchen Felker-Martin. This novel has already earned controversy due to the brutal death of a character named ‘J.K Rowling.’ From this, we can establish this writer as classy and elegant; the Proust of our times.
Sarcasm aside, there are many issues when a writer opts for revenge. For one, the reader does not care about an author’s life or situation when reading fiction. There’s a difference between a reader and an author. Although both enjoy a strong connection, it is arrogant for a writer to presume a reader is interested in their rants. A reader cares about characters, tension, prose, worldbuilding, language, pacing and theme. These technical elements are easily ignored when an author’s priority is revenge. This is because the author does not prioritise the craft when the mission is tearing someone, or something, down.
I learnt this lesson. Last year, I began my second novel (which I’ve nearly finished). One of the characters is clearly evil and sinister. Her name is Maria. Although she’s not based off an individual woman, I was inspired by Social Justice Warriors and revolutionaries who burn buildings down. It’s a satisfying story to write – until it wasn’t. I discovered my lack of interest in writing cliches, cardboard cut-outs and strawmen. With many options available, I added nuance and sympathy to Maria. She has moments of vulnerability, strength, misery and regret. My novel is better because of this.
A peculiar fact remains. When I wrote Maria like this, it helped me. It tamed wild emotions and I developed an acceptance for those who are capable, and do, great harm. This is not the same as approving bad behaviour. But by doing this, I gave myself peace and the strength to move on from vile attitudes and actions. I am still firm in my opposition to social justice warriors and revolutionaries. But I have a stronger sense of self and greater control of the situation. I am now smarter and stronger because of this. My writing benefits, too. Unfortunately for Gretchen and similar writers, they never experience this clarify.
We should not censor Gretchen Felker-Martin. Should we laugh at her writing? Yes. Yet the situation remains sad. An author cheapens literature when seeking revenge. This is not because revenge is never justified. I am not interested in moral posturing here. Rather, literature becomes dull, preachy, unrealistic and predictable when an author’s own personal grudges are given preference over narrative and storytelling.
The end result is flat writing. I’ve read the sample pages from Manhunt and observed the author’s glee over violence against ‘wrong’ characters. It’s childish and pathetic. Her use of language is awful and lazy. The characters are dull and have nothing meaningful or important to say, outside of political diarrhea.
It’s easy to portray yourself as pure and heroic. Those who oppose are villains, of course, deserving of a horrible death. But as the great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn warns: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Please join a writer’s group, Gretchen. Your prose needs work. And calm down. I have sterner words for the publishers and writers who gave blurbs. Gretchen is clearly ill and requires help. It is sad for prestigious houses such as Macmillan to promote and publish such bile. The authors who promote this novel are either malicious or misguided.
I lean towards the former because there is no evidence of goodwill from these authors. I’ll admit my personal ambitions of traditional publishing have intensified my negativity. There are many talented authors who suffer from censorship and a lack of opportunities. Gretchen does not have the grace, or awareness, to acknowledge this.
Thus, literature suffers.