Writer’s Craft #55 – From Self-Righteousness to Vengeful Pen

Jennifer Lott
Jennifer Lott, YA author

Jennifer Lott has appeared in print in Neo-Opsis Magazine (“A Day in the Life”; Issue 18; December 17, 2009) and the Opus 5 Okal Rel anthology (“Pet Peeves”, Absolute XPress, 2011). Her first public foray into writing is her popular fan fiction Alternative Ending to the Animorphs, which was well received by readers disappointed by the dark turn taken by this young adult series in its final installments. An early childhood educator Jennifer writes mostly for children and young adults. But is currently working on an SF novel. She said “yes” to boyfriend JP Sullivan this December and the marriage is planned for June 2012.

A great deal of a writer’s inspiration comes from life. The first story in which I ever took pride came to me the day my little sisters refused to scrape leftover food from their dishes. I knew I was right, that they were lazy and deserved to suffer for it, so naturally I wrote a self-indulgent story about me being a wronged witch who had to curse their dishes to teach them a lesson.

I’ve since learned that no amount of magic actually communicates the dishes grievance effectively. My real-life sisters remained baffled and angry about my nagging right up until the point that washing the dishes became their chore.

Of course, the fictional versions of them give in to my curse and end up teaching their friends to respect it, too.

My vengeful motives for writing this story having cooled over the years, I have tried to shape it into something publishable. One submission still came back with the feedback that it was too preachy. This is the trap, I think, when a writer overindulges in their own side of any issue. A good story needs to be open to multiple possibilities, no matter how righteous the writer is feeling.

Have you written a self-righteous story or scene? Tell the tale. Did you let the transgressing characters influence your protagonist?


5 thoughts on “Writer’s Craft #55 – From Self-Righteousness to Vengeful Pen

  1. I expect we’ve all indulged in the vicarious vengeance of the pen. Some of us write flaming letters, emails, blogs, etc. If we are sensible, we cough up our lava, glare at it balefully, then sigh and hit the delete key. Or we don’t, and generally regret it.

    Those of us in the fiction biz seldom can resist the urge to get righteous in our work. And it can work for us if we are careful. The problem with getting too righteous in our fiction is that, while those who agree with us will cheer and applaud, those who don’t will dismiss the piece with a snort. I myself wrote a book called “Awake Chimera” which was a thinly veiled diatribe against elitist imperialists who exploit native people and their resources. It was a pretty good book, but crippled by its preachiness. I recently rewrote it, toning it down a bit, and I’m happier with it. Still makes the point without spearing the reader with it.

    I’ve since figured out (from observing how others do it well) the best way to write ideology is to write the rant and then deliberately take the other side and write from that standpoint. Because no matter what side of a dispute you are on, the fact that there is a dispute means that there is another side. Understanding what motivates that side gives the story depth and interest (That’s why writing good villains with the complexity to be sympathetic works so well). Ultimately, by laying it all out, you let the reader decide, and hopefully the reader will side with you. But if they don’t, if two different readers can go on to argue over which side was right, that should give you a measure of satisfaction, too. It’s a good piece of writing, not a persuasive piece.

    You may even find, in the course of trying to balance it out, that you have a better understanding yourself of the other side. You may even change your mind.

  2. Hmm.. I’ve never written a self righteous story, but it sounds like fun. I too have two sisters. Oh yes, this could be fun indeed.

    (I did write about family once for a writing class, but it was a personal essay. My cousin got married in a small farming town in Iowa, famously known as being the ‘home of the moon pie’. Halfway down the aisle the CD skipped so she needed to back track and do the walk over again. Then we had to blow bubbles on the happy couple as they exited the church but the wands were cheap and people ended up spitting on them instead. My aunt got drunk and crawled up on the bar and stuck her foot in the air, and my Grandpa asked me three times who I was, each time adding, ‘we’ll you’ve sure lost weight’. The reception hall never took down their Christmas lights from six months earlier and if we didn’t keep the windows shut the place smelled like cow shit. Oh… there was a point to this story. A sweet bull rider twelve years my junior asked if he could give me a kiss at the end of the night. Hehe).

  3. I wrote a fairly lengthy piece which revolved around the collapse of “me first” society. At first, I felt pretty good about it but subsequent edits removed more and more of the key pieces of folderol until what was left read too much like some arcane history lesson.

    I can’t say I have had much luck with this kind of inspiration, since the righteous anger 😉 fades away pretty quick.

  4. Self-righteous is pejorative usage. But I’ve personally no problem with a tale with a moral. Lots of our richest folk stories illustrate a point about how to behave. The point might be … did the story get the sisters doing the dishes more often?

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