The Best of the Old Site: Writing and Psychology–Revenge, Actually

Guten tag! I’m moving some of the stuff from my old blog over to see if people like the articles enough to continue writing similar ones. This week: Writing and Psychology.

Oh sweet revenge. I often tell people never to make a writer angry, because we’ll get revenge on you through angry poetry or killing you in gory ways in our fiction. Everyone loves stories of revenge, according to the box office and the best seller list. But what is revenge, really?

Revenge, boiled down to its simplest definition, is to inflict injury in return for insult. Psychologists have studied revenge responses in a variety of victims of trauma, including rape survivors and children growing up in a war zone. Revenge fantasies typically come about in the late phases of the psychological response to trauma. Cognitive psychology and psychoanalysis (the recent stuff, not the Freud stuff) agree on something for once: both theories maintain that that revenge is a comfort response to fear and shame. The desire for revenge and the perception of the self as a vengeful person comes to take over the mind. People who tend to seek revenge typically believe in right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance.

If I were to list all of the different depictions of revenge, we’d be here all day. People really, really like reading about revenge, and writers are more than happy to give readers what they want. Why? Why are people so obsessed with revenge? Psychological research suggests that revenge is a form of emotional cathartics. So, I postulate that reading about revenge is also a form of emotional cathartics. Reading about it, as opposed to actually doing it, is probably a more healthy emotional release. I also think that it’s popular because of our social structure. We’re not the only animals that take revenge. Society has agreed to a social contract, and we hate when this is violated. Everyone has had harm inflicted on them. Revenge, perhaps, we see as fixing the violation.

Okay, so how exactly does this apply to writing? Well, if you’re going to want the reader to identify with a character who is seeking revenge, they better understand the reason why that character wants revenge, and they better be able to see themselves doing the same. This goes for both the protagonist and the antagonist.

The next bit of advice depends on how realistic you want your character’s revenge arc to be. You know that (kind of lame) trope where the protagonist gets their revenge and it doesn’t make them happy?

That’s kind of how it goes in real life.

Several studies of violent crime victims and societies at war have shown that the punishment of a perpetrator of a crime doesn’t make the victim feel better, and that actually taking revenge doesn’t make someone feel better.

That’s a hard pill to swallow for most of us. We want to feel relief and glee when “bad” people get their comeuppance. And you don’t have to do this in your writing. But if you want to make it realistic, but still climactic, write the revenge arc so revenge accomplishes more than personal gain for the seeker. Have it accomplish, say, getting rid of a powerful and tyrannical person. Maybe have it accomplish a great social change.

Or just have something die. That works too.

God bless,

Kelsey J.

Sources:

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2011/october-11/the-complicated-psychology-of-revenge.html

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/06/revenge.aspx

Irwin C. Rosen. Revenge—the Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name: a Psychoanalytic PerspectiveJ Am Psychoanal Assoc June 2007 55: 595-619, doi:10.1177/00030651070550021501

Orth, U. (2004). Does perpetrator punishment satisfy victims’ feelings of revenge?. Aggressive Behavior30(1), 62-70.

Mardi J. Horowitz, M.D. Understanding and Ameliorating Revenge Fantasies in Psychotherapy. Am J Psychiatry 2007;164:24-27. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.164.1.24

Other stuff I do: Black Widow

So I’ve been getting into photography for the better part of two years.

As an artist I’m really interested in the body acceptance movement and it’s relation to selfies. I know you folks at home are probably rolling your eyes, but hear me out. Selfies allow anyone complete control over how they are seen by others. Selfies allow the photographer to showcase their best angle, separate from the lens of the public and the media’s twisted standards of beauty.

Recently, I took a series of pictures to create “Black Widow”, a series of photographs addressing both the notion of sexiness and horror. I used paintshop pro to create my finished product. My makeup is that of the classic “femme fatale”, but my clothing hides my body from the camera. Is it still sexy? What makes something sexy? I edited the photos to resemble historical and modern conceptions of beauty. I also created some that were designed to be creepy. What makes something sexy in one context and creepy in another?

Enough pretentious artist talk. Y’all are here to see some pictures. Here you go!

God bless,

Kelsey J.

Kelsey J.

PTSDiaries 5: Nightmares

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As I write this it’s 11:20 pm. I’m probably not going to go to sleep for a long time. I had a nightmare last night, you see. Of him. As tired as I feel myself getting, I know that I’ll get ready for bed, lay down and stay awake until my body decides that the power ran out and I need to shut down. When the nightmares were really bad I’d drink until the drowsiness kicked in so I had no choice but to sleep.

I wonder if the creativity I’m experiencing tonight is just because I want to do anything but sleep.

Everyone has nightmares, I’m told. I don’t know if people understand how awful the nightmares of someone living with PTSD are. Nightmares are reliving the event, like a flashback, but with aspects distorted, rearranged, and amplified. The events might not be the same, but the feelings are. I see it almost as a betrayal. Sleep is supposed to refresh, dreams are supposed to be freeing. Sleep is supposed to be safe. It’s like my own mind has taken that from me. And I hate it.

Sad as Shit, Episode One: Giant effing Robots and Friendship

Sometimes, being an adult sucks. I don’t just mean having lots of responsibilities and having creaky bones. I also mean the increased cognitive abilities. But Kelsey, you ask, isn’t that a good thing? You don’t think your nose disappears when someone takes it anymore! Well, yes, but it also means that you can think more deeply about things, even when you don’t want to. Many websites make a habit of “discussing things that you didn’t notice in insert media meant for children here”, but that usually focuses on pervy or dark stuff. No, there’s some downright sad stuff going on here.

I think the beauty of the tragedy of these situations is that you have to think about them to get it. As a writer, I typically only aim for this kind of thing with my poetry, because poetry can be a pretty abstract art form and you can get away with that sort of thing. Poetry is rarely, if ever, straightforward. Fiction, on the other hand, is expected to be.

I think that’s why this episode’s example is especially sad. I don’t think it was intentional at all. In fact, it’s from the original Transformers cartoon, so I know it’s not.

star and sky

Starscream (aka: Decepticon second in command and Megatron’s punching bag) and Jetfire/Skyfire were best friends and fellow scientists before the war on Cybertron broke out. During an exploration mission on prehistoric earth, Jetfire crashed and was lost. Starscream was devastated. Flash forward blabbity blah years later, and they find Jetfire when the conflict spreads to earth! Hurray! Except Jetfire sees the Decepticon’s war crimes and what a monster his former best friend has become and joins the Autobots. This is pretty much the same story in Dreamwave Comics Transformers series.

I know this development is probably because 80’s cartoon writing was attempting to coordinate two languages and a bucket  of cocaine, but this relationship was never acknowledged again. Starscream and Jetfire  never spoke to each other again. And, while this was probably unintentional, it makes the whole situation sadder because it shows how far these two fell apart. The realism in this is also sad. I think everyone has friends who just became so different from them the relationship couldn’t continue, with or without the shouting match at the very end.

What can a writer learn from this? Well, that you should be careful how you chose to introduce and end relationships, because it can lead to readers jumping to conclusions that you weren’t intending. I think the main message of Starscream and Jetfire is that your character’s relationships don’t have to come to violent, screaming ends to be dramatic, heart-renching, and powerful.

Just some thoughts.

-Kelsey J.

Want to be on youtube? Leave me a comment, and I’ll stick it in the video version of this episode!

PTSDiaries 4: Rape Jokes

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I’m sure everyone has heard about the problems surrounding universities and sexual assault. Up here in Canada, we’ve recently had a couple of controversies over rape jokes, one from a frosh chant at the University of British Columbia and a more recent one from some comments from students at Dalhousie University. I’ve been hesitating to write about rape jokes for a while, and then it came to my school. Oy.

For those of you who don’t want to read the articles, the host of the trivia at the university pub at the University of Regina made some rape jokes about knocking women out to have sex with them. And according to social media, this isn’t the first time this has happened. I’m going to let Professor Farnsworth sum up my feelings on this:

Farnsworth

Unfortunately for me, I don’t have the option to leave like the good Professor.

The question of whether rape jokes should be made at all is a hard one. I find a lot of healing in brutally mocking my rapist, including his actions during the assaults and abuse themselves. I’m not really here to talk about the humour in rape jokes. I write spec fic and poetry. I know jack all about being funny.

All I really want to know is “why now?” Why, if this has happened a lot at The Owl, are people just paying attention to it now? How long were those terrible things that the Dalhousie students said up there before someone was like “we should probably do something about this before some poor sixteen year old wakes up from getting a tooth pulled with vaginal pain”? How long was that stupid chant a tradition before someone said “…wait, what the hell?”

Most human beings (we hope) figure out that rape is bad shortly after figuring out what rape is. This is usually before you get to university. I sure as hell hope that by the time you start running a university you know what rape is (hint: think of murder, then think of something much worse). These people probably had a sneaking suspicion that these behaviours were idiotic and harmful and did jack all. New students probably heard the frosh chant and went “wait a minute” but didn’t say much. Why?

This isn’t to say that the people speaking up now are doing the wrong thing. Far from it. But I think the larger cultural context is that these sorts of jokes have been allowed to be told for so long that some people just accepted that rape jokes were going to happen no matter what. Might as well laugh, right?

Wrong.

There’s a reason that racist jokes get flack now. Our society, because humans are social creatures, has a “laugh when the king laughs” mentality, except the king is all of us. We’re so afraid of being ousted that we will laugh when others laugh, in this case the few douches who think that raping someone is funny. So the jokes become “funny” because we let them be funny. This isn’t even beginning to touch on the cultural context that thinks when a man is raped by a woman it’s wacky comedy and not, you know, a horrible crime against another human being. It’s not just women suffering from this mentality.

If you’ve been reading my blog a while, you know that I don’t have any answers. If you’re just reading me for the first time, I don’t have any answers. I barely even ask good questions. I just feel that I have to ask questions, because if I can get one person to think about my words then I’ve done my job as a writer.

I’m also not going to answer these questions because I feel like society will have to explain itself.

So why now? And why not when people first started making these jokes?

And when is it going to stop?

-Kelsey J.

What I’m Working On

Guten tag!

Sorry I’ve been bad this week. I’ve had homework and my internet hasn’t been great. It’s cold up here in the great white north, and we’re all on our computer discussing the weather and looking for cheap trips anywhere but here. That’s what I’m going to blame for my crappy wireless. Yay Canada!

Anyway, I figured I’d let you all in on what I’ve been working on lately.

Poetry

My internal debate over whether to self publish or traditionally publish my poetry has been resolved–I’m going to try to get published the traditional route. I’m working on two books of poetry right now. One is a smaller volume dealing with my experience with mental illness, and the other will be a book of poems based around mythology. This is very different than my intial plans, which I don’t think I’ve written about here. I will though, don’t you worry.

Fiction

I’ve actually had inspiration for short fiction lately, which is rare. I’ve been writing from the point of view of a female protagonist, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but most of the stories that have come to me in the past while have had male protagonists. This is kind of fun and exciting. We’ll see how it goes.

I’ve also been hard at work re-plotting Zombvenger. I like what I’ve done so far, but I feel like I need a very clear direction heading forward with the story. I’ve also been plotting another serial story. I feel like a super villain, so much plotting, so little time!

I’ve also been working on applying for a grant for a graphic novel. It’s hard work! I’ll probably write a blog post on it soon.

And that’s what I’ve been working on!

God bless,

Kelsey J.