Straight talk from the sisters about blood, sweat and ink
Masterplots Theater: V is for Vengeance
Welcome back to Masterplots Theater! Today we’re going to talk vengeance, for all those writers who are just dying to exorcise a past wrong through fiction…
Vengeance Plot Notes:
The main drive of this masterplot is simple: the protagonist seeks revenge on the antagonist.
The antagonist must have done something that warrants the hero’s desire for vengeance. In other words, the hero must have moral justification for seeking revenge.
In Vengeance stories, the hero feels like they have no choice but to take matters into their own hands because the institutions that normally deal with the crime committed against them are not doing anything about it, either because of incompetency or inability. Thus, the justice the hero seeks is of the vigilante variety.
It’s important to note that the hero’s vengeance (the villain’s punishment) must fit the crime. So if the villain cheated the hero out of millions of dollars, the hero can’t plan to kill him. That punishment doesn’t fit the crime, and the audience won’t “buy into” the story. But if the villain brutally murdered the hero’s entire family, then the hero setting out to kill him is a plot the audience can root for. Though if you don’t subscribe to the “eye for an eye” philosophy, this masterplot is probably not for you.
Vengeance masterplots tend to be action heavy. Even if there are moments of character reflection about the nature of good vs evil, revenge and retribution, forgiveness and atonement, these moments are not the bulk of the story. Especially in movies, fight scenes rule this masterplot.
Example to Study:
I have combed my Goodreads list, but alas, I haven’t read any revenge novels! So I am going to use a movie I have seen as an example: GANGS OF NEW YORK.
· PROTAGONIST SEEKING REVENGE: Amsterdam Vallon returns to Five Points, New York to kill gang leader Cuttings.
· MORAL JUSTIFICATION: Cuttings killed Amsterdam’s dad in a brutal gang fight.
· VIGILANTE JUSTICE: It’s mid-19th century New York! The police don’t care about gang leaders killing other gang leaders. So obviously young Amsterdam has to bring Cuttings to justice himself.
· EYE FOR AN EYE: Cuttings killed Amsterdam’s dad, so Amsterdam plans to kill Cuttings. It’s simple caveman math.
· ACTION: Though not filled with as much as straight up vengeful violence as KILL BILL, action still makes up the bulk of this film, including a lot of fights, and of course everything culminates in a final, bloody battle where the hero’s vigilante justice is served.
Books: TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis, THE FIRST WIVES CLUB by Olivia Goldsmith (a neat example of revenge that isn’t violent but rather image-focused), HAMLET by Shakespeare, and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexander Dumas.
Films: KILL BILL, DJANGO UNCHAINED, UNFORGIVEN, THE CROW, POINT BLANK, MUNICH, and OLDBOY.
Thank you for joining us today, we hope you enjoyed V is for Vengeance and we invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater, W is for Wretched Excess.
And if you guys know any great novels based on the Vengeance masterplot, do tell!
For more episodes of Masterplots Theater, check out the list below:
Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW
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