You know that old saying about redheads having fiery tempers?
It’s actually pretty rare for me to really pop off in a social setting. When I do go off, it tends to involve a lot of yelling, explicatives, and on rare occasions an actual battle scream in honor of my native warrior heritage.Â I’m a bit freer with my temper at home, much to the irritation of my husband and son, but in public and particularly online, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt way more than they probably deserve.
Last week, however, my patience was worn impossibly thin by a combination of exhaustion, my son’s attention seeking via destruction, and the unending arguments of a particularly twatty little brat on my writer’s chat. He made disparaging remarks about my taste as a reader, sarcastic comments about my ability to understand what a plot was, and in general irritated me. The next day, he made a snide remark or two the moment I entered the room.
I said some unkind things. The words asshole and punk-ass might have been involved. I allegedly have since referred to said brat privately as “pimpledick” but if that’s the case, I’ll never confess.
The relationships I foster in my life are always held up to one metric: do I like the person I become when I’m in that relationship?Let’s face it – none of us are perfectly true to our own identities. Each of us has different roles, different aspects of our personality that come into play given the circumstances (family vacation vs. honeymoon), our surroundings (office vs. home), and the people we are exposed to (lover, friend, mother, enemy, bully, twatty little brat…)
Some people bring out the best in us, encourage us to strive to be more even tempered, more empathetic, more kind. Others seem to have an innate ability to make us grind our teeth together and wish for a set of brass knuckles. Still others turn our personalities toxic in more subtle ways – gossip, mean-spiritedness, slights and digs that harm our self-concept or make us feel inferior.
Relationships that bring out the best – or the worst – in people can be a powerful addition to fiction. I always try to steer clear of the people who bring out my worst qualities or turn me into something I have no interest in becoming, whether that’s a gossip hound or a raging spitfire, but sometimes it’s a lot of fun to stick my characters in a room with someone who makes them act like someone they would rather not be.
Are there any toxic relationships in your fiction? How do your characters deal with toxic people?