I’m a bit of a film aficionado, if I do say so myself. This by no means implies that I am a film buff, film snob, or film star wannabe. It just means that I love to watch films. Generally, this rule is pretty loose – I’ll watch any film available (my parents can attest to this and my hogging of Sky Movies). I’ll watch anything from Legally Blonde to Footloose to Thor – from Bridesmaids to Paranormal Activity to whichever Die Hard we’re on now. And, as a rule, I’ll enjoy them enough to watch them through to the end without (much) complaint.
I also have an interesting but annoying habit of being able to directly quote films after watching them once (and having a photographic memory of what happens in said films). Even if they are rubbish films.
So, back to my story. Of late I have watched two films of questionable quality; You Again, starring Kristen Bell, Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis and Betty White; and Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging, starring (believe it or not) a pre-Nowhere Boy Aaron Johnson, and based on the teen book series Louise Rennison (Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging being the first – a personal favourite read of mine back in the day).
Admittedly, the sight of Aaron Johnson was enough to get me through this dated and poorly-acted British film-flop (even if he was just 18 in the film) …
… And I’m not entirely sure how I got through You Again.
This is probably one of the most powerful character duets you could ever use in your writing – they are a written tour de force.
The Bully and The Victim story is well versed – it knows what it’s doing, okay? You can pretty much let them do what they like and they will succeed. This is because they create such strong emotion in people.
Even if you don’t relate personally to the Victim – which most people do – you will empathise with their plight.
Take You Again, for example. This is the Bully-Victim story in overload. Kristen Bell – tortured by the head cheerleader in school – comes back to her hometown years later to discover her older brother is marrying said head cheerleader. So ensues the typical high jinks that make up poor comedies (overused slapstick, screaming, and some form of humiliating dinner scene), and the touching-yet-realistic reconciliation, just in time for the Happy Ever After.
But the crux of the story is how much this cheerleader made Bell’s life hell. How much it’s affected her in later years, and how much strong feeling it generates when Bell is faced with her nemesis once again.
Ignore the horrifying rubbishness of the film – the fact that I sat through it allows me to say this with utter authority of course – let’s look at the Bully-Victim story here.
Kristen Bell’s character was the laughing-stock of the school – clumsy, ugly, probably too clever for her own good. Generally running under most people’s radar. Until the School Bully picks up on her. Joanna (played by Odette Annable) is the typical head cheerleader type; beautiful, popular, probably not top of the class but a comfortable middle ground intelligence, with enough aesthetically pleased attributes to grab the attention of boys. And Marni (KB) gets just enough attention from Joanna to have her life made a living hell.
Let’s face it folks, if you weren’t bullied at school, you were probably one of the kids thanking a variety of deities that you weren’t the victim, and making sure you laughed in the right bits to avoid the bully’s wroth.
But whether you were the victim or getting the hell out of the way, you can very easily relate to Marni’s torture. It hurts, because you remember what it felt like to be the butt of the joke, the ugliest kid in class, the one with the smallest boobs (or in my case, the biggest, which curiously is just as bad). Maybe you had braces, or dandruff, or maybe you didn’t get your growth spurt until you reached 16. Whatever the reason, you hurt when you see what Joanna does to Marni, because you felt that pain too.
In Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, 14-year-old Georgia (played by Georgia Groome) is harassed by the bully too. This bully has long blonde locks, fully developed boobs, and not a spot in sight. She also has the boy of Georgia’s dreams. This angst-ridden could-have-been-funny-if-it-weren’t-trying-so-hard film is full of the hairy, scary and humiliating adventures of a 14-year-old girl.
In my head I’m just a 16-year-old with an extra few years of self-loathing piled on top and money problems. I still have lumpy bits, horrendous breakouts of spots on my chin, and I still can’t get the guy. And there’s still the girl with the perfect complexion, perfect hair and – oh wait – the perfect man. The only difference here is; Georgia learns to love herself for just who she is – wise advice, and please do love yourself – but I’m still getting there.
Whatever situation The Victim is in – whether facing down an old enemy, or fighting for Mr Right, or simply just trying to survive school – you can feel that too. That is what makes the Bully-Victim saga so strong; you have a baddie that your readers love to hate, and a goodie that your readers desperately want to win – because they feel like if this Victim can win, then they can win in their own Bully-Victim storyline.
It’s David and Goliath, Perseus and the underworld, Harry Potter and Voldemort, Lindsay Lohan versus the Mean Girls … okay, maybe too far.
Whatever story you align this character duo to, you can see what an emotive and strong Power Couple they make. Christopher Booker called it overcoming the monster, I call it The Bully and The Victim.
My writing is always full of Bullies and Victims. I can’t help it – I love an underdog story. Maybe it harks back to my Victim days of being pushed down stairs or watching the Popular Girl walk off with the “man of my dreams”. Maybe I just want the Victim to win every now and then in my writing. If I could go back in time, I would stand up for myself. Swing a couple of punches maybe. But I can’t go back in time, I have to keep moving forward. So here’s how I swing my punches:
- I work. Hard. I work at what I love.
- I write. I write and write and write, and I write stories about the goodies beating the baddies.
- I dye my hair dark because I can.
- I drink wine with my friends and watch rubbish films, knowing that if – or when – I do find my soulmate, I might not get the chance to have this kind of experience again, and I’m okay with that, but I’m not letting it pass me by just because my eyes are on the horizon looking for my Aaron Johnson.
- I’m not going to my school reunion. No, not because it makes me feel old (it does). Not because I’m still single and living at home (hey, there’s a lot of people like me out there). But because I don’t need to. I don’t need to look back.
Films are rife with Bullies and Victims. And I sort of love watching these stories play out, because it’s exactly what I’ve been saying – I relate hugely. I get emotionally attached to the film, I invest time and hope and feeling in it. I do the same when reading these stories – they can be agonising when the Victim suffers a set-back (as inevitably they do), but I can’t put the book down. I have to know: can the Victim overcome the Bully? Because, if they can, then I have some hope overcoming my Bully.
And there you have the essence of The Bully and The Victim. They are your life, however you want to perceive it, playing out on screen or on pages.
Do you have a Bully-Victim story in your writing? Did you even realise that they were there before you started writing?
What’s your favourite Bully-Victim story?
And, how are you standing up to your Bullies?