Villains, Zombies, the Apocalypse, and Reality

Fairy tale girl portrait surrounded with natural plants and flowers.Black-white art image in fantasy stylization.I used to stay up all night playing ‘Resident Evil 2,’ and it wouldn’t stop until the sun came up.. Then I’d walk outside at dawn’s first light, looking at the empty streets of London, and it was like life imitating art.. It felt like I’d stepped into an actual zombie apocalypse..

~Edgar Wright

We keep trying to escape this reality; is that because this reality isn’t good enough?  No, not at all.

It’s just that we keep realizing this reality’s deficiencies.  Carl Sagan said, “It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”  And that’s true.  But…

It’s pretty damn arrogant to think we understand the Universe.  I’ll be honest; it took me something like two years to figure out exactly how I liked my morning coffee.  It took me ten years to realize that I look bad in shorts.  We seem to think that a small portion of a human lifetime is enough to tell us what’s “real”.

Friends, reality is malleable.  We are human beings; we are not slaves of destiny, we are not machines, we are not programs.  We change the world simply by existing within it.

That’s part of what Villainy says: “If we’re going to believe in a world full of monsters, shouldn’t the monsters be compelling and interesting, rather than banal and soul-destroying?”  This is what zombies say: “To hell with your day job, this future is more ALIVE.”  That is what every story of post-Apocalyptic survival says: “Forget the insipid joys; a real joy should be able to exist in the face of nearly complete destruction; it might even arise OUT of that destruction.”

We are beings of imagination and creation.  Go ahead, try to tell us what’s “real”.  We’ll fight back with a reality ridiculous and implausible, a reality flawed in every way except…

…except that as humans, we can make it real.  And that is Villainy and Renaissance Faires and zombies and Goth and Rocky Horror…but it’s also cell phones, computers, video games, and a basic understanding of history.  Reality is much less limited than anyone thinks it to be; Moore’s Law alone proves it.

We’re humans.  Our only limits are imaginary, and we can break imaginary rules any time we want; ask anyone who’s ever played Dungeons and Dragons.

Never let Reality hold you back.

~Jeff Mach

____________

Jeff Mach is the curator, both here and on Facebook, of  The Dark Lord Journal.  He’s the producer of Evil Expo, the greatest place in the world to be a villain, happening at the Radisson of Piscataway, New Jersey, January 24-26th, 2020.  You can find “There and NEVER, EVER BACK AGAIN” right here on Amazon.)

On Making A Monstrous Army (“Diary of a Dark Lord” excerpt)

(This is an excerpt from my–that is, The Dark Lord Jeff Mach‘s book, “There and NEVER, EVER BACK AGAIN: Diary of a Dark Lord“, a darkly satirical fantasy epic told from, of course, the point of view of the Villain. You can find the book on Amazon, if you so desire.)

I have never met an Orc with decent self-esteem.

Contrary to popular belief, Orcs are not ugly. They’re frequently asymmetrical, which can be jarring to other sentients, since normal humanoid bilateral symmetry tends to see deviation from regularity as deformity. (Yet we claim not to fear malformed humans; is that true?)

Oh, the cave-dwellers have tusks, sure. That’s a reason to dislike their faces. Then again, we fear the canines of the Orc…but we enjoy those of the dog. Why is that?

It’s because dogs are domesticated, unthreatening. If they were sentient, we might call them slaves.

Orcs refuse to be slaves to Man. And Man can’t handle it.

The Orcs and I have a long understanding. Because I provide them with a target-rich environment? Sure, that’s a bit of it. But I actually offer something better and far more meaningful. I accept them.

For humans believe that Man and Orc cannot coexist. Humans say that the Orcs are vicious predators who would see everyone else dead or in servitude.

And of course, humans wouldn’t lie, would they?

They never do that.

They surely asked the Orcs before labelling them as enemies.

Because that’s consistent with human history, is it not?

Humans have pretty much never recorded an encounter with Orcs that ended in peace.

That’s got to be the Orcs’ fault.

Humans believe that Orcs need extermination. Personally, I believe they need therapy.

I don’t make monsters.

Definitions make monsters.

You make definitions.

Do you know why you fear the things that go bump in the dark?

Because you’re the ones who drove them into the dark to begin with.

____________

Jeff Mach is the curator, both here and on Facebook, of The Dark Lord Journal.  He’s the producer of Evil Expo, the greatest place in the world to be a villain, happening at the Radisson of Piscataway, New Jersey, January 24-26th, 2020.  You can find “There and NEVER, EVER BACK AGAIN” right here on Amazon.)

As Bad As It Gets–Guest Post

A hypo-villainAs Bad As It Gets: On Hypo-Villainy

by Mark Huntley-James

I like to get under the skin of a villain, starting with a sharp blade just under the… No. Wait. I was meaning to talk about sub-villains. Or perhaps hypo-villains, nasty little characters that get under your skin, an irritation, an infection, an unsightly and spreading rash that can’t be cleaned up by a happy ending.

A villain needs to suit the hero, not just in the appropriately gross acts of yuk, but in style and personality, offering just the right contrast and perhaps, if you want to play it mean, just the right touches of similarity to make things uncomfortable. It’s not easy finding the right villain for an anti-hero living in a quiet rural backwater, running a morally bankrupt supernatural business, and just keeping his head down. He’s not a maverick, a bad-boy (well, technically yes he is, but it hardly shows), or a wise-cracking genius, but an ordinary, every-day broker of demonic deals.

I’m no good at writing big, bold, overly dramatic villains, and even if I were, that would not sit right in the circumstances. Besides, I prefer sly and nasty expressions of that solid principle – everyone is the hero of their own story. My villains are all perfectly reasonable, decent and understanding characters – honestly – and so often a hypo-villain. I’m not going to define that too closely, because left vague it sounds like it ought to fit my anti-hero perfectly and I want to leave it like that. Push it and the analogy goes to pieces faster than you can feed a victim through a bacon-slicer.

What does a good hypo-villain need, other than a really annoying voice? A well-developed narcissism is a good start, along with a petulant air of “it wasn’t my fault”, the essential thick skin to sail through life with a wake of unhappy people not quite angry enough to do lasting violence. This creature also needs its A-Z multi-vitamin supplement of “in” – insensitive, indifferent, indolent, insolent, in your face. To jazz it up, I also like to add that familiar and sour spice – incompetence.

Meet Michael Twitch. Everyone calls him Mickey, and once upon a time he was my anti-hero’s best friend. You have to have that, right? The perfect background for the anti-hero/hypo-villain relationship. The shared history, the friendship gone bad, the promise of that hard-won act of redemption… No. Not for a hypo-villain. Redemption is for bold, dramatic villains who can change their black capes if only introduced to just the right tailor. For the true hypo-villain, the whiny litany of “it wasn’t my fault” can never step aside long enough for redemption, but when cornered it can hold off trouble long enough to spot the unguarded fire-escape in the gloom.

Mickey doesn’t wear black capes, declaim vengeance on the world from atop tall buildings (unless he’s very, very drunk) and certainly doesn’t plot world domination or destruction, unless he comes across a special offer on supreme power down at Villains-R-Us. Really, he’s hardly a villain at all, except perhaps to his victims. His mother has doubts about him as well.

He is the guy who uses the last of the milk in the office kitchen and doesn’t replace it. Probably the same day he breaks your favourite mug and tosses the emergency epi-pen in the bin before handing round a plate of peanut-butter sarnies for a fun game of allergy roulette. My ideal hypo-villain is vile, but inherently lazy, and thankfully lacking in the sort of ambition and imagination that might raise him into the ranks of the super-villain.

In fact, Mickey is so ordinary, so boring, that he almost didn’t happen at all, no more than a throw-away mention in a one-liner in the first chapter. I already had a proper villain, a monstrous demon with vile plans for those scuttling little mortals, until I realised my demon was really quite boring, just a package of evil and power, lacking any useful personality – that would have to wait for a later book, to be teased out into something fun.

The demon needed a sidekick, a proxy, someone disgustingly fun to have a proper relationship with my anti-hero – like athlete’s foot or a migraine. An irritating hypo-villain suddenly granted monster status by the power of a demon and an army of minions, so that petty cruelty and harmless narcissism can be magnified and inflicted upon thousands of victims. The perfect things to get under my anti-hero’s skin, and essential drivers for him to save the day.

I like my hypo-villain. Yes, in real-life, I would want to punch him in the face, but the sheer awfulness has its own appeal. I could have dumped him after one book, but a good hypo-villain is like cheap chocolate, you have to eat more no matter how bad the taste.

Hi, my name is Mickey, and I’ll be your nemesis today. How may I spit in your coffee?

_____________

Mark Huntley-James writes fantasy, science-fiction or any other weird thing that catches his attention. He has published three humorous urban fantasy novels, won the British Fantasy Society short story competition in 2013, and has various short and flash fiction in anthologies, on his blog () or on Medium (). From time-to-time he says something strange on Twitter as . Mark lives in Cornwall, UK, on a small farm with his partner, multiple cats, a dangerous horde of psycho-chickens, and a flock of rare-breed sheep. Sometimes he writes about the animals, but can’t get any of them to read the stories.

The Destruction of the Great Library

“There and NEVER, EVER BACK AGAIN: A Dark Lord’s Journal” is the peculiar, blackly satirical tale of the Dark Lord, who is amassing an army of Things of the Night, and awaiting likely death at the hands of the White Wizard and the Chosen One.This is a piece of Jeff Mach‘s upcoming novel “There and NEVER, EVER BACK AGAIN: Diary of a Dark Lord“. Find him at Evil Expo 2020, the Convention for Villains.

As mentioned before, sometimes someone with reason to consult the archives of a nation or place will express…frustration…that we know so little of our past.

Humans have a helpful myth, though. Once there was a Great Library. And great it was indeed! It was splendid, stuffed fuller than a holiday waterfowl with sages, white of beard and saintly of eyes, and it simply had all the books on all of everything. And then one day, one fell day, The Monster just came and burned it to the ground.

Which monster? Oddly enough, accounts seems to vary, depending on who tells the tale. One thing’s clear, though: it was never the fault of the side telling the story.

You catch a theme? Forgive me if I belabor it. But it’s this thing:

If two or three people tell a given story about an event, and are believed, then that affects the perceptions of those around them. Humans are highly subject to confirmation bias. If a few people are loud enough in saying that “these people are Good; those beings are Darkness incarnate!” – then, in many minds, it become so, regardless of what the other beings have done or what they are. Eventually, it becomes their truth. I reflect on this often, particularly because spellwork requires attempting to understand how Names are made, and the construction of the name “monster” in particular is of extraordinary import.

Consider: A young child spies a Goblin near a human settlement, looking at the human habitation with wonder and wistful yearning. The youth might be puzzled and feel moved to empathy by the pain on that darkling’s face. But wait until the child speaks of this to parents, who immediately yell at their offspring, and then cart the kid over to the town square, which is full of neighbors. They surround the child; this one shows an eye lost to Goblin attack (he speaks not of who attacked whom first, nor of the war around them, but surely that doesn’t matter, eh?) That one speaks of arriving only in the nick of time to prevent a Goblin from stealing her crops of wheat. (Goblins are actually gluten intolerant, but few people know that, and besides, who cares?) Everyone,suddenly,has a tale to tell. Her peers begin taking up makeshift toy swords and shields, vowing to defend the village. One kid refuses to play, and they torment her, calling her a monster herself, and saying that she sides with predators against the village.

In less time than you would think, the original spotter-of-Goblins has resolved that what she observed to have been a most definite look of cunning and hatred. The creature she saw wasn’t quietly observing a human settlement as a sad outsider, looking in; it was planning incursion! Maybe she even noticed signs in the distance that there were more Goblins, just beyond the tree-line—no doubt armed to the teeth. She’s lucky to have caught it when she did.

And this is what she will tell her friends.

And the lie spins ‘round another cycle or two…

It’s often said that humans are inherently good. Oh, they sometimes do bad things, but most of the time that’s just the occasional warring enemy tribe, and a good chronicling will just show that misfits were properly wiped out. (By the grace of Gods, o’ course, who are very much on the side of those who commanded that a given saga be written down. It’s fascinating how much humans put words into the mouths of Gods. One would think the Gods might resent it. Of course, the God who disapproves of you must, surely, be a Dark God…

…. worshipped only by your enemies. Ahem.)

Whereas, in contrast, virtuous humans are the inheritors of wisdom, progenitors of veracity. They are the beacon of brightness in what is an otherwise gloomy, hostile, and unfriendly universe.

And if you believe that, we’ve got a bridge to Narnia we can sell you. Cheap.

I became a Dark Lord because I knew that I wanted to effect change not like a homo sapiens, not like part of the human cycle of victory and erasure. I wanted to step outside of those history books, become some kind of thing unto myself. There have been a few Dark Lords, each one different, each one barely beaten, if at all (some just…slumber. Some seem to have found ways to ascend to the moon or descend into the seas, and simply have nothing more to do with Man. I am more foolish—I could call it ‘audacious’ if I felt like flattering myself—and I have my own ideas on where I might live. Somewhere beautiful and endless—like the eternal Goblin song, perhaps.).

The strongest defense against being rewritten when you die is to avoid dying, of course. II could have taken a path more likely to keep me alive, and I’d have been less of a target. But vanishing off the map leaves you in no real position to go changing what’s on the map. So it’s rather unhelpful if you care about the world of Man, and I do. Sometimes I care in ways that make me want to raze said world to the ground; but if that’s not a human feeling, what is?

-Jeff Mach

How To Create A Villain People Love To Hate

Villainous Woman warrior with sword in hand on gray backgroundby Ashley Gallagher-Pollard

You’re in the trenches of your first draft, getting down all those plot points and character development scenes, and you think “This is great, I’m on a roll!” – until you hit that brick wall. You’ve constructed this astonishing world with courageous heroes, but what are they supposed to be up against? A dragon? A talking vegetable patch? Possessed socks? No! You need a bonafide villain (to be fair, all those things could be a villain as well)! But you don’t want just any old villain. You want one that will be memorable, someone – or thing – that will stick in the reader’s mind. One that will make your audience silently root for them even when they know it is so wrong. How does one create that experience?

Some of the best kinds of villains are the ones that still retain human energies: they have/had a family, dreams they aspired to, mentors they look up to. These are the ones that started out as decent people and somehow wound up commanding the legions of the dead. They make you question if they were actually evil from the get go, or if their intentions followed the wrong brick road and landed them face to face with the protagonist.

Creating a villain that people can empathize with means showing your reader that they have good and bad qualities, allowing their own story to unfold parallel to the protagonist, and making them feel unique to the world they live in. Exhibit that they don’t kick dogs or make babies cry – maybe they adopt strays and look after orphaned children. While the hero was raised on a farm with lots of siblings, maybe the villain had a royal upbringing and was an only child. They must grow as your hero does, or they risk falling flat like warm soda.

A villain that has understandable motives and goals, perhaps even relatable, pulls your audience into your story and lets their mind wander through all the possibilities and “what ifs” without you having to do much of the heavy lifting. It also creates questions like, if that one deplorable thing in their life had never come to fruition, would they still be a wrongdoer? Or would they have ended up in the hero boots instead?

Your scoundrel does not have to have the secret lair and hairless cat to fulfill their role – they just need to be real enough to create havoc, which in turn creates the demand for a hero. By building up your baddies, you add life to your story, which in turns gives the reader a more realistic journey to follow. The more depth you add to them, the greater the experience!

Ashley was in elementary school when she fell deeply in love with reading and fantasy, mostly mythology and fiction. At eleven, she penned her first story about a fearless princess and a tyrant king. Now, she’s writing about gifted women and the power of family. She has written numerous poems, a handful of them published through the Young Writers of Canada, and several flash factions on personal characters that she has developed over the years. She currently resides in beautiful British Columbia with her husband, where she loves to read and write fantasy adventure and science fiction, though she dabbles in romance once in a while. Her current project is War Wine (working title), a mature high fantasy adventure novel that cover love of all varieties, familial bonds, and friendship.

 

Main DeviantArt: https://www.deviantart.com/serendiipitii
Art DeviantArt: https://www.deviantart.com/witches-sword
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/warwine
Twitter: https://twitter.com/war_wine

Why Villainy – an Evil Expo Note

Evil Expo is here! You don't have to have a skeleton to attend.

It’s here! Evil Expo will be January 24th-26th, 2020, at the Radisson of Piscataway, New Jersey!  Find out more over at www.EvilExpo.com!

But in the meantime, we wanted to share a bit of our villainous manifest: “Why Villainy?”

Heroes laugh at danger and try to attack it. Villains laugh at the madness of the world, and try to reshape it.

Why do we love the defiance, the outspoken bravery and the many joys of fictional villainy?  Let’s give some background.

Did you ever awaken in that peculiar alternative universe, the one that appears to be on fire?  (Hint: If you’re reading this, the answer is, “Yes.”)  You know, where humanity has vastly more information and access to knowledge than at any other time throughout history, more ability to speak and convey messages than even the most far out futurists dreamed?  And we’ve responded to it in ways that are horrifying.

Because in this peculiar gritty reboot, the rules have gone strange. We no longer seem to say that a person or an idea might be right or wrong, that someone might have done something good or bad. Instead, we’re told that a particular thing is, in fact, either the most hideous and vile thing, or else it is the shining avatar of all that is light and good.

We’re clearly all in of those episodes of The Twilight Zone which got cut because the plot didn’t seem to make any sense.

Now, we’re not actually about the politics of the everyday worldIn the Universe of the Imagination, we are much too busy making sure our henchpeople get paid on time; our villainous ransom demands are properly spell checked; our orbital destruct rays are aimed at the appropriate targets. You know, the things that really matter.

But those who make or love imaginative worlds, realms of creativity, are all affected by the world around us.  Whether we create to comment on or to escape the Asylum, we can’t ignore the strange things which come pouring out of the Internet.  More than ever, the world needs Villains, for the same reasons we’ve always adored them:

Villains are iconoclasts. Villains break the mold. Villains shatter rules. Good? Bad? Villains question other peoples’ ideas of morality because they think for themselves, and keep the counsel of their own hearts. Villains want to change the world in ways they find appealing and meaningful, not to please some hero, some aspect of society, or something they’re “told” is right or wrong, especially without any more proof than the wrath of some horde of attackers. We’re villains; we knew we’d be attacked when we first set out to change the world.

If there’s an angry mob of villagers with the traditional pitchforks and torches, heading towards a castle, we are not that mob.  We are Dr. Frankenstein, experimenting with things others claimed impossible. We are the monster itself, barely alive long enough to have his own identity and yet already labeled as evil.

We embrace what is strange, unusual, and different, and we’re not afraid of what they’ll call us. We are the misfits. We are the outcasts. We are the outliers. We are the creators. We are the makers of strange and wondrous dark magic.

Call us what you will. We are the villains, and we are here forge our own pathJoin us!

-Jeff Mach

 


#EvilExpo: Let’s get monstrous.

OVERKILL is UNDERKILL; Wreck That Hero NOW.

A guest post by Jabe Stafford, @oculuswriter


Your antagonist has no excuse for letting the hero win. He or she has all the power and resources at his or her command, yet that valiant bastard always throws wrenches into every evil plot.

Victory is earned, not given, and the reader can freaking TELL when victory is given and not earned. Readers matter most, so wreck your hero honestly for their sake. Make ‘em work for that goal. It should mean something. The antagonist you’re writing shouldn’t give a turd burger about virtue or what’s right or the heroine’s pain. Walk all over anyone necessary for that villainous goal. They say, “Every character should want something, even if it’s just a glass of water.” Well guess what? Water is life, and your antagonist has all the water in her pocket. If you’re not overkilling that protagonist, it’s underkill and becomes B- writing instead of A+ writing that sells thousands of novels. The world needs stories with A+ writing, so be that author and overkill your protagonist so the end of Act 3 means something!

The meaning is in the struggle. Wins that’re handed to your protagonist feel just like those scratch-off lottery tickets where you win the exact amount you paid for the ticket. If the reader feels indifference at your protagonist’s victory or your antagonist’s smear campaign, then you gotta struggle more as a writer. Everyone knows what filler tastes like – stale french fries you settled for ‘cause there’s nothing better around. That’s how you get your story put down, so make it personal. Murder the protagonist’s favorite person. Weave something out of your hero’s comfort zone into the first few chapters. Chances are, your MC isn’t used to something out of their area of expertise ruining them. Adaptation to that something will SHOW the reader how much the MC’s goal means to them. When pain matters less than X/Y/Z goal does, then you’ve hooked the reader.

Setting that hook means making that reader care about a character, then wrecking that character’s life. It can be the MC, the Relationship Character, or the setting or anything else. Keeping that protagonist or love interest alive means sacrificing a helluvalot. Read up on the Hollywood Formula to learn how to build up that tension. When a character knows your MC well enough to tell them what they desire, then dies as a result of standing up for him or her, you friggin’ KNOW it means something. Readers want to care, so show how many important people your villain will trample over to reach their evil ends. It’s your protagonist’s job to step up for what they want, whether it’s a glass of water or true love or world peace. Nothing they wanted before the Fateful Decision (aka Inciting Incident) matters, and yes, you CAN use the protagonist’s old wants against them. The villain certainly would, so why shouldn’t you you heartless writer you? No sending minions to do your antagonist’s job for her. That’s half-ass.

Half-assery ain’t overkill, and nothing less than overkill will make your antagonist believable. That ain’t just because reality is actually nasty. Readers won’t think your villain’s into it if they send minions or only follow through on part of their plan. As a reader yourself, you’ve seen the send-in-the-cannon-fodder decision often. It might’ve hooked you as a kid, but post-elementary-school? No friggin’ way. You know as well as your readers do that the MC is capable of handling all but the antagonist’s pressure. Underkill isn’t even in your antagonist’s mind. If it is, then you know which scenes will need re-writing when you come to the second draft and third draft steps.

(Confession: I re-wrote half a manuscript because the antagonist’s backstabbery was so easy to predict. That feeling when you hit points like that? It’s shame. It happens. Grow from it. Re-build and make a badass villain and not a half-ass one. Readers will adore you for it.)

Overkill that protagonist. Wreck the hero now. Villains with blind spots for whatever reason will be interpreted as cheap plot devices and not as honest confrontations. Your antagonist should want their glass of water even if it kills the protagonist’s entire family tree. That bad guy didn’t earn that position of power just to say, “Okay, I’m gonna pretend no one’s coming for what I got.” You want to sell a lot of novels? Rip that protagonist’s heart out the same way you’d rip the reader’s out. When your MC learns to fight for their heart harder than your villain can take shots at it, you’ve got a stellar story.

Never stop writing. You know, ‘cause the world’s the villain and it’s doing all it can to stop you from finishing that manuscript. It’ll do twice as much to stop you from revising it, and thrice as much to prevent you from submitting it.

Overkill is underkill – build that dream now.



Jabe Stafford: Author, Villain, Supergenius. (The caption is ours; he’s rather more modest than that.)

Jabe Stafford enjoys writing stories about alcoholic angels and drunk demons. He likes chatting ’em up after they’ve had a few, and the stuff they say is so bizarre that it makes his life of writing and office work sound mundane by comparison. The demons seem most interested in his years as a martial arts instructor, but then they brag about magic and challenge him to arm wrestle. Don’t arm wrestle a drunk demon or a sober one. Just read about ’em.

His wanderings have taken him to the UW-Madison Writer’s Institute and the Write-By-The-Lake Retreat. He writers with the Middleton Creative Writers, where his fellow authors hear those stories about the demons he tried to arm wrestle. He’s earned a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from UW-Madison, a Teaching Certification from Edgewood College, and a first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.


Minions Matter Most

A guest post by Jabe Stafford, @oculuswriter

One person sure as hell didn’t build The Pyramids on their own.

Or the Death Star.

It was people with goals to meet or family to care for that did that.

Villains gotta help others in order to complete their nefarious schemes. Equipping every marching minion with the lasers and shields they’ll need to protect their brains is a no-brainer. Hand your jabronie slimes some weapons and say, “fire that way,” and see how important it is to teach them to manifest hands and shoot. No teach, bad shot, no face. Minions need their faces. Armchair Dark Lords get less respect than Rodney Dangerfield unless they’re seen on the battlefield, igniting the armchair and assuring that ‘Died-by-La-Z-Tov Cocktail’ goes on the heroes’ tombstones. Minions matter most, and the greatest villains know how to lead them best.

What is it a minion’s gonna need? Anti-gravity boots? Spreadsheets? A dozen laser shurikens? Leading means preparation not just for you and your handlebar moustache, but for your flunkies too. Doesn’t matter how overloaded the antagonist is. One flunkie in a wife beater VS any decent hero = cannon fodder enemy syndrome. Readers can sense that shit. If you write a bunch of chapters with ‘eh, that doesn’t matter’ obstacles in the way, your book gets put down. Either your baddie’s losing sleep and cranking out hardcore equipment for the crew, or he’s put-down-able. Even CEOs know mercs don’t come with their own equipment and if they do, it’s probably not up to the standards you’ll both need to beat Noblehead’s head in. Minions matter most, so treat them like they’re important in your writing and your villain’s eyes. Equip them.

Teach them too. Show-and-don’t tell demonstrations of your minions’ skills make for dadgum good storytelling. If your minion is willing to backstab old friends for that sexy sexy reward, then they earned it. That’s how your villainess will know how much the henchmen have learned and what else they’d be capable of knowing. “Dumb as a styrofoam brick” has no place on any minion’s resume, and ain’t no antagonist got time for twelve or more years of schooling henchmen. Teach ‘em what they’ll need to reach your pure goal and put ‘em in situations to use what you taught. Faith built on a foundation like that is the best kind of evil to read about. The antagonist who gives back blurs the lines of good and friggin’ evil like six shots blur the roadway. (Think and drive, don’t drink and drive.)

And your antagonist should be out on that roadway, uppercutting cars and wrecking every step in the protagonist’s plan. Name a villain off the top of your brainpan that only gave orders and succeeded. Closest I can think of is a wrinklebag who zapped his servant’s son and a bald mob boss that fights maybe three nerfed people in three seasons. Those backseat bad guy types get overshadowed by ambitious underlings so fast it’s like a solar eclipse flash mob. Pure ecstatic villainy for thirty seconds, then disappointment and yuck the rest of the time. Do you want readers to associate “yuck,” or, “terrible,” or their synonyms with your antagonist? Then write a villain who does shit and thinks a few steps ahead of the M.C. Minions will follow a bad guy that goes to bat for them.

Prior proper planning prevents piss poor performance in your minions. Gun fight coming? No knives for them. Laser fight coming? No dart guns for them. Leading your underlings means knowing what they know and sharing what they’ll need to learn to keep them in black cloaks and you in power. Cronies gotta know these things, but even cronies won’t stay on the payroll if the Big Ol’ Boss is more sloth than boss.

Minions – and writing – matter most. Don’t neglect ‘em.


Jabe Stafford enjoys writing stories about alcoholic angels and drunk demons. He likes chatting ’em up after they’ve had a few, and the stuff they say is so bizarre that it makes his life of writing and office work sound mundane by comparison. The demons seem most interested in his years as a martial arts instructor, but then they brag about magic and challenge him to arm wrestle. Don’t arm wrestle a drunk demon or a sober one. Just read about ’em.

His wanderings have taken him to the UW-Madison Writer’s Institute and the Write-By-The-Lake Retreat. He writers with the Middleton Creative Writers, where his fellow authors hear those stories about the demons he tried to arm wrestle. He’s earned a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from UW-Madison, a Teaching Certification from Edgewood College, and a first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.


From the Diary of the Chosen One: On Magic Items

You would think that someone with a magic sword would be grateful. The sword itself is a complicated piece of technology and craftsmanship, requiring centuries of human knowledge to develop, and capable of the sort of destruction you just can’t get from a pointy rock or a slightly sharpened stick.

But no. Once you have found a couple of magic swords, you won’t rest until you find better ones. Something that glows little brighter. Something that slices little sharper. Something that sings with a beat you can really dance to.

And once you have found a potion that invigorates you, forget about it. Getting a good night’s rest is fine at all, but being able to toss back a tube of liquid alertness just beats that all to hell. Why settle for anything less?

Oh, and don’t get me started on scrying crystals. They’re helpful, I’ll give them that. We would have gotten lost a lot more often without them. And sometimes they have shown me things which I really needed to know if I wanted to have a decent chance of survival. The problem is, they don’t know when to stop. They just show you more and more, and there is so much out there to see. This world, alternative worlds, fairy glens. I’m not sure how much of it is actually true or real. But it’s compelling. It’s a lot more interesting than looking at the next tree or the next rock…even  though it’s the trees and the rocks and the other stuff that make up the paths we actually need to walk on if we are going to get anywhere.

But once you start learning to ask your crystal some questions, you’re a goner. You find yourself wanting to stare into that thing until your eyes bleed. And that’s okay, because I’m sure there’s a potion that helps with bleeding eyes out there somewhere.

I stole my crystals from the Orcs, And first I really didn’t like what we saw. Humans getting slaughtered, our forces falling back, rituals which seemed strange and even disturbing to us. But after a while, we learned that if you’d just figure out what it is you want to see, the crystals will show that to you. Once you get good at it, you never have to see things you don’t want to see. And if you do see something you don’t like, you get the idea that it is fleeting or unimportant or exaggerated. Crystals are really good at telling you the world is the way you want it to be.

I am the only one in my group who doesn’t look at his crystal all the time. I tell them that it is because when I look at the thing, I can feel the Dark Lord at the other end, searching for me.

To be honest, that is a complete and total lie. I’m pretty sure the Dark Lord spends as little time staring into one of these suckers as is humanly possible. That’s how she gets stuff done.

There is nothing more addictive than seeing and hearing exactly what you want to hear. The only thing is, if you want to change the world, then you need to be focusing on something other than the ideas which make you feel good, or even on the ideas which make you feel outraged and furious. Because while anger seems like it would be an excellent motivation, the fact is that if you can dial a source of emotion pretty much anytime when you want it, just by looking into a magical device and telling it what you want to see and hear, you will probably do it…forever. Our brains are wired that way.

But this is a perpetual problem, and it is part of the core of being Human. We can’t simply dip into our heads and get the right answers based on how much we enjoy the sensation of a given idea.  Rather, we figure it out, if we are able, through pain and sacrifice and uncertainty and difficult lessons learned.

All knowledge has a price. And if you cannot see what something costs, that doesn’t mean it is free. It means it will exact that which is owed to it in its own time and in its own way, and if you really understood the expense, you might think twice before making that particular purchase.

Magic can give you extraordinary power. But it can’t stop you from doing incredibly stupid things with that power. In fact, how else are demons loosed and monsters made, if not through the colossal foolishness of those who simply figured they knew exactly what they were doing?