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?

Diary of a Dark Lord ~ “The White Wizard”

There is a white wizard, cloaked in spellcraft and guile and a truly astonishing sense of self-righteousness, and he simply will not stop slaughtering The Chosen One until he kills me.

He must be such a sight, he has an actual white horse (I genuinely suspect he painted the poor beast) – and there he is, riding ramrod-straight into some tiny village or hamlet had previously known him primarily for his card tricks.  Now he looks neither left nor right (which is problematic for oncoming traffic, and many a vegetable cart is overturned in the wake of his utter disregard for basic traffic courtesy) – but rides steadily on until he reaches a certain hut.

Then, eyes blazing like a carelessly-started forest fire, he raps imperiously on the door with his sorcerous stave.  He informs the bewildered parents that he must see their offspring (he seems to have a habit of picking only children, for reasons about which I prefer not to speculate.)  He gazes at the aforementioned moppet with a disturbing thousand-yard stare, and then suddenly proclaims that this is the child of prophecy, the Chosen One, the One who is destined to bring down the Dark Lord.

The parents seldom complain.  The cause is so terribly just, the kids do eat a lot, and besides, you know what they say about wizards—“Never piss off a crazy person with a magical boom stick.”

So they pack the sprog off, with a few tears and a brave smile, and perhaps some pride and hope.

They never see the kid again.

Let’s be honest.  Even a tiny patrol of orcs is more than a match for your average pre-adolescent, even if there are a couple of unemployed companions along for the ride.  Maybe that wizard could do something, but he’s never around.  There’s always some nebulous task he must accomplish, some vital but secret mission.  He promises he’ll meet up with them later.

But he won’t.  He’s off weaponizing some other urchin.  Because he figures that, if he keeps throwing them at me, one of them will get through.

Hey, is that a knock at your door?