Blackest Magick In Practice

Blackest Magick In Practicea Guest Post by Dave K, aka HellbornHero

Magic is pretty universally useful stuff, it is the ultimate problem solving tool. From the smallest and most subtle effects, right up to ascension to godhood and reweaving the fabric of reality, magic is at its most base analysis raw potential. However, in this Villain’s most humble opinion, not all magic is created equal.

Those of you who haven’t read the title of this piece and have perhaps forgotten which website you’re currently perusing will be positively shocked to learn my scandalous opinion on which particular flavour is most fun. Yes of course Black Magic, the darker the better, is the stuff I want to talk about today. A miracle will never be as interesting to me as a malediction, no answered prayer as entertaining as darkest ritual. I only recently realised quite how passionate I am about this view. I have found another hill upon which I am willing to die, and while I am most certain of the position I am not certain why, so please join me as I dig a little deeper.

To start with, we have to determine what constitutes black magic. TV Tropes helpfully did this for me years ago by deciding that black magic must tick at least one of the following three boxes:-

The source must be some horrifying power or place. Demons, Devils and Hell or whatever passes for the local equivalent. Eldritch Horrors if we’re in Lovecraft territory, The Dark Side of The Force and the like.

The cost must be some resource that heroic characters would largely be unwilling to acquire or use. Torture and pain, sacrificing human lives or souls, methods broadly agreed to be evil or at least very taboo.

The effect of the magic must be vile in the suffering and or damage it causes.

There’s some wiggle room in here but I feel like that is a good starting point. Now onto the analysis

My first thought was that perhaps it was a raw expression of power inherent in black magic, but this falls apart under exploration. Demons are reduced to ashes by Angels, the Aurors defeat the Death Eaters, the Power of Three overcomes The Source, and so on. It doesn’t happen every time, but it’s a common enough occurrence that I don’t think it reinforces my idea. For example Willow from Buffy The vampire Slayer grows massively in power when she overcomes the temptation of dark magic to draw on the white. Morgause and Morgana practice the dark arts and both find themselves vanquished by the somehow more morally appropriate magic of Merlin. Most egregious of all are those circumstances where all magic is black magic, as the frequent outcome of that state of affairs is people who can rewrite reality to their whim somehow being brought low by men with swords or guns (I’m looking at you Conan). It’s positively heartbreaking.

The cost of black magic is almost always higher too, so I’m clearly not shopping around for a metaphysical bargain. Demons and devils demand your soul, dark gods require the most abhorrent of rituals and sacrifices for their blessings. Frequently blood is spilled and flesh consumed merely to achieve the same benefits the heroes amass merely by trying their hardest, asking the gods nicely or being ‘pure of heart’ (barf). One doesn’t hope to have to sacrifice soul or flesh for power, so this can’t be the answer either. Harry in the Dresden Files at different points gains access to power boosts from Heaven and Hell themselves. Hellfire gives him a boost to his power output, at the cost empowering his anger and lessening his self control. On top of that to gain access to this gift he has invited the echo of a fallen angel into his head, braced and waiting for the moment it can overcome his mind and will to take total control of his body. By contrast the heavenly magic of Soulfire allows him to perform feats of magic far more powerful and complex than he otherwise could, with a comparatively minor risk to his body, and he receives access to this great power at zero cost.

By all accounts it isn’t in the effects said magic produces either. Dark and Light both get to do things the other cannot, but in most cases this is either balanced or leaning in favour of the forces of good. For every cruel curse Voldemort created, it was ultimately the powers of love and self-sacrifice that saved the day for Harry and co. The Night King and his near infinite army of the death couldn’t hope to match the practical omniscience of The Three-Eyed Raven. The glorious demonic space bending eldritch abomination Dormammu was trapped in time by Doctor Strange and the Infinity Stone powered Eye of Agamotto. The Time Stone is a rather more neutral force than one inherently good but I feel the point stands.

Is it just window dressing and spectacle? I don’t think so. The appearance of the Angel Castiel was dripping in grandeur and majesty, doubly so compared to the understated summoning of demons in Supernatural, who appear with rather less pomp. The Divine Light of The Traveller in Destiny presents far more of a visual feast than the oppressive shadows cast by the presence of the aptly named Darkness. Kaecilius and his zealots conjure subtle weapons that appeared almost to be made of glass, where Doctor Strange and the heroic sorcerers call forth energy that glitters like fire and sunlight.

In the beautiful Netflix adaptation “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, which contains some of my very favourite depictions of witchcraft in recent years, the witches and warlocks of that world can do some pretty special magic thanks to their Devilish heritage. Given the right incantations and magical objects or concoctions almost all avenues are open to them. We witness the brewing of potions and performance of wicked rituals with great joy. However the forces of light show up in season two and pretty effortlessly dismantle all attempts of both the Church of Night and The Academy of Unseen Arts to defend themselves. Indeed the day is only won when Sabrina herself is revealed to posses some Angelic inclination of her own, and uses outright miracles to effortlessly succeed without any difficulty or price whilst the purely Devilish players in the game look on in impotence and awe. Regardless of all of this however, I’d rather be a warlock. With insincere apologies to all my righteous, goodly or angelic friends I have to declare once and for all; you’re just not as cool as us.

Even my historical research bears this out. John Dee may have pried the secrets from angels, but they’re boring compared to what lurks in Lesser Key of Solomon. What interest do holy books hold compared to works of Witchcraft and Demonology?

It can be hard to unpick the good and evil magics from the people that utilise them, and I’m not sure I’ve necessarily done a very good job here, but at the end of the day I feel like there might be an astoundingly simple answer. Sacrificing someone on a stone altar in the name of Shub-Niggurath is always going to be cooler than calling down the light of heavenly angels, regardless of what dark horrors or celestial miracles we get out of it. We know this, feel it in our bones regardless of whether or not we can explain it logically. It is good to be bad.

In researching this I stumbled upon something fascinating, a small piece of psychology research bears me out in an odd sort of way. A study from Harvard University appears to demonstrate a couple of things that I find in conjunction have very interesting implications. The first is that there is a literal strength in performing moral actions. Actively attempting to be heroic or villainous, to do good or evil, be naughty or nice, to behave or transgress increases your capacity. It can grant willpower, increase resistance to discomfort and pain, increase strength and endurance. The second result has some interesting implications for the world at large and us villains in particular. Those people envisioning themselves as being villainous experienced greater gains than those who were being benevolent.

Sourcenews.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/04/strength-in-naughty-or-nice

So it is possible that those of us drawn to the villainous already knew this on some unconscious level. There is power in evil, and we here have elected to be powerful. That explains this website at the very least. What greater display of power is there than magic? Forcing reality itself to change in compliance with our will is about as big a power move as one could ever expect to accomplish. I’ve always had great interest in magic and the occult, both in fiction and in history, and I suspect those of us who value the ideas of magic and of power are more likely to have reached this realisation on the power of the villainous our own, even if we have not consciously realised that we have done so, or why we came to this conclusion. Evil is good.

I could spend a few thousand words talking about depictions of black magic from various media and try to pick apart why they make my little black heart feel all warm and fuzzy, but it might well be unnecessary. All that beautiful stuff is art, but the love of the bad was inside us all along.

If anyone can come up with a finer explanation than that, for the love of all the is unholy please @ me on Twitter, this concept is becoming an obsession.

Thanks to Dark Lord Journal for having me and until next time, I’ll leave you with a quote from everyone’s favourite Lovecraft, P.H. Lovecraft – “Y’all stay bad now.”

__________________________

Dave K is writing for several unannounced projects that will be revealed to the world by @HellbornHero on Twitter when they’re good and ready. Or in most cases, Bad and ready, as you would imagine.

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.

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

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.


Trust Your Local Villainess

a guest post by by Jabe Stafford – @OculusWriter

How does a despicable killer get you as a reader to trust her? 

By following through on her plan.  

Whether she’s snuggly, charismatic, or cool and collected on the surface, she’s got a plot. Pre-meditated set-ups in storytelling are the hidden laser cakes in a space alien food fight. Your villainess will make damn sure to hit the hero where he isn’t super-competent. She knows her actions and their results are a window to the soul of her plan, so she’ll put up psychedelic tye-dyed curtains to distract both the reader and the hero. 

Writing a set-up that builds your reader’s faith in the villain AND terrifies them in ways they never knew they liked is tough. Here’s a tip or three to help make the evil happen. 

(The big one is: Don’t stop writing even when you think it sucks. Words on the page can be improved. The blank page you shied away from can’t.) 

It takes fewer than one tentacle to count the number of bumbling villains who stayed bumbling and succeeded. There’s a reason She-Go was a better character than that guy she worked for. She called out her boss’s bumbling, acted on her own (*cough* better) plans, and became a fun-to-watch badass for it.  

Building a plot and earning the competence to carry out that plot intrigues the reader and stymies the hero.  

So do that.  

Don’t hand the reader a list of reasons why your villainess is a mastermind.  

Show it.  

She won’t interrupt the hero only when the plot demands a rise in the tension. Show it often and use it to build genuine tension. Every fight she wins against Strongjaw McGraw or Princess Crownyhead shakes their story arcs, earns her a victory she can build on, and grows the reader’s faith. When she shows up again, it’ll be exciting and unexpected. You’ll have as much of a blast writing those clashes as the reader will enjoy watching them.  

No part of no plot nowhere includes the words, “Let’s clash with the hero on his own ground where he’s strongest.” You gotta do the exact opposite of that if you wanna write the villainess of a lifetime.  

If Strongjaw McGraw’s a third degree blackbelt and UFC fighter, your villainess will shoot him from afar or hit him where he’s incompetent. If Princess Crownyhead is the best witch in the royal court, then why would your villainess’s victory rely on out-magicking her? Not only is that kind of behavior unbecoming of an antagonist, it leads to ZERO character development on the hero’s part.  

The M.C. of a novel I’m querying is a robotics professor with A.I. bees at his command. Think he’s got any military training or equipment? No friggin’ way. The antagonist knows this and uses stealth tactics, SWAT gear, and guerrilla ambushes that the MC has to learn to anticipate if he wants to survive.  

A villainess’s competence can build the reader’s faith in her, but it can also multi-task for you in that it fuels the MC’s character development. Weaponizing that swarm of A.I. bees is a type of growth in several ways, and it’s one of many developments both rivals make. The rival that grows, deals with the consequences, and counters the other’s abilities better triumphs, and that usually ain’t the hero.  

Your hero’s gonna grow and learn to succeed unless you’re writing a sick-nasty tragedy. Your villainess knows he’s watching for any hint, clue, or opening that will shed light on her unknown plan. Does she need a laser cake to frame a moon’s king for the murder of an alien saint? Then she’s gotta mask her actions and their results.  

Insert cliche about actions speaking louder here, ‘cause it’s dadgum true.  

Stealing X and Y, but leaving Z will inform the hero about her upcoming villainy. Hell, the things your villainess didndo could give her away. Writing a villainess that’s too clearly after one thing will give the hero all the info needed to deny that to her. Lies, acting, and doing things that seem to go against her plot help with that. They add that I-love-to-hate-you flavor that many good villainesses need. And a tasty set-up gets bland-ified if the reader or the hero can put it together too early. So make her lie, cheat, and steal her ass off, then re-attach it and repeat.  

How can you get readers so hungry for your villainess that they drool on the page? 

By having fun building a set-up the villainess will follow through on. 

It can be two sentences on an index card, a full-on outline, or something you add when re-writing. That plot is a weapon in a slasher villain’s hands. It strikes the weak points like wolves on moonless nights. It’s gonna get bloody and need cleaning like any well-used murder weapon. Readers like to be scared and satisfied when the plot drops and wubs them in all the right spine-tingly ways. Use these tips well. 

Go forth and make the evil happen in your stories. 

That was my plot this whole time. 

Happy Halloween!

 

 

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.

Great Villains Aren’t Always Superhuman

a surprisingly powerful and human analysis of creating antagonists by David Gouldthorpe

I’ve been writing fiction for five years now, and of course reading for far longer than that. In my time, I’ve found that perhaps the most vital part of any story is the antagonist. Whether it’s a villain or nature or society, without a strong antagonist a story cannot sustain itself. Of course, out of the three I mentioned above… one of the most fun antagonists to write is the villain. Over the years I’ve read a lot of villains in books, watched a lot of villains in movies and television, and written a lot of villains in my own work. What are the elements I use? To begin, let me break down one villain that I draw inspiration from. He’s not a dark lord or an immortal being. He doesn’t command vast armies or feed on the blood of the innocent.

He’s merely an owlish, spectacled prison warden in Maine.

To be sure, Sauron or Darth Vader fit the villain aesthetic better. You have fire, lots of black, armies at their disposal. But their flashy aesthetic only goes surface deep. Warden Norton, from The Shawshank Redemption, eschews all the flash and grandeur to lay raw what a villain really needs to be evil.

First of all, a villain needs to have ability. If they are unable to pose a threat to the protagonist, then they’re useless. Norton most certainly possesses the ability to harm Andy Dufresne, the story’s hero, through several channels. First of all, Norton has formal authority over him; he’s the prison warden, and Andy’s a prisoner. He can (and does) have Andy detained in solitary confinement for weeks for merely speaking out of turn. Norton also works closely with Chief Hadley, the corrupt prison guard who beats a man to death within the first ten minutes of the film for crying. Norton has not only a legitimate hold over our characters’ lives, but his right hand man is willing to use illegal tactics to terrorize them, which can Norton can easily sweep under the rug. Within the confines of the prison, he commands incredible power.

Closely tied to ability is competence. It’s closely tied to ability, but I consider it separate because it’s incredible tricky to write. A villain may be very powerful, but if they’re not smarter than a fifth grader then their defeat will prompt eyerolls instead of cheers. Warden Norton shows that he is quite competent. His criminal scheme of extortion and kickbacks is run by a man that he keeps under firm control. He checks prisoners’ cells regularly, and keeps Andy close under his thumb. His machinations are only undone by a prominent banker (in other words, a well-educated man) who plots his escape for decades and has to crawl through “five football fields” of sewage pipes to escape. It’s difficult to write this kind of thing because of the great planning that has to go into how to defeat the villain, but the effort is well-spent. The added bonus is that it makes your protagonist also much stronger. Norton is smart; Andy just happens to be smarter.

The last ingredient is where things get fun: a villain needs to be actively evil. That is, not evil because people say he is, but because we the audience or reader can see it. Norton succeeds here on many levels. For example, take Tommy. Tommy is a young man who arrives in prison for theft, a non-violent crime. He wants to earn a high school equivalency so that he can go on the straight and narrow, to provide for his wife and daughter. Despite the trials, Andy tutors Tommy to a passing grade. But when Tommy reveals that he can prove Andy’s innocence, Norton has him murdered in the prison yard. Not only does it cut short a promising life, it also deals a blow to Andy. Then, Norton comes to Andy in solitary and taunts him over it. It’s a vile act that hits close to our protagonist.

On top of that though, the warden’s hypocrisy makes him more relatably evil. His demand for discipline and justice, while simultaneously running a criminal enterprise, makes him a double-talker. You might call it an “everyday evil.” Very few of us personally know a killer, but almost all of us can think of a person that preaches one thing and practices another. It’s something that we can connect to, and thus more easily gets under our skin. To look at another example, it’s the reason why Harry Potter’s Dolores Umbridge is more despised by fans than the main villain Voldemort. Very few people know a Voldemort in their lives, but almost everyone knows an Umbridge. It turns the abstract concrete. Of course Voldemort is still a good villain, because even though his evil actions aren’t necessarily as familiar, there’s still a certain shred left in there; losing a loved one, by any means, resonates with anyone who has suffered a loss.

Finally, and most important, a villain needs to have a rationality. Norton’s rationality is twofold: these men are prisoners, and deserve to be punished, so I can be as brutal as I want; I want to keep making money, so I need to keep Andy in line. Warden Norton wants something, and he does what he can to get it. Every villain has a purpose . Sauron wants to control Middle Earth, and will obtain whatever power necessary to achieve it. The Thenardiers want as much money as possible, and will pickpocket bodies and sell their children to obtain it. The rationality might even be to be as irrational as possible, like the Joker in The Dark Knight. A villain without a direction is not much of a threat; how can they run up against the protagonist if they have no reason to run up against anything at all?

Warden Norton may not have a horned helmet, a throne of skulls, or flowing black robes. Yet he’s a true villain in the simplest form. He’s powerful, he’s cunning, he’s evil in a very impactful and irritatingly familiar way, and he has a reason behind all of it. It creates a character with powerful screen presence, and when he’s finally defeated it’s a powerful catharsis that leaves the audience satisfied.

___

David Gouldthorpe is HR by day, author by night. He wrote fanfiction for five years before breaking into the world of original fiction. You can read his sci-fi/fantasy shorts, and learn about his upcoming thriller novel Fort Irving, by following his Twitter or by visiting his website at .

 

Machiavelli, Thanos, and Louis XII: How to play a compelling evil PC

A guest post by Josh Simons (@confusedlich)

In a recent tweet, Matthew Colville (@mattcolville) lamented the fact that there are so few evil PCs among D&D groups these days. He cited the D&D Dragonlance book series as an example of a story with an evil character that could be emulated.

What I think Colville is really pointing out, is that sometimes being bad can be so compelling that it becomes good. It would be easy to insert a series of jokes about how morality lies in the eye of the beholder, and fail to explore anything of substance, but I will resist that urge for the greater good.

Niccolò Machiavelli is kind of the poster child for evil philosophers and political thinkers. That’s not to say that he was a bad person himself, or even immoral, but in his political treatise, The Prince, he depicts a ruler who does whatever benefits him the most, and not what is considered morally right. This is the origin of the phrase, “The ends justify the means,” which is an ethicist’s way of saying, “If you do something bad and get a good result, then your actions are justified.”
Machiavelli’s writings influenced a great number of philosophical bad boys, and ultimately set the foundation for many of the systems of thought that are so prevalent in contemporary society.

At this point, I can imagine that some people might be wondering, “How does this connect to Dungeons & Dragons? Machiavelli doesn’t know a critical hit from a d4.” This is true. I suspect Machiavelli never played Dungeons & Dragons, much less any of the other incredibly popular TTRPGs available to us today. But unlike many contemporary gamers, Machiavelli was able to witness the rise and fall of powerful politicians and rulers, and he had a front row seat for all of it. During his political career, Machiavelli watched as the Medici family rose to power (and simultaneously kicked him out of power), but then a few years later, he was returned to a position of authority (partially due to his political experience and partially because he was able to gain the favor of the Medici family). If we should go to anyone for advice on how to play an evil PC, it should be Machiavelli, because he experienced that type of twisted abuse of power firsthand.

So what can we learn from him? Here are a two quick thoughts from my reading of The Prince:
Being evil is not about the end goal that you pursue, but rather it is how you attempt to reach it. We have seen great examples of this in recent superhero movies (Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, Killmonger in Black Panther, and Vulture in Spider-man: Homecoming). These villains are relatable because they want to do something that is apparently good, like provide for their family, or stop injustice. However, their cruel methods lead to chaos and violence, and are ultimately what cause them to be categorized as villains.

In the first few chapters of The Prince, Machiavelli looks at the failures of Louis XII when he tried to conquer Italy in 1499 and 1500. Machiavelli writes that his downfall came when Louis XII worked together with the other powerful rulers in Italy to gain a foothold, while weakening the less powerful rulers surrounding him. When the other powerhouses of Italy combined forces to oust the French, Louis XII found himself with incredibly weak allies, and very strong enemies. Machiavelli declares that you should never help your powerful enemies, but that you should help your weaker allies grow in power.

On the surface, these two ideas seem terribly obvious, but so many players get so caught up in the “evilness” of their evil PC that they forget to make them relatable and even sometimes, good.
Colville’s tweet garnered many responses from well known and influential members of the D&D community, and a common theme in many of their responses was that the player running an evil PC needs to be mature enough to not ruin the game for everyone else. This pushback is ultimately what inspired my train of thought that led to the writing of this article.

I am currently playing an evil PC in one of my weekly D&D games and can testify that it is immensely fun and rewarding, but the risk of ruining the party’s experience is dramatically higher than if I was playing a “good” PC. The reason why is quite simple when you think about it from the viewpoint of in-game mechanics. A game of D&D runs on several basic premises; and possibly the most important one is that a group of adventurers that may have very little in common all agree to cooperate in order to go on adventures and overcome various challenges together. If one PC was inherently set against this premise (AKA a murder hobo, or someone who “doesn’t work well with others”), then the entire foundation for the game itself falls apart. Unnecessary tension comes out of it, and eventually, the other players will stop wanting to play with the evil PC.

I have heard stories of evil PCs played so poorly that the rest of the players (note: not the characters, but the players) decided to band together and kill the evil PC out of anger and spite. This is not a healthy gaming environment. With this in mind, I would like to suggest several important keys to playing an evil PC, all stemming from these principles found in Machiavelli’s writing:

As an evil character, it is in your best interest to take down other villains and evil masterminds who might challenge you in your rise to power.

You might consider helping some “good” characters, because “good” characters are painfully tied to their strict moral codes, and if they feel like they owe you something, you just might be able to get something out of them. And so long as you don’t do anything detrimental to your own plan, then the ends still justify the means.

Cooperating with a party of adventurers, goodie two shoes, and other do-gooders may help take the heat off of you, and keep prying eyes away from you while you develop your evil schemes. It’s easier to work on something evil when everyone thinks you’re a good guy.
Senseless violence and endless lies will only paint a bigger target on your back, or make your potential allies more suspicious of you.

Let’s be honest, we all love surprising others. There is nothing more satisfying than a huge, dramatic reveal that after all this time, the party has been trying to find you, and you’ve been two steps ahead of them the entire way. But the only way you’ll be able to enjoy this dramatic moment is if you don’t spoil the surprise too soon. This takes patience, but is incredibly rewarding.
Don’t feel like you have to do something maliciously grand. Maybe you want revenge for your brother’s murder and are willing to kill anyone who gets in your way… but if you do start killing people left and right, it will get a lot harder to exact your revenge. Temper your evil desires with a healthy dose of common sense and self-preservation.
Sometimes doing the “right” thing for the “wrong” reason is evil enough to make a memorable villain. Kill the orphans so they don’t have to suffer. Kick puppies for science! But whatever you do, don’t give us the same old world domination story again. Find something more creative (and ultimately more fun to RP)!

As always, you need to work with your DM if you want to play an evil PC, because they can be your best friend and help you keep your secret under wraps, while leading the party in their hunt for you the entire way. If your DM isn’t certain about it, you can talk with them and try to convince them, but depending on their experience and comfort levels, you might need to save your evil character for another campaign. That’s okay. Playing a broken and twisted “good” character can be just as enjoyable if you are willing to be flexible and have fun with it!

BIO:
Josh Simons studied Philosophy, English, and History in college, and now works in Healthcare. Born and raised in Florida, he lived there until moving to Chicago during high school. Aside from a brief stint in New York City, he has made Chicago his home. While relatively new to the TTRPG and D&D communities, Josh has always enjoyed acting and the tactical side of board games, so he found it was an easy transition getting into TTRPGs. You can find Josh on Twitter (@jedigator) where he also runs a second account that “belongs” to a mostly evil lich (@Confused_Lich). He loves talking about D&D and game mechanics/theory, in addition to his other interests.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Villainy

The Seven Deadly Sins of Villainy

by Jericho “J.S.” Wayne

 

We all know villainy is a fairly high-risk endeavor with an epic mortality and turnover rate. In fact, in most planes of existence, simply to be a villain is to start a short clock winding down to your near-inevitable demise. Of course, a lot of this has to do with the fact most villains don’t fiddle about with things like OSHA regulations, UBC building and wiring codes, being able to actually read the sooper-sekrit plans for their planet-obliterating bases and thus identify weaknesses and so on. Such carelessness and hubris practically beg for a Darwin Award!

The good news is, your favorite villains don’t have to go the way of the dodo, music on MTV and the mullet. (Although, if they wear mullets, it’s probably better for all concerned if they do. Just saying.) All you have to do to change the all-but-certain outcome of reaping what one sows is to avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Villainy, which I’m going to lay out for you here.

 

  1. Read the fucking Evil Overlord List!

 

Okay. Look. I know for every person chuckling knowingly reading this, there are probably two or three going, “Whuzzat, Cletus?” The Evil Overlord checklist gives you everything you need to avoid the idiotic and cliched mistakes of your villainous forebears. Whether your baddie lives in a galaxy far, far away, a distant past time, underwater or wherever, this list can save their life, and you the angst of having created an awesomely epic bad guy who will at some point in the near future get aced by an uppity MC and their ragtag crew of misfit allies. Read the fucking list!

 

  1. Obsession is not your friend.

 

Being driven is one thing. After all, Rome didn’t rise all at once, and it required a guiding vision and the active cooperation and participation of its people to become the dominant world power of its era.

But when I speak of obsession, I mean the craving for whatever the villain’s goal is which must be achieved at all cost. Whether it’s the unattainable mate, ultimate power, deification or the simple destruction of an enemy, obsession is dangerous and destabilizing. No matter how well your villain pays or how much leverage they can bring to bear against the populace to keep them in line, it only takes one arrow, bullet, blaster bolt or inconveniently timed moment of clumsiness at the top of a flight of stairs to take them, and their distressing brand of crazy, out of the equation.

Unstable villains tend not to last long, and those who don’t know when to cut their losses and get the hell out of Dodge epitomize this. Know when to say when, even if the goal is so close they can taste it.

 

  1. Never leave your enemies alive.

 

This is Day .001 Villainy 101, but somehow it seems like it always gets overlooked. Maybe your baddie is overconfident, which is really just a shorthand way of saying they made a down payment on a tombstone. Maybe they think suborning their enemies is more effective. Maybe they’ve just got a lot to do and time is at a premium, so they leave the dirty work to their underlings, who will almost invariably botch the job. Or maybe they’ve got a really super-cool, absolutely positively guaranteed to never ever fail to leave the hero as a squishy, goopy smear of strawberry jelly and maybe a few random bone fragments deathy machine of death they’ve just been itching to try out.

Whatever the reason or circumstances, turning your back on a live enemy is simply stupid, to say nothing of poor policy. It encourages sloppiness in your minions and gives your enemy a lovely big target to do nasty things to while you’re preparing your grand revenge gesture. You can turn your back on them when, and only when, they have no pulse, no breath and no way to claw their way back to the land of the living. Dismemberment, beheading and burning is a timeless classic to prevent this, but if you’ve got a live, active volcano handy, that’s really just as effective. The point is, if your enemy isn’t clearly, most sincerely dead, you need to keep your eye on them and your weapons at the ready.

 

  1. Embrace practicality.

 

Your really super-cool, absolutely positively guaranteed to never ever fail to leave the hero as a squishy, goopy smear of strawberry jelly and maybe a few random bone fragments deathy machine of death is all very well and good, but really, what are you trying to prove? You can achieve the exact same effect with a sharp blade, a few hundred grains of lead moving at high velocity, a single blaster ray, jettisoning them from the nearest airlock or even just breaking their summoning circle at the perfect time. Besides, your cleanup crew will appreciate the reduced mopping and scrubbing they have to do.

While the deathy machine of death looks nice and menacing, and will certainly make an impression on your minions, you can save yourself a wad of cash, a lot of planning and assembly time and a whole heap of embarrassment by going practical with the murdery bits of your plan. Besides, if those special straps break at the wrong time, you’ve bought yourself an expensive liability which is all but guaranteed to bite you in the ass at the worst possible time. Bang-bang-bang-thump, or its setting-appropriate equivalent, is a classic for a reason.

 

  1. Skip the gloating bragfest.

 

Yes, yes, you’re right on the verge of taking command of the entire world, attaining godhood, holding the world at ransom for seven hundred gazillion dollars and the continent of Australia. Good on you. But you ain’t there until you’re THERE, Bucky, and that pesky hero and their meddling friends are just waiting for you and your flunkies to drop the ball.

Which is why, when you have them on the ropes, SHOOT THEM! STAB THEM! KILL THEM A LOT, AND THEN KILL THE PIECES EVEN MORE UNTIL THERE’S NOTHING LEFT TO KILL! THEN BURN THE WHOLE DAMNED MESS! Don’t brag about what you’ve done or are about to do. Don’t tell them what your plans are, or reveal the full, horrible majesty of your inevitable victory and the design which brought it about. Let them wonder what the hell you’re up to as they tumble into oblivion. Not your circus, not your monkeys. You know what you’re doing; they don’t need to. All they need to know is that they lost and you won. It’s not your problem if they have to die with their curiosity unsated. Life sucks; get a fucking helmet!

 

  1. Don’t make enemies.

 

So you’ve got this great plan to achieve world domination, and you’re perfectly okay with breaking a few thousand eggs to make your grand omelet. It’s a surefire victory with no downside, you’re thinking!

Well…no. See, those eggs you’re breaking? They’ve got friends and family, siblings and parents and children who are going to be mighty unhappy about the unfortunate and untimely demise of their peeps. It’s far easier and better public policy to not piss off the people who will ultimately be the cornerstone of your power base. Besides, once you’ve secured your power, you can pretty much do as you like to the approbation of your people, which greatly reduces the odds of someone hatting up and coming for you. Until you’ve got it locked down, though, maybe lay off the human sacrifices, public executions and general assholery, huh?

 

  1. Don’t be boring!

 

Dark robes, menacing followers in faceless uniforms and the basic trappings of the Evil League of Evil are all very fine and good. They’re also played out. Paging Kylo Ren…

The trappings of traditional villainy have become so shopworn they’re really kind of hokey at this point. Be original! If you can stand to walk around in a bright salmon bathrobe and fuzzy bunny slippers, do it. Even the most paranoid and vigilant hero isn’t going to consider someone in that kind of outfit any kind of a threat. It’s even better if you’re well-known for not carrying weapons, and your crew dresses in shirts with duckies and kitties on them.

You can be a villain and have fun with it at the same time! People are willing to forgive a lot in their villains, but they’re NOT likely to forgive a boring or simplistic villain. You’re complex, complicated, intelligent and ambitious. You’re not an amateur who needs to rely on cheap props and yawn-inducing shock tactics. Show it! Play with people’s expectations. Prove you deserve to be on top. Wear your bunny slippers and duckies, and march forward proudly to rule your own future, beholden to no one.

Or, you know, you can go ahead and be a cheap Darth Vader/Sauron knockoff who gets smoked in about .2 seconds by someone who sees you coming a mile away, continuing the lamentable tradition of villains who ignored history and thus doomed themselves to repeat it to its inevitable and terminal conclusion.

Your call.

 

Obviously, writing a villain who doesn’t make any of these missteps poses some challenges. The tropes of villainy have become tropes simply because they’re easy. But you’re not just any mere mortal, you lunatic! You’re a writer, by God! You take blank paper and create and destroy lives, worlds, even whole universes at your will and whim. With such formidable powers of creation at your disposal, surely you can bend these rules to suit your purpose and develop the most terrifying villain of all: the one no one sees coming until it’s too late and their ascension inevitable.

I’d like to thank The Dark Lord Journal for having me as a guest, and you, honored visitors, for playing along and taking this trip with me. I’d like to close with a question for you, if you’re so inclined.

What rules and tropes would you add to this list? How would you change this list to suit your writing, or your villain? I’m excited to hear your thoughts!

 ——-

Born in Amarillo, Texas, Jericho “J.S.” Wayne has lived, worked, and traveled in approximately three quarters of the North American continent, amassing a résumé which could kindly be described as “eclectic” along the way. Currently he lives in Portland, Oregon and feels no particular urge to be anywhere else.

An author in multiple genres, a misanthropic humanitarian and cynical optimist, J.S. spends most of his time when not writing erotic romance turning words into money as a website designer, SEO/SEM consultant and article and blog writer, filling the balance of his hours as a polyamorous kink practitioner and educator. He is fascinated by the use of language, human sexuality, occultism, quantum physics and trying to figure out just what the hell the lyrics to “I Am The Walrus” actually mean. He enjoys receiving mail and comments from his fans, and invites you to follow him on Twitter or simply email him at jerichoswayne@gmail.com!

The Gray Light of Villainy 101 Pt. 2 – Relationships

The Gray Light of Villainy 101 Pt. 2 – Relationships

A guest post by Rennie St. James

We previously discussed our villains’ relationships, both with other characters and readers.  We also mentioned making these characters as ‘flawed’ as our heroes. Let’s continue with those ideas while exploring the gray light of villainy a bit more.

I love the term ‘Mary Sue/ Marty Stu’ for those too-perfect goody-two-shoe characters.  As always, there are different interpretations for the label. Let’s just go with too-perfect, shall we?  How does that translate into a too-perfectly diabolical supervillain?

Not every villain needs to be the all-powerful polar opposite of our hero.  Remember, we are looking for the shadows in both – we are embracing the gray light of our characters instead of painting villains completely black and heroes completely light.  Also, the villain shouldn’t be a plot device that simply blocks our MC’s path. Villains should be living, breathing flesh and blood characters.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Consider applying the same writing tools used to flesh out your hero to your villain.

  1. Interview the character.
  2. Write their backstory – writing this in first person helps me.
  3. Cast an actor into the part to help you visualize.
  4. Give the character obstacles to overcome.
  5. Allow your villain to grow.

I’m going to use a personal example without sharing too many spoilers.  We are all afraid of the murderous psychopath characters, correct? These are the serial killers, lone wolf terrorists, and monsters that creep out of the shadows to star in our greatest nightmares.  As I adore horror movies, there are many representations floating around my head at any given time. I latched onto this vague idea for one of my villains. He came across as wonderfully homicidal, but also incredibly flat and dull after all the blood was shed.  It’s hard to be terrified of a stereotype, a two-dimensional villain.

Exploring his past a bit more gave me some insight into his motivations and his idiosyncrasies.  In truth, the good similarities between him and the hero were what made him terrifying (to the hero, at least).  

Now, we’ve taken those steps and developed a real villain – someone as personal and unique as our hero.  What about his/ her motivations?

Tropes are tropes for a reason – they work.  Our villains could be power-hungry, wronged by destiny, or the injured victim from the hero’s past.  Each one serves the purpose as a base motivation. Again though, we must apply them to our specific character and plot.

[Yes, I had to work in another picture of Loki.]

One way to find our specifics is to look for the light.  We need to find the contradictions and emotional connections our villains possess.  These could be the relationships we discussed previously as those are a great way to shine the spotlight on our villains.  It could also be that our villain simply has a different view than our hero. Perhaps, the hero allowed one to die to save hundreds.  What if the one was someone of importance to the villain? There are many concrete examples of gray areas in our world that may inspire you and/ or your characters.  Environment vs businesses. Animal rights. Immigration. Who the villain often depends on your point of view. The truth may be stranger than fiction at times, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use it to inspire our fictional works.

Now, we have a human (for lack of a better word) villain with motivations and depth.  What’s next?

Such incredible villains demand an incredible plot to reveal themselves.  Who doesn’t like the cliché of the villain’s explanation of their plan to the hero (thus allowing time for the hero to save him/herself)?!  Well, actually, I don’t. It serves a purpose, but it can also come across as a lazy way to tie the plot together.

My favorite villains in books and movies are those that are right in front of us the entire time.  A literary example is Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.  A more pop culture reference would be Jigsaw in the first Saw movie.  The villains are people we don’t quite see as villains until the final revelation.  However, once we look back, we see all the signs are there. Picture the Sixth Sense kid staring with wide eyes and saying ‘I see villains’.  

Those villains are the characters who stick with me as a reader.

Unfortunately, most novels are about the heroes so not every single piece of information about your villain may see the light of day.  As writers though, we will write the villains differently if we see them differently. Writers have the unique ability to lead the reader without telling or dragging them along.  We can also leave them with some doubts and thoughts – maybe even enough reasonable doubt that they wouldn’t convict our villains in court of law.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I understand these points may not sway all writers to approach villains differently.  As such, I’d like to repeat one from another Dark Lord Journal post – the better the villain, the better the hero.  If you want your hero/ heroine to shine then create a shining example of villainy to inspire him/ her to do great things.  

I would still love to hear about your villains so please feel free to comment below.  Together, I think we can bring the villains from the darkness to see at least a little gray light in our novels.

AN – I have very much enjoyed adding my two cents to The Dark Lord Journal.  Thank you for the opportunity and for reading my rambling posts. As a token of my appreciation, I’d like to offer two electronic ARCs of my upcoming novel, Azimuth (Rahki Chronicles, #1).  I will leave it to the Dark One to decide how these ebooks will be awarded! Thanks and happy reading and writing, my friends!

Dark Lord Journal note: We dearly appreciate Rennie’s generous offer of a pair of ARCs.  We’d be honored to award them to two of the first six people to post, chosen at random.  (Because we’ve got a six-sided die next to our collection of poisons over here…

______________________

Find out more about Rennie St. James at www.writerrsj.com.  Rennie St. James shares several similarities with her fictional characters (heroes and villains alike) including a love of chocolate, horror movies, martial arts, yoga, and travel. She doesn’t have a pet mountain lion but is proudly owned by three rescue kitties, and they live in relative harmony in beautiful southwestern Virginia.  Rennie plans to release the Rahki Chronicles in 2018, but new books are always in progress.

Violence Is Ice Cream

a guest post by by Jabe Stafford – @OculusWriter

Books are dessert.

Violence is the ice cream topping.

When you go out to dinner and you find three scoops of vanilla on your sushi, you know someone is friggin’ around or pranking you instead of making sure those flavors go together. Ordering a medium sci-fi waffle cone, then getting a triple-bloody sci-fi horror romance with zombie sprinkles feels as bad as it sounds, especially when you didn’t expect it. Ice cream ain’t the only weapon in a food fight, so if the point of the story you’re writing is violence, then it better be used extremely well or the story’ll melt like it fell out of the freezer and into Hell. The Seventh Circle. With the flaming rivers.

Want readers inhaling the brain food you spent months or years writing? These responsible violence tips will help you get readers to say, “Whoa, did you see that?” instead of, “Ugh, did you see that?”

Never stop writing.

Readers come in knowing their all-time favorite genres and the genres that cause involuntary cookie-coughing. Genre labels help writers and readers gauge how many scoops of violence they want in their brain food. A horror novel will need more violence and vivid descriptions of that violence at times. For urban fantasy, fantasy, and sci-fi, one scoop of violence will do unless the specific injury or expression of that injury is critical to the plot. Sub-genres are helpful, color-blasted labels too. A slasher is gorier than a thriller. Thriller would be gorier than a police procedural. And romance probably ain’t gonna have gore at all. Same concept applies to age range. A middle-grade story will contain an ounce of violence to spice up the action and the stakes, while an adult story can benefit from slathering half a gallon of violence on the right scenes. Picking out the right genre and sub-genre for your work in progress can guide you to the right flavor of violence. You want readers gobbling your book down and not up-chucking bad reviews or abandoning the book outright, right?

Don’t ever stop writing.

Who hates being tricked, deceived, or lied to? I just made you stick your hand up like back in grade school. The violence in your story is in your hands, so it’s up to you to set up audience expectations like domino ice cream sammiches. Use your first chapter as a sample tasting. The amount of owies appearing in chapter one should be somewhat proportional to the overall amount appearing in the whole manuscript. Starting with romance only to lead into multiple serial killer murder competitions is like putting squashed roaches underneath the yummy flavor the reader ordered. Don’t actually do that. With the roaches. They’re endangered. And gross.

Never ever stop writing.

(We’re not saying Jabe is a dark magician, but this IS the picture he sent us.)

Over-the-top nutball violence can be part of a story’s charm once a writer establishes the right genre and sets up the right expectations. Name two of your favorite crazy-violent movies or books. Go! That dark utopian sci-fi with legalized violence under certain circumstances? Yep, they did it well. The classic medieval action story where severed flying limbs reveal the spirit of the story? Yep, they did it well too. It was meant to be gratuitous and they still told a story. If it ain’t believable even in the context you worked your rump off to set up, then it’s too much. And we’ve all read books that hit that Too-Much moment. Want to write a cheesy action horror, a brutal comedy, or a farce? Layer on the bloo-er, ice cream, but remember that no one can eat from an overflowing bowl. Seek out those beta readers as crazy as you are and ask them, “Is there too much murder-death-kill going on and why did it hit you wrong?”

Take a break once in a while, but dadgummit, keep writing.

Stories and *ahem* ice cream can multi-task better than a futuristic supercomputer with ten genius brains. Violence makes for rare, emotional moments in some genres and it paves the characters’ paths in others. Prior proper planning prevents egregious exsanguination. A murder-burner-page-turner of a story can flow like an elegant river from your manuscript, or it can smash the levee down and drown you and the reader in “ugh”s. Take responsibility for your violent scenes, read across multiple genres, and ask people for feedback on your story and the ice cream in it. Books are dessert, so get to know the best toppings.

Confession: This whole blog was a self-nag as well as a helpful sharing session. We’re all working to build the right amount of villainy into our stories together. Let’s do this thing and keep writing!


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.