Snuggly Villains

Snuggly Villains

A guest post by Jabe Stafford

Villains commit some terrible deeds, but that’s not why we want to snuggle them. Lovable evildoers are such a dastardly challenge to write. Sometimes an antagonist you pit against your heroine ends up hollow like a chocolate bunny. Gas station night managers sound more exciting than your bad guy on the bad days. If your she-terror sees more couch potato time than action, kick her off it and chuck the couch into orbit. Heads-up: these better-villain tips are things you’ll need to do and re-do at some point, ‘cause no antagonist is, “eh, good enough.”

Straw Man is a term you probably heard when you weren’t listening in English class. Antagonists that are only stereotypes or are only there to be beaten are Straw Women or Men. Were you motivated to care about the cannon-fodder enemies in the latest game you played or novel you read? Then build the habit of not treating your own villains that way. A solid Straw Woman cure to practice is writing from the antagonist’s POV, whatever it may be. First Person, Third Person Close, anything. That villain doesn’t even have to be a narrator in your story. Doing this and reading your own villain’s lines back to yourself will reveal some truth. “Yep, that sounds like a B movie I’d never watch.” “I can tell this bad guy’s faking his role, so the reader probably can too.” Once you hit the point where you could hug your antagonist or see her hoodwinking others into loving her, you know you improved as a writer.

Keep writing.

Villains with the voice of a bored DMV employee are such a drag. They repel reader interest, they radiate unworthiness, and they get dismissed almost as fast as you do when facing said bored DMV employee at the actual place. Starting off with a villain who sounds like this is all right sometimes if it means you build momentum and write 2,000 words in a day. It’s not all right to let this antago-bro or antago-sis stay bland. Don’t mistake willingness to wreck the hero’s life as excitement. Most villains want hero-wrecks. Yours wants more. She wants to be branded onto the brains of readers for her twisted perspective, her daring, or how close she is to being good if only this one tiny thing would change. But it won’t. ‘Cause she’s an exciting villain your readers will savor when you build a stronger voice for her. Search for common words, habit words, and run-on sentences in your baddie. Replace them by hand, one by one, with richer synonyms and short-but-addictive phrases. Don’t know what she’d say? Write some more until you come to a confrontation where you know she’d never say basic things. If writing from the antagonist’s POV isn’t enough, try twenty questions with your antag. Jotting interview questions and answers you got from an imaginary interview with her will drag more of her voice from the sassy or pissed-off depths of her heart cavity.

Keep writing.

Bad guys gotta eat too, so get ‘em hungry. Lazy villains and plot-convenience enemies aren’t a challenge to the hero or to themselves. What’s your antagonist got to lose if the protagonist wins? Did cursed porcu-bees get him rich and the hero’s siccing lawyer clerics on him to ruin his revenue and reputation? That antagonist fought hard to be public enemy number one thru ten. (Or to get whatever reward came with that status.) The most snuggleable villains are ones that gradually descend or that are so memorably active that the reader can’t help but love them despite their crimes. So make those crimes craveable to read. Challenge yourself to write down multiple reasons for each of your antagonist’s choices or crimes. “X was the easiest way,” and, “Y got him more thrills,” and, “Z was the way to make sure no one else knew I did it.” Anything can go on that list. Desire to see the hero suffer more, or to murder the hero because death means no more guff from that hero. Passion to prove he can control or outwit others, often many others, at once. Cold devotion to one goal with a few sincere emotional moments that hint at remorse or a love before the frigid soul takes over again. Or just because it was fun. That glee on the baddie’s mug has to be earned, but taking the time to flip-flop their motivations might lead to even more unique villains. Finding the three most ready-at-hand options for an antagonist’s crimes is a good way to weed out the week and predictable options. Try that next time your villain flops down on the couch and refuses to obstruct the hero. It’s a two-for-one too: if the reader can only see the antagonist’s intent once in a while, and they see the plan pay off despite being unable to guess the intent, they’ll trust in your villain. And then you have them.

Keep writing.

“Eh, good enough” villains ain’t snuggly. A bread sandwich is more satisfying than a Straw Man antagonist losing or winning. Readers develop mistrust-o-vision when a villain’s voice sounds mediocre or skippable. Unmotivated baddies that can’t be bothered to scratch their own asses won’t kick your hero’s the way it needs to be kicked. Villains make the heroes, so keep writing and enjoy being bad. For good story’s sake.

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.

The Gray Light of Villainy 101

The Gray Light of Villainy 101 – Relationships

A guest post by Rennie St. James

Before we can delve into the gray light of villainy, we must first touch upon the definition for villain. Below are just a few:

-a character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot.

-a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel; or a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot.

-a dramatic or fictional character who is typically at odds with the hero

Any good villain can easily find several gray areas in all of these definitions. Perhaps, we can find more clarity in the definition of a hero then.

-a main character of a literary work who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through feats of ingenuity, bravery or strength.

-a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character.

Well, that makes it as clear as mud, doesn’t it?! I like to think of heroes and villains as two sides of the same coin. However, we treat them quite differently when writing. We shine a bright light of love onto our heroes while bathing our villains in darkness. There are many avenues to right this wrong, and this particular post will focus on villainous relationships.

One of the best ways to make our MCs more likable is to use their relationships with other characters. The surprising bromance and tender spot for animals are classic examples which give our heroes depth. The hooker with a heart of gold and bad boy with a secret charity abound in romances. No man is an island after all…and neither is a villain.

Now, every good villain has an army of underlings at their disposal. It’s often the case that the villain has a twisted past with the hero as well. However, those relationships only serve to reinforce their dastardly natures. What makes the villain more complex are their more personable relationships.

Hannibal Lector and Clarice is perhaps a well-known relationship that serves to define him in a new light. For the Potterheads like me, there’s Snape and Lily. It wasn’t Snape’s relationship with Dumbledore, Harry, or Voldemort that created a complex character; it was the underlying love hidden under the snark and darkness. Always.

To paraphrase one of my favorite writing quotes – write each character as if they are the hero of their own story.

In my fantasy series, I have a number of dastardly villains ranging from political snakes to terrorist masterminds. How do you write these characters as heroes even if only in their own minds?

I write first person POV character pieces for each. My pieces are typically something short that details a turning point in his/ her past. And yes, it helps if a good relationship is explored in a new way. These stories never have to be revealed in the book. Nonetheless, they will still impact the way the villain is written. They can make the villain even more human than the hero.

Heroes often exist outside of our skill set and standards. They are far beyond what most of us can hope to accomplish in our normal lives. Must the villain’s evil nature be far beyond our reach as well?

Writers are often encouraged to give our heroes flaws, but what about giving our villains any good traits? I think should remember that it’s perfectly acceptable for villains to do somewhat good things at times or even bad things for a good reason. Those bright spots in our villains’ lives contrast nicely with the shadows of death, destruction, and mayhem constantly cloaking them. They also create more of those lovely gray areas.

It isn’t just about the villain’s relationships with other characters, but also their relationship with the reader. While the hero’s goodness may be beyond most of us, the villain’s flaws and relative goodness are things we can appreciate and understand. Forming a connection to a villain makes it easier for us to cheer for them even if they are breaking the law or set against the ‘good guy’. Frankenstein? Loki? The Inside Man? The A-Team?

There are countless examples of villainous characters making questionable choices that we overlook or even relish. Sometimes, it’s just a spitefulness inside us that celebrates their vindictive natures to punish those who have wronged them (as we would like to do). Sometimes, it’s that the villain seems infinitely more likable to us.

To again reference HP, no one is all good or all bad. Each of us have light and darkness inside. Relationships are one way to spotlight the white light of goodness in a villain. On the flip side, relationships can also reveal the darkness in a hero. These contrasts and gray areas can make all the characters deeper and more human.

Again, heroes and villains are simply different sides of the same coin. Take a moment and review your villain in a new light and see what happens. Are there gray areas in which your villain shines? Do they have a strong bond to a good character? Is there an underlying good reason for their choices that readers can understand? Maybe you already have a favorite villain you cheer for in your writing? I’d love to hear about him/ her so please share in the comments.

 


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.

Inspirational Acts of Villainy

What kinds of villainy might be inspirational for your characters? What kinds of evil are enticing?

a guest post by Ashildr Dorchadon.

Looking for inspirational acts of villainy? Allow us to suggest a few!

Include (but are not limited to):
• Setting fire to/annihilating natural environments/anything worth more than a temporary structure
• torturing a *cute* good guy into insanity-induced psycopathy then unleashing them on their ex-friends
• any use of Greek Fire seeing as it can burn anything and nothing less than an incredibly specific magic spell puts it out
• vocal/a capella singing while going about villainy to increase creep factor

Do not include:
• killing
• cackling
• torture
• other normal acts of villainy
As these are standard procedure and even a paragon-type hero will resort to these when necessary. It’s the specifics that set us apart from morally grey characters and the good guys.

Bonus points if:
• You do it like a hero would if they came to the dark side
• You wear pink, bright yellow, a poncho, daisy chains or anything else vaguely happy
• You defend the actions with consequences that are morally acceptable overall

Now what does this mean for your average villain?

Generally speaking, the average villain might dabble in inspirational villainy, but a master will manage to pull a new one off every time. If you can’t, that’s fine. Human history is chock-a-block with nasty examples like catapulting severed heads over the walls in a medieval seige. And mythology is practically made out of gruesome torture for the wicked and monsters to perpetrate them like the Japanese Umibozu or the Slavic Vodyanoy. Krampus is a little too well known, but if you can make it work, so much the better.

These work so well because folklore monsters are notorious for sending children mad (example of inspirational act number two – how about The Slender Man and his like) or doing acts of terrible destruction whilst justifying it to a core moral centre (bonus point three). They’re excellent ways of slipping in pre-built evil into an existing world even if the villain is low-powered, not really evil or just plain doesn’t exist. As an extra benefit, people can only hear the shamans and elderly saying “I told you so.” and will be much more likely to heed false scare stories thereafter which distracts the authorities until it blows over.

Evil Not Included – Guest Post by B.K. Bass

Often when coming up with the concept for our villains, the first thing that comes to mind is considering what kind of Evil they shall wreak upon the world.  Be it conquest of all known lands or crushing all who stand in their way under a hobnailed boot, great villains often have dark schemes in mind.

However, does a character have to be Evil to be a villain?

One advice we hear often is that a villain should be developed enough to be the protagonist in his own story.  Another is that villains should sometimes think that they are doing what is either necessary or right.

Do they have to be the embodiment of pure evil, or can they just have different opinions from our protagonists?

In my current project – Warriors of Understone – the conflict in the book is internal to the society of dwarves that I have created.  There could have been a goblin invasion or some other such external conflict, but exploring an intricate web of political rivalries seemed like an interesting background upon which to build a tale that features the oft-sidelined stout folk.

The primary antagonist in this book is Thane Volgas, a lord of some renown and influence within the city of Understone.  He is a staunch proponent of maintaining the traditions of his people. His fight is not one of conquest or oppression, but one of preserving the values which he and most in his culture hold as the best path to a stable society.

Supporting him is Shagoth, one of his warriors and cousin to our protagonist; Durgan.  Shagoth is less complicated in his motivations as Volgas, but he is a loyal follower of his lord.  He looks down upon the labor caste, and persecutes his cousin mercilessly.

The conflict herein is the struggle of change versus tradition.  The antagonistic side of the conflict wishes to maintain the status quo, and our hero wishes to make changes in society that he feels would benefit his people.  Durgan, with the help of Thane Marthok, fights to allow those born into the labor caste to make their own way in life. As a stonecutter’s son, he is fated to follow in his father’s footsteps.  He wishes to become a warrior, and Marthok is helping him to achieve this.

Our villains, therefore, are only antagonists because their political and social views oppose those of our protagonists.  Writing the story from their perspective, Durgan and Marthok could be painted as upstarts and rebels trying to upset the stability of the kingdom.

So, as we see here, villainy does not always include evil as a pre-requisite.  There are many forms of conflict that we can explore, and we have little further than our own world to look for inspiration.  Examining our own political situations can inspire many interesting possibilities, and discussing these through the lens of fiction can also open new dialogues that could change our own world.

-B.K. Bass

Author B.K. BassB.K. Bass writes at his studio in Tennessee. He enjoys crafting science fiction, fantasy, and gothic horror. B.K. has long been an avid reader, film buff, and all-around geek.

Evil As A Defense Against Writer’s Block – 3 Writing Prompts

The power of inspiration is limitless.  Unfortunately, it can sometimes be very difficult to access.

In times of trouble, consider calling upon…. your villain.

Here are three ways to adopt this as a writing exercise:

  1. One of the greatest challenges is that the things which give us writer’s block are often extremely mundane (though they can be deeply traumatic, like loss of a loved one, or divorce).  These are “enemies” of the mind which can’t be defeated by witty scientists and sharp swords.  But what if it were actually villainy?  If a villain were causing your problems, what would their powers be?  Why would they be using them to do this to you?  Taking your real-life problems and converting them into the stuff of fictional darkness might just let some lightness into your heart… and get your typewriting clicking again.  (Cautionary note: Don’t take the step of falling into the fantasy that your problems are really the result of villains.  For one thing, that would make you more resistant to our plot to take over the world.)
  2. What Would A Villain Do?   Turn your problem on its head.  Unsure what should happen with your protagonist?  Unsure about how to defeat that blank page?  Use a favorite villain (yours, or someone else’s – and go through the mental exercise of thinking about how that villain would approach your situation.  What would she do?  What would she write?  What would be on her mind?  Try getting it out on paper (or screen) – and see if it gives you the perspective to start again.
  3. There is no number three.  Actually, to be more specific, we’re attacking our own writer’s block using the second idea.  What would our villain do?  Why, she would assuredly create something that looked like a writing exercise, but was actually a subliminal trick to re-awaken the power of the imagination inside of you, thus making the world a more magical and creative place, one which would truly appreciate our villain’s flair and world-straddling ambitions.
  4. …and here’s an actual third tip, since you really deserve the three exercises you were promised.   Every villain has an untold story.  Not just a backstory or an origin, but the story of what makes them tick on a daily basis, what gets them through the day, how they feel about themselves.  That story is often divorced from reality–but very real to them.  What happens if you try putting that on paper?  That’s a tale seldom told–so there can’t be a wrong way to tell it.

 

-Dark Lord Journal

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Kill Your Villains – Permanently

bigstock--136175810 - smallerIf you truly love your villains, then you need to do something very hard:

If they die, let them die.

We don’t mean you should engage in wholesale slaughter.  We still feel that, most of the time, stories where lots of characters die on a regular basis have a number of challenges in terms of letting your audience feel safe caring about them.

But if a villain dies–let the villain die.  Let your stakes be real.  Let death matter.

It’s not impossible to find a really fascinating plot twist or a great reason for someone’s return.  We’re not saying it’s never possible.  We’re just saying: the world is damn tired of seeing villains go down, only to see them get right back up again in a sequel or, even worse, another chapter.

It’s fairly frustrating even in video games, and games have an excuse–they need a reason for the Boss Battle to evolve, because the person taking in the media has some control over their own destiny.  Even inside of games, though, players want–and deserve–an opportunity to fight something evolving, something that becomes new enough that there’s meaningful change.

Sure, we love villains–this is an entire blog about the love of villainy.  But the truth is, a really beloved villain deserves:

  1. A meaningful death.  Why has this powerful force in the story been taken out of it?  What purpose does it serve?
  2. A death which affects us emotionally.  If we don’t care about the villain’s end–even to rejoice–then perhaps we haven’t been sufficiently hooked into her life.
  3. A death which is permanent and true; a real reason to mourn her if we cared about her, a reason to feel relief if we feared her.

It’s true – you can bring your villain back.  You’re the writer and creator; you can do anything.  But some powers need to be used very, very sparingly.  Because if villain death loses meaning, then the villain loses meaning–and if that happens, the whole tale could lose its impact altogether.

-Dark Lord Journal

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PVSD: Post-Villainy Stress Disorder – a character challenge

Success, too, can be bitter

What happens after your character takes over the world or defeat the hero?

In the general Heroe’s Journey of Western writing, of course, the situation is highly temporary, and villains hardly have time to regret anything before they’re simply overthrown.

But it need not be that way.

What’s your villain going to do now that she’s won?

What’s his plan?

Does it make your antagonist happy?

….or is it an oddly hollow victory?

Villains are often overachievers.  They need to make and do things.   What happens when they’ve created a new situation…

….and that ends their dreaming?

WRITING EXERCISE:

Whether or not you plan to let your villain win, consider a scenario where she has.  Then take a piece of time for your villain to reflect.  What does she feel? Triumphant? Empty? Excited? Scared?

What happens after Evil wins?  Is it content?  Is it still hungry?  And either way–how does that feel?

What if victory is…horrible?  How does your villain deal?  There aren’t a lot of therapists for villains out there.

-Dark Lord Journal

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Who’s The Villain In This Story, Anyway? (Philosophy, writing exercise)

“People who claim that they’re evil are usually no worse than the rest of us… It’s people who claim that they’re good, or any way better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of.”
― Gregory Maguire, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West”

How many villains believe that they’re villains?

“Evil” is a complex and abstract concept. It varies with social mores, historical circumstances, perception of the world, and interpretations of the ramifications of your actions. Are you sure it’s your Villain who’s the “evil” one?

We usually see this clash in a time and place which is deeply advantageous for the “hero”.  It usually happens near the end of a tale, when the antagonist’s plans are almost realized, and the antagonist takes time to lecture the protagonist on the question of who is really serving society’s needs.

Bond villains are famous for this (there’s even a board game based on the villain’s need to gloat and justify his position), and Bond himself tended to respond simply by saying that they were mad, megalomaniacal, perhaps paranoid or suffering from a persecution complex.  We knew the truth of the matter, though:  Bond stood for England, a generally “good” place, and those he fought wanted to destroy or ransom the world, commit crimes with many victims, take part in mass murder, or fuel organizations based on murder or terror.  It was a simple world, but it was logically consistent.  (Particularly as Bond himself was not wholly without conflict about his own actions; he never stopped believing that fighting for England was a good thing, but he did have his doubts about the righteousness of some of his kills and other actions.)

Consider this thought:  What if you chose not< to make these questions the end?  What if they didn’t simply come up as part of a final confrontation?

What does your hero do if consistently offered a logical, reasonable way of seeing the villain’s point of view?

Candidly, too often, what we see are frankly heroes who are just too pig-headed and, perhaps, ignorant to grasp the philosophical argument.  We see a bit of “You’re crazy, I’m good and you’re bad, why are we having this conversation?”

CHALLENGE:

Let your heroes really be confronted by the moral questions of your villain.  Let your protagonist(s) consider what it would mean if the villain is right and they’re wrong.  What would that look like?  What would that self-doubt tell us about the protagonist?  How would they eventually conquer it?

Would they conquer it?  It takes courage to be a villain; how much more courage does it take to shift sides because you decide you’ve been wrong all along?

-Dark Lord Journal

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The Villain’s Journey

We often speak about the Hero’s Journey, and that has been a classic Western model of examining a plot.  But what about the Villain’s journey?  Does it parallel the hero?  Did the villain’s action happen before the hero could do anything; is it all wholly reactive?  Or does the villain have her own arc, her own sense of meaning and purpose?  Is she just a part of the terrain, her schemes simply a mountain blocking the hero’s path, or is she a being with her own agency, her own choices, her own rich interior life?

Your hero may not care—but your reader will.

There Heroes’ Journey itself has been documented pretty extensively.  But the Villain’s Journey?  Not so much.

Here are some ways of creating your villain’s journey:

  1.  Does your villain think of herself as the villain?  …or as the hero?  How so?
  2. What is her great challenge in life?  Is it “the heroes”, as in traditional low fantasy?  Or is it something internal – like hubris, or overconfidence?
  3. What makes your villain more successful than others?  Why is she a threat when others are just a nuisance?
  4. Is this a Greek tragedy for your villain, is she doomed to fail?  Or does she have a chance?
  5. What motivates her?  What keeps her going?
  6. Does she need to stay a villain?  Could she become “good”?
  7. If she can’t – why not?
  8. If she purely, simply embraces evil–why?  As Voltaire says, “No-one loves you when you’re evil”.  What made her choose this path?

-Dark Lord Journal

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Can We Take Funny Villains Seriously?

bigstock--211753084 - smaller

Can we take your villains seriously if they’re funny?

Absolutely.  It depends how, why, and when they’re funny.  The 1950s Joker inserted seemingly random stand-up material into his heists and into needlessly complicated deathtraps.  It wasn’t boring, but it wasn’t very often…funny.  You got the idea of a failed standup comedian turned to crime who forgot to turn off the “comedian” bit.

In a world of the MCU, the works of the late, lamented Terry Pratchett,  and a general sense that any main character can get off a few biting quips at any time, your Villain’s in a unique position–assuming she takes advantage of it.  If you’ve got something funny to say, allow us to suggest three rubrics.

  1. Villains can go to social and moral spaces which are barred for others.  Using the death of a dozen cute furry things as a joke?  That’s not funny, that’s just gratuitous (and questionable) animal cruelty for the sake of establishing character.  On the other hand, seeing people die and making a biting comment about how you’ve just sped up the normal workings of society?  THAT can hit home.  In short – your villain is operating from a unique place in the world, and thus able to comment on it in ways prohibited to others.  Take advantage of it.
  2. Is it ZANY, or is it FUNNY?  The distinction’s quite important.  Anyone can be silly, and any circumstances can be silly; the entire genre of humorous scifi in the 1980s was based on ridiculous situations – “Oh, no, we’re trapped on the moon, and all we have to eat is cheese!”  The circumstances are odd and could be risorial. But it’s not actually funny.  Got an acerbic comment to drop on the situation, perhaps a commentary on what would lead a world to people a quality with dairy products?  THAT is where the barb strikes home.
  3. Dare.  Your hero can be an outcast, an outsider, someone not ruled by conventional mores.  Why should she tell the same jokes as everyone else?  Let her find humor in something peculiar and weird – it doesn’t have to be cruelty necessarily; you don’t have to use this to establish meanness or psychopathy.  Just one simple trait: different.  Your villain sees things differently; what does that do to the rare moment when they express a sense of humour?

-Dark Lord Journal

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