The Destruction of the Great Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is what she will tell her friends.

And the lie spins ‘round another cycle or two…

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

…. worshipped only by your enemies. Ahem.)

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

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

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

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

-Jeff Mach

How To Create A Villain People Love To Hate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

OVERKILL is UNDERKILL; Wreck That Hero NOW.

A guest post by Jabe Stafford, @oculuswriter


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overkill is underkill – build that dream now.



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

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

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


From the Diary of the Chosen One: On Magic Items

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diary of a Dark Lord ~ “The White Wizard”

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

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

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

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

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

They never see the kid again.

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

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

Hey, is that a knock at your door?

 

 

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 .

 

Villains (huah!), what are they good for?

a guest post by William Davidson

Hi, and thanks for having me.

I am aware that it’s usual for a guest to adhere to a certain social etiquette during their visit: not putting their shoes up on the sofa; not helping themselves to food from the fridge (although I’m afraid that half-eaten trifle was just a bit too irresistible…); and not setting out comprehensively to undermine their host’s entire raison d’etre. So, that said, um…

I want to talk today about whether (and if so, why) we really need villains.

Bear with me.

I’m not talking about the sort of balance of light and shade that we get in real life or most genres of story. It would be an extremely unrealistic tale (and a slightly dull world) if everyone were sweet, gentle and kind all the time. There will always be a place for the difficult, the cantankerous, the obstinate. But a villain is something else – a central implacable opponent who epitomises all that is dark and wrong in the hero’s world. What is it about fantasy (in the broadest sense) that requires the existence of this type of ultimate enemy? As Austen might have put it, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a heroine possessed of magic, or super-powers, or even just a croissant-shaped hairdo, must inevitably be in search of an arch-nemesis against which to wield them. Which got me wondering (if I may momentarily channel Carrie Bradshaw rather than Carrie Fisher), what is the point of the villain?

There is, I accept, something pretty awesome about the epic showdown between a hero and their nemesis. That dialogue fraught with tension, the opportunity for each combatant to showcase the full range of their talents and powers. But… let’s say that you are a hero, with certain specialised skills that you have honed across a series of increasingly challenging adventures. Isn’t a climactic showdown against someone who represents the ultimate test of those particular skills just a little bit, well, convenient?

But it’s more than that: if you are a hero who has decided to set the world to rights, and have a set of flashy powers that are physical and dramatic and above all just crying out to be used, isn’t it frustrating to be spending your time going after bag snatchers and rescuing cats from trees? Isn’t the emergence of an all-powerful, dehumanised enemy who is clearly and unequivocally a bad thing something of a… relief?

I want to talk about three of the greatest super-hero stories in recent years: the Avengers series, Watchmen and the Incredibles. What was the greatest enemy that the creators of these stories could conceive of, in order to put their heroes to the ultimate test? It is not the super-villain, although of course each of those stories does contain plenty of villainy. In each case, it is the stifling constraints of a legislative regime which seeks to regulate super-heroic activity, or to prohibit the heroes from existing at all.

A couple of thoughts came to mind recently while I was re-watching Captain America: Civil War. Firstly, that this is absolutely how humanity would react to a group of super-powered vigilantes. A group who had wreaked enormous damage on civilian property and populations without accepting responsibility for the consequences. We would want to shackle them in bureaucracy, regulate their activities, provide for redress in the event that innocents came to harm. Their loss of autonomy, the possibility of impairing their rapid response, an emboldening of the criminal classes – these would all be risks that were worth running in order to safeguard the citizenry as a whole.

The second thought was this: if I were one of those super-heroes, there would be a little bit of me that really hoped for some massive alien menace to come and beset the Earth, leaving death and destruction in its wake, so that those grey and faceless bureaucrats could see how wrong they were. So that I could be given back my freedom to act. Society doesn’t need villains… but maybe heroes do.

This starts to cast in a different light the role that many heroes have in creating their nemesises… nemeses… ultimate opponents. Psychoanalysts would have a field day with the number of times a hero has a hand in creating his or her villain, whether through action or inaction. Can it be that there is something in the psyche of a hero that drives them to behave in ways that draw out the worst in those around them? Think about Mr Incredible. Stuck in a tedious job into which he has been forced by the rule-makers who have legislated away his powers, physically and emotionally straining against the constraints of a role that prohibit him from doing good in the way that he has always wanted to.

His self-interested, insensitive handling of a fanboy years earlier gives rise directly to the main villain of the piece. But, more critically as far as Mr Incredible himself is concerned, it sets in train a series of events which liberates him from his tedious office-based existence, gets him back in the super-suit and, in the process, enables him to rediscover a sense of self-worth and care for his health and physical appearance. It even, again through the direct agency of the villain, leads to him reconnecting with a family from whom he has become increasingly distant. For everyone else the emergence of the villain is bad news, but for Mr Incredible and his nearest and dearest, it represents almost literally a life-line.

Which, of course, almost irresistibly draws us to Watchmen – arguably (in graphic novel form at least) the greatest super hero story of them all. For every bright colour and pure ideal to be found in the Avengers or the Incredibles, Watchmen has darkness, death, depression and deception (yes! nailed the quadruple alliteration!). But look at the similarities – here we have a hero who quite literally creates the villain (and of course, therefore becomes the villain themselves) in order to demonstrate the need for heroes. What is more, again and again we are presented with heroes who, deprived of the outlet for their core impulses, have deteriorated into something less than what they once were. Seedy, melancholic, and almost heroically pungent in one case, they are washed up and directionless without the ability to be the hero in their own story. Once again, the emergence of the threat, of the villainy, is what resurrects them and re-gifts them their sense of purpose.

Is it really any surprise? Super-heroes (and, I would argue, all fantasy heroes) are essentially coercive characters. Possessed of some capability more potent than those around them, they seek to assert themselves on the world in order to change it. This is all well and good, to a point, where their ideals align with the society which they inhabit. Captain America in the 1940’s and 1950’s could fight against Nazis and Commies all day long without treading on the toes of the land whose name he carried. But it is no surprise that as those obvious threats faded, the stories of Captain America changed, to the point where he no longer felt able to associate himself with his fatherland. To the point where… well, if you know you know, and if you don’t I won’t spoil it for you.

A hero is well-equipped to take on the dark tower, the evil mastermind, the overwhelming invasion. They are singularly poorly equipped for the slow business of diplomacy and compromise. Faced with the task of negotiation, of seeing another point of view and maybe even recognising the truth of it, heroes start getting the urge to smash something up, to punch someone in the face. There is something satisfying for them (and, if we are honest, for us) to having that ability to lash out at a tangible opponent, at a symbol for all that is wrong with the world.

But there is a danger in that mentality. In our story worlds, thought is seldom given to how a new world order created by magical or super-heroic intervention might be sustained. Having demonstrated that an empire can be overthrown by force, any new republic that comes to replace it must expect to see that lesson learnt by their enemies and re-cycled against it in an a perpetual cycle of violence. A throne captured with the assistance of dragons or magic is unlikely to be preserved by liberal words and moderate tax policies. They say that when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In the same way, if the only tool you have is a magic sword, the solution to every problem looks like decapitation.

And if that is true in our fictional worlds, isn’t the risk just as great in the real world? The need to identify a villain, some figurehead against whom all of our vitriol can be directed, often blinds us to the more subtle and insidious problems in the system which they represent. If we spend our time railing against the CEO of a corporation or the leader of a political party (or even a nation), we can lose sight of the flaws in the system which brought them to power. As in George Orwell’s 1984, focusing our anger and our energy in hate of the emblematic figurehead drains us of the energy that we need to bring about the systematic (but slower, and more complicated) reforms that are really needed to effect meaningful change.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a great story of good versus evil as much as the next person. In the context of a simple story, the reductive clash of hero and villain can be a satisfying way to spend a couple of hours or a few hundred pages of text. Let’s just remember that in the real world the dividing lines are seldom so clear cut. Right and wrong are often a little more complicated than the colour of the armour (or cowboy hats) of the combatants. That’s OK, so long as we remember that the problems being confronted are no less real for lacking a visible evil mastermind who is responsible for them. The challenge, for a story-teller who hopes to reflect that reality, is depicting these more subtle challenges without losing the interest of readers who yearn for the epic showdown with the big bad.

——-

Will Davidson is the author of The Seventh Colour, a post-modern fantasy novel set in a world in which elves, dwarves and magic have disappeared and the humans left behind have slumped into lethargy and aimlessness. If that sounds like a laugh a minute, you might like to know that the British Fantasy Society called it “intelligent, amusing yet challenging on what is a very relevant subject” and Black Gate Magazine said that it is a “truly compelling… heist story”. It is the story of heroes with powers they are afraid to use, fighting against enemies who spend more time in bureaucratic committees and getting the folds in their cravats just so than in dastardly plotting or villainous scheming.

Will can be found on Twitter @WordDruid, and more information about his writing can be found at www.the-seventh-colour.com/.

 

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…

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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.