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.

Villains, Zombies, the Apocalypse, and Reality

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

~Edgar Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never let Reality hold you back.

~Jeff Mach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They never do that.

They surely asked the Orcs before labelling them as enemies.

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

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

That’s got to be the Orcs’ fault.

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

I don’t make monsters.

Definitions make monsters.

You make definitions.

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

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

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

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 .