Minions Matter Most

A guest post by Jabe Stafford, @oculuswriter

One person sure as hell didn’t build The Pyramids on their own.

Or the Death Star.

It was people with goals to meet or family to care for that did that.

Villains gotta help others in order to complete their nefarious schemes. Equipping every marching minion with the lasers and shields they’ll need to protect their brains is a no-brainer. Hand your jabronie slimes some weapons and say, “fire that way,” and see how important it is to teach them to manifest hands and shoot. No teach, bad shot, no face. Minions need their faces. Armchair Dark Lords get less respect than Rodney Dangerfield unless they’re seen on the battlefield, igniting the armchair and assuring that ‘Died-by-La-Z-Tov Cocktail’ goes on the heroes’ tombstones. Minions matter most, and the greatest villains know how to lead them best.

What is it a minion’s gonna need? Anti-gravity boots? Spreadsheets? A dozen laser shurikens? Leading means preparation not just for you and your handlebar moustache, but for your flunkies too. Doesn’t matter how overloaded the antagonist is. One flunkie in a wife beater VS any decent hero = cannon fodder enemy syndrome. Readers can sense that shit. If you write a bunch of chapters with ‘eh, that doesn’t matter’ obstacles in the way, your book gets put down. Either your baddie’s losing sleep and cranking out hardcore equipment for the crew, or he’s put-down-able. Even CEOs know mercs don’t come with their own equipment and if they do, it’s probably not up to the standards you’ll both need to beat Noblehead’s head in. Minions matter most, so treat them like they’re important in your writing and your villain’s eyes. Equip them.

Teach them too. Show-and-don’t tell demonstrations of your minions’ skills make for dadgum good storytelling. If your minion is willing to backstab old friends for that sexy sexy reward, then they earned it. That’s how your villainess will know how much the henchmen have learned and what else they’d be capable of knowing. “Dumb as a styrofoam brick” has no place on any minion’s resume, and ain’t no antagonist got time for twelve or more years of schooling henchmen. Teach ‘em what they’ll need to reach your pure goal and put ‘em in situations to use what you taught. Faith built on a foundation like that is the best kind of evil to read about. The antagonist who gives back blurs the lines of good and friggin’ evil like six shots blur the roadway. (Think and drive, don’t drink and drive.)

And your antagonist should be out on that roadway, uppercutting cars and wrecking every step in the protagonist’s plan. Name a villain off the top of your brainpan that only gave orders and succeeded. Closest I can think of is a wrinklebag who zapped his servant’s son and a bald mob boss that fights maybe three nerfed people in three seasons. Those backseat bad guy types get overshadowed by ambitious underlings so fast it’s like a solar eclipse flash mob. Pure ecstatic villainy for thirty seconds, then disappointment and yuck the rest of the time. Do you want readers to associate “yuck,” or, “terrible,” or their synonyms with your antagonist? Then write a villain who does shit and thinks a few steps ahead of the M.C. Minions will follow a bad guy that goes to bat for them.

Prior proper planning prevents piss poor performance in your minions. Gun fight coming? No knives for them. Laser fight coming? No dart guns for them. Leading your underlings means knowing what they know and sharing what they’ll need to learn to keep them in black cloaks and you in power. Cronies gotta know these things, but even cronies won’t stay on the payroll if the Big Ol’ Boss is more sloth than boss.

Minions – and writing – matter most. Don’t neglect ‘em.


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

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


From the Diary of the Chosen One: On Magic Items

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diary of a Dark Lord ~ “The White Wizard”

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

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

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

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

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

They never see the kid again.

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

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

Hey, is that a knock at your door?

 

 

Trust Your Local Villainess

a guest post by by Jabe Stafford – @OculusWriter

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

By following through on her plan.  

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

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

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

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

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

So do that.  

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

Show it.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go forth and make the evil happen in your stories. 

That was my plot this whole time. 

Happy Halloween!

 

 

Jabe Stafford enjoys writing stories about alcoholic angels and drunk demons. He likes chatting ’em up after they’ve had a few, and the stuff they say is so bizarre that it makes his life of writing and office work sound mundane by comparison. The demons seem most interested in his years as a martial arts instructor, but then they brag about magic and challenge him to arm wrestle. Don’t arm wrestle a drunk demon or a sober one. Just read about ’em.
His wanderings have taken him to the UW-Madison Writer’s Institute and the Write-By-The-Lake Retreat. He writers with the Middleton Creative Writers, where his fellow authors hear those stories about the demons he tried to arm wrestle. He’s earned a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from UW-Madison, a Teaching Certification from Edgewood College, and a first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Great Villains Aren’t Always Superhuman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

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

 

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

A guest post by Josh Simons (@confusedlich)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

______________________

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.

A Villain’s Truth

A Villain’s Truth

by Zachary S. Cauler

My wife and I recently went to the movies and being the nerdy souls that we are, we decided to see Incredibles 2. Now, I won’t spoil anything, but as the movie progressed, I found myself sympathizing with the story’s villain more and more. When they launched into the classic villainous monologue, I turned to my wife and said, “They’re not wrong.” Even after the movie concluded, I found myself thinking that while the villain went to lengths most people would think are extreme, there was truth in what drove them.

All this got me thinking: How often do the villains of our stories actually speak truth? And how can I use this to strengthen the villains in my own stories?

Since diving into these questions, it’s become more and more apparent to me that most, if not all, villains speak the truth. Maybe not exclusively, maybe they bury it under a heaping pile of lies or distort it, but the truth is there. Better still, when the hero stumbles onto truth, it seems to be the villain who led them to it. So, whatever is driving the villain to act, whatever is pushing them to use ever-increasingly barbaric methods, it seems to me that the villains most memorable to us are the ones who have their base motivations rooted in the truth. They see the world as it is, not as it should be —like the hero does.

Now, I’ve considered how best to implement this in my own stories so I might share it with you, but unfortunately, I don’t have a “one size fits all” method. The best I can give you is several examples of villains who are firmly grounded in a truth about their world. These examples have guided me in helping my own villain find a truth on which to plant herself and it is my hope they’ll do the same for you.

 

~Cersei Lannister~

Despite all of the lies one could lay at her feet, there is a measure of truth behind the way Cersei Lannister of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones acts in the world. Everything she does is predicated on one simple fact: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” In the beautiful moment when she is confronted by Ned Stark, where we get this wonderful line, Cersei not only speaks a truth Ned is unwilling to accept, but also gives the reader (or viewer) a glimmer of how she sees the world and the lengths to which she is willing to go in order to see her will come to pass.

Whatever you may think of Cersei as a character, or a villain, those of us who’ve read the book, (or watched the show), know that she is correct, as Ned goes on to find out. The world of Game of Thrones is harsh and unforgiving and only those with the will to do whatever it takes will gain the Iron Throne. In this, Cersei is a perfect example of a villain who’s caught hold of a truth about the world in which she dwells and uses it to place herself ahead of those who cannot.

Where Ned saw the world as it should be, Cersei saw the world for what it was.

 

~The Joker~

Of all the villains to hold a pedestal in my twisted writer’s heart, none have ever managed to climb as high as DC Comic’s Joker as played by Heath Ledger. There is something about the unpredictably of such a character that draws me in. I can’t imagine fighting an enemy whose motivation is, as Alfred simply put, “to watch the world burn”, even if he has to burn with it. It’s terrifying. But beyond that, I find there’s something more to him, something beyond the face paint and scars that makes him such a fantastic villain: He’s right about Gotham.

Succinctly put, the Joker is driven by one simple truth: everyone is just as insane as he is and are all capable of committing the same atrocities of which he is guilty. Sure, they may try to hide it behind a façade of courtesy and well-mannered behavior, but in the darkness of their hearts, they are murderers, thieves & rapists the same as him, all of them craving chaos. And as those of us who’ve watched the movies know, he’s right. While Gotham manages to resist his influence at the end of The Dark Knight, all it takes is a little pressure (i.e. the events of The Dark Knight Rises) and the citizens of Gotham drop all pretext of being “good people”, embracing the chaos and their own inner darkness.

 

~The Sith~

“Peace is a lie[.]” Perhaps the most memorable part of the code by which the Sith of the Star Wars universe live their lives, it is a statement which immediately grabbed my attention upon first hearing it. I don’t think a more brutal truth is spoken throughout any of the myriad of stories that take place within the Star Wars universe, and yet, again, it is a truth to which the characters we are led to see as heroes remain (almost willfully) blind.

Even the existence of the Jedi, warriors whose sole drive is to bring peace, stand as a testament to the truth of the Sith code. If peace were not a lie, soldiers would not be necessary to enforce such an illusion. The Sith are more than willing to accept the fact there will always be conflict and allow that truth to make them stronger. It is because of this, I think, they are always able to come back after a defeat. Their view of the world lends itself well in a galaxy where conflict rages even in times of “peace”, and for those who simply don’t wish to be swallowed up by the fighting, the power behind such a truth is tempting indeed.

 

Conclusion

As you can see, while all of these villains differ in their approach when it comes to acting in the world, they all share a common link. Each of them has discovered an alarming truth about their world, yet instead of shying away from it to hide in the comforting veil of lies their society provides, they embrace it, pushing hard to test the discovered truth against the lies of the world. As a result, they become a reckoning power upon their world, forcing the heroes for which we’re led to cheer to either deal with the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or fail.

These examples should shine a light on how best to root whatever villain comes to life within your stories in a foundation of truth. Even if the monster birthed from your imagination is a prolific liar with an unhealthy relationship with the truth, I firmly believe if you want to make them a foe worth fighting (and thus gain your audience’s enthrallment & possible sympathy) you need to ground him/her in the truth. Those who see the world as it is hold a significant advantage over those who don’t and, as we can see from the stories we all hold dear, can make for truly memorable villains.  

I would like to thank the Dark Lord Journal for giving me the opportunity to write this posts, and I hope you found the topic of villains and truth as fascinating as I do.

About the Guest Author:

“Zachary S. Caulwer: Writer of dark fantasy. Lover of all things medieval. Married to the greatest woman alive.

Find Zach on Twitter at twitter.com/ZacharyS_Cauler.

He’s on Instagram at www.instagram.com/zscauler.”