The Gray Light of Villainy 101 Pt. 2 – Relationships

The Gray Light of Villainy 101 Pt. 2 – Relationships

A guest post by Rennie St. James

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

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

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

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

Violence Is Ice Cream

a guest post by by Jabe Stafford – @OculusWriter

Books are dessert.

Violence is the ice cream topping.

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

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

Never stop writing.

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

Don’t ever stop writing.

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

Never ever stop writing.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.”

 

Hey, Quit Laughing

Hey. Quit Laughing

a guest post by Danny DeCillis

It’s every fantasy writer’s nightmare: building a carefully crafted setting, setting the stage for the primary antagonist, and introducing the bad guy in a swirl of black cloaks, thunderclaps, and deep-voiced menace – only to find the reader chuckling in response.

A villain that readers don’t take seriously can be a fatal flaw for a narrative. In order for a story to be compelling, the stakes must seem genuine; if the peril is laughable, then by extension so is the hero who faces it. But creating a villain who is both credible and memorable is more difficult than it seems. Understanding some truths about stories, and people, can help inform your efforts to make Lord Darkness more scary than laughable.

You need to remember the following:

  • Humor is a common psychological defense mechanism. It’s a way people respond to anxiety and stress, a weapon that allows us to emotionally cope with scary things by minimizing them, ridiculing them, reducing them to something that we can laugh at or scorn. It’s natural for people to look for ways to laugh at villains. You have to expect it.
  • Few narrative tropes are as well worn as those of villainy. The desire for the acquisition and/or use of power needs little explanation, so many writers don’t bother to do so. The result can be an antagonist with paper-thin motivations, evil plans that have no rationalization beyond their own realization. It’s easier to dismiss a villain who has no reason for being beyond driving the plot and acting as foil for the protagonist.
  • A hero is only as good as their villain. However, the reverse is also true. If your protagonist is a whiny, unconvincing prat, yet still manages to successfully challenge the villain, it doesn’t say much about the bad guy. If the hero is mockable, then by definition so is their opponent.

So what can you do to avoid this? There are a few narrative strategies you can keep in mind to prevent your villain from becoming an unintended laughingstock.

  • Less is more. Few things are scarier than the unknown. Sauron, the all-seeing antagonist of Lord of the Rings, has essentially zero dialogue in Tolkien’s half-million word epic. Sauron is seen only in metaphor, as a flaming eye in momentary visions, as a whispered threat in the mind of those who come into contact with the One Ring, yet the menace of his presence hangs over the entire work like an oppressive fog. Likewise, Arawn Death-Lord, the antagonist in Lloyd Alexander’s award-winning Chronicles of Prydain, appears only briefly in the final volume of a five-book series, and never in his true form. Villains who remain in the shadows can be extremely effective – provided that you find a way for their presence to be felt throughout the narrative anyway, through the  actions and reactions of other characters and events. It’s hard to laugh at something you can’t see.
  • Actions speak louder than words. A villain who steps forth to proclaim an evil plan is easier to mock than a villain who steps forth to accomplish an evil plan. Look at the first screen entrance of Darth Vader in Star Wars: his faceless minions hammer through the doors of a heavily defended ship, slaughtering the rebel defenders, so that in the aftermath Vader may stride forth in silence, stepping over the fallen corpses of those who stood against him. Vader’s first lines are spoken to a rebel officer he is holding by the throat two feet off the ground; after a brief interrogation, Vader chokes him to death and tosses his dead body aside. Nobody’s laughing now.
  • Finally, you can simply embrace the wit yourself. If humor is already an integral part of the narrative, it is more difficult for an audience to co-opt it and subvert the intended perception of the villain. Many of the most memorable and scary villains are those who get the joke, in one way or another. It might be a cruel, sporadic, or randomly lunatic sense of humor, but by inserting the laughs into the story on your terms, you can actually weaponize the jokes, making it difficult for the reader to turn them back on the villain. Characters such as Loki and the Joker take this narrative tactic to the extreme, but even more serious villains such as Hannibal Lecter get an occasional ghoulish smile now and then from their horrific actions, and are all the more terrifying because of it.

The tone of every story is different; not all villains are the same. You may find that a combination of strategies works best for your antagonist. Whatever you do, remember that humor is a universal human response, and you need to account for it in building your story. That way, you can make sure that when your bad guy steps onto the stage, they get the reaction that you intended.

Danny DeCillis is a science writer by day who has been writing humor by night since 2003, principally for The Watley Review. He has been the head honcho for the humor writer network HumorFeed since 2004 and ran the annual Satire News Competition from 2005-2009. He’s also the founding editor of Check Please!, a journal dedicated to the intersection of humor, satire, journalism, and the web. He’s probably also got another humor site out there under yet another pen name that he hasn’t revealed to anyone. He’s also a game designer whose first game, Big Bad Overlord, is launching on Kickstarter shortly.  Find him at:

Snuggly Villains

Snuggly Villains

A guest post by Jabe Stafford

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

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

Keep writing.

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

Keep writing.

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

Keep writing.

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

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

The Gray Light of Villainy 101

The Gray Light of Villainy 101 – Relationships

A guest post by Rennie St. James

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

Inspirational Acts of Villainy

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

a guest post by Ashildr Dorchadon.

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

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

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

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

Now what does this mean for your average villain?

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

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

The Plot Twist Generator

Welcome to the Dark Lord Journal’s Plot Twist Generator!

Looking for an idea to use?

Just look at the bottom of the page!

Want to offer us a plot twist idea?  We’d love to hear it, and if we use your plot twist, we’ll credit you and link to your website!

Want to submit an idea?  Contact us on Twitter!

Down arrow leading towards The Plot Twist Generator

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PLOT TWIST: Transformation

Someone trusted is actually a lycanthrope, and a recent event triggers a transformation.

What does it do to that character?

How do the other characters react?”
by Dark Lord Journal www.darklordjournal.com

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How To Survive A Hypothetical Horrifying Dystopian Future

In a dark Cyberpunk future, you just try to survive.We feel like almost every imaginative world of misrule could benefit from these thoughts, though this piece uses, for its medium, the now-rare genre of Cyberpunk.

In the late 1980s, visionary scifi/fantasy authors looked around them and extrapolated a terrifying future–“cyber” because it dealt with computers and tech, “punk” because it was dark and nihilistic, yet full of a fierce intensity.

Fortunately, of course, such a world could never come to pass.

But as a public service, we’ve put together some ways you–sorry!  We mean your characters–might be living in a gritty Cyberpunk dystopia.

1.  Beware distraction devices issued by private corporations!   In a traditional dystopia, in general, the government controls the masses.  But in most cyberpunk dystopias, governments sometimes seem to just provide a framework, stretched over a series of corporate interests.

If the government issued everyone with mandatory devices which tracked their location, ruined their sleep, and kept them in a constant state of overstimulation, people would very rightly rebel.

If Individual corporations created communication toys, each with more computing power than possessed by anyone in history, and those companies competed to find the most popular ways to convince people to spend more time at those devices, even making the devices central to one’s life, it might basically start controlling how we live.

Let’s be glad our characters don’t live in that world, eh?

2.  Politics and media go mad.  This is always a controversial subject, but just remember the basics:

While many dystopias dealing with government repression are simply heavily censored, Cyberpunk worlds have so much access to information that even the forces which might otherwise aim to repress info will instead join in the general insanity.  The news in dystopian worlds grows ever more insane, more unbelievable, and more shocking every day.

Since these things are works of fiction, the world news goes from disaster to disaster, with brief glimpses of hope in between.  That creates deep dramatic tension.

This should be a red alert for your characters, since news in the real world would, of course, never do this.

3.  Fortunately, a small group of plucky heroes can save us.  Fictional dystopias are brought down by plucky groups of heroes.  This ragtag group of gifted misfits, against all odds, can identify and defeat an evil villain who is making things go awry.

In real life, you can’t beat a dystopia that way.

Want to know how real-life dystopias go down?

So do we.  If you figure it out, please let us know?

-Dark Lord Journal

If you like our work, please consider giving us a tip so we can continue exploring evil universes together.


IMPORTANT NOTE: This article is not a political statement for or against any party, government, or policy; it isn’t taking any sides.  It’s a perspective for viewing reality, and how you might choose to let that affect your writing.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-B.K. Bass

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