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.


Three Joys Of Writing Evil Characters

"And there's a creepy doll...that always follows you." -Jonathan CoultonThere are so many guilty pleasure in writing villains.  And there’s a dirty little secret – you don’t actually need to feel guilty, because all of these little writing delights can actually make for better characters

1. You can take it way, way over the top.  Obviously, every villain and antihero is different; certainly, some are utterly subtle (consider Terry Pratchett’s Patrician, a man of such quiet and calm that a few of his words can utterly terrify even the very brave).  But if you want someone grandiose, someone whose schemes and words and actions play out like an exploding volcano erupting onto an attacking UFO, your villain can be that person.

Go ahead.  Let your villain monologue; the idea is a cliche, but if the actual fulminations are engaging, you can not only get away with it, you can even make it a show-stopper.

Great villains can even inspire heroes to grandiloquence.  Consider what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own Sherlock Holmes said about Professor Moriarty:

“He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city, He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans.”

2. You can actually be one-dimensional if you want.  Everyone knows that you need to create characters with depth and nuance; that’s an almost inviolate rule.  But (and this will lead us into our last point in a moment) – villains break the rules.  You do need to be careful here; you’re going to need nuanced, developed heroes, because they’re going to have to do the heavy lifting in terms of character development in your story.  But that’s not a bad thing.  What if you treat your villain as essentially a force of nature?  A hurricane doesn’t have a personality, just deeply dramatic effects.  A protagonist who simply meets them all without breaking a sweat will be boring; in contrast, if she fights both inner and outer battles as she struggles against the elements, she can enthrall us.  Your villain could be like that storm: powerful, destructive, theatrical, larger than any single individual.  In other words, your villain has the option of not being a fully-developed human…if her actions allow us to see more of your protagonists’ humanity in the process.

3.  Villains break rules.  Go ahead.  Shatter the fourth wall.  Let something unthinkable be thought.  Let the impossible happen.  Villains are, in effect, a disruptive technology, who either threaten a world (whether that “world” is as individual as a single person’s life, or as large as the Universe) – or who have already taken it from a normal state to some new, disconcerting, dystopic place.  Villains create in massive doses, because they’re fueled by one of the core ingredients of great change: destruction.

Of course, you can do whatever you’d like with your villains–after all, they’re your characters, and you control them.

….hopefully.

~The Dark Lord’s Journal

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