What If My Villain Is a Complete Monster?

Greetings, Minions! In this late hour, I wanted to address the Complete Monster and its craft (this TvTrope page is short and has precious few links so relatively safe from getting you trapped in a wikiwalk).

The Complete Monster is an appealing villain I think because as much as we all love badace heroes who are just so kickbutt and awesome and valiant, we also love terrifying, dreadful villains that are so awful and horrendous that their very existence makes us all a little worse. The idea of True Evil is an interesting one – it’s linked to black and white morality, which we all know is a farce but it’s a romantic idea to us anyway. Black and white morality makes things easy and there’s nothing like an enemy that is just bad – “at least we know for certain that he needs to be destroyed”.

So I’ve spent a lot of time declaring that villains are people too, but how does this reconcile with the Complete Monster? The CM has absolutely no concept of love or any sort of empathy. He lacks humanity – so he’s not really a ‘person’. He IS a monster. Does this mean I don’t think you should make a CM?

There are precious few rules in writing that a writer can’t break and have it work. I should hope that if I said, never make a CM, many of you would disobey me. But I’m not going to give that directive, instead I’m going to caution. CMs areĀ quite difficult to pull off well. A large portion of the difficulty is alleviated if you are familiar with and practiced in executing my five main points of villainy, particularly that a villain does evil things because he is evil, not the other way around. Even with that mastered, however, a proper CM that not just your characters but that your reader will properly fear and despise is still a hard sell because for something so soulless as a CM, without the ability to truly relate to the character, the CM comes off as a movie monster. Terrifying, sure, but fake. And yet, the whole point of a CM is that it’s beyond redemption, beyond immoral. Beyond evil. The reader should not, cannot, relate to this thing.

And that’s where villains being people, too, come in. My best advice is that, even if it’s pre-book, you develop your CM. He, or she, needs to have been a person at some point in time. No one is born a complete monster, even if they are well pre-disposed to become one, in either nature or nurture. If a villain does come directly into existence as a CM, I think what you have more is a primordial evil and not so much a complete monster and you’re going to have the hardest of times selling it otherwise. Is it possible? Yes. But I wouldn’t try it unless your story needs it – your story cries for it, your story wants it, not just you. So come up with the character’s past. You don’t even need to necessarily tell the readers that past, allude to it, hint at it – you just need to know it. Like so much else,that hidden background for your use only, never to present itself in the story, will make your writing better. It will help you shape his motives, which he still needs to have, and adequately else he fall into mindless monster territory. It will help you with his personality – which again, he still needs to have. A CM isn’t a creature that must be destroyed, it’s a person that must be destroyed (or sequestered or whatever) – and people have personalities. It’s the qualities you need to watch for, the redeemable qualities.

Hannibal: Complete Monster? I would probably label him as such. And yet, in a way, he is relateable in the way he is abhorrent.

A possible requirement for a psychopath is glibness. What that means for you is that your CM could, potentially, even be appealing in personality. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a redeeming quality – it just has to be a slippery lie. There’s a huge difference between a silver-tongued killer and a silver-tongued entertainer, and someone who is just genuinely flattering and kind. When the appeal of personality is just a farce, meant to draw in to death, that’s just like a sweet scent on a carnivorous plant. It’s not a redeeming quality, it’s not “a good thing” about the plant, it’s a evil that’s all a part of the trap.

But your CM doesn’t have to have a pleasant personality, either. He just has to have some personality. You drift too far from what makes a human a human, and you fall into completely alien territory, a monster that is just a monster. Yes, a CM lacks humanity in that he lacks any sort of morality, any goodness – but he’s still, technically, a human.

And that’s what makes him so terrifying. Humans aren’t supposed to be able to get that far. Even in our romanticized black and white morality, the bad guy is never that bad. He has something. And of course a real person has more than that, because morality is grey within each of us. Each of us do things that are good and evil, some more good than evil, some more evil than good, but no one is pure evil. Humans don’t do that. And when they do, they’re not human anymore.

And that’s your key to making a CM that is truly bone-chilling. He reaches the threshold of “not human anymore” and continues to be a human. And that’s where “villains are people, too” comes into play with the Complete Monster. Your labors have put your reader squarely in the same race, same species as that utterly despicable villain.

Complete Monsters are people, too – and that’s a terrifying thought.

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Family Matters – Perhaps Even to A Villain

When I first typed “family matters” I did just mean, matters of the family. But to make it clear this post IS to be a post on villains and not just me waving and saying “Hi, so sorry I didn’t post yesterday but y’know, my excuses”, I adjusted what ‘matters’ I was using – this is to be a regular post, even if late. Sorry about that, by the way.

Family may not always matter to a villain. Maybe your villain doesn’t even have a family. Of course, there are many different things that can constitute a family in the first place, so to say your villain truly has no family is not so easy as it sounds. It’s more than just killing off the parents and flinging away siblings or extended family, having him remain unmarried and childless. If there’s a single person that matters to your villain, matters in a way your friend or brother or mother or spouse matters to you, your villain has family blood ties or no.

Bowser has a whole set of children! Bet you forget that when you’re trying to get their stupid wands away from them.

It’s no surprise my mind has been on a villain’s relationship with the hospital these past few weeks. I mean, being in a hospital will do that to you. (I am no longer there, by the way, but things aren’t back to normal for me quite yet.) Having a villain love someone, and be in a hospital, or have a loved one put in a hospital, is not unheard of. I instantly think of the Mayor and Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Buffy put Faith in the hospital, the Mayor visited her; it was to him as though Buffy had put his daughter there. But it doesn’t happen super often, either.

Not that one going to the hospital is a common occurrence (I should hope!), but there are lots of little things, and big things, that can happen. And it’s made me think. We are always concerned with the trials of our heroes. We should be. They’re (probably) the main characters, and therefore their trials are the interesting ones. A villain with smooth plans are the interesting ones and I’ve sat and said that a hero should never defeat a villain because of a mistake the villain made. But then, if all our characters are human – regardless of whether or not they are actually of human race – shouldn’t all of them be subject to human error? Things don’t go according to plan for the heroes, and that’s the way it should be. But sometimes, shouldn’t random error, not incompetency or thwarting of the heroes, but just crazy random happenstance…happen to villains?

One of the main scenarios I’ve – unsurprisingly – considered as of late is what an interesting twist it would be if we did have a male villain, all prepared to execute some sort of master plan, when all of a sudden a messenger arrives or his phone buzzes and his wife is letting him know her water broke. That’s a pretty “drop everything and rush my wife to the hospital” kind of event. Or midwife or…medibots or whatever fits your genre. Does that include your villain’s master plan? I don’t know, that depends on your villain. But it’s going to make things interesting. Even if the news doesn’t phase him and he just ignores it, he and his wife are probably going to have a “talk” later. And how might that affect the hero, especially if he or she didn’t know the enemy was a married man who apparently has a family now (and possibly before – there’s no reason it has to be kid #1)?

Contrariwise, I also have an amusing little comic in my head of a villain about to execute some horrible plan on the hero when HIS wife calls about her water breaking and politely excuses himself from their duel of destiny to go to her. Since the scene is definitely meant to be comedic, he is allowed to leave. But that’s still an element that could be interesting in a story because family matters.

What about a villain whose teenage child or best friend has a bad break-up? Or maybe even a top minion? How does your villain handle that? What about the small child that is afraid of monsters under his bed or in her closet? When the minions are supposed to be getting somewhere quick and get caught in traffic, or held up by an accident? Not IN an accident, just there was one and now the streets are blocked off. You still can’t let these things allow the hero to win, not generally I don’t think. But life happens to everyone, and the frustrations of life, how we handle them, is part of how we show our personalities and our humanities, what kind of person we really are. Certainly it’s not appropriate for every story, and it’s not even a novel idea, but I think it’s badly underutilized. Villains are people, too – the curveballs of life might give them a great chance to show it.

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I Have Been Rejected!

Good news, everybody! (Two bits, if you read my post yesterday – I’m still posting! I wrote this about a week earlier, shortly after the event happened. I’m glad I can still post on time.)

Back in…say May, maybe even April, I became aware of an opportunity to write a short story for publication. The theme was “strange little girls” – like Alice in Wonderland or Wednesday Adams or even Drusilla. I wrote a short story, much to my own shock – ordinarily the shortest story I ever managed to write was about 50 double-spaced Word pages (my poor creative writing teacher did not take me seriously when I asked her if there was a maximum on our satire stories). And then I took that short story, and I edited it, and submitted it to both of my writing groups, and presented it to some beta readers, and edited it, and edited it….and edited it…

And then in mid-June, I submitted it. My first submission to a publisher ever.

And a few days ago, I got a reply!

You should know from the title of this post that it was a rejection.

Here’s a picture of me with a print-out of the email rejection:

1st rejection letter

That’s a map of Albania behind me, if you were wondering.

Why am I smiling? Why do I look so pleased? I was told by a publishing company that they didn’t want my story – even though I wrote the story specifically for them! Wasn’t the rejection hard? Didn’t it make me cry?

Yeah, it did. I actually saw the email when I just sat down with a spare moment early in the day in the office at work and I really should have waited to open the email until I got home. But that would have been like, six or seven hours later and I was immediately far too excited and instantly opened it. And when I saw their very polite declination to include my story in their anthology, all I wanted to do was crawl into bed, and wrap myself up in the sheets, and quit life to become a burrito. I wanted to cry into my husband’s chest for a couple of hours. I wanted anything but to be sitting there, shedding silent tears, hoping none of my coworkers noticed because if they even knew I was a writer, I wasn’t certain they’d really understand how much this first rejection stung. Even less, I wanted to hear my phone ring and have to answer it and pretend I was having the best day ever and that I so much wanted to make the customer’s day better, too. I was very, very lucky I only received route business calls, no angry person calling to complain about such-and-such because I don’t think I could have handled it at the moment.

After a little bit of time, maybe an hour or so, the pressing need to burst into tears faded. I was still morose. I still wanted to cry. But pretending to be happy while at work was possible, and I began to think of what I wanted to do when I got home, when hopefully I was a little less sad. I still needed time to mourn, but I did eventually want to celebrate the fact that at least I’d tried. A friend messaged me, making sure I was doing all right, and we planned to go for ice-cream in the evening. An outpouring of encouragement of all sorts came in response to my facebook post about the news. I began to feel a little better, more and more, in waves – macabre, teary, macabre, sad, neutral, sad, macabre.

By the time I got off work, I was hovering more at sad and neutral. I tried to call my parents, but they were busy. I was received by a husband who had baked me cookies – some Pillsbury package I’d bought a few days ago because they’d made some new cookies with a filling that looked freaking delicious (They totally are, if you see them in your store and aren’t opposed to Pillsbury cookies, you should totally try them.) We took a nap. We woke up, went to the agreed upon ice cream parlor where earlier mentioned friend and her husband met us, and had a fun evening talking about random stuff. I wasn’t sad anymore. I was happy.

I’m not happy I was rejected. That sucks. It’s not surprising, not at all – my first submission ever, after all, even though the story was good. But it still stings. But I’m happy that I tried. There’s a lot to celebrate here. I wrote a short story – me! Long-winded, detail-everything Rii the Wordsmith, I wrote a short story! That’s amazing. And then I edited it. Not just once. Several times. Carefully. To what I feel is as close to perfection as I’m going to get with it, at least for now. I polished it to a point to where I would not be ashamed to submit it, where I cannot say it was not accepted just because I hadn’t cleaned it up enough. In other words, I completed an entire editing process. That gives me a lot of hope for me to do so with my novel, even though my novel is much longer and that editing process is dragging on and on for me. I can do it. I can do it for a short story, I can do it for a novel. And then, after I wrote the thing and edited it properly, I submitted it. Do you know how hard it was to submit it? I wrote my cover email letter thing whatever, and I attached the file named just as the publisher requested, and I typed in the publisher’s email address, and then my mouse hung over ‘send’. And I panicked. And I knew I couldn’t send it because they would hate it and write back to tell me I should never write again and they needed a physical mailing address to send me the ashes of my short story so the message could sink in and- and then I clenched my eyes shut and hit ‘send’. I hit send and immediately panicked to a higher degree, for about a week. And then I stopped panicking and eventually mostly forgot about it. I did that. And then, after many, many weeks of waiting (but still within the time frame they gave me for response), I got a reply. And the reply was not that it was terrible and I should stop writing and they needed a physical mailing address. The reply was just that they didn’t think it was quite right for the anthology and good luck elsewhere. They said “thank you for letting us read your story”. That might be a nicety, but they still said it.

I completed an entire submission process.

I did it and I didn’t die or combust or find myself banished from writing.

I may have been rejected, but I feel pretty good.

Dear aspiring writer followers, I hope you likewise find joy in your future rejections as well – and I hope you have the courage to hit that terrifying ‘send’ button in the first place, too.

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Tomorrow and September

Hey, Faithful Readers! And not-so-faithful readers, and new readers, and passers-by…

So I’ve settled into my no-longer-so-new responsibilities that unfortunately are still mine, and I’ve got high hopes of returning to regular blog posts for September, although I will post one more PSA some time. I was planning on doing it, or possibly a post about my first submission to a publisher, tomorrow – but I might not be able to get anything up tomorrow depending on a big factor.

No panic, but I’m actually currently in the hospital and I might not be able to leave soon. I have a little time now to letchall know I might not be able to post tomorrow…but hey, maybe with all this sitting around with nothing to do but listen to an ultrasound thingie play out my baby’s heartbeat, I can still post. Either way I did want to give fair warning.

(No seriously, no panic. Seems like things’ll be fine.)

You don’t see villains get to go to the hospital a whole lot, not for things that aren’t related to the hero beating them up or something, do you? What an interesting thought, a villain going to the hospital because of warning signs about their pregnancy – though, then again, you don’t see pregnant women as villains too often either…or villain women becoming pregnant. Which is a missed opportunity in a way, I think – I actually am working on a blog post about it. So don’t worry about me, I’m in good hands, but instead think about, if you have the right genre, what reasons a villain may have for going to the hospital, whether as a patient or visitor, that aren’t directly related to the hero. Could give you some interesting ideas.

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CONJURING AND FLYING!

This is for all you dark wizard types out there – when you’re on your dragon, you’re on your dragon. Put the book down! Don’t conjure and fly!

Don’t bother trying to read the runes, I just doodled them on randomly. I know, my pentagram and pentacle are kind of terrible, but drawing geometric shapes nicely takes a lot of effort – just enjoy that today you get two versions of a PSA.

Conjuring and Flying

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TEXTING AND DRIVING!

Protagonists somehow always know or have someone who knows how to drive a car through congested city streets. I know we’re all very busy, robbing banks, kidnapping prime figures, celebrating important dates with our loved ones, but that’s no excuse to fall to the very pedestrian mistake of texting while avidly pursuing our target to ensure that vital information doesn’t leak nor does the only person who can stop us survive.

Car Chase(I don’t feel terrible that this is late – I did forewarn yesterday. Second PSA to come a little later today.)

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Mini post

Minions,

I have a PSA for today – two in fact – but due to reasons, they’re going to be posted later today, later than I normally post. Apologies. It’s my work computer’s fault mostly. Well, maybe my own slothfulness. I choose to only blame my work computer however. (It’s easy to blame. It’s running on Windows Vista. And our customer database only works on IE. Seriously. Did you know there are some versions of MSPaint that don’t allow you to resize based on pixels OR zoom in and out on the picture? I didn’t even know it was possible for MSPaint to be more of a pathetic program than it normally is before my work computer.)

It’s the last Monday of this month, so to re-evaluate my standing, I should be able to return to normal posts in September. Should be.

If I end up forgetting altogether to post the PSAs, I apologize, but it’s probable since I may be celebrating a certain personal event involving a marriage today. Either way, it’s going to be later than normal.

You know what’s something I’ll post on at least once a day just about every day? My Twitter. If you wish you heard more from me, you should check it out.

Look forward to those PSAs!

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