What is a Wordsmith, Anyway?

Rii the Wordsmith. I always thought it had a nice ring to it. But what is a wordsmith, anyway?

A smith, dictionary defined, is one who works with metals. A blacksmith would be the guy who makes stuff out of iron and steel and whatnot. And then there’s the goldsmith, who works in gold, usually artful sorts of things. There’s not really such a thing as a leathersmith, or a silksmith, or a plasticsmith. I suppose, if you play Kingdom of Loathing, there’s meatsmithing, but otherwise that’s nonsense. Smithing seems limited to metal.

So why wordsmith?

Words aren’t so different from ore and metal bars. Language can be raw, or it can be refined. One could argue that language is more useful when it’s refined, since it can better express what is desired. Certainly, language is far prettier when refined. And words are weapons, or tools, or protection, or glamor. Words cut as well as any sword. Words can defend against such attacks as plate mail defends against the sword. Words build up others, build up nations, inspire others to action, and destroy.

Language is malleable. The meanings of words are, too, as words are bent into puns and double entendres.

And language is a craft.

Picking just the right word to complete a sentence is like picking just the right jewel to affix into the gold piece, the necklace or crown or earring. Such skill takes knowledge and an eye for beauty…or maybe an ear, in the case of words.

Why wordsmith? Because when I write, I pound out words into sentences. When I polish up, I grind off unneeded words that fly away like little metal shavings. When I put in the finishing touches, I take care with my word choice.  And when I’m done, I’m exhausted.

My first draft, and even my second draft, may not be perfect in prose. But then, if a smith were to provide his own ore, the first step would be to procure said ore, unrefined and ugly. That’s the first draft. The second step would be to refine the ore – but a gold bar is not a beautiful work of art; it’s still, in effect, a raw resource. That’s the second draft. Subsequent drafts, those are the art: pulling the gold into wire, shaping the wire, melding the wire into something of beauty, setting in gems…wordsmithing is an editing skill, primarily.

So what is a Wordsmith? Perhaps not one from whom words flow perfectly on the first try…but by the finished copy, there are no words out of place.

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That Clickbait Wasn’t About OCD

You know the articles I mean, with titles like, “10 Images That Will Set Off Your OCD”. Maybe you think it’s rather OCD of me to want to say (scream), “NO. YOU ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT OCD STOP USING THAT TERM.”

But remember that it’s kind of a REALLY FLIPPING HUGE DEAL to not trivialize mental illness; when I take mighty umbrage to people referring to “that feeling of ire when you see something done wrong” as OCD, it’s because when I actually experience obsessions or compulsions, I need you to understand what is happening, and it’s not something I can just brush off.

Go back to “that feeling of ire” that I’ll just call “ire”. I’m talking about when you see a brick or tile out of place in a pattern. Or any gag where a character plays a short ditty on a piano and ends on a note a half step off, sharp or flat (like the one where Bugs Bunny tricks Yosemite Sam into pressing a piano key that blows him up). That sour note that’s so intolerable that you just HAVE to go fix it because aaaaugh it BURNS and it LINGERS!

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Omg so trIGGering!!!111 /scowl yeah thanks for making me sound dumb when I use the word “trigger”.

That’s “ire”. That’s not OCD. I have never met a human being that does not experience “ire”. And if EVERYONE or most everyone experiences a thing, it’s not deviant. And deviant is a rather important aspect of mental disorder. “Ire” might be distressing, but there are a lot of things that are distressing that are not mental disorders. And disabling? I mean, “ire” might be really annoying or upsetting, but usually you’re able to move on. People usually do.

The difference is in, say, my experience at a fast food restaurant, findng a table to sit at.

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Say that every table has a splotch of ketchup or is dull and questionable-looking or actually damaged. No one likes napkins or ketchup splotches or creepy-looking tables, but we suck it up and move on. I cannot suck it up – because in my head, some broken part of my brain I don’t control insists that any of the tables I mentioned are covered in a disease that bears the same name as any given STD but behaves the same way cooties do (if I touch it, I’m infected – and that’s it. I’m just infected. I have to go take a shower or at least wash whatever touched it with hot water until it doesn’t feel infected anymore.) This sounds really silly, but it gives me a panic attack. If I am forced to sit at an “unacceptable” table, I spend my entire time there freaking out about all the chlamydia I’m touching. My mind can’t stop obsessing over that stupid nonsense. The only way to get it to stop is to go wash and not touch it any more and I am compelled to do so.

It’s just silly, right? Things became a lot more serious and anxiety-panic inducing when I had a kid and we went to a duck pond with a railing and I held her up to see the ducks.

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This very one, in fact.

The railing was at her chest and there was a zero percent chance that even if I dropped her, she would fall in the pond. But guess what clouded out everything else in my mind while I held her there? Guess what ruined my ability to see her face at seeing ducks, hear her scream, “Duck! Duck! Quack!” What made a cute moment a moment of pure, unadulterated terror? All I could see in my mind was her shocked, crying face trying to make a strangled cry as it disappeared below dark waters to disappear forever because I dropped her into the pond. Again. And again. And again. And again. My child sinking below dark water. I tried to fight it. The vision showed me diving in after her but it was too murky to see and I’m not a strong swimmer and I couldn’t find her. I told the obsession that she couldn’t fall in. The railing was at her chest! I wasn’t going to drop her! The vision added what I would feel like for the rest of my life, watching in my head her face disappearing below the water, knowing I’d killed her. I set my kid down and pull us both away from the railing of the duck pond and breathe, and everything is okay again, though for a moment, that image of her little white face disappearing lingers.

Don’t even get me started on how my obsessions have progressed on having a second child – it’s disturbing and distressing, like a little devil sitting on my shoulder whispering whatever it can to horrify me by obsessing over how fragile he is and how easy he would be to break in myriad monsterous ways, and what he would look and sound like in the process. I live in a psychological horror show in my own freaking head.

You don’t have OCD. You don’t want to have OCD. Stop saying OCD when you don’t mean obsessiosn or compulsions.

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Attention to Detail: Titania’s Boobs

Yes. We’re going to talk about boobs in this one.

Remember when I rambled a bit about how little details can add so much, like seasonings, if used in the right amount?

Tyler and I picked up the anime The Ancient Magus Bride. We’ve liked it a lot, and in the show, the main characters come across Titania, Queen of the Faeries and mother of fey creatures. In typical anime fashion, she is made to look exotic by wearing a dress that shows so much of her breasts that it’s clear her nipples are wherever Aladin’s went.

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In case you weren’t aware, women’s nipples are not on the underside of their boobs.

Ordinarily, this would be somewhat irritating to me, but there’s a specific detail to Titania’s breasts that’s actually really important. See they’re not shaped like your average anime girl’s boobs.

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Darkness from Konosuba – sheesh near all the women in that anime have gigantic, round, elastically bouncy boobs that often move of their own freaking accord in a way a real woman’s NEVER do. It’s ridiculous.

They don’t move like one, either – it’s pretty clear from their shape and their movement that they are saggy.

Aside from the fact that this is critical to me because boobs that have been “ruined” to sagginess due to having a child (and subsequently breastfeeding them) are pretty much never represented let alone presented as sexy – and unless you are a mom whose body was “ruined” by childbirth, you’ve no idea the body image issues you have from this change and therefore how much it means to me – this is an important, small detail that highlights and strengthens Titania’s title of “Mother”. Which is one that appears to be vital to her, as her leaving words claim the main characters as her children, among all things fey and strange.

Claiming motherhood is one thing – and primarily backed by actions and personality, anything under “behavior patterns”. But looking the part, well…that’s another thing. If they didn’t want to give Titania the deadly mom ponytail

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Loose side ponytail kills

which would be inappropriate anyway, giving her saggy mom boobs instead of plastic surgery…er, orbs…is certainly a way to make her matronly in form, freeing up space to make her look ethereal in other design.  (Disclaimer: there is nothing wrong with the orbish breasts generally only plastic surgery can produce. They’re just not appropriate for every woman in every circumstance, something that visual media often has a hard time realizing.)

The execution of Titania’s breasts was a small bit of attention to detail, one that would be easy for a lot of people to miss. But to me, it was significant. And it’s that level of attention to detail that your characters deserve from you.

And you know what else? That tiny bit of representation of a different kind of woman’s body, the kind I have now, sure did ingratiate me to The Ancient Magus Bride.

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The Funny Thing About Motive

I started up a new Skyrim character the other day. This is my third character, and I like to try to make the character their own person rather than a vague avatar of myself. This time, I tried an Argonian – lizard person for those of you unfamiliar – and I actually really like the race. I was trying to decide what made her different from my last character, who was a jovial elven werewolf. As I went gallivanting about collecting flowers just out of Helgen/tutorial, I decided she was the scholarly type, slowly developing the narrative that she got the idea Argonians and dragons might be related and she went to Skyrim to study the connection, only to discover she’s something called the Dragonborn. From there, everything she’d ever wanted to study fell right into her lap, along with a lot of danger.

That said, I faced a challenge with this new character. I have a pretty hard time not stealing everything and subsequently joining the thieves’ guild. But I can’t imagine why my Argonian would be into thievery. I mean, the idea of not stealing everything is just baffling. That’s not how I like to play and what’s the point of playing if I’m not doing it the way I like? But now I can either lose my narrative and just do the thief thing or I can try to invent a reason why she’d become a thief. Subsequently, her history of dealing with racism and scorn and having no funding for her research to the point where her desperation drove her to a moral edge that was easily tipped by an offer by one of the guild heads was developed.
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How can you say “no” to an illicit job opportunity from this guy?

I faced similar problems with other plotlines, like destroying the Dark Brotherhood, which I like to do but requires the murder of a (horrible) old woman to initiate. The thing about Skyrim is every time I make a new character, sure, I have so many options of plots to carry out – but each time, they are the SAME plotlines. And for many of them, it’s not hard for me to decide that this character will help that NPC because of some plausible motivation, but it is going to be the same actions with the same results – I’ll help restore the mines of Raven Rock, whether because I will be paid for my services, or because I like the old man investigating why they were shut down, or I want to help his wife by getting him to stop investigating the danger himself, or because there’s a mystery to unravel…so many different motivations, all the exact same quest, exact same actions.
And that’s the funny thing about motive. If you desperately need a character to do something for which they have no motivation, the first thing you should do is figure out what the character would do instead and work with that – but if it’s just not working out, you should be able to tweak the character or twist the motive enough to manipulate the character into doing what you want after all.
This is mostly useful to me when playing DnD – my privateer is being awfully friendly with the mainlanders of whom she ought to be suspicious, but it’s not hard to refine her motivation of finding some treasure on the mainland to “I’m juuust smart enough to know I don’t have the skills to find it on my own and I need to make friends to accomplish this and you don’t make friends with hostility” to make it so she’ll work together with the other PCs and help the DM get the band together.
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Irrean was the first character for whom I actually purchased a Heroforge mini. It was awesome.

But DnD is just another type of storytelling and skills you learn there are useful for solo storytelling – writing. Learning how to twist motive without breaking it, going beyond the reach of what your character would ever do, is a skill worth practicing.
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No Good Necromancers

A DnD YouTuber my husband told me about does not believe in good necromancers. I understand his position;  if an act is evil and/or highly unappreciated/feared, like necromancy,  it’s hard to see someone realistically pull off a “good” version of the act.

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No one in Breath of the Wild likes it when you approach them with a Stalkoblin head.

As I’ve no great love for the undead,  you may expect me to agree there are no good necromancers. But I feel like it’s like saying there are no good murderers: yes, arguably, there are. Always in ambiguous, gray areas, but it’s not like all murderers are relegated to evil villains, end of story.

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There’s always nuance, room for exploration of morality, and exceptions when telling a story. (Do you think it could be possible that Yagami could have not become a villain?)

The best part of “you can’t!” is all the ways it inspires, “yes I can!” so I’ve invented my own character concept of a morally ambiguous necromancer I’d actually like to play in a future session now. As per what seems to be usual, a lot of the edge of wickedness of necromancy is cut with humor: my guy is always drunk or hung over and doesn’t ever remember raising that skeleton, but now it’s stuck to him like another bad headache.

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But I’m sure there are other executions that don’t rely on humor – primarily because Tyler brought up the YouTuber as context for his own, non-humorous, non evil necromancer. Finding exception to evil, turning it gray, is usually an interesting and fun exercise; consider its inverse, however, and you get a lot of useful motivations or acts for villains, especially those that are the heroes of their own stories.

There are no good necromancers, and there are no evil humanitarians.

Right?

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Integrity

Integrity is a virtue, and thus is oft scarce in villainous circles, which drives me nuts because it seems like the reason it’s scarce is merely just because it’s a virtue. A primary example is in whether or not a villain keeps his word. Villains promise a lackey something and then renege on the deal so frequently it’s more of a surprise when they don’t. But there’s two problems with this lack of virtue – the first is that villains are not amalgams of all things evil, but instead people, and the second is that integrity, although virtuous, can also be self-serving.

This brings me to the My Little Pony movie, which I will be doomed to watch repeatedly forever because I have a little girl. I already miss the days she watched Totoro on repeat and this is only the second time I’ve had to watch the movie. I give it in general a solid Acceptable, but the way Twilight Sparkle acts so flipping out of character, the lack of Starlight Glimmer, and the insufferability of the Storm King make it grating on my nerves. We’re going to talk about that third one.

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He’s the main villain.

Overall, the Storm King doesn’t impress me as a villain; his personality is okay I guess, but he doesn’t actually do a lot. Also he predictably tells his lackey Tempest, a unicorn with a broken horn, that he’ll restore her horn in exchange for the power to control storms only to, you guessed it, renege when she delivers. “I used you! Trololololol!”

Here’s the reason that one thing grates more than anything else in the entire movie (except for the part where Twilight uses friendship as a distraction to steal a McGuffin. Seriously!? It’s so out of character it burns!): this lack of integrity is the single stupidest thing ever. There is no reason not to restore Tempest’s horn unless he literally cannot do it, which is not addressed. You can argue it’s just his personality but that makes him a crappy villain. Tempest has proven to be an incredibly competent henchman, one who delivered exactly what she said she would in the time frame she said she would. That’s amazing for a minion.

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Also look at this pony’s design. She’s imposing just the way she holds herself.

When you have a valuable minion, you want to keep that minion around. Thus, the integrity of keeping your word, or at least trying to, is self-serving. People you betray don’t tend to stick around, especially not in the villain world. And given that Tempest is so competent, she’s not really someone you want to piss off into a heel-face turn, now is she? Given than it’s her quickly adjusted loyalty to Twilight that causes the Storm King’s ultimate demise, the answer to that one’s gonna be a solid no.

In any case, you keep telling people one thing to get them to do for you and then throwing them away when they’ve done without keeping your promise, you’re gonna get a reputation. Then no one will work for you anymore. And yeah, maybe you just need the one thing from the one person, and then after they deliver the McGuffin or whatever, if you betray them, it won’t matter because you have it all – but that’s a gambit that requires caution and care, especially for the genre savvy villain because it’s almost never actually over at that point. That was certainly the case with the Storm King. He had the power to command the sun, moon, and the weather – but he still wound up turned to stone and smashed to pieces. Which wouldn’t have happened if he’d just restored the dang horn.

That does bring up another point – maybe the power of the four princesses wasn’t enough to restore Tempest’s horn; maybe the Storm King suspected that he’d never be able to actually do it, so he made a promise he knew he couldn’t keep to trick Tempest into doing his bidding. The reveal at the end makes it clear to me that this angle wasn’t considered in the writing of the movie, or at least not proprely considered because it wasn’t properly addressed; I wish that it had, that perhaps he’d stated this reason for not restoring her, rather than just that he uses people and that’s that. Would have been more plausible to me, rather than just a “lol I’m a villain what did you expect?” angle. Because it adds depth, see? It’s not just a villain deciding not to do something he could do so far as anyone knows, because he’s a villain and villains are Not Nice People who don’t keep their promises for no reason. The scenario where he didn’t because he couldn’t and he lied about being able to is one where the deception feels deeper, and the reason for the lack of integrity isn’t “just because”. He has real motive for lying – saying he could when he can’t is the only way to get Tempest to ferociously carry out his bidding. The way things are, he doesn’t have a real motivation for not keeping his end of the bargain.

I’d also like to mention that there’s something terrifying knowing that a villain has a strong sense of integrity – because knowing he’ll keep his word, that he keeps promises, is not always a matter of receiving reward for a job well done. There are other kinds of promises, too.

Sometimes integrity is a built-in threat.

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“I’m a man of my word.”

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Rooting for Your Villain

So I had my baby. He’s a super sweet little guy who is patient and quiet. Part of me is positive he’s going to be like his dad, a pensive, careful sort of fellow, but I also acknowledge I could be completely wrong about that. Ultimately, I don’t care who he becomes when he gets older, as long as he’s a good person who cares about others.

This brought to mind how I kind of similarly care about my brainchildren. Things are a little different with them on account of their whole life existing in a compact space across my life, and my knowing how they’re going to turn out, and who they are completely, and all that other stuff that obviously makes a fictional character I created different from a real life baby I created. But I still hope the best for them, even when I know they’re going to do bad things and ultimately die horribly.

If you’ll allow me to wax religious, it’s a like how God sees any individual – not condoning and perhaps actively condemning evil activities but really hoping that the evil individual turns their life around, so ready to reward writh redemption…possibly already knowing whether or not that actually happens. (There’s a lot of argument for how God’s omnicience works and there’s plenty of room to suggest that He doesn’t actually know what will for sure happen, just can predict like a grand chessmaster. I don’t know how it works so I acknowledge that maybe we’re like book characters to God and maybe not who knows?)

Whether or not you actually can muster up this sort of hope or care for a villain – I can with most of mine, but there’s one or two who are just SO terrible I just want bad things to happen to them – the attempt does put them in a different light for you to work with. When you see your characters as people, it makes it easier to look at all their little aspects, characteristics, let them do that weird thing where they act and you didn’t cause them to do it, and this is one good mindset for viewing your characters as people – rooting for them as a parent roots for a child, hoping they’ll win, where “win” isn’t defined by what they want to do, but by their achieving the best life they can for themselves.

And maybe in your trying to help your villain to have opportunites to get that life, you’ll give them a more interesting arc where they reject redemption and truly earn their brand as an insiduous villain…and maybe they’ll surprise you with a change of plan and go for redemption after all.

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Defeating a Villain with Zen

My kid received several books for Christmas and one of them was called Three Samurai Cats. In it, a lord’s home is invaded by an atrocious rat, so he goes to the local monastary to ask for a samurai cat to get rid of it. The first one is quickly bested in combat, the second is dumb enough to be tricked into putting his sword away, and the third one spends all day every day sleeping on a mat ignoring the rat and pissing off the lord until a rice ball festival comes up and the rat takes all the sticky rice to make his own giant rice ball, under which he subsequently becomes trapped. The cat agrees to free the rat if he will gtfo, with a threat of death otherwise, so the rat obliges.

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My kid wasn’t sure if the rightmost cat wasn’t a robot.

The lord pays the monastary and asks how the final cat got rid of the rat; the head monk  explains a buddhist principle: there is power in stillness and inaction; wait for your enemy to defeat himself.

Now far be it from me to criticize a beautiful religion’s teachings, but you’ll recall I have some issues with self-defeating villains. There’s some clear differences with defeating a villain by zen style inaction and a villain whose incompetence causes their defeat, but I think the line is narrow, especially because the thing about inaction is that sometimes it just makes you a cohort.

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Do you know how many iterations of this sentiment have been spoken by a myriad of different famous people? Lots.

So I question teaching my kid this principle. I know a big part is that I am not Buddhist and probably don’t fully understand the principle of stillness myself*, though knowing a little of karma does help me to see how gazing at a person’s actions down through to the consquences and merely waiting for them to reap what they sow would be an effective tool against an enemy who you otherwise do not think you can conquer.

Yet at the same time, the rat wreaked utter havoc on the lord’s home, and it’s not just the lord who suffered; his servants were harrassed and tormented the whole time. And sometimes you see this zen played out even in the face of the suffering of others but is that the best way? And I guess this is where “zen master” comes into play, knowing the power of stillness but also knowing when to act.

*It also probably makes a big difference that I’m not a still person myself, no matter how hard I try, because ADD is the opposite of stillness.

Ultimately, I think that the execution of stillness in a masterful way is not something that is written well a lot of the time, especially if the writer is someone like myself who does not actually fully understand the principle. I mean, if it seems like both action an inaction are viable options, inaction is going to come off as laziness and/or apathy, even if there’s a reveal of “but look how wise waiting was!” later.

And this does leave open the potential for the self-defeating villain issue. If your villain was always going to destroy himself and all your protags had to do was wait, then…what…was the point? Who cares anyway?

If the stillness is more of a holding action than no action required, it should be easier to execute. Consider a military unit that has captured a small city. They’re the kind of people who slap children for talking to them and burn down the bar when the owner tells them they can’t talk to his wife that way. We’re used to the MC swooping in and kicking butt, but perhaps he’s going to let this behavior continue until the soldiers have expended all their resources (or perhaps contract food poisoning or another weakening illness he set up for them) so that they are all weaker than him when he finally does step in. In which, the MC was always planning to come in and kick their trash, but he just waited until it was feasible and there wasn’t big risk of failure. I could get behind that, but it would still be hard to forgive MC for not doing anything while soldiers harassed the citizens, especially depending on the level of harassment.

And it is constantly a totally criticizable and hugely annoying problem when someone is doing something long-term and refuses to just communicate their flipping plan.

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Looking at you, missy.  I know what all the reasons are why you wouldn’t JUST TELL HIM. Either they weren’t executed properly or they were not justifiable imo.

On the plus side, it’s much easier to have the villain be the zen master. Just wait, just wait, the hero will waltz right into my claws, my trap, will trot the McGuffin to my hand (man heroes have a bad habit of doing that). Because the worst that happens when the hero is deated this way is that the hero is considered dumb and a hero can recover from stupidity more easily than a villain so long as it was within the realms of character flaw dumb and not why do I even care about this total inept loser moron levels of dumb.

Just make sure you take care to think through every aspect of a zen character – inaction may be a great tool, but it’s also a pretty big problem when there’s evil afoot. Zen Buddhism is a beautiful religion and I know people have gained much from their teachings of stillness, but there’s a reason like a bajillion different quotable people have said something along the lines of if there is evil and you do nothing, you are a cohort.

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Diversion Motivations

Hello and happy New Year, everyone! I’ve got motivation on the mind since I’m decreasingly motivated to do anything but rest, which I suppose isn’t unusual for someone who could go into labor any day now. I’ve been thinking about what does motivate me, and that made me think that sometimes it doesn’t seem like I have big, over-arching motivations. I still have big goals, like finishing my WIP, and long-standing motivations that don’t necessarily do anything but are still important, like the safety and happiness of my friends and family; the motivation is inert unless something relevant comes up, like I learn a friend is sad or that someone will be traveling on icy roads. Then I do stuff about it until it’s not relevant anymore. And this also brings to mind smaller motivations, like pie.

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I’ve stolen twenty pumpkins for a pie! (where “steal” refers to “trick people out of their pumpkins in a game where the object is to trick people out of their pumpkins”)

Knowing big, over-arching motivations and long-standing, sometimes inert motivations is important for all of your characters, because motivation is nigh everything. Especially for your villains. But how someone might go about things, what they might do in their downtime, and quirks can all depend on smaller motivations. I wouldn’t actually legit steal a pumpkin for pie, since my moral code of “stealing is wrong” is stronger than my motivaiton of “pie is delicious”, but the side plot of my appartment complex’s pumpkin heist to the main storyline of my schooling is certainly an amusing one.

When your villain is casing a place, maybe they stop into a coffee shop to look casual…or maybe they see a candy store that has their favorite childhood sweet. Nonchallantly ducking into a store to buy something is the same mechanic either way, but the different executions tell us something different about the character, his life, his personality.

Even if these little motivations don’t come up at all, knowing them still tells you about a person. So it’s still worthwhile to sit down with your characters and ask them about what motivates them on a small scale, on day-to-day life, on what to do and how to act outside of their big goals. And it’s not a bad exercise to write a little cliplet scene about their pursuing a small-scale goal, like stealing a bunch of pumpkins or finding the right brand of Thing, or getting the holiday decorations up or down in a certain timeframe, or even panic-cleaning before guests arrive.

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Some Men Just Want to Watch the World…Rain?

As a mother of a three year old, I try hard to curate the TV she watches, but inevitably, I am exposed to some stupid kids’ show from time to time. The kind that it makes me want to take a brick to whoever wrote it.

You can argue that it’s just a kids’ show and of course I, a grown adult, will not enjoy it, but to that I say nay! While the subject matter may be beneath me, the writing should still be good enough to be enjoyed by writing of all ages!

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There is a reason this show has an adult following despite it being a kids’ show.

EE’s enjoyed MLP:FiM and also the new Magic Schoolbus…but right now, she’s onto a show called PJ Masks. You may have heard of it. I am sorry.

It’s terrible. I mean they teach morals and that’s great but the whole show is so inane with how not just childish but flat out idiotic all the characters are, all the villains operate in the worst possible ways, and the morals are so ham-fisted that I’m surprised the entire show isn’t made out of pork.

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I mean, yes, MLP is also sometimes ham-fisted with morals but it’s not every flipping episode. Also every third episode they forget what powers they do have in favor of something they can’t do.

I’ve mentioned that kids’ entertainment often has issues with villains being crappy, and I’ve also mentioned that it can be done well. And brushing off really stupid villains just because it’s a kids’ show is a problem for two reasons, the second of whichi s more pertinent: one, it assumes that childrens’ stories are synonymous with bad writing, which is dumb, and two, it assumes that the problems that make bad childrens’ writing bad is something that obviously isn’t a problem in writing for older audiences. And I’m not sure that’s true. Besides that, looking at what’s bad is an important tool for learning what’s good. Let’s take a look at a specific episode.

The specific episode was one where the villain Luna Girl is upset that, being a kid who apparently can only come out at night??? she’s not able to play summertime games, so she takes all the water in the storage tank for the sprinklers and…turns them into clouds…so they pop out of the sprinklers and make everything rainy during the day. The fact that it’s an incredibly stupid plan aside (Really? You’re going to stick rain clouds in the tank for the sprinklers as a way to disperse rain?) when the PJ Masks confront her, she tells them her plan and motivation up front, and one of the Masks says that they’d be happy to play games with her at night so she wouldn’t be lonely. Which is pretty cool, except Luna Girl immediately turns them down saying the idea of playing games with them is repulsive – vocal emphasis that playing games is just as repulsive as with them.

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I want to know where this kid’s parents are, personally.  They need to teach her to be a better villain.

Let me go over that: her plan is to make it rainy during the day; her motivation is she is jealous that kids get to play games during the day and she doesn’t. The PJ Masks offer to play games with her during the night; she finds the idea of playing games repulsive.

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Here’s where I’m not sure media for older ages is immune: you could argue it still makes sense if Luna Girl just wants to watch the world burn. Er, rain. But…that’s not how it was presented. She didn’t say “those kids have something I don’t so I want to ruin it for them, even though I don’t care about it, because I’m just that evil.” She said, “They have something I want, and since I can’t have it, I’m going to ruin it for them, but also I don’t want it.”

And yeah, she’s a kid, and my own kid will walk me around in circles where she’ll say she wants something but doesn’t want something imparative to having what she said she did want and I end up

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and that’s just part of parenting but there’s a few important distinctions between my kid and Luna Girl: my kid is three. She’s not always good at communicating and probably she just didn’t communicate her wants well in the first place, or didn’t quite understand what I’m asking. Luna Girl is old enough she should be at least mostly past that. Also my kid is a real person and not a fictional character and when you have to choose between not frustrating the crap out of your audience and doing someting true to life, probably choose not frustrating the crap out of your audience (brands of frustrating vary). I’d rather have Luna Girl’s motive be consistent and make sense than have her take a stab at being a realistic stubborn kid – which she does fine in other aspects, but this one was just…you know what I’m going to do the meme again.

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BECAUSE THIS IS MY REACTION TO THE WHOLE SHOW THE ENTIRE TIME.

Anyway the other reason why Luna Girl can’t be a person who just wants to watch the world burn is because she’s not the kind of person who just wants to watch the world burn. Humans are sometimes spiteful creatures, yes. Watching the world burn is, I think, the most spiteful you can get, although characters like Heath Ledgers’ Joker have shown us it doesn’t have to be spite, it can be a branch of insanity. What’s important to remember is that if your character is motivated by spite, they aren’t simultaneoulsy motivated by something else that conflicts with the spite unless they are struggling with themselves over it. Either Luna Girl is jealous or she’s spiteful; if you want to do both simultaneously, where her jealousy has made her spiteful and that’s not changing, don’t swap motivations, show that both coexist. “You have something I don’t, so I want to ruin it for you. What? You have a solution that could make me not feel left out? I’m already dedicated to just ruining it for you.” Not, “I legitimately don’t want the thing that you have that I don’t that I literally just said I wanted.”

Certainly with more time and space, you could develop that interation to make sense. But these are like, fifteen minute episodes or somesuch, so they don’t have time. So instead you just get this whiny brat who doesn’t know what she wants who is obnoxious beyond description and I’m over here wishing we were fighting a cool villain.

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Either way the point is, she wasn’t consistent, and one way or another, that needed to be fixed, whether expression her dual emotional motivations better, or changing them up to be better compatible and less…Jackie Chan meme.

And hey, even Jackie Chan meme can work, but you’ve got to be careful with that, and your other characters should probably be pulling the face along with your reader, so that it’s clear, no, this character really just doesn’t know what she wants.

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Picking Over the Vulture

We finally got around to seeing Spiderman: Homecoming, and absolutely loved it. So unsurprisingly, I’m gonna talk about the Vulture, and will include spoilers.

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MAJOR spoilers.

We liked the entire movie pretty well; I’m sure there’s room for criticism, but it’s a good addition to Marvel’s movies. They did a lot of aspects well, and I liked Peter’s character arc. I also liked the Vulture’s character arc.

He is a villain that’s all about family – that’s his motivation, you do what you have to do to support your family, and he’s been spurned and burned one time too many to care about keeping that source of support totally clean. You don’t get to see a whole lot of his interactions with his independent family members, but he does seem to be a good dad to Liz, just a little protective, but not so much that he gets to be Stereotypical Overbearing Dad. He doesn’t threaten Peter over taking his daughter out on a date, the way Overbearing Dad does – he threatens Peter over their villain-hero relationship.  And every time it looked like his empire would fall, the first thing he jumped to was “how will I support my family?” which didn’t seem to be a facade for power, but a legitimate concern.

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LOOK AT THIS MAJESTIC FAMLY MAN.

I also like that the first time we see him kill someone, he hadn’t meant to. He grabbed one of their weird alien guns and shot a minion who was turning on him, only to realize it turned the guy to ashes instead of just turning off gravity for him. I appreciate this because while he does seem like the kind of guy who would kill for his family, taking that first step of murder is a big one for a guy who is originally a decent person. The fact that he already killed someone and knows he can and can move past it as “eh, just business” makes it much more believable to me that when Spiderman keeps screwing up his plans, his reaction is to want to kill him. I would have had a harder time believing he’d really want to kill someone, murder them dead, if he hadn’t already killed someone. I mean, when someone constantly screws me up, I wouldn’t ever really kill them even if I’d mutter it under my breath. For someone whose motivation is family, they’re probably not already a cold-blooded killer, but a decent person. He needed that first blood.

And then he still has solid standards and morals when it comes to this arena.

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That’s just about standards.

Going back to threatening Parker on homecoming night, he just learned in that car ride that Peter is Spiderman, and now is his chance to kill him as he wanted. He even pulls out a gun from his glove compartment. But instead, he turns around and makes it clear he’s clear on who Peter really is, brings up events of an earlier scene when Spiderman saved Liz’s life, and says that because Peter saved his daughter’s life, he will now save Peter’s life by choosing not to kill him in a situation where he absolutely would otherwise, adding that if Peter follows him instead of enjoying homecoming with Liz, he will kill Peter and everyone he loves.

Peter chooses to put on his mask and follow him.

After establishing this life for a life moral, the Vulture tries to pull off a huge heist robbing none other than Stark, a desperate gambit to restore his empire after Spiderman has crushed so much of it, and Spiderman comes and disrupts that last-ditch attempt to get up and going again. In the fight, the Vulture nearly still makes off with some of Stark’s energy cores, but doesn’t because his wings are broken and explode. Spiderman tries to stop him flying off, noticing the wings will explode, and then after they do, he jumps into the flames of the explosion, looking for the Vulture, and drags him out from his machinery to safety, saving his life.

So when we get the final Vulture scene in prison, another guy approaches him and says he knows some guys on the outside that would like to kill Spiderman, and the word is the Vulture knows his identity. The Vulture insinuates that if he knew, Spiderman would already be dead. This is for me a yaaaaas moment because he had morals and he stuck to them. It’s possible that the Vulture could have been prodded to breaking those morals, but there wasn’t any good setup for that – and the fact that he stuck to what he knew, who he was, made him a solid and consistent character. His telling the other guy that Spiderman is Peter Parker would have certainly left an ominous cliffhanger, but instead they worried about his character and not drama, just the way it should be.

There are a lot of good elements of the Vulture worth examining when writing your own villain.

 

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