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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A Baby Is Not A Villain

As I realize that it’s nearly 7:00 on a Monday again and once again, due to the distractions of the tiny sociopath that runs my life now, I’ve failed to write a blog post, it occurs to me that while it’s amusing to refer to a baby as a tiny sociopath, it’s not necessarily fair to call her that. It’s entirely accurate, she meets enough qualifications due to being totally selfish and lacking any sort of empathy, but it’s unfair. And it’s unfair because she hasn’t finished developing yet. Despite the fact that she’s the daughter of an evil overlord, I’m sure she’ll learn a nice, deep empathy for others, especially once we become insane enough to have another one and she’ll have to learn how to share.

While I plan on later writing a post about what makes a villain a villain, I wanted to talk about when villainous qualities don’t make a villain. After all, we don’t try to diagnose babies as sociopaths no matter how many times she purposefully reaches for my hair and yanks it with all her might or pinches the back of my arm when I’m trying to feed her and laughs when I say “Augh, no, child! Stop! Aaagh!”

Yes, good, she will think that her burping me has been successful and will never see the spit-up attack coming! Muahahaha!

Psh whatever mom. I’m totally doing it on purpose, it’s all a part of my evil plan.

This goes somewhat with the Hero is the Villain concept in that sometimes, the heroes accidentally help the bad guys but didn’t mean to do so. However, as soon as the heroes recognize that they were on the wrong side or did the wrong thing, they turn around and try to right their wrongs ASAP. Even if they performed something that helped the side of evil, their actions weren’t evil (I mean, maybe, it’s possible that they stole something or killed someone or something along those lines) and more importantly, their intentions were pure. While pure intentions aren’t everything when it comes to end effects, they do matter significantly when it comes to individuals. Good people mess up badly sometimes. We’re human, we make mistakes, and sometimes we’re tricked and deceived or just don’t know any better. Like a baby pulling mom’s hair. Doing something wrong doesn’t make a character a villain, it just makes them human.

Innocent intentions with terrible actions – not good intentions, as I was speaking of in the paragraph prior, but innocent – also does not particularly make someone evil. Consider Of Mice and Men. Lenny is not a villain. He’s not evil. But he did kill a woman. And also some animals.

just dead

He did it because he’s like a giant, super-strong baby, kind of like the one from Spirited Away except that, in a weird turn of events, that baby actually was kind of mean-spirited and hardly innocent at all, at least at first.

PLAY WITH ME OR I’LL CRY AND MOM WILL KILL YOU D<

All the same, this baby is not a villain, he’s just, in the words of Zaniba his aunt, a spoiled brat who is MC Chihiro’s friend by the end of the movie. Instead of threatening to get Chihiro killed, he threatens not to like his own mother if she doesn’t let Chihiro go. But hey, he’s a baby, he’s spoiled, he’s trying to get his way in a way that’s inappropriate, but he has room for growth; he already has grown a little, by then.

When it comes to innocent intent, you get a moral dilemma. That’s the reason I didn’t originally like Of Mice and Men much – I felt it was wrong to kill Lenny. He wasn’t evil, he didn’t mean to kill anyone. Destroying him isn’t stopping a villain. But destroying him may be necessary.

Why does it make a difference? Well, again, moral dilemma. Maybe the protagonist doesn’t shoot Lenny. Maybe he does and it changes him forever. Maybe he’s a murderer for shooting Lenny.

But more importantly, if you can’t distinguish between someone who does evil things and someone who IS evil, you can’t hope to write a villain. Don’t forget that motive is everything and that a villain does evil things because he is evil, not the other way around. If your character is blundering around doing evil, lacking intent, your character just has problems or is underdeveloped or is confused but he is not a villain and to say otherwise is to diminish actual villains.

So even though it looks like we’re going for a second week of waking up at 2 or 3 am and crying for the rest of the night, my baby isn’t doing this to me on purpose and she therefore can’t possibly be a villain. To think otherwise would be insane.

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Villains Can Fall In Love

This topic goes hand-in-hand with the idea that villains understand friendship. Again, it’s assumed that villains cannot love, that all villains are all totally incapable of love, because they are evil.

Evil, as a concept, is definitely the opposite of everything that love, as a concept, means. If someone is evil, they will embody evil to at least some degree. Because we think of black-and-white opposites the way we think of oil and water, we think that one person cannot possibly mix the two. Even if one person could be gray, could hold pure water Love and sticky oil Evil, no matter how hard you shook the person the two elements would still separate.

Love and evil don’t work this way for a few reasons. As I mentioned in our friendship post, mortals are weird and combine traits that don’t seem like they should be possible to be combined. However, love is also weird. It’s beautiful, and powerful, but it’s also like some glorious weed in that it will grow in any nook or cranny that it can manage. Love finds a way – that phrase came about because it can be found in the most desolate of places.

What place is more desolate than in the soul of an evil being?

There’s just one simple key to love: selflessness. Altruism. Putting something else before yourself. You can argue that there’s more to love and that’s fine, but it’s this key element that clashes so badly with evil, as one key element of evil is selfishness.

If your villain ever cares about something or someone so much that they would put that person’s needs before his own, your villain loves them. And unless your villain is a robot or something entirely lacking a soul – a primordial evil kind of thing – your villain can care about something that much.

Your villain MAY try to guard himself against this. Maybe your villain tempers how much he cares about the thing. Maybe your villain kills anyone that has wormed so deeply into his black heart. Maybe your villain is in denial.

But maybe your villain works side-by-side with someone of their sexual preference who cares about him, who clicks with him just enough that he finds himself caring about her safety, her happiness, willing to give up small things for her and aw snap. Maybe your villain has a child – children are amazing because you don’t even realize how much you’re growing to love them until just one particular moment, when it’s already too late. Staying up late with a screaming child that I just want to not, picking her up and realizing how much I adore her, I can attest that the love for a child can hit you when you least expect it.

Dr. Cox (Scrubs) is usually a huge jerk and loathes to be forced to care for his ex’s baby…until love for the child sneaks up on him unexpectedly.

The important thing to remember is that your villain is a person. Your villain probably thinks they are doing the right thing. Your villain may admit faults but probably doesn’t think of themselves as evil. That makes your villain someone who’s just on the wrong side and therefore there is absolutely no reason your villain can’t fall in love. There may be personal reasons specific to an individual, but as a concept, there is no reason.

Remember too that there are all kinds of love. I hate how in English, there’s really only one word for love because that’s so limiting. Sure you can say infatuation or adoration or fondness look up other given synonyms but I feel all the words provided don’t really…express the same thing. I mean, we use “infatuation” to indicate something that’s not love but for an immature person could be mistaken for love since they don’t know what love is. Yes, talkin’ ’bout you, teenagers. Though honestly I think this applies to a lot of adults too. In any case, English at best expresses degrees of love, not types. Other languages express types of love.

Consider. There are friends, buddies you  like, and then there are friends, people you love, people you would die for. If a friend asks you a favor, something that puts you way out of your way, something that requires you to make a sacrifice for them, you don’t do it unless you love them. There’s love for a pet. Love for a romantic partner and love for a child are different. Can you love someone of your sexual preference in a way that’s different from our normal conception of friendship but not romantically? I think you can. There are many types of love, and to deny all of them to a villain merely because he’s evil is to deny a villain humanity of the tiniest shred. Some villains have no humanity. But to always make your villain so evil – first, remember that making a complete monster that’s interesting is hard. Second, part of the reason it’s hard is because it’s usually not even appropriate to do so. Third, if you want your character to be rounded out, three-dimensional, developed – a person, not a character – you have to have dynamic elements. And that means opposites. That means mixing oil and water in the way that only mortals can.

You can always warp the love. Consider the psychopath. His obsession with his captive could be the closest thing to love he can muster. A willingness to put his victim first in a way that is nothing but creepy to the rest of us is a show of love for him. That’s terrifying and easily argued not to be love – I would argue it’s not – but for him, for his warped existence, it’s the best he’s got and in a way, it also still counts. But when we consider this warped “in a normal person it would be love but now it’s not because you twisted it” kind of love, I think we assume that if any villain can muster selflessness, it’s going to always be like that. I think that this warped thing should be fairly rare because you have to be a certain kind of twisted individual to experience and express it.

Villains are people too; they should be able to experience and express pure love, even if it’s for their eldritch abomination or right-hand man or the captured princess they just let go without ransom. Make your villains dynamic – mix oil and water.

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Evil Doesn’t Understand Friendship (but your villain probably should)

Sorry for the lateness, minions!

A common enough of a theme is for the villain to be defeated by the power of friendship. Friendship is, after all, amazingly powerful, second perhaps only to the power of love.

An amazing robo-monster with all the powers of humanity, tech, and paranormal Beyond sewn together by someone surprisingly not named anything like Frankenstein proves a formidable enemy…

Until Buffy uses the power of FRIENDSHIP: “You could never hope to grasp the source of our power. But yours is right here.”

The power of friendship is so great, it has a multitude of children’s shows dedicated to it, and also tends to get its own episodes in many other shows.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem with evil’s misunderstanding of friendship. The primordial evil could not actually hope to grasp the concept of friendship because friendship is a type of love and love is selfless and evil, true Evil, is selfish and therefore Love and Evil are opposites. But we are a unique people because we are mortal and mortals are not abstract concepts like Love and Evil. Mortals are a weird bunch who are gray, who are a little bit everything.

What this means is that while Evil can never hope to understand friendship, your villain probably isn’t Evil. Your villain is probably evil, adjective, but not Evil, noun. Get it? Your villain is not The Primordial Evil.

Unless it is. You are definitely allowed to make your villain The First, like the end villain of Buffy. But usually The First and its primordial kin are not appropriate villains. Exceptions would also be made for a robot.

Your villain is a human, or a human-like being. And humans understand friendship, generally speaking. There are people who are not particularly evil who are crappy friends, sure. But there is absolutely no reason why your villain shouldn’t understand friendship. That doesn’t mean that your villain can assume that two heroes aren’t as good as friends as they think they are, or that altruism doesn’t exist. Enough decent people don’t believe in altruism and therefore don’t think anyone, even the best of friends, would ultimately act altruistically. But to assume your villain doesn’t understand or believe in altruism, and is always going to miss that important part of true friendship is to put your villain in the Villain Box, that crappy, limiting place where villains aren’t real people but just another stupid trope.

Don’t do that.

Also, this whole “your friendship is weakness” business, it’s nonsense. It really is. Surely an intelligent evil being can recognize that a bond as strong as true friendship is freaking amazing and more powerful than one selfish person alone. SURELY your villain can recognize that. And unless your villain is somehow isolated or so black-hearted or so selfish that they’ve become less than human – whether they were to start or not – your villain probably would like to have a friendship so strong and should be capable of it because mortals are insanely multi-faceted and complex and can be heartless and cruel and loving and kind all at once.

Consider a member of the Klan. Obviously a Klan member must be an incredibly hateful individual to want to treat another human being so wretchedly. But a Klan member could easily be a loving husband and father, too. We don’t like to hear that because our minds don’t want to reconcile that good and evil can reside within the same person simultaneously. When we hear of the Evil Priest, we say, oh, he’s just pretending, but it’s quite possible for the Evil Priest to take excellent care of his flock, to be a good priest, even if he’s also a terrible person.

So your villain’s right-hand man and general may also be his best friend. And they might have a true, beautiful relationship. Maybe the villain is friends with the hero – actually friends. That one is common enough. Maybe your villain respects the friendships the hero has and plans accordingly.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t defeat the villain with the power of friendship?

Pulled from http://mlp.wikia.com – they don’t state who the artist is and I cannot find it.

No way. There are still the robots who don’t get it, the Adams (meaning, Adam from Buffy; the Addams Family surely understands friendship), the primordial evils, the far-gone, twisted men. Friendship is awesome and people who don’t understand its power will find themselves at its mercy, and there ARE those who don’t understand its power.

Just…not every villain should be clueless. And hey, maybe you can have  a role reversal. Maybe your lone wolf almost anti-hero protagonist doesn’t understand friendship and finds himself ambushed by villain friends.

Edit: This is my 100th post! Thanks to everyone who enjoys this blog – your support is what keeps me going!

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Shapeshifters and Possession.

You know what I’ve seen a time or two? Or five? Or a million times, perhaps?

When you have a person who is a good guy but then it turns out HE’S NOT A GOOD GUY! but then actually he IS a good guy and the guy who isn’t a good guy is just pretending to be the guy who is actually good.

I’m talking about shape-shifters and possession. (Note: not talking about shape-shifting into animals, because that’s just awesome.)

I personally hate the dramatic tension of knowing that Mystique is running around with the good guys pretending to be one of the good guys while really that good guy is, I don’t know, tied up in a broom closet somewhere or worse, waiting for the worst possible moment to make the guy she’s pretending to be to look like a traitor.

LOL SURPRISE IT’S NOT THAT GUY!

Maybe it’s just because I really hate dramatic irony in general, because I can’t handle the tension. I’m fairly certain that can’t be a blanket rule for me, but I do dislike most instances of poignant dramatic irony.

‘Course it’s different when it’s in a multiplayer game…the dramatic irony aspect most especially, since you all know it could be an impostor.

You know what’s just as bad to me as a shape-shifter in a dangerous position? Something that amounts to the same friggun thing.

“Kain, are you okay?” “Yeah, I’m totally fine. Hey, can I hold the crystal?” “Uh, well, okay.” “JK TOTALLY POSSESSED AGAIN CYA.”

Whenever anyone gets possessed, I spend the entire time wondering when the heroes are going to friggun finally figure it out, or when he’s finally not going to friggun be possessed anymore, or why they flipping keep trusting him. Sorry, Kain, but just…you’ve betrayed us like five times now, so I’m afraid that you can’t be in our party anymore (even though you’re probably my favorite male character in this game and I just got the strongest Eidolon in the game solely because of you and never mind whatever I can’t even be mad. Fine, you can join us for the final dungeon).

The point is, for me personally, possession and shape-shifting are kind of weak tactics. Or, not weak, no. Cheap. Really cheap. Really punching your villain in the face cheapshot tactics and I just want the tactic to be overrr already!

For reals? Look I know how this is going down. He’ll cause some trouble and be a tough enemy and then he won’t be possessed anymore for reasons I don’t know yet and then he’ll be an excellent ally. Did that happen yet? How about this time? This time? Geez, finally.

However, as it happens, I’m not against shape-shifting as a concept. I will admit here that one of my most prized and loved characters is actually a shape-shifter. And yes, he’s a villain. Alternately, I also am writing doppelgangers as shape-shifters in some of my stories as well. So I’ve grappled with this. What makes Vince (said character) different from Mystique in my eyes? Why don’t I like that dramatic irony? What bothers me so much about a person not being what I thought they were – or knowing they’re not but no matter how much I scream at the characters, they don’t hear me?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason I don’t tend to like shape-shifting/possession is twofold. One, I really don’t like dramatic irony. Like I said, there may be exceptions but… However, that’s my personal preference. I’m not about to tell you that you can’t use it. Like anything else, it’s all in how you use it. There will be people like me that will be driven up the wall screaming IT’S THE CHANGELING! unable to stand the drama but if dramatic irony were just plain bad, no one would ever use it. Except fledgling writers who don’t know better.

Two, it’s the cheap shot aspect. You have Mystique, and with a second-quick flip of her skin, she’s someone else, anyone else. You have the Changeling in Terry Brooks’ The Elfstones of Shannara who just shifts into whatever he wants. You give Loki his scepter with the friggun Mind Stone in it and he just has to tap you and he’s got it. No challenge. No work. You want an impostor of some highly specialized sort? No problem.

How IS Vince different from Mystique? He can’t take the cheap shot because his shape-shifting has prerequisites. If he wants to shape-shift into another person, he has to complete a task concerning that person first, a task that could range from easy to impossible depending on the person, Vince’s own skills, and a few other random factors. Mystique just has to know what the person looks like. What about my doppelgangers? They can only shape-shift into the last person they touched, once. If they shape-shift and then turn back, they can’t shift again until they touch someone else, and then they can only shift into THAT person. Additionally, there’s a challenge with their shifting into someone else; a doppelganger could lose himself in a new form. It’s dangerous for them.

Why does this make a difference? Because it feels less like just totally cheating. And sure, villains can cheat, who cares? They’re evil. But remember the principle that a hero’s feats of defeating the villain don’t mean anything if the hero doesn’t have to do much to defeat the villain? Well…that’s a common theme really. If something’s too easy, it doesn’t mean anything. If the prisoner escapes because a single guard stupidly ambled into his cell when the prisoner was hiding on the ceiling, his escape was nothing to brag about. If the prisoner escapes pretending to be a nearly dead guard via wearing the face of the dead guard while putting the actual dead guard on top of the elevator…that’s incredibly creepy, this is why I don’t watch R movies, gah who left that on the television!? I mean it’s a pretty epic escape. If the villain can just turn into anyone she wants any time…I don’t feel like she earned it and then I just bite my nails urging the heroes to find out it’s her already! Not at the worst moment when she reveals herself, guys, come on! Oh, too late. I love Mystique as a character, I do. I think she’s fantastic. But I’m not impressed with her mutant powers. Look, if nothing else, the shape-shifting could be seamless but not perfect.

Your best bet is probably a catch to the transformation though – like a complex potion that only lasts for an hour. Maybe Crouch Jr. didn’t irritate me because of the lack of dramatic irony…maybe it’s because of this huge caveat to his shape-shifting. Or both!

If in possession, there’s not just some voodoo doll involved but an awful lot of work or, perhaps, it turns out that Kain wasn’t 100% possessed and that 10% of him did Golbez’ bidding anyway because Kain wanted to be with the kidnapped Rosa and kill her boyfriend of his own volition…the possession becomes a whole lot more interesting to me. The self-examination that can come with “Why was I able to be possessed?” is fantastic reflection for a character.

Ginny poured her soul in to the diary so of COURSE it was able to possess her. Something critical had to be done here for possession to occur, Voldemort didn’t just take hold of her as soon as her hands touched the cover.

The thing about all this is that fear is a powerful tool, and we have a fear of something, someone presenting as one thing, and turning out to be another; we have a fear of a betrayal of our trust, and of misjudging another. Shape-shifting and possession capitalize on all of these things. But to me, when it’s so readily available at the villain’s hands, I lose the fear and become irate. Maybe I’m weird that way, maybe that wouldn’t be a problem for your audience at large. But for me, it’s much more scary when you don’t really know, exactly – limit that dramatic irony – and much more impressive when it wasn’t so easy to set up.

(PS – there’s two new flash fiction pieces, if you were enjoying those.)

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Age of Ultron: Quick Look At Ultron

I’m not a huge comic book fan, but I can enjoy a super hero movie just as well as the next casual, and because I know people who ARE huge comic book fans who can tell me all the in-betweens of what’s going on, I do at least enjoy the story fairly well. Thus, when presented with an opportunity to go to a pre-screening of Age of Ultron, I was far more excited that it meant my husband and I had an excellent excuse for a date night than that I was going to see Age of Ultron.

But the movie was, for a casual like me, actually really, really good. And it was really good because of Ultron.

Oh, great, a movie where the main villain is a murderous robo-HOLY COW HE’S INTERESTING!

I don’t tend to like robot villains as much because robots lack a critical element that makes it possible for the reader/viewer to identify with it: emotion, empathy. In addition to that, robots tend to have only the slightest variations of personality, as personality has to be programmed in to a robot. Many writers just forgo real personality and keep it to the skinned, mechanical, coldly-calculating robot thing to make it all the more terrifying. This is all fine for your average robo bad guy, but if I can’t relate to the villain, then I am with the heroes in just getting rid of the stupid thing as fast as possible. I don’t spend any time really enjoying the villain, hoping he gets screen time, or thinking of him as even a real character. If I can’t relate to the villain, the villain just becomes Another Thing to me.

Not Ultron. I’d totally hang out with Ultron. What? Turns out you want to destroy the world and obliterate mankind? Bummer. Well, I’m sure the heroes will stop you, can we go get ice-cream on the way back from Important Plot Point?

Ultron had an amazing personality, easily ranking up in some of my favorite personalities.

My husband expressed that he was disappointed that more time was not spent establishing Ultron’s psyche, why Ultron insisted on humanoid forms, that sort of thing. I agree primarily because I would have been totally fine with more screentime for Ultron. Although, the other thing I really liked about the movie was how well the Avengers quips were woven into dialog and action. Ordinarily, in an action movie, you get a small handful of quips and there’s a pause before it – everyone leaves the guy behind and he stares after the people who left and says, “….quip!” before jogging after them and that’s your main joke line for the film. Nope. Not here. Just constantly, just like a real person would snap them out. Glorious.

So I would totally watch this movie again – and for those of you who have seen Avengers about a million times up til now, understand that I can enjoy superhero-action movies but they aren’t really my shtick and ordinarily I don’t really watch them multiple times. You multiple-Avengers-watchers, you’re going to love it. I’m excited for you guys. And if you’ve been enjoying the villains of Marvel, Ultron will not disappoint.

Oh, and no, really, there’s not anything after the credits. Sorry. I know, we all wanted that scene with Stan Lee as the janitor that just picks up Mol…Mlj…Molj…Thor’s hammer, cleans under it, sets it down. He has a different, still hilarious, cameo. I know, I’m as bummed as you.

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What About When There Isn’t A Villain?

Right now, my current WIP includes five main characters. One could argue that a different character is the villain, as he’s a huge douchebag and makes life difficult for the other four characters. However, I don’t particularly think of Kaizant as a villain, just a racist jerk. If asked, I’d say there aren’t any villains in Death’s Tear.

I’m hardly the only one to have ever written a book lacking a villain. Many of my writer friends tend more towards writing stories about jerks and bigger jerks – the main character is just as much of a not-that-great person as the next guy, although the antagonist might be a little more horrible. Or perhaps the protagonist IS more horrible, but since no one is really “right”, we still care about him. I’m certain that you could think of several stories lacking a distinct villain – as Man vs Nature comes to mind, so does Castaway. There’s not a villain there. There’s conflict, and vague Nature could be considered the antagonist, but Nature as a force doesn’t really have the ability to be evil because it lacks any morals whatsoever.

No one there but Hanks and Wilson – and as a volleyball, even if blood-faced, Wilson also lacks morals and cannot be a villain.

Remember that “villain” is an archetype so it’s possible to have a story with antagonists but no villains. The purpose a villain as an antagonist serves is one critical to a good book: conflict. Our lives as humans are rife with conflict and believe it or not, what makes a good story is a reflection of our lives. That’s why it’s so critical that your villain be a real, relatable person. So if a story isn’t rife with conflict, chances are good that it’s not an interesting story. The shorter the story, the more compact the conflict, but conflict has to emerge and be resolved during the course of the story. This, of course, could make things interesting if you introduce a villain for a reason other than causing conflict, although that would be a trick indeed – the easiest way to do this that I can think of off the top of my head is to make a villain the protagonist.

So what about when it’s not Man vs Man, but Man vs Society, Nature, or Self? Society actually still lends itself pretty well to villainhood so perhaps not so relevant to this discussion.

Big Brother is a villain if I ever saw one.

But we’ve already established that Nature can’t be a villain because Nature, lacking any sentience or morals or motivation, cannot choose what’s wrong or truly be evil. You can, of course, write Nature as if it was a villain, and therefore utilize a lot of the same villain-writing techniques. However, if you write Nature like a villain, you’ll lose a bit of the true organized chaos of Nature and personify it at least to some degree.

And what of Self? Self already requires one person to be, simultaneously, the protagonist and antagonist. This is not a super-complex idea as we do, after all, constantly make things difficult for ourselves. “I have class in the morning! Better stay up until 6am playing Minecraft.” Good times. But as most people are at least trying to be good, and as many people tend to think of themselves as the hero of the story, becoming one’s own villain makes the whole thing more diametric. The idea that one is a decent person and generally does what’s right comes into conflict with the idea that one is not a good person and often does what’s wrong. Of course, being one’s own villain is still hardly a novel idea.

Bid farewell to your bloodstained past and say hello to your bloodstained future! Seeing as the war isn’t over yet!

Final Fantasy IV features just such a common example of defeating one’s inner demons as Cecil makes the transition from dark knight to paladin – but the thing about IV is that Cecil is not the only one who fights his inner demons. Most of the cast of IV make some sort of transformation, including the original villain! Side note, FFIV is my second-favorite….eh, game, probably, so if you haven’t played it, you should.

But all the same, it seems one cannot actually simultaneously be the villain and the hero. There’s You and then there’s The Literal Demon In Your Head, if you have two at once. Or there’s Bipolarish You, if the character oscillates. But even someone with a split personality only manifests one at once. So if your story is about a good guy whose own worst enemy is himself, and that guy isn’t evil, well, your story, provided it has no other antagonists, has no villain.

While it’s entirely possible to apply what you know about writing villains to writing a non-evil antagonist, you’ll most find that what I’ve offered as to writing a villain are pieces of advice you already knew for writing other things, like heroes, because you can boil down all my advice down to “Villains are people, too”. The REAL thing you have to remember when your story doesn’t have a villain is that probably the point of a villain is conflict, so when your story doesn’t have a villain, focus instead on what causes the conflict, WHY, and HOW, and it won’t matter there’s not a villain.

Posted in Making Villains (Making Villains la-la-la!) | Leave a comment

Pebble

I don’t mind life as a pebble. Usually, it’s quite pleasant. Just, hard to travel. Sometimes, my sheen and smoothness entices a small human child to pick me up and carry me a while, but usually I am lost or else discarded when the child becomes bored with me. Sometimes I am kicked by a human or animal. I don’t like traveling that way. I also don’t like to be washed along by rivers. Rivers try to polish me into nothingness. One time I was eaten by a bird. I was there for a long time and made some pebble friends.

My favorite way to travel is by shoe. When I travel by shoe, I can pretend that I am traveling on my own. When I’m in a pocket, I don’t feel much motion, but I move with each step when I am in a shoe. And that’s the way I want to get off this mountainside.

The problem is that no one wants me in their shoe. I tried to slip up the worn heel of a man traveling by a group of wagons and I was able to enter without a problem but once inside he quickly stopped walking. We were still moving so I suppose he jumped up on one of the wagons. Then he dumped me out of his shoe. I had only moved a few feet! I tried to get into a little girl’s shoe. The toe was open. But because the toe was open, she was able to kick me right back out. The young lad stopped walking and took the time to take off his shoe and dump me out when I worked my way through his sole.

I don’t like being on this mountainside. There are a lot of rocks and pebbles along this way and many of them have better stories than I do. Many of them have similar stories. No one wants to hear about the time I was carried around by a bird.

The procession of travelers all passed and none of them got me very far. I wasn’t even kicked this time, which would have been a little better than not moving at all. I was crushed underfoot and under wagon wheels. I don’t care it’s against the rules. I’m jumping into the next boot that looks like the sole is intact.

There is a man coming now. He is wearing metal shoes. I have never been in a metal boot before. They look sturdy.

On jumping up into the boot as he passed, I realized the metal was just protecting a leather boot beneath. That would make sense. Humans don’t like hard things, that’s why they don’t want me in their shoe. They wouldn’t like a metal boot. Perhaps I’ll be careful of this foot and just hide in the toe. I want to get off this mountainside.

My human has stopped moving. I am bored. I want to get out of this shoe. We walked a long way and even if I’m still on the mountain pass, at least I’ll be far enough down that perhaps the other pebbles here will not have stories that are better than mine. I can hear other humans shouting at my human, but I cannot really make out the call. Is there a problem?

Now we are moving again. I can hear the sound of my brother metal moving around, clashing against other metal. I want to see what is happening. I want out of this shoe. I will place myself under this foot so that I will be removed from this shoe.

The way this shoe is moving, I would think we are dancing. The human is trying to kick me out of his shoe, but there’s no way out. This shoe is too well-made or too new or both. He has to take his shoe off. I will continue to prick him until he lets me out.

The clashing noise is still happening. My human is kicking desperately, trying to get me into his toe. If he wants me out of his shoe so badly, he should stop and take me out. Humans are so stubborn. I am not going to be confined to his toe. Staying in his toe would be hard anyway from the frantic way this human is moving.

My human has made a noise of extreme pain. I do not think that’s appropriate for the little jabs I am giving his foot. He has fallen down. Finally, he is going to take off his shoe. It’s about time.

He is not taking off his shoe. The other humans around are cheering. “The Lord Tyrant is defeated!”

I do not speak human. I do not know what this means. But I would like to get out of this shoe.

Posted in General Writing | 2 Comments