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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Guys I Didn’t Make It

Remember back on New Years where I made a resolution to finish writing the final draft of my book by the end of September? Seeing as how it’s Oct 1st, it’s now impossible for me to accomplish that goal if I haven’t and if you read the title of this post, which I’m assuming you did, I didn’t make it.

My book’s written completion status is like, halfway.

I could make some excuses about my computer breaking and not having access to the files and super bad depression hitting and stuff but really I still had plenty of time to do it and I didn’t.

But…then I did make a lot of progress on it, and honestly if I’m going to mope about not making my resolution, I’m wasting time. It’s not like the book is ruined now and now I have to give up. I’ll just keep trying.

But I did want to hold myself accountable.

My plans are to get way too excited about Halloween coming up and continue working on writing that final draft. And groaning as I submit it chapter by chapter to my writing groups and they agree it’s strong and the final draft and here’s 50 things that are still problems with it but it’s definitely final draft material. (ugh, fifty small but necessary changes…my nemeses.) Thanks for helping to hold me accountable!

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Death Does Not Equal Redemption

I can’t write “redeeming villains” without thinking something like, “Yes, hi, I have two villain coupons, for that big red-eyed bloke over there, yes the one with the giant scar. Yes, and I’ll be redeeming him for one hero, please? Thank you.”

But amusing musings aside, sometimes our villain is faced with…something, perhaps the reality of his situation, that makes him realize that perhaps…he’s wrong.

“All right, Minion! You were right, and I was…less right.”

Oftimes, the villain sees himself as the hero of the story, so a good look back at reality, a confrontation with the fact that actually he’s evil, might be just the thing he needs to decide to make a heel-face-turn. However, just because a guy realizes that he did a lot of messed up things doesn’t make it better. So how to redeem himself from this hole of villainy?

Death is a pretty common answer. There are reasons for it, but they’re explained on the TV tropes page and I’d be surprised if you couldn’t think of them on your own anyway. I for one am not fond of redemption = death. See the thing about death is that it is, after all, pretty permanent (or at least it should be) and so you can’t really do anything after you die. All that dying really does is take the villain out of the equation, which might have been helpful if he was still evil and causing problems, but I don’t see how that’s helpful after he’s turned.

There are all the TV trope listed reasons about seriousness and whatnot, but honestly, I think that a lot of people are attached to the idea that redemption equals death for the reason my husband came up with: plenty of folks don’t believe people ever really change. I vehemently disagree, but for those out there who think people don’t really change, it’d be vital the villain dies after his heel-face-turn. That’s the only way he could have truly changed – if he died before he got a chance to revert back.

That was a constant theme in the show. Actually, their determination not to have things change is why I stopped watching at whatever season ends with Elliot deciding not to marry Keith like a stupid freaking moron.

But see, people DO change. Change isn’t easy, but people do change and to say otherwise is stupid and ignorant. Just usually we don’t notice because people don’t often change suddenly and dramatically. A heel-face-turn doesn’t have to be all at once, and when it is, usually I think it’s fairly reasonable given that coming head-on with your beliefs and having everything you know shattered is a life-changing event. It makes sense that someone would then go through a major change suddenly.

I for one prefer villains to live for a variety of reasons. One of them has to do with the fact that in a way, I think death is easy for someone so evil. They don’t have to spend as much time living with their actions. It’s possible that their actions were haunting them before, floating around behind them half-ignored, it’s possible that there’s space between death and the turn where their actions haunt them. But usually, when you screw up, it follows you for your whole life.

For me, the way characters deal with life events is often more important than the life event itself. Usually I’m worried about a protagonist recovering from something horrible – a scrape with death, torture, loss of a loved one, etc – because it’s important to me to write hope into my stories. What’s more hopeful than that people recover from bad things? Maybe my characters don’t do well, but showing how they work through things makes them human, and if they succeed in becoming stronger, don’t let the life event own them, maybe that can mean something more to a reader.

But I feel the same way about villains working through “oh crap I messed up”. I mean, that’s something we all go through, too. And being able to recover from messing up is also important. I see working through “oh crap I messed up” as a message of hope just as much as “bad things happened to me but I recovered”.

Pulled from genius.com

Also, forgiveness is really important to me. Probably because it’s a crucial element in my religion, but regardless, it’s important to me, for both parties. It’s important that someone who did wrong can receive forgiveness. It’s important that a victim learn how to forgive. I personally see it as infinitely more useful that a perpetrator realize his wrong and not only work to never, ever do evil again but also become a force for good than that a perpetrator suffers. While seeing someone get theirs is satisfying, it’s just…not really useful at all. A change of heart is. And because I’m a Christian, yes, I’m okay with the fact that if someone does evil but then has a true change of heart, they don’t get the punishment for their evil. (Although doctrinally there are some exceptions, like most murder.) But see, that’s the second half – the willingness to forgive. There’s plenty of works on vengeance and how it’s not actually a super-great thing and willingness to forgive is basically the opposite of an attitude of vengeance, making it the higher moral. (You can disagree, but that’s my view.)

Tellah (FFIV) is exhibit A for “ISN’T VENGEANCE GREAT aw crap no it isn’t.”

So that means that it’s important to me that the villain get a chance to repent.

Sometimes death after redemption, or as a part of redemption, is just appropriate for one reason or another. Sometimes the right-hand man of the overlord realizes “aw crap, I’m evil!” and of course, he’ll turn on his previous master and die because doing anything else would be cowardly or just not make sense. But for me, I always find a heel-face-turn villain death to be incredibly sad. I feel the loss of potential, I feel the loss of the villain’s chance to work through his guilt, and even the loss of the protagonist’s chance to become a little better through learning to forgive.

Honestly, I don’t think that death makes for redemption. I think that a true change of heart complete with remorse for evil makes for the start of redemption, and if death is a way of displaying that, then death is a part of the redemption. However, dying is easy so it’s not much of a redemption. But living, living and doing better, that’s excruciating. Living is the hardest thing each one of us does.

So for me, if you really want to redeem your villains, they’ll live – they’ll live with the consequences of their actions and the task of doing better.

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Another Thought on the Motivations of Female Villains

So the husband and I have recently started playing Hyrule Warriors together again. Plotwise, it’s not much to talk about, but it’s a game about killing things with a Zelda skin, so I don’t much care about the plot and care far more about the fact it’s a two-player game at which I don’t completely suck (like Half Life Decay) and can therefore enjoy with my husband.

Speaking of which, if you make games, MAKE MORE GAMES WIVES AND HUSBANDS CAN PLAY TOGETHER!

Anyway, playing it again has got me thinking more of the original villain, Cia, and her motivations. If you’re not familiar with the plot, let me go through it briefly:

Once upon a time, the Hero of Time (Link) defeated an ancient evil (Gannondorf/Gannon) and split him into a bunch of pieces because that’s always a great idea. He sealed each of the pieces in a different location, one of which he left with this timeless oracle who also was guardian over the Triforce of Power.

Here’s Cia in the Oracle’s costume.

This Oracle was supposed to watch over all of time in addition to the other crap the Hero of Time dumped on her and so she watched Link through time, and fell in love with him. Despite all her Facebook stalking of Link, she failed to notice he already had a timeless girlfriend (Zelda, who let me remind you is a freaking goddess who fell in love with Link first) and decided that she had a chance. The Piece of Gannon she was supposed to be guarding but wasn’t really because fangirling saw an opportunity to corrupt her heart and encourage the selfish teenage girl in her until she became almost totally corrupted and decided to just…idk, kidnap Link or something. Whatever creepy stalkers do. The “almost” part of her corruption split off from her, becoming a protagonistic character, leaving the evil part, Cia. Cia uses evil magic to get some followers and attacks Hyrule and then gets sidetracked trying to get all of the Pieces of Gannon because I guess he’s controlling her sorta, and then The Good Guys decide to get the Master Sword even though it’s keeping the last Piece of Gannon sealed and it’s An Incredibly Bad Idea and then Cia wants to…kill everyone and take over the world? and then The Good Guys defeat her and then Gannondorf shows up screaming “You fools thought that Cia was the main villain? You fools! YOU FOOOOOLS!” until he turns into Gannon and The Good Guys beat him up again.

It’s actually easy: the gerudo is Ganondorf. The pig demon is Ganon. Pulled from shannonsketches.tumblr.com.

Here’s the thing. There are some women out there who would say that a female character should never be motivated by wanting a guy in her life. I think that’s a pile of crap for several reasons, the biggest of which is that real women in real life are actually  motivated by wanting a guy, sometimes a specific guy, in their life. And we women should be allowed to want to have a guy in our lives. I tell you what, my husband has drastically improved my quality of life. (Of course, there are more mild arguments about dependency on men and whatnot that I’d agree with, but I don’t want this to be a discussion about that.)

However! I do take umbrage when it’s the sole defining characteristic or sole motivation for a woman. That’s a problem for a couple of reasons. One, if a person is going to be motivated by one sole factor that defines their entire life, that dips into creepy obsession territory for any other motivation, and therefore probably for this one too – and if it doesn’t, the character becomes unavoidably cardboard. Two, it’s sexist because it unavoidably sends the message that women are defined by men, need men, are made for desiring men, etc. I mean, when all a woman does is want to get with a guy, that’s all she’s for, and that’s wrong. There’s nothing – nothing! – wrong with wanting to have a guy in your life as a woman, but that’s not what women are for, wanting men. Women aren’t “for” anything. They’re people. 

So Cia. She literally would not exist were it not for her infatuation with Link. I mean it was in actuality the fact that she fell in love with him that created this evil, boob-touting monstrosity.


I have a lot of conflicted feelings about Cia. I mean, on the one hand the idea of this timeless oracle falling in love with Link is not without merits. It’s an intriguing idea! But I just can’t say I was fond of the ultimate execution. Especially because Cia’s way of dealing with things wasn’t even consistent. Towards the end she was more just kind of broken “kill everyone even Link” and “Take over the world!” and guuuh. (In all fairness, she did start using evil magic to a point where it started eating her mind but I feel my point still stands.) I’m so tired of villains who want to take over the world because that’s the evil thing to do. Do you know how much freaking WORK taking over the world is? It’s not just the effort to conquer it – but RUN it. Ridiculous. Also I feel like eventually she should have realized that her biggest obstacle to “having” Link, aside from the fact she was friggun evil, is that Link has a girlfriend and therefore she should have been more focused on killing Zelda to death. Which certainly would have allowed Zelda insisting on pretending to be Sheik make a lot more sense as there was literally no real reason for her to do so as is. No, it’s fine, just keep Impa sick with worry about you, Zelda. THAT’S the kindly, wise thing to do.

But despite this rather cardboard motivation, Cia still had a lot of personality. It was…weird how they pulled that off. As long as she wasn’t trying to say any villain lines – you know, like the “I’m about to do battle with the hero and now I must say something to initiate battle” kind of lines, for example – she had a lot of fun spunk. And there’s a rather touching moment when you defeat her when Lana – her good side – runs over to her as she dies and Cia is like “how can you stand it? You love him but he’ll never love you back” and Lana is like “Sometimes you don’t get who you think you deserve and it’s okay” and just – they really got across the pain of unreciprocated love.

Kinda funny that a timeless oracle who apparently KNOWS she loses tries to change her fate anyway, eh? (I like it.) And yes, sorry it’s poor quality. Also the blue-haired chick is Lana.

When it comes to real life women, those who let needing a guy define them usually come across as pathetic and or desperate. That or they’re a teenage girl, and that’s oodles of all sorts of complicated to write anyway. Teenage girls, even the more mature or intelligent ones, are still a mess. But then, even the fourteen-year-old who says she “needs a man” is still preoccupied with other pursuits as well.

So while it’s realistic for a woman to be motivated by wanting a boyfriend, even a specific man, it’s not realistic and it’s even sexist to have that be the sole, defining characteristic and motive of a female character. If everything she does, thinks about, talks about is about getting the guy, maybe you need to spend more time around single straight women who would like a boyfriend and see what else they do. I know, sometimes it really does seem like that’s ALL they care about. Especially if you’re 21 and LDS. (Thanks for all the pressure to get married. All us young adults love it. Yes yes, say I don’t have room to talk because I AM married, but it still sucked when I was single, and I still understand.) But it’s not and if that’s all you’re getting, try talking to a handful of ladies about themselves.

When I was single and alone, I wanted a family, but I also wanted to write my books and get published. That was a huge motivation for me. I also wanted to get my PsyD in criminal psychology and work with sociopaths until I developed a treatment that worked for those with ASPD. I now have a husband, which happened mostly by accident, and I’m now motivated by strengthening my marriage and getting to be with my husband, and taking care of my baby. But I’m still motivated by those other two things too, even if the PsyD is on hold until we have, say, money. I’m also motivated by helping others. By being a good friend. Those are important to me. A big reason I hope to be very rich one day is so that I can afford to have a big house so if a friend or two are in a rough spot, I can fly them to my  house and they can crash there until they can get into a better situation. I also wish I could help out with worthy causes. I’m also motivated by pie and sushi. Seriously. My ward did this activity where each apartment in the ward got a pie pumpkin and whoever stole the most pumpkins (using craft and NOT force) by the end of the game got a pumpkin pie. I stole 10 pumpkins in the first week in one day. I’m highly motivated by pie, especially pumpkin pie.

For one Thanksgiving, my ward had a pie-making contest that only the Bishopric was going to judge. Somehow, I managed to finagle my way into becoming a judge as well. Worked out since they had no idea how to best go about figuring out the best pie and my organizational pie-eating skills made it easy. I take pie very seriously. (I take getting pictures of myself very un-seriously.)

Motivation not to be alone – that’s a big thing. It’s important. Precious few of us want to be alone, truly want to be truly alone. And so that’s why it’s good and sometimes even important to have a character be motivated looking for a significant other – for a straight woman, that’s a man. And that’s good. Intimacy is beautiful. But when it’s the only aspect of a person’s life, it’s shallow, it mocks the beauty of intimacy and human closeness. It ignores the humanity of women, at worst making them out to be nothing more than tools of pleasure for men and at best, making them out to be less than whole, less than a person, without a man. But it’s not as fine a line as it sounds because it’s just about good writing and dynamic characters.

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The Right Attitude for Villains

Back when I was single and had roommates – three, different ones each year! – one of them very politely let me tell her stories. ALL THE STORIES. She let me read her a story I’d written, the whole thing, and tell her the story of my saga. Guys, my saga takes literally days to tell, I don’t call it a saga in vain. She was a real sweetheart, she was the one who would make Sweedish meatballs and approach me and beg me to eat them (instead of ramen, since my cooking skills are poor and my motivation to cook even poorer) which was adorable since they were tasty and I would have happily eaten them.

So I’m telling her my saga and I say, “And that’s when we meet Vince. He’s a villain.”

Which he is, after all.

She immediately balls up her fists and says, “Oooh, I hate him!”

This is puzzling to me. Vince has not done anything except that I said his name and that he’s a villain. She doesn’t know any of the things he’s done, why he’s a villain, what he looks like, his agenda…and she hates him. I had to pause the story to tell her she wasn’t allowed to hate him yet.

Why did that happen? Because “villain” is often a tag for “the guy that you’re supposed to hate” or “the guy you are supposed to want to lose”. So once we have the villain tagged, we can just ignore who and what he is and hate him, right? No! No you can’t do that! First of all, you can’t always trust the author to tag his or her characters correctly. I mean, I know of books where the author tagged “hero” and the hero was constantly doing horrible things all of the time. He wasn’t a hero. Other times, the tag is meant to be a talking point. When you tag someone as a villain but their morals are just a darker gray than everyone else’s, that makes you think, doesn’t it? Who is the real villain? Are there real villains?

Yes, but that’s the thing. Villains are people, too.

It was an interesting experience to watch her view on villains change as I told her she wasn’t allowed to hate Vince until I told her his entire story. Vince doesn’t start out as a villain, y’know. He is driven insane by my evil overlord, plays the part of a villain, regains his sanity, and turns away from evil’s side. And once she knew the whole thing, she still didn’t like him, and that was okay, because he did some pretty terrible stuff while working for Etheromos, my overlord. But she didn’t just blanket hate him.

I love getting character art, since I find it motivating to write. Also, best background screens ever.

She did despise Etheromos, though.

This is a comic I drew for her. I also drew a follow-up where Vince offers her a high-five for the nice gut punch, and she hits him in the face with a hammer and walks away.

But her hatred of Ether is much deeper than it could be, would have been, with her proper understanding of what it means for him to be a villain.

I don’t know if she would have liked those dozens of hours of storytelling back, but I definitely taught her how to see the people in others, even the evil ones.

And that brings us to the attitude with which to write villains. You can’t go in thinking you’re going to write a villain, going to write the bad guy. I mean, what if you were going to write a character with the thought, “I’m gonna write a black guy now!” The focus becomes on this character as a race, not a person, and you’re probably going to wind up with some racist stereotypes going in at that angle. The version of a racist stereotype for a villain is a crappy cliche – not offensive, but still poor writing. (Could be offensive to people who care a lot about villains – like me. When I see a really crappy villain, I do get a little offended that someone would shame the name of villainry like that, but I’m weird so whatever.)

You have to go in thinking that your villain is a person. I know I’ve said that your villain is a person about a million times, on just about every blog post, but that’s because it’s the single most important thing you can remember to improve the way you write your villains. Remember that they are a person, and stop thinking about them as a villain when writing. Describing them to someone else, or explaining the plot, sure. But not when you’re writing. When you’re writing, they’re just another main character, who has goals, wants, a moral code (that might be mostly empty), a personality. And none of those have to be built around the idea that this guy is a “bad guy”. Don’t. Let your villain blossom naturally.

Approach this with the right attitude – don’t worry about writing someone to hate, don’t worry about tagging the villain. Just put the right pieces into play, the right motive, and the rest will sort itself out, beautifully.

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Why Is “The Devil is a Part-Timer” So Funny?

If you don’t know the show, I’m talking about an anime that is freaking hilarious. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. It’s also unfortunately quite short and leaves loose threads hanging because it didn’t get as many episodes/seasons as it needed, but there’s always the manga.

I present: The Devil

What’s it about? Well, it starts off in Anime Fantasyland where The Destined Hero is fighting The Devil who was leading a campaign of blood and slaughter across Fantasyland to take over the world. It’s a highly typical and even cliche scenario for any fantasy story. Right as The Hero is fighting with The Devil, the climax of the fantasy story (this is like the first ten minutes of the first episode), The Devil grabs his last remaining general Alciel and hops through a portal to another world to regroup and recover. The Hero dashes after him.

That portal leads to modern-day Japan, where no one’s magic powers work. (Okay, they do, but only under special circumstances.) Now as a human(ish thing), The Devil has to eat. The two of them also need a new “castle” (or upstairs apartment, they’re basically the same thing). They need…jobs.

So The Devil takes on the new identity of Sadao Mao and gets a part-time job at the local McDonald’s (MgRonald’s, whatever, we all know what it really is). And you better believe he is the best, most model McDonald’s employee that ever served up a batch of fries. (The Hero gets a job at a call center.)

Why is that funny? I mean, it’s just a guy with a job doing it as well as he can for a promotion. Who also happens to be the lord of darkness who will one day conquer the earth. No big deal. Why is Alciel staying at home and working like a devoted housewife worth giggles? Some of the humor probably would have been funny with two regular guys anyway, but something about their demonic origins just makes it…funnier.

I mean, Buffy capitalizes on whatever it is that makes it funny too. Plenty of things do.

I’m not a comedic expert, but I guess it’s because of context. Demons are a highly unusual, fantastic, irregular occurrence. So they don’t really…do the mundane. Like working at a fast-food restaurant. It’s a reversal of expectations and everyone knows that’s comedy gold.

The thing about it, though, is that Mao’s occupation and situation aren’t why I don’t take him seriously as a villain. I don’t take him seriously as a villain because he’s not a villain. Sure, sure, he’s The Devil and all that but he’s the protagonist and we get a good look at how honestly, his reign of blood and horror had more to do with just not really understanding humans and trying to look after his own more than being evil. As he starts to get the whole “human” thing, he cares for humans just as much.

So that being said, is it possible for a funny villain to be taken seriously as a villain?

I don’t see why not. I mean, Mao still takes all of his world domination schemes very seriously. A villain could have a desk job, hilarious as that is, but still be truly sinister. He can ride a bike to work, name his bike Dolahan, but still be a force with which to be reckoned. After all, a child can be a villain. When the child is the villain, silly, petty goals are expected, yet, the execution can still lead to the audience saying, wow, that kid sure is evil – taking her seriously as a villain.

Petty goals, still a real villain. Why should hilarious circumstances be any different from petty goals? Look, what matters is what your villain is like inside. No matter how funny they are, and taking their circumstances very seriously the way Alciel and Satan do, talking about their pittance of yen like an overlord’s treasury is pretty funny, if they’re still serious about their goals and their motivations are evil and careless, then they’re still a villain. Of course, it they’re incompetent or you never let them have even the tiniest win, the reader/viewer still can’t take them seriously. Who ever does take a buffoon seriously?

Has the motive, has the comedy…has no success.

But ultimately, it’s still the motive that counts most.

Why is “The Devil is a Part-Timer” funny? It’s situational comedy, a reversal of expectations…why else? I don’t know, I just know it is. But what can we learn from it, about villains? Funny shouldn’t impede evil enough that your villain can’t still be a real villain.

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Recurring Villain: Evolving Motive

I said I’d make up for last week and I meant it! But after bringing up recurring villains last post, how could I not bring them back?

Anyway I want to talk about how to make a recurring villain more interesting. For some types of villains, this won’t work as well, as their motive must remain stable. But heroes, as they progress through the story, may have a gradual shift of motive. Maybe it’s that they’re motivated by money and then slowly they become motivated by their developed love for another character, or nobility to protect. A goal might stay the same – protect the city – but why may change.

Your villain should also experience character growth because he is, after all, a person. How does your villain’s motive shift over time? Did they want to fight your hero because he was in the way, but now it’s out of aggravation and a desire for vengeance? Maybe it was just for fun, but now the hero is a legitimate threat?

Only ONE can be the very best. Red goes from being just any old challenger to legitimate competition to become the champion.

Perhaps the motive doesn’t change, but the execution of the motive should if nothing else. As long as it’s the same tune, second verse, same song second quarter, your villain is, in one way or another, the goldfish poop gang. Unless they’re The Pursuit, I suppose, whose purpose is to start off at an incredibly high level and be scary and terrifying. Not just scary, but scary AND terrifying.

Your hero changes over time, and if your villain doesn’t, not only do you make your villain cardboard, but he is no longer a match for your hero. Cardboard is, after all, neither interesting nor difficult to defeat.

The recurring villain goes offscreen for anything that isn’t an interaction with the hero, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore and forget about him, too. You need to know exactly what’s going on, what he’s doing, how he’s growing. If you have a hard time with it, try writing all the scenes of his time away from the hero for yourself. I find that if I write a scene I never intend to include in the actual book, I have an easier time weaving that scene into the subtext; that scene might not exist physically in the book, but in a whispered way, it still exists in the book.

You might also consider this evolution of motive as a consideration for timing. When he’s changed significantly, maybe it’s time for him to show his face again.

Especially if it’s his face that changed.

Just remember your villains are people too, and that your characters are all your children. While the story might be about one in particular, each of your children needs proper love and attention for them to be full and complete. And with an MC as important as your villain, upon which your entire book hinges, you really can’t slack off just because he only shows up from time to time.

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Xanatos Has Been Defeated

When my husband found out I hadn’t seen Gargoyles as a kid and, subsequently, got the first two seasons on DVD for his birthday, we began watching immediately. I was able to peg the villain pretty instantly – like before we even met him just from the intro. Sure enough, Xanatos was a bad guy, and he went to jail for theft after like the first five episodes.

This led to Carmen (You can say her name is Elisa all you want but I watched enough Where In The World to know Carmen when I see her) trying to convince the gargoyles to find a new home while they still had a chance and Goliath refusing, repeatedly stating that they were fine to stay in the castle on top of Xanatos’ building where he lived because “Xanatos has been defeated.” Carmen tried to explain that he just went to jail for a few months or whatever and would be back.


“Xanatos has been defeated.”

For a big scary gargoyle he is just -adorable-!

It’s a bit of a joke now, sometimes I’ll just randomly turn to my husband and say, “Xanatos has been defeated” because it’s just so funny. We were five episodes in. Obviously Xanatos was not defeated. He came back and caused more ruckus. (Luckily Carmen got the other gargoyles to move and Goliath just kinda had to go too.)

So I said that I don’t like the undead because I hate it when a villain is defeated and comes back, like, no dude, you had your go, you’re done!

But how is that different from a villain making a comeback from defeat that didn’t involve death?

I want to start off by saying that it’s automatically a little different if they don’t die. I mean, death is pretty permanent, or at least iT’S SUPPOSED TO BE [/yelling at zombies and whatnot] so I don’t necessarily hate this device. I also want to point out that a frequent example is where it looks like the villain died, because he fell off a cliff, but I mean come on, we all know he didn’t. I want to point that out to immediately say that’s not actually an example at all because the villain was never properly defeated. The defeat would have been death. He didn’t die. He wasn’t defeated. Do your job properly, heroes, sheesh.

There’s this one part in Tron Legacy where the heroes get in an elevator that loses power and goes zooming to the ground (but of course they don’t die) and then CLU talks to the guy who was supposed to kill them and he’s like, “I presume they died in the elly-vator!” and CLU says, “You presume?” before sending his best warrior to go check it out and it made me SO HAPPY. FOR ONCE THEY DIDN’T TAKE IT FOR GRANTED.

The thing is you don’t often see villains coming back from a proper defeat unless they’re a recurring villain or something. In which case the timing matters a lot, and how they come back, and whatnot, but that’s their whole point is to keep coming back so I don’t have any real feelings about it.

Honestly, my reaction to “Xanatos has been defeated” should say how I feel about this – unless the villain is dead, something like dead, or has truly had a change of heart, he’s probably always a threat and will definitely come back. To think otherwise is naive. So it’s all about


Make sure when your villain comes back, you have a real reason to bring him back. If you’ve introduced someone else as the new villain, your old villain will be competing for space and attention. The smaller the size of your creation, like a short video or novella, the less useful it is to have two villains. Even a single movie should be wary of having multiple villains because of time constraints – even two villains means they both have half the strength they could on their own.

Also consider that reason for  bringing him back in depth. What does that make your heroes feel? How has the villain’s motivation and personality changed? Maybe his “defeat” was, to him, just a minor setback like with Xanatos’ time in jail, where he spent the whole time plotting his next move anyway and didn’t really consider it a defeat. (“Xanatos has been defeated.” It’s just…it’s just never not funny.) Did your own villain even consider the defeat as such, or were your heroes naive?

If it was a real defeat, consider if it wouldn’t serve your story to actually just…keep the defeat and introduce someone new, too. Maybe your defeated villain really is done. Don’t think about how much you love the character, but how much the story needs someone fresh.

Either way, I don’t have beef with a character coming back from a defeat if they learned from it because in a way, that just makes them a new threat, a new and more dangerous threat. If they didn’t learn anything, that makes them some sort of crappy recurring villain and ugh, get out of the way, you’re no bother to me, you’re just a distraction. It’s only when a villain comes back from death that I get itchy – and by “I” I mean my staking hand.

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Why I Made An Oath Against the Undead

It was when I was around eight or so, and it was the kind of oath that a vampire slayer might make against vampires. I mean, I’d still totally use zombies and crap in a story. I just hate them.

Undeath and evil are – or at least were, before we all apparently decided vampires and zombies are awesome and misunderstood and we all like them – closely related. Likely this is because undeath goes against nature. Dead things should stay dead.

But that’s where it gets sticky. I was explaining that dead things should stay dead and that’s why I don’t like zombies to a classmate one time – college, for frame of reference – and he pointed out that he once died for a handful of minutes in a motorcycle accident. Should he have stayed dead?

I don’t really know how to answer that question, but a part of me grumbles that it’s different. I mean, if he didn’t stay dead after a few minutes, then was he ever really totally dead in the first place? Even if he flatlined and was technically dead, and he saw heaven or whatever, if he comes back, was he really dead? I don’t know how to address that but he’s clearly not a zombie so whatever.

But there’s the other aspect that makes undeath sticky. There are people who would argue I worship a zombie (to which I indignantly reply that if you’re going to spew blasphemies, at least get them straight: He’d be a lich, thank you, what with His ability to bring back other dead and immense powers, and His returning was done by Himself. Lich. But seriously, don’t call my god a zombie OR a lich, that’s super incredibly rude and not at all funny.)  See, Christ is different from a zombie because He wasn’t brought back in undeath, He was resurrected, which is again different! (You can argue if you want, but then you’re being pedantic.)

But then…resurrection, less horrible and creepy than undeath or not, is still a matter of dead things not being dead anymore. So what’s really my beef with the undead?

Well, undeath feels like cheating to me, honestly. Cheating in, often, the most lame possible way ever. Because it’s a way of things not being defeated. Look, once you’ve been defeated and killed, you are done. You don’t get to come back! That’s bullcrap!

Aw come the frick on! How many times must I kill you?

But that’s not all, no. The undead creature I hate the most is the vampire, and that’s because vampires have had more and more powers pressed onto them as society and writers alike have decided to romanticize them – the guy comes back bigger, and badder. Except with vampires, we’re now at the point (or were, depending on who you hang out with) where vampires are basically humans but cooler in every way. I mean, sure, there’s that whole have to drink blood thing, but it’s easy to make loopholes around that. Starting with the fact that it can be sorta glossed over, I mean, vampires are immortal so it’s not like they ACTUALLY have to eat, right? (groan.) Or, like, animal blood works too, sure. Oh, also vampires get super speed and strength. For no particular reason, I mean, vampires are just cool, okay? Better than humans! Also even though a vampire is literally a dead person, who keeps the appearances of the original human they were except maybe more gaunt and definitely more pale, they’re often gorgeous. Do you know how much sense that makes? Frick, guys, we’re not talking about blood-sucking elves here!

VAMPIRES ARE LITERALLY DEAD PEOPLE. THEY ARE, IN ACTUALITY, CORPSES. To like them is NECROPHILIA. They are walking cadavers! They are stiffs that aren’t so stiff!

Ew no Buffy stop look if you don’t want to kill him that’s fine but- eeew stop no aw friggun not Spike too what is WRONG with you?


Anyway it’s just stupid and cheap and mary-sue-ish to me. What, you die and come back way, way stronger? No. That’s cheating in the lowest, most pathetic way.

Look, I’m not saying don’t write vampires. I intend to include my own vampire mythos in my own stories. But don’t romanticize them, for the love of anything capable of loving! And also stop making them elves – remembering that elves are basically humans but better in every conceivable way. If you die, that’s a bad thing. Death is bad. Bad! So there have to be legitimate consequences. Cadavers aren’t pretty, for one thing, and if they get strength, there has to be a cost somewhere. And I’m still going to hate them, even if they’re a “good guy”, because I hate the undead.

Equivalent exchange, guys.

I have varying degrees of accepting other undead, but I’d still kill them all. Because they’re undead, and it’s an abomination against nature, a cheat, and dead things should stay dead.

Liches – these are usually sorcerers who seal their soul in a phylactery and then convert themselves to a skeletal being who are immortal and regenerate from their phylactery if destroyed. The only way to kill a lich is to destroy the phylactery, and then the lich. Or maybe the other way around, if you can do it quickly enough. Some mythos have destruction of the phylactery sufficient. Liches usually do this to themselves on purpose, so defeating them the first time around is as a lich. But then there’s almost always the matter of finding the #*$% phylactery and defeating them again. And again. That’s, uuurgh, so obnoxious! I hate it! (You are totally allowed to use this plot device. I just hate it and want to kill it for exps.)

You know, Voldemort is basically a lich with multiple phylacteries.

Zombies – nowadays we want to show zombies as friendly and funny as much as mindless monsters. But to me, a zombie is a cruel and wrongful desecration of a person’s body, using it as a weapon without their permission. Sure, some zombies retain their personality – but those zombies are jokes. And I’d still kill them for xp.

Banshees – These might have been alive once, or maybe they were just always dead, vagrant souls announcing death. Either way, wandering spirits don’t belong on the mortal plane so off you go!

Other Undead – see these get more obscure and people know them less. Revenants, wights, ghouls (if that’s not a synonym for zombie to you), constructs, etc…and they tend to have more interesting and or complex origins. But they’re still undead, still shouldn’t exist.

So I made an oath against the undead because once you’re dead, you’re done playing, you don’t get to come back, we don’t need to defeat you again, because it’s an abomination against nature. But hey, I’m also not really for murder or rape or other terrible crimes either. I’d get rid of all of those if I could. And yet, I’d also still put them in books.

Just do us a favor and don’t make it a cheap trick to bring things back to life, and please don’t make vampires blood-sucking elves who get sunburned easily.

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Sorry about last week, guys. Between the lack of a computer, severe depression, and a baby who just keeps growing which apparently means one small nap a day instead of two hour-long ones is fine, it got to be Tuesday and I realized I hadn’t posted. And then I kept thinking I should figure out a way to post, even if it meant using my phone, to at least say, sorry I didn’t post. But then I didn’t. Sorry!

Anyway, today my computer replacement arrived. It’s a tablet hybrid. Its name is Pandemonium. I asked a friend what I should name it and it quickly became clear that there was no other option but to name it Pandemonium. (Why a tablet? Reasons!)

Anyway I plan on doing something to make up for last week. That something will be posts. Right now, I’m still dealing with setting everything up on Pandemonium, and also a baby who thinks that my giving a tiny device attention instead of her tiny person is criminal, so I’ll be making a proper post later. I’ll also post later in the week. The post, as inspired by the title of this post, will be on why I made an oath against the undead when I was eight or so. I hate the undead, guys. I hate them.

Thanks for continuing to read even though I missed last week! I appreciate you all beyond measure.

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The “True Name” Magic System And Why I Hate It

This isn’t like “why I don’t like female villains“. I seriously hate the “true name” system of magic.

The history of a name magic system, I believe, comes from old fairytales and styles of magic where if you knew something’s name, you had power over it. This idea has cropped up in a lot of modern works, too – I mean, it was in Dr. McNinja, Fruits Basket, Runescape (if you know a demon’s name…), World of Darkness Changelings…as a traditional style of magic, I’m okay with the idea that names have power, and that if you know something’s name you have power over it.

The “true name” system is a liiittle different because, see, there’s some sort of True Language – very often Elvish which that alone is enough to piss me off – and you have to use the [/waves hands mystically] Trooooo naaaaaaame in order to actually do magic. So basically, it’s exactly like the idea that names have power, except you now also have to learn a foreign language – but only the nouns of that language, not like, any other types of words, or grammar, or cool idioms, no – and also some sort of stupid big deal about the MC’s and other important character’s true names. Gag.

This tag is a bad idea in any name-magic systems.

Look, I get that making up a language is even harder than learning a real one (or a real fake one like Tolkien Elvish or Klingon) but you can’t half-try either of those. Well, actually you CAN half-try making up a language, but you’re going to need more than several handfuls of nouns as [/waves hands mystically] troooooo naaaaaames to show any respect for language.

Some of the problems I have with the true name magic system include:

Elvish. If your True Language is Elvish, I hate you for it. Not only does it grind on me to have elves be these super mystical pretty better than humans in every way awesome unicorn farts people – seriously? It’s so boring! Stop it! STOOOOP IIIIIT! I don’t CARE that it (arguably) worked for Tolkien! You’re not Tolkien! – not only do I hate the continuation of pristine elvish people but I hate the idea that the elven language is Best Language. One language is not better than another, okay? It’s not.


Oh, sure, you can argue English is a horrible language and I’ll agree with you! I’ll happily say that I like Japanese way better. All the sound units are basically always pronounced the same, there are very few irregular conjugations and stuff, I think it sounds really, really pretty…and yet I’m still typing in English, speak English, and a fairly grand portion of the world speaks, even if in addition to a different language primary or otherwise, English. And I definitely wouldn’t call Japanese the True Language and make it more mystical than English because that makes the Japanese automatically more mystical and that’s actually totally racist to do. Now apply to elves versus humans. Of course we don’t care about elvish racism but…that’s a root of why it feels so obnoxious to me. The biggest reason is still that whole mystical pretty better than us in every way bullcrap.

Also! If Elvish is the True Language, that should mean something along the lines of it being the FIRST language. Like Latin. Which means that unless there was isolation, most other languages should be branching off of it. Including the language of the humans. It should be like Itallian, French, and Spanish. Also please note that no one speaks Latin anymore. It’s a dead language. That might be indicative of where your Elvish should be.

Say the humans were cut off from the elves. The elves had Elvish and the humans had…er, Fantasylandian. But that means that Elvish and Fantasylandian are both base languages so why is Elvish the True Language? That’s just favoring the elves for no good reason. Knock it off.

Speaking of Latin – that’s another common possibility for the True Language. First of all, see above. Why are other languages – heck, like Albanian? – not the True Language? (Albanian is its own language that isn’t derived from any other.)

Second of all, that makes a weird collision with the tradition/fad of making latin/bastard latin magical.

Come on, you know what I mean when I say “bastard latin”.

Still has the same deally where it’s just the freaking name system but you have to learn [/half-hearted hand waving] true names first. You know that memorization is the lowest form of intelligence, right? In that case I’d rather see “Twas brilig, and all the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe” than “Latinus Fakicus!” (Yeah, I know I probably messed up Bandersnatch, sorry).

But okay, say I’m just being whiny and picky about languages.

What about the MC and other character’s true name?

HOW THE HECK does the MC or ANYONE get a true name? I know the idea is that everything has a true name but like, think how languages and names work. If I am born in America, I don’t have a Japanese name. You could argue that my Japanese name is with a dash after it – romanized Rii – but all that is really is the…er…Japanese-ification of my totally English name, the way they would pronounce it. It isn’t some mystical name that some magical language gave to me on my birth. It’s just my name all over again (and suddenly Rii the Wordsmith all makes sense, right?)

If this language itself is magical and assigns what would HAVE to be a totally unique name to every sentient being to be born ever – which is insane already, do you hear me? Insane! – how are you supposed to find out what it is, anyway? Is there some mystical guru who can find out for you? Why? How? Don’t answer those. It’s stupid. Can you meditate and find it? Don’t care. That’s stupid. And again, how did you get the name? Who picked it? How is it chosen? Is there a god somewhere giving everything a unique name? Do you have to talk to him to find out what your name is? If it’s so dangerous and precious, why would he tell you? More importantly, how would you ever find out anyone else’s true name?

Don’t go the opposite way and have a people who DON’T have names as that’s also ridiculous. It’s convenient and for clarity! I think there might have actually been people who didn’t bother much with names but unless you know a LOT about them, don’t try to pull it off. Especially if your target audience is, say, American or any other peoples that need names.

The original idea, as I understand it, is that knowledge is power, and that names are important.

If I know your name, I can call you and you know I am talking to you. I can refer to you when talking to someone else and they know who I mean much more easily than if I try to describe you, which might not work at all. All of your deeds are attached to your name. Your name, in a way, contains who you are. Of course that’s powerful! But some weird random other name that even I freaking didn’t know until I quested for it – how is that name supposed to have any power over me? No one knows me by that mysterious name. It’s just powerful because it’s magical? That…doesn’t make any sense.

I get that it adds a layer of protection because names ARE so convenient. We use names all the time! It’s a LOT easier for the creepy evil shade to learn your true name when it’s just your freaking name and then you’re just screwed. But adding this nonsensical mystical layer of protection is WEAK. It’s just an excuse, for you and the hero, to be more careless. Honestly, if your character lives in a world of Name Magic, he or she ought to know to be careful with their name in the first place, oughtn’t they? And their friends too, not just calling it out?

If you want to do the name system, that’s cool. It really is. Renovating tradition all the way! But please, please for the love of Satan’s second cousin, don’t do the True Name system. The name system was good enough all on its own.

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