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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Comic first, commentary after – although I will say this one isn’t supposed to be funny. Also I’m sorry it’s late, but I had a little “helper”.


First things first – the deal with ISIL (an arguably more accurate name for ISIS) is an insanely complicated issue. However, every time you say something like “Muslim terrorists” or otherwise act like Islam is the problem, or say, blame the refugees, you’re letting the terrorists win. In fact, you’re an accomplice. But the comic just shows one piece of the puzzle, and the refugees are another very big piece. To explain, it will require me to say something that will shock and piss off a lot of white Christians so I gotta ask you to hold your religious indignation in check for a moment so you hear all of it and not just the part that will piss you off if you’re gonna get pissed off.

ISIL isn’t targeting Christians. They’re targeting the people like the refugees – they’re targeting Muslims. Specifically, they’re leading a mass slaughter against any sect of Islam that isn’t theirs, an extremist Sunni sect. That is not to say that ISIL does not want to kill all Christians as well, and that they consider themselves at war with the West, and seem to think this will be the End of Times battle, because all of these things are also true. But as it happens, the world and its villains don’t revolve around white Christians (or just white people) and ISIL isn’t killing nearly so many of them as they are fellow Semitic peoples who disagree with them. Which is why the refugees aren’t the problem, they’re the targeted.

If you’re still feeling on the verge of rage ready to argue with me, imagine this: the Westboro Baptist Church suddenly surges in size and anger and receives funding (probably from our gov’t, eh?) and is now equipped with an awful lot of guns and whatnot. Their primary agenda is to destroy all other Christian sects. Are they also mortal enemies with Islam? Yes. But first things first, take care of home, tidy up, kill all non-WBC Christians.
They, in this scenario, are not targeting Muslims, but would definitely kill them and may perform terrorist acts that do target them. But the primary objective is not Islam.

Get it?

Could it be possible a terrorist could hide in with refugees? While I really doubt that, especially considering the conditions of escape for many of them, I suppose it’s possible, but to shut the doors on the refugees is to play into the hands of the terrorists, y’know, like with my comic? and to become, again, an accomplice. Muslim and Semitic lives matter. Take the above scenario, you’re fleeing your home via incredibly desperate measures from people who would kill you, and the people to whom you flee say, “No way! You might be one of those Westboro terrorists!” You are being told you will not be sheltered from the people who want to kill you gruesomely because you might be one of the people who want to kill you gruesomely. Okay. That’s cool.

What it comes down to is that ISIL is terribly bad news, but it’s complicated, and defeating them isn’t as simple as bombing an oil field or shutting out refugees or upping the racism against Muslims or anyone with that brownish skin or who wears a scarf or turban on their head. Because upping the racism is a fear reaction. Fear and distrust. And guess what the whole freaking point of terrorism is? Hint: it’s the reason it’s called terrorism. If you want to fight ISIL and you are an average citizen, not a soldier to be deployed, not a national security whatever whose job is to figure out what, pray tell, is exactly going on, if you want to fight ISIL what you need to do is to show an outpouring of love. Yeah, yeah, sappy, but I’m very serious about this. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Let that Arabic-lookin’ taxi driver take you home and treat him like a normal human being, because he probably is. Remember that Islam is as peaceful a religion as Christianity is supposed to be, and that “supposed to be” part is exactly the problem. Do not think of the Qur’an as a book that just says “kill all those white infidels” a thousand times in Arabic and therefore if anyone has one, they’re evil. It’s not, and it actually talks about Christ plenty. It is no worse than the Bible (which contains many more examples of intolerance and ghastly principles that most of us Christians happily ignore, cherrypicking the parts we like).

If you, the average citizen, want to help fight ISIL, then stop being an accomplice. And if you’re Christian, remember what Christ said about your enemy. (Protip: it was love them.)

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The only thing that truly seems to be undying is the quest for immortality. Well, that and Ed the Undying.

Actually immortal NPC (except for when he is playable) from Kingdom of Loathing.

Immortality comes up a lot and I suppose it’s no surprise. It’s not something that ever appealed to me much since I don’t savor the idea of living well beyond my friends and family, especially my husband, but a lot of villains don’t really have friends and family, not the kind that they care about losing.

Or said family is -also- immortal like the homonculus bunch from FMA. Pulled from Zerochan

Even those with family might find the allure of immortality too great to pass up, however.

Xanatos tried several schemes, which he seemed to intend to share with his wife. Because having a kid and leaving a legacy behind just isn’t good enough.

Immortality is actually pretty in chic right now too – which isn’t to say it hasn’t basically always been in one form or another, just that vampires and zombies and undead are highly popular right now. Which brings up liches – sorcerers who turned themselves undead as a bid for immortality. They seal their soul in a phylactery and can only be destroyed if it’s destroyed.

Which really makes this guy a lich with seven phylacteries, doesn’t it?

I’m not going to analyze what it is about immortality that is so alluring. I mean, seriously, we all know why someone might want to live forever and the various ways in which it can be screwed up or otherwise not be that great.

He was basically immortal until he got past that one stupid day.

I will, however, point out that as far as immortality is concerned, most folks go the way of Gilgamesh. Which is to say, punctuate the fact that immortality isn’t obtainable. There are some exceptions, like many protagonist undead, but generally characters don’t get immortality. Which makes sense since if the villain is immortal and continues to be immortal, it’s a little difficult for the heroes to win. Although it doesn’t have to be about killing the villain…

…and maybe if you plan on telling the story forever because you’re a major comic book franchise, having a villain that lasts forever isn’t a problem.

So execution of immortality, then. (haha, execution, immortality…okay it wasn’t that funny.) I always like best the stories where there’s a contrast between literal immortality and legacy. People don’t live forever. But they can become immortal through their legacy. Often you do actually see the contrast – but see, Voldemort is still immortal, because he will go down in wizarding history just as much as The Boy Who Lived. Sure, he wanted to be immortal and ruling everything, and being dead but remembered by everyone isn’t quite the same…not remotely the same…but it’s still immortality. Similarly, Hitler is immortal…and so are several great people, too, like Mother Teresa and Gandhi.

I’d honestly like to see more villains hoping to leave a legacy, something that will for realsies last forever and less just trying to find a magic chocolate bar.

“Live forever, you say? I’ll take one.”

But hey, I get that immortality is apparently cool. You just might consider putting something more artful, symbolic, and/or moral surrounding bids for immortality. I think juxtapositions between the hero who achieves a legacy versus the villain who fails to gain immortality is more interesting than just the bread and butter “he tried and failed” thing.

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Villain Fortnight

Hey, all! The blog YA Teabreak is doing a series of posts – a Villain Fortnight. If you’re interested in some more villain insights from frequent readers, you ought to take a peek. Some of their references might be a bit familiar ;)

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“Stop Making Villains Pretty”

I’ve seen a few of these posts now, whether via Tumblr or some other place (no I don’t have a Tumblr*. Some filters onto Facebook though) that whinnily whine, [high-pitched mockery voice]”Stop making villains pretty!”[/voice]

And to that, I say, pinching my eyebrows in, frowning, drawing head back slightly and to the side, “No.”

I say this because unless you are specifically saying, “I feel as though the stereotype for villains has shifted from hideous with some exceptions for super sexy yet promiscuous women to super pretty men that make women foolishly swoon and therefore there’s no real reason for villains to be pretty, it’s just The Thing To Do and it’s ridiculous, put some thought into your villains and stop making them pretty just ‘cuz that’s what’s in chic,” in which case we’re cool, you’re probably saying, “Villains are evil, and evil can’t or shouldn’t be pretty.” Or perhaps, if you’re a specific kind of guy, “It was cool when the villains appealed to me, but it’s bothering me that all the girls around here are [foolishly] swooning over the baddies.” I don’t mean to make this a sexism issue, but that does apply to at least one of the posts about it I’ve seen. Some guys just can’t handle girls who are into evil.

I’m sorry, I was having a flashback to that one date where the guy showed true character by not fleeing in terror after I said “I’m an evil overlord” despite the fact I could tell he wanted to by the look on his face. You thought I was just some short cutie back at P.F. Chang’s, didn’t you? You should have asked the tall blonde out instead. (hahaha jk asking her out wouldn’t have been better. In the long run, anyway.)

Anyway here’s the skinny: evil can be anything.

Evil can be gorgeous.


Evil can be hideous.

I could have picked from 5000 other examples but it’s such the stereotypical old hag witch…

Evil can be adorable.

/clubs Bender’s legs with baton “Break a leg Bender. Oops! Looks like you already did!”

And you know what else evil can be? Anything.

So stop it. Stop whining that evil shouldn’t look pretty because one of the most important tools is that nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

I mean deception. For Evil. Evil is disguised as a gorgeous girl or guy. It’s anything. It’s everything. Everything you ever wanted. That’s the beauty of writing a villain, there are no limits. If you’re analyzing the face of villains, that’s one thing. But if it’s because you think evil can’t be pretty, you’re very mistaken. And remember – Hollywood gets that people would rather spend their time looking at very pretty people on a screen so there’s that. Books have less of an excuse. But seriously, either get analytical on it or stuff it and stop trying to limit what a character can be. Especially villains.

*Technically, I made a Tumblr account for one of my characters…but then I realize that to stay in character, especially without him being established i.e. published, things were going to get too creepy way too fast, so it’s inactive (it’s Vince, a sociopathic psychopath who especially likes to target teenage girls. Yeaaah). It’s been inactive for many, many years now.

*I actually think chest hair is gross, but I guess a lot of other women (and gay men and whonot) find it appealing so whatever.

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NaNo WriMo 2015

I wasn’t going to do NaNo because I can’t fast draft non-first drafts. My current WIP is on the final draft. I came up with a story idea that my Facebook friends liked, and my bestie said she’d come up with a random story, and we thought about doing a writer suicide pact to do NaNo, but ultimately we both decided it was better to focus on our WIPs.

But several members of my writing group are going to do NaNo, and not by breaking off their WIPs either (if I keep saying WIP, I’m going to start picturing us all flailing lengths of cord around and – yep, there it is – it’s especially funny for me since one of the MCs has a whip that’s as prevalent as any special sword) but instead they’re going to use NaNo to help them get back in the habit of writing every day.

And as I listen to the sounds of my baby unstack all of our movies and make instead a messy pile on the floor, I think to myself how successful I’ve been at writing every day, despite my goals to do so. And whose fault that is.

It’s mine. She’s made it hard, but it’s still my fault. She still takes a big nap every day, and will for a while more (except on bad and off days, I guess). I did NaNo last year when she was barely a month old, but that’s pretty different from having a one-year-old. I have to learn how to write every day again.

So that’s my goal for NaNo. The hard part is that for chapters 1-12, I’m just doing small edits. Lots of them, but stuff I can’t count the words for, not easily. So for anything I’m actually writing, I’d like to say at least 1,667 words a day…but for those first twelve chapters, I guess I want to try and get through one complete edit a day – which is to say, finish editing a chapter. That’s my goal.

I should probably get my baby, she’s gotten over to where we keep the SNES and Wiis.

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Primordial Evil and All Things Good

Due to working out some timeline and plot things concerning an ancient evil god of mine, my mind’s been on the workings of primordial evil. My husband really hates my evil god because of the horrendous things he’s done, but I’m not as impressed with him as a villain as other characters of mine because as an embodiment of all things evil, Ubilis can’t really help what he does. I mean, you can’t really blame a predator for hunting down prey and killing it, right? It’s just the way the circle of life works, just what predators do. And primordial evils, they’re just evil, so you can’t really blame them for being evil.

That’s the thing about primordial evil, or anything that is the essence of evil. It can’t really help what it is and I find that to be less morally reprehensible than someone who chose to be what they are. Even a human being that could be described as a product of their creation still had more of a choice in the matter than primordial evil, which just is. But on thinking on that, I’ve come to a conclusion for myself about primordial evil and how it always seems to want to destroy mankind, happiness, and love.

I’m pretty sure it’s envious.

I mean, pure evil can never, ever enjoy joy. It can experience glee, perhaps, or satisfaction, or delight, but not joy. And it can never experience love, not true love. And these things are wonderful. Evil can’t have it. With something like Evil, what do you think the response would be? Misery loves company, and I just can’t see Evil doing anything other than throwing a tantrum and trying to destroy anything it can’t have.


Evil, however, doesn’t have to recognize that it’s envious, and can even be upset or insulted when it’s suggested that Evil is envious. Envy from FMA found it humiliating that Edward realized he was just envious of humans.

It’d be possible to argue for an Evil that’s evil for the sake of evil and doesn’t have motivations of envy but just wants to destroy things ’cause evil. However, I reject this on two accounts: I honestly can’t see any sort of sentient evil not having a proper motivation like envy for destroying all things good, and if you managed that, I can’t imagine it’d be anything but incredibly boring. Evil that’s evil ‘cuz evil is so bland. There’s no complexity there at all. As I’ve ever known it, writers who want to have something with no motivation whatsoever, just “evil”, either want something that’s not sentient and therefore not as exciting, or don’t understand the nature of evil. Remember, evil is not a motivation, not even for Evil itself.

So when we ask, “Why does the great Evil want to destroy all existence?” to answer “because that is the nature of Evil” is to say “because it’s evil” which is to say “Evil that’s evil ‘cuz evil” and now “evil” doesn’t even look like a real word to me. Evil is emptiness, nothingness, the lack of friendship, love, charity, morals…when you’re getting at true, primordial evil, you’re getting at space. Dark, empty, cold. Darkness is literally nothing: it is the absence of light. Coldness is literally nothing: it is the absence of heat. And evil is literally nothing: it is the absence of love. Humans are complex and therefore they will be a mix of things, a mix of selfishness, cruelty, but also of opposing elements. Primordial evil will not. It will be completely devoid of anything good. It will be emptiness. And therefore of course it will want to destroy existence. Existence is everything it’s not.


Of course, there are those who aren’t primordial evil who still want to destroy everything. Kefka found the good things in life sickening and wanted to destroy it all (because he is totally insane). Primordial evil might find the good things in life nauseating, too. But that’s still a motivation, not just “evil”.

So if you’re going for primordial evil, I’d first of all recommend you don’t because I feel it’s less complex and not as interesting, but sometimes it’s appropriate and I’m not going to tell you you can’t. I’d second recommend you consider whether your primordial evil is sentient or not and then treat it like any other character, and heavily consider the motivation of envy. And if it’s not sentient – that has its place, too, but it’s going to be like Nature as an enemy. So good luck to you in making it interesting – if you’re choosing non-sentient primordial evil despite the challenges, I’m sure you have the determination to make it good.

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Villainry on a Budget

Hey, guys, my tablet’s been broken for a couple weeks now and I’m still waiting for it to get back. It ended up breaking the same way as my computer, shut off and wouldn’t turn back on! Since it was brand new, I could mail it back to the manufacturers (they even paid for my shipping) but it’s taking friggun forever to get back. Turns out the shutting off thing is actually a known issue with the tablet, in case you were wondering what I’ve been doing with my computers. It’s not me!

My panicks about not having a computer because I don’t have money for a new one (and various other factors) brought to my husband’s mind how villains always seem to have a lot of resources. While it’s true that that makes sense, seeing as how someone who wants to villain who has resources would better be able to do it, the thought of a poor villain who must be frugal is highly amusing. It’d be a nice change from throwaway resource villains.

They broke my robot? Ehhh I’m a billionaire. I’ll just make 20 more. (Xanatos, Gargoyles)

Honestly, it’d still be amusing if the villain was rich but miserly. But consider an actually poor villain.

“Do you know how expensive that hired hand was? Now I’m not getting my deposit back!”
“Argh, you just blew a hole in my wall! I can’t afford to get that repaired! Winter is gonna suuuuck!”
“MY DEATH RAY! I spent years saving up for all those parts!”

The thing about the concept that I found so intriguing wasn’t the humor in it, however. It’s that again, villains have resources because in order to villain, they need resources. So someone who doesn’t actually have any would have to be truly determined in order to present themselves as an actual threat. Especially if they didn’t have just one financial issue that turned out not to be a financial issue.

How the hey did they build a rocket from just crap around the hou-you know, it’s a kid’s movie in which the rocket took a few hours to get to the moon and back, I just don’t care. (Despicable Me)

Monetary issues suck, and for myself, I feel like they’re the stupidest problem to have. I mean, I can’t do things because of this arbitrary rule of value our society produced? Seriously? People are starving and losing their homes because of money? It’s just…it’s just such a stupid thing. Shouldn’t you only lose your house if it like, blows up or catches fire or a gosh-darn hurricane sucks it up? But that’s the world we live in. And if you don’t have enough money, then sucks to be you.

And yet, how often do characters have financial issues? And again, I totally get it – it’s the Chosen One thing, where of course the story is about the Chosen One, no matter how cliche, because the Chosen One is the guy all the cool stuff happens to. Or like in a video game where it’s so much easier if we ignore monies where it’d be more convenient to ignore monies than count them. It’s a combination of the richer people get to do the cool things, because they have the means, and it’s obnoxious to worry about it.

But you know, I am pretty sure I don’t actually know anyone with a lot of money. Heck, I don’t even know many people with a decent amount of money. And if you’re aiming to sell a book or whatever to a person like me, and you want me to relate to it, I can relate to not having money. I can relate to receiving an unexpected bill in the mail and staring exasperatedly at it for an hour while re-arranging our entire budget around dealing with it. I can relate to wanting to buy something, holding off and holding off, saving for it, feeling like it’s always out of reach. And I know I’m not the only one. So…maybe there’s something to giving characters the attribute of being poor, of conflicts centering around not having money and figuring something else out. And not in the cutesy, let’s have a bake sale and just get money because you know what? Sometimes – usually – you can’t just get money. Besides, having a financial need and then doing something once and filling the apparent one-time need isn’t what I’m talking about. That’s actually done all the time, especially with hospital bills.

And with good reason. Freaking broken American healthcare. I too feel its sting for daring to propagate the human race.

I’m talking about a lifestyle, one where eating out at a freaking fast food restaurant is a once-in-a-long-while treat, the way eating out at a nice place is a treat for someone of moderate means. I’m talking about living paycheck to paycheck, about realizing maybe food stamps are an option. About freaking out over major illness or serious injuries, not because of the illness or injury itself but because how much it costs to treat those things.

Characters of means are more convenient to write and probably are more likely to be the stars of the story anyway because they can do things. But characters of little means mean more to real people of little means. So consider a villain who’s on a budget. For some it will be easier – if you’re writing something like YA, that’s easy enough because the villain may well be another kid and they all don’t have money unless you’re playing Earthbound or something. (On my save file, Ness currently has more money in his bank than I’ve seen in my life.) If you’re writing a superhero story, I think a poor villain is super intriguing – there are poor superheroes, after all. But it would also be a lot harder.

There’s certainly no Thriftman possible when superpowers are replaced with cool gadgets. But it’s also not impossible to be a poor superhero.

Obviously, as a challenge to write, it’s not something that’s appropriate for just any character in any situation. But I think it’s something worth thinking about. Just as much as a story is a dream of something amazing and desirable, it’s a reflection of real life. And boy are money troubles a reflection of real life.

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How Do I Write A Monster?

I’m talking about monsters as in the kind that live in your closet and under your bed, not the Complete Monster trope.

I’ve mentioned before that there are some creatures that are always monsters, that as soon as we see them, we point and cry, “Monster!”, and that it can be interesting to mix that up. But the point of a monster, regardless of what the monster actually is, is to be something that is scary. I mean, that’s the actual dictionary defini-huh, it’s apparently also British for “criticize”.

They’re also really useful for making us reflect on what it actually means to be a “monster” – but again, I’m just talking about plain old scary monsters, not the philosophical sort. Also I REALLY wish I could have placed something over the majority of Mike, it just would have been more appropriate.

So how do you write a monster? How do you come up with something horrifying? Well, part of the problem with inventing a truly terrifying monster was explained by Stephen King, who ought to know, eh? It’s that as long as you show the monster, it’s automatically less scary. If you put a 10-foot centipede on the other side of that door, the audience will think, “at least it wasn’t a 100-foot centipede”. (That’s from his book, On Writing. It was really good, I highly recommend it, even if I disagree with his feelings on adjectives.)

For me, I find it a real challenge to come up with stuff that could be truly horrifying in this day and age. I’d rather work off of concepts that are terrifying and not sweat appearances too much – after all, I’m assuming if you’re reading this, appearances are hard for you like they are for me. If they’re not, you’ve got it, friend!

If you have a talent for creepy, know the tricks of uncanny valley, don’t build up anticipation for how absolutely, indescribably horrifying something looks, you can totally make something really scary.

When we’re working with a book, it’s going to be harder to convey appearances anyway. A lot of what’s scary is in the details and describing details slows down action significantly, which might be appropriate, or terrible for the scene.

Spiders are scary, to me, because of the way they move, the way they eat, their friggun webs.

Right there with you, Ron.

Movement, behaviors, and yes, appearances if you can manage it, add to the scare factor. But really, I think the concepts behind the monsters are what are really scary.

So use appearance judiciously, especially because I think it’s the smaller half of the battle. Sure, a creepy thing “getting you” is scary all by itself but creatures that do terrifying things are, I think, scarier.

Look, a perfectly innocent statue that isn’t scary at all! Unless you’re a Dr. Who fan, in which it’s TERRIFYING and one reason I won’t watch the show. Yeah, yeah, image of an angel becomes an angel, just scroll so it’s not on the screen anymore.

Weeping angels – originally, anyway – capitalized on being lost, away from loved ones, of that concept we have of staring at scary things like spiders so we don’t lose track of them, things getting us while not looking…they’re pretty scary! Heck, even when they start doing a boring old kill you thing, they were still scary.

You might try starting with a concept. Dementors are pretty scary, right? I’ve heard Rowling got the idea from depression. Makes sense, this thing that can follow you around, sucks all the happiness from you, makes you remember your worst memories, can steal your soul…chocolate helps defeat it…that’s basically what I’d expect of depression in monster form.

What else is terrifying? Death is usually a good way to go, but I think plain old death is boring. Also I personally don’t find it particularly scary as a general concept, but then, fear of death is supposed to be a version of fear of the unknown and I do find that scary, if I’m honest with myself. And I don’t want to die before I meet some pretty big goals, like publishing all the books and seeing grandchildren. Lack of fulfillment. That’s scary. You know what I don’t like, though? Pain. Hate pain. Scary monsters are scary because of the way they’d want to kill me.

When you’re making a monster, think of what you find scary and why. Monsters play on fear. And…well, and remember that if you write a monster, it is going to get philosophical whether you want it to or not (unless maybe you’re doing a typical slasher). Do take care to consider who, truly, the monster is – if your monster is sufficiently scary, it’s going to be a monster, but it still brings up the good old Frankenstein question of who is the REAL monster – because actions are scarier than appearances, because a monster that captures and kills and maims still isn’t as scary as a truly cruel person – because in the end, living is harder than dying (so far as we know), way harder, and monsters that kill are only so scary compared to monsters who make living very hard.

How do you write a monster? You can try not to show much, or to show excruciating details. Behaviors and motions, the creepy grin, the chilling laugh, the crawling gait, these are perhaps very important. But actions are probably most important – and most of all, remembering what is truly, truly scary.

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Hey remember when I talked about scars and pointed out how almost everyone I know has a scar?

Well, allergies are another thing that are common that we forget about. Hayfever, cats, foods…I myself am mildly allergic to bees, I think. I’ve only been stung once in my life and my parents said it was swelling more than it should and they thought I was slightly allergic. I’m also allergic to sulfa, whatever the crap that is. Some medical thing I guess? My husband is allergic to peppers. Literally any kind of pepper (except for pepper, the seasoning). They destroy his digestive system. A lot of friends reported allergies too – to things like pollen sure, but also mango skin, raw vegetables, and latex (with a comment about how common latex is).

Once again, it doesn’t really have to be a big thing, although it could be. It’s just another way to remind the audience how human your characters – your villains – are. Sometimes you’re not going for that effect, but it’s still important to consider. A human being can be allergic to literally anything. No, I used “literally” correct there. There have been people allergic to water! And allergies to the freaking cold are a thing. All an allergy is, after all, is just your body reacting to something as if it’s a dangerous pathogen – as my husband says, the body going, “Oh no! Oh no!” and flipping out over nothing.

Sometimes an allergy is plot-significant. Werewolves are often fatally allergic to silver. In my current WIP, I’ve made devils and demons vulnerable to silver, so an MC who is half-demon is highly allergic to silver as well. Obviously for a big scary character like a werewolf or a half-demon, an allergy that could be used as a weapon against them is a big deal. It could be plot significant that you character is allergic to something like vaccines, maybe they catch something serious that they wouldn’t have ordinarily.

But like I said, it doesn’t have to be. Different story, different world, my overlord is highly allergic to shellfish. He is not defeated by a crab to the face, hilarious as that would be. But it does come up at a dinner briefly, and I use it to show how snooty he is.

Remember the allergy to strawberries in Iron Man 2? It wasn’t particularly plot-significant, but it did add a lot to the scene all the same.

Maybe the minion’s incessant sneezing due to spring is just background flavor. And maybe it gives away their position. Maybe you don’t know how to get a hero out of a scene, or how to make a scene more exciting and dealing with an allergy would be just the thing.

An allergy wound up being a hilarious plot-point in the movie Hitch

About the allergy to cold – I found out that was a thing when making a Shadowrun character. I wanted more karma, so I gave him a moderate allergy – I wanted something unusual but also a substance common enough that it would give me more karma (since an allergy to something unusual was worth way less for obvious reasons). The cold – cold is a common thing! But weird as heck to be allergic to it. I nervously asked my DM if we’d encounter the cold much and he said I didn’t need to worry about weather so I explained the allergy. He just pointed out that I could always be locked in a walk-in freezer.


Gonna make a Heroforge mini of my elf. Here’s the screenshot of him.

Being locked in a freezer is never a great prospect. It’s slightly terrifying, even when your husband is going to play a giant freaking troll who is BFFs with your elf and would bust you out as soon as he found your location. But knowing that my elf is actually allergic to the cold makes it a lot more dramatic. And when your DM starts saying, “A freezer? You’re thinking too small,” it’s a lot more terrifying.

You can argue that less is more, but I think that considering all aspects of character creation is important. Just like it’s a little weird that animals in a forest only come up when it’s plot important, I think it’s a little weird characters only have scars and allergies when it matters to the plot. The small details like asking for soy due to lactose intolerance at a coffee shop, saying “No thanks, I’m allergic,” having the overlord pitch a fit that a minion didn’t know or forgot an allergy, that’s enough to add just a little more dimension to your world and I think it’s worth doing.

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A Writing Exercise: Freaky Friday

Hey, how many of you guys ever watched Spongebob? I’m a 90s kid so I did. Actually there are a lot of 90s shows I missed for reasons so that doesn’t actually necessarily mean anything but I digress. I assume that any reader at least knows the gist of the show, right? And you know who this guy is?


There’s an episode, The Algae’s Always Greener, where Plankton switches places with rival Mr. Krabs.

AU style, so it makes sense for him to be there.

The experience is not what Plankton expected and he rejects Mr. Krabs’ life despite starting the episode coveting it.

I bring this episode up to be clear that this is not what I mean when I suggest switching the lives of your characters around. It would be disorienting to switch lives with someone after having lived in your own life for so long. Besides that, while a true Freaky Friday switch of your hero and villain’s lives may prove fruitful, for me, it would primarily consist of my villain saying, “Everyone I hate is right here and they don’t realize it’s me. AWESOME.” Then he would promptly kill everyone and waltz back to his lair to lock himself up so when they switched back, he’d have his worst enemy imprisoned. Meanwhile, my hero may well be doing the same thing – or, if not, she’d at least be freeing all the POWs and giving craptastic instructions to the generals and doing anything else she could to mess up the villain’s life. She might be above slipping tacks under his bedcovers or switching out his bath soap with shellfish oil to which he’s fatally allergic, however. This is why I’m not suggesting the Spongebob episode, but if you think it’d be interesting for you, go for it.

My suggestion is different and twofold. The first one is easy. Switch story roles. Make the villain the protagonist. Give him all the attention you’d give your hero, write the story from his perspective the way you’d write for the hero. This will help you develop your villain as fully as you should. Actually any character that’s falling flat can do with this treatment. And for it to work, you need to really make the change. It has to be more than a thought exercise. Write a couple chapters of the thing. Outline the whole book with the new protagonist. Put effort in it. You might learn something new about your character.

The second suggestion is switching situations more fully. Figure out a point of upbringing earlier on to switch them and see how the characters turn out. How much is nature versus nurture? Have fun discerning which traits are stable in your characters, which change with the environment. Play with what other traits they keep; for example, the above mentioned villain is a magical prodigy, but if I consider that just a quirk of genetics and hand that over to my hero, how does she handle that? What about giving her half-elf blood to him, in a world where during their youth elves and half-elves are experiencing a holocaust? What about gender swapping? What other things can I mess with?

It wouldn’t have to be your hero and villain. Maybe it’s the villain and the sidekick or whatever secondary character. If you switched those two, would the sidekick even make it to the side of the hero? What about a mook or minion? Mentor? Damsel in distress? What if you took all your characters, shook them up, dumped them out, and had them all mixed up in each others’ lives?

Find out what’s at the core of your characters. When you warp them back and forth, you find traits that are vital to making them who they are.

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