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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Ignoble Steed

Yesterday was Monday, wasn’t it? Bah. One day I’ll have my life together. Let’s talk about this picture.

According to the comments on this picture, in the case of ring wraiths, yes. There ARE specific evil horse breeders. Something something normal horses are like “DA FRICK IS THAT?” when a wraith gets on them so they had to have these dark monsters that didn’t care.

But this is kind of a thing, isn’t it? The horses or steeds or whatever are always some sort of thematic thing. You see creepy wyverns or even maybe giant snakes. You don’t see Princess Clip-Clop. It goes to that reversal of expectations. I mean Princess Clip-Clop is hilarious. 

But as much fun as coming up with something as evil and horrible as your villain is, there’s some merit I think to Princess Clip-Clop. While we could talk about the Horses Are Special trope in fantasy, I want to ignore that for now (If I ever talked about it, I’d actually want to do a guest post from my bestie anyway. All my horse knowledge comes pretty much from her) and talk specifically about the reversal of expectations steed.

The villain comes riding in on a unicorn. Not a black unicorn with red eyes that will stab you with its head. The regular pretty kind that usually only lets virgin maidens approach it in the moonlight. (Never mind the, er, interesting implications that has for your villain.) Or maybe a white-winged pegasus. Or Princess Clip-Clop, not ironically. Something that’s the pinnacle of innocence or goodness. A giant rabbit, the kind Tumblr would lose its head over as it made up words like squoosh-floop to describe body parts that already have perfectly good, not-stupid names.

If your villain is able to totally own this steed, and aside from the reversal of expectations, you don’t amp up the comedy, I believe an interesting effect will occur.

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Bottom portion of 8-Bit Theatre, episode 109: A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

The thing about evil is that your villain cloaked in shadows with the red eye of death riding on the back of a skeleton horse with green flames for eyes is really cool and all, but the villain riding something that is absolutely not what a villain rides into battle – and not because it isn’t battle-worthy, just because it looks innocent or cute – suggests that there isn’t anything no matter how good that the villain can’t bend to his will.

There’s nothing wrong with your villain getting his horse from Uncle Jim’s Evil Horse Stables. But I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with riding Princess Clip-Clop to battle either. It’s all in what’s best for your story and villain, and how you want to write it.

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A Diversity of Diversity

So yesterday I wrote a post about “unusual” sicknesses and I mentioned that I totally plan to have a lot of racial diversity in a story with a gigantic freaking cast – which as a side note is not the one I’m working on right now. And in mentioning the racial diversity in that I was going to be creating races for the story, I mentioned people with wings. This is what I wanna talk about.

It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine in fantasy, you see. It’s highly common to have your races: Human, Elf, Dwarf, etc. and bam, there you go! It’s already been picked apart that the human race tends to be like, maybe a couple countries, and they’re white default – heck, I’m white and think of white as the default character race because yeah, if I think of just some random default human it’s going to look more like me, and the default white thing still bothers me, something I’m trying to change for myself* – and that’s not what I’m here about. Although that is stupid. I’m here about the second half of that.

If it doesn’t make sense for the humans to be all one race, why does it make sense for the dwarves and elves to be?

I have people with wings. They’re called “archeons”. And they’re not a single race.

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They’re also not as diverse as they could be because I can’t handle that many birds.

They all have feather wings, and some of them are white. Some are black. Some are exotic tropic colors. Some are red. The diversity of birds gives me a lot to work with.

I don’t exactly have elves in the saga – I use the word “elf” as slang for half-human half-sidhe. However, I do have two more naturally magical than humans peoples, the fey and the sidhe (which here I’m pronouncing as “sith” rather than “she” due to my love of Final Fantasy and THEIR use of the word sith) who of course aren’t one single set of races either. Fey have brilliantly, solidly colored skin. Emerald. Obsidian. Crimson. They also have really shiny eyes. Telling their races apart is as easy as telling one crayon apart from another in a basic pack. The sidhe don’t have particularly colorful or variegated skin; it’s mostly all a washed-out seafoam color. Telling their races apart is more subtle, like how human races have more than just skin color that makes them a little different. Bone structure is the main physical tell, but without a keen eye for it, any character is going to have to go off of culture. Which will make them look all the same to someone who doesn’t know.

I do have one race that is your typical fantasy race, all one people, no variation – which is because members of it come about due to falling under a curse. Course this same group of people, the Kleachers, continue to grow in numbers until way, way, way later…they start dividing up. They’re technically all the same race still, physiologically, because friggun magic is determining their DNA, not evolution or whatever, but cultures change, language warps, and a couple millenia after the main story, there are different Kleacher…clans, at least, if we don’t want them to be called a different race due to the fact that, technically, they’re not.

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Look, some really, REALLY old art from like, idk, middle school! Geez, have I never been able to have a scanner that didn’t make a picture blurry somewhere?

Sometimes you do see at least a stab at different kinds of elves or dwarves. Wizards of the Coast did, and Blizzard, to name a couple giant freaking franchises. I mean, some people recognize that maybe, just maybe, if on Earth we have one species – humans – and they come in like a billion different color variations (which considering skin, hair, and eye variations alone might not be a huge exaggeration) – then maybe other species ought to, as well.

Honestly I think it’s the language we use that’s the problem. We say “human race” and then we say, like if we’re starting up a DnD campaign, “What race do you want to be?” to mean, “Do you want to be human, elf, half-elf, half-orc, halfing…?” rather than, “What species do you want to be?”

These are different species. Not races. I don’t think there’s much anyone can really do about how we talk about it because it’s pretty embedded and for the most part no one’s really going to see it as a problem – I mean, I’d still say I have a bunch of different races in my stories to mean species because that’s how we talk. I’m not really advocating we change the way we talk about it, but maybe just be a little aware.

Because ultimately, having an entire species of any sentient being also be the same race is bland and weird. In a way it’s not like this issue isn’t ever addressed either – though usually I see people talk about it in Sci-Fi, not fantasy, since you have an entire planet of one unified country apparently of one unified people who are the same species-race. Which is definitely weirder. There are ways to make a unified country-planet work, but to just assume, especially with things like alien attacks…

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Yeah, unified planets here is kind of a big background plot thing so I have no complaints. EXCEPT FOR THE USUAL COMPLAINT.

And I mean, sure, maybe there is only one nation of elves or dwarves and then it would make sense for there to also be only one race. But if that’s the case on a planet where there is more than one human race, I still think that’s weird without an adequate explanation. Why are there so many humans that they split off and over an incredibly long period of time grew up in places that were different enough they looked different from each other but there’s only one group of dwarves? If you have all nations of dwarves live underground so they all look similar, like pale with huge eyes or no eyes (huh, there’s an interesting thought) that could also make sense, but while I’m not a biologist or anything, I still feel like they’d be different somehow.

Anyway I know it’s a ton more work – I mean, trust me, I know, the folder on races alone in my Scrivener file for my Saga is friggun gigantic and it’s ridiculous – but it can also be a lot of fun and just as I think it’s useful to think of elements of mortality people usually forget in character crafting – like, say, hypothyroidism – I think that giving your non-human races actual races is useful. I mean, story element possibilities aside, you can make non-humans more or less Other-y with race.

*And as for that whole default white thing, turns out it’s actually REALLY easy to fix if you just ask yourself what race every character is when you make them, rather than assume anything. What can help you get into the mindset is by determining that when you describe hair and eye color, you go ahead and throw in one more color of skin, even if they’re white. There’s just as much a reason for a fantasy world MC to be any other race as there is for them to be white (assuming that race isn’t an object in the plot; if it is, then obvs what race they are is very important). Hence the MC of the story I’m working on isn’t actually white. He’s a made-up race that, skin-tone wise, is probably closest to Semitic. Here’s a sprite I made of him:

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Talzien have reddish eyes, reddish hair, and tan skin.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a white MC or even an all-white cast (especially if your story IS an Earth story and it takes place in a white-dominated country. Bugs the crap out of me that people whine about all-white casts in white-dominated country settings) but thinking of white as a default race IS a problem. And adding a splash of color is fun. You don’t have to make a big deal about your character’s not white race in the story. I don’t.

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A Diversity of Sickness

Hey friends! I mean minions! (Whatever, same thing.) I hadn’t been planning on writing about sickness again, but then I came across this Awkward Yeti comic:

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Used with permission.

I don’t really know what Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is. Or, well, I guess NOW I do (Thanks Awkward Yeti!) but I hadn’t heard of it before. I was vaguely aware of what the thyroid did and equally vaguely aware that there were diseases where the immune system attacks itself and stuff but not really what any of it was because it sounds terrible, is a lot of stuff to remember, and I don’t have it.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to diversifying my cast, not due to any sort of PC reason but just because I’m talking about the cast of my saga where the second half doesn’t have a lot of characters due to most of the original main cast not being around anymore halfway through and I need to make up a bajillion more and bigger diversity is more fun. When people say “More diversity!” in fictional casts, they usually mean more race and/or sexualities. Which yeah, I’ll have diverse races – although since it takes place on a fictional planet, when we see someone who is dark-skinned, they’re probably going to be closer to black rather than a deep brown with beautiful gradations to pink in a few spots, like their palms, and there’s an entire race of albinos, and actually pink-skinned people, and daffodil-colored, and vitiligo-colored (and they’re considered “exotic”, not “diseased”). And yeah, white. And people with wings. And lamias. And- well, it’s a fantasy story. But there are so many ways to diversify than just race and sexualities.

Which brings me back to The Awkward Yeti’s comic. Usually if a character has a medical condition, it’s a motivation factor, something the character is trying to get rid of. It might be fictional:

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OH NO POISONING

It might not be. Usually fictional is easier because so far as I know, the whole point of a chronic problem is that it’s chronic and we can’t fix it very well. There isn’t a mythic cure (until research makes one; it’s still mythic because probably your insurance won’t pay for it).

But even though a lot of people have a lot of semi-unusual problems, there aren’t a lot of heroes and probably less villains who have any sort of health problem at all, unless the villain has a serious mental problem. You don’t really see any heroes (or villains) with sickle-cell disease, for example. Maybe cancer, that’s a big one everyone knows! But not like, er…

…well that’s kind of the problem, isn’t it? I don’t really know about a lot of “my body isn’t perfectly healthy but you can’t really tell by looking at me, can you?” sort of problems. Joint pain? And with these sorts of problems, your villain (or hero) could still probably just go about their business nbd. So in that case, what’s the point of even bothering to give them a problem in the first place?

Well, no point, if you write it that way. He has hypothyroidism, but he fights on anyway. Yeah, might as well not put it in there. But a symptom of hypothyroidism – that comic – is fatigue. You can do something with that. A villain who has a hard time mustering up the energy to Do The Thing might be totally useless to you, something that would be A Bad Idea. Or maybe that’s an incredibly interesting idea. Go for it.

When you’re thinking about ways to make characters more interesting, maybe a weird quirk is good, or an “unusual” sexuality, but basic and in a way common bodily problems are so underlooked I think that they’re an ignored resource that are worth considering.

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Sick Day

Hey minions. I’ve been pretty insanely sick since Saturday night, the worst I’ve been sick for quite a while. Any time I didn’t spend in bed yesterday was spent in the bathroom. About a quarter of my night was spent there, making sure I never got more than an hour of sleep at a time. My health could be described as “everything is bad and nothing is good.”

I do feel better today than I felt yesterday but I still feel rather crummy. Since the only storytelling device on my mind is the age-old question of, “why do fictional characters never, ever get sick unless it’s with some sort of plot-important, rare illness with an improbable cure, or at best, a plague?” I think I’ll put off my blog post for this week for when thinking doesn’t make my head hurt so badly.

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That moment when Rosa (Final Fantasy IV) gets sick with a disease that can only be cured with…er, the light off of a sand ruby/pearl?

Btw, it’s because a writer shouldn’t bother to put in a storytelling element that’s not actually useful. It’s like how we essentially never mention any character going to the bathroom. There’s not actually a point to it. Unless the MC’s common cold keeps her from being able to smell something critical, there’s just not a point to having her get one. And honestly it’s okay. I mean, I usually only get sick once a year with an annual sore throat, or maybe a headcold. Every few years I get the flu – which is probably what I have right now. So if your MC is going adventuring in the spring or summer, that’s…usually not when people get sick anyway. It’s not that weird they didn’t get sick.

Although now I’m just thinking of Skyrim – the MC getting a sore throat so badly he loses his voice, and can’t use any of the…er, word magic. (I never actually played Skyrim.) He’s all

F

uuu
uus

and they break into coughing and the dragon is just like lolwat?

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Not such a BAMF now, are ya!?

Anyway I’m thinking I might take another nap or something. I’ll be getting back to you later this week.

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Martin Luther King Jr: Supervillain?

Why are civil rights issues ever issues? I mean, how hard can it possibly be to treat all human beings like human beings with all the rights inherent in being a human being, or at least all the rights we allot ourselves?

According to history and even today, apparently pretty freaking hard. But we’re supposed to be able to learn from history so let’s take a look at the man of the day, MLK Jr.

At this point in time, if you don’t think that MLK was a pretty super cool guy, most people will acknowledge that you are probably a bad person. You might have some reasons not to like him that don’t have to do with the whole fighting racism thing, hence the probably. But MLK is now closely associated with fighting racism and doing it peacefully and we can all agree that racism is bad. The end.

Yeah, except it’s not the end.

Rev Martin Luther King

Nice try.

There’s still racism. And not just white-to-black racism. And back then, remember he and the people around him were fighting. People actually opposed them in their fight to be treated like people. Even though they were doing peaceful marches, they were opposed by the police and others. And I imagine those people fighting them thought that they were the bad guys. How do you see people who are just marching along asking you nicely to view them no differently than you view yourself and let them eat a sandwich with you for Pete’s sake as “the bad guys”? It helps when you already don’t see them the way you see yourself, that they aren’t people at all. Assign ulterior motives to them. Assign evil traits to them. View MLK as an evil mastermind trying to bring down your white society.

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…I’d say something like “at least they weren’t shot with rubber bullets” but I’ve actually been hit by high-pressure water and I’m not sure that’s better. (Especially since the water that hit me probably still wasn’t as pressured as a fire hose.)

This is the sort of thing that really makes villains sticky. With the 20/20 view of being in the future, we can say that clearly the people spraying down the protesters or hauling them off or whatever are the Bad Guys. Of course, we all agree that racism is bad. If we didn’t then maybe we might see where those dealing retaliations were coming from, how they might think that they were defending their buildings, towns, children. Those are all noble things, right? Defending your home and family, we all agree that is Good.

Perceived threats – of course often an important part of racism, though it doesn’t have to be – make for interesting moral lines. In a way, it’s not much different than that trope where the hero is fighting this monster and then it turns out it was an illusion and it was actually their friend!

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Hercules be all “Oh noes, monsters!” and then he’s like, “Friggun – it was just Hera’s illusion, that was my family! Guess I’ll just die, then.” (Taken from Brandon Fall’s Flickr)

Honestly, this sort of thing happens to villains fairly often, when they think they’re fighting for all that they care about but really it’s just a perceived threat. Maybe the villain realizes this and changes his ways. Maybe he doesn’t care or doesn’t ever get it. Although there is one important note: just because he falsely perceives a threat doesn’t mean he’s automatically a bad guy.

Think about how often heroes, especially superheroes, encounter something they perceive as a threat when it turns out not to be. I’ve been watching Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited lately and I can tell you that that has happened a lot. Friggun Hawkgirl, stop punching things with your mace. Gaah why are you guys letting the barbarian do the charisma work! Everyone knows that’s a bad idea! So on that note, even fighting off the perceived threat doesn’t automatically make one a bad guy, since good guys do it too. But what’s different, exactly, from the people who sprayed down MLK Jr. and his protesters and Good Guys who make mistakes with harsh actions? Remember, fiction is a mirror to reality, so it’s not just Hawkgirl swinging her mace at everything – real people that we might judge as Good Guys do this too.

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Seriously though, can you not? It’s called talking.

I think ultimately, it comes to the true nature of the heart. And that’s exactly why we’re not supposed to judge one another, because we have a hard time perceiving the true nature of the heart. While someone who perceives MLK as a supervillain because they’re legitimately scared and misinformed is…sad, pathetic, frustrating…it’s not automatically villainous. I think viewing idiocy as villainy is just another form of fighting illusions a lot of the time – because even if the idiot who can’t tell the difference between a perceived threat and an actual threat (and remember we’re all idiots sometimes) is actively attacking said perceived threat, if the threat defends themselves, attacks back, then they prove the idiot correct about the threat thing. Something that is attacking you is a threat, even if the thing is attacking you in self-defense. That’s why education is so important – that’s why MLK’s peaceful protests were so important, that they were peaceful. That’s why you could call him a supervillain – because he was smart enough to know how to defeat his enemy, racism – but only if you have, er, let’s call them “unusual ” morals.

So that’s something to consider in this interesting gray of morality, the line between hero, protagonist, antagonist, and villain. Threats and perceived threats, true motivations…what is and isn’t a villain. What you consider to be a villain or not. What side of the line you’re on – perceptions turn everything upside-down and that’s why figuring out morality can be so hard.

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Why I Can’t Overlord

Spoiler: I can freaking Overlord, thank you very much! How dare you say otherwise? And how dare any of you try to point out that “Overlord” is not a verb. IT IS NOW. DEAL WITH IT.

Anyway some of my friends like to joke that I’m not actually Overlord material. Here are the reasons why:

I’m short

I’m cute

I’m afraid of the dark

I don’t enjoy horror at all because I’m sensitive to horror because it makes the dark 5000x more terrifying and even just being alone somewhere in the day pretty scary

I hate the undead

I have low/no tolerance for gore to which I’m also sensitive

On learning the dark/horror/violence thing, a lot of people respond, “How are you even an Overlord!?”

Look. These things are not actually relevant to being an Overlord. The dark is freaking scary. I mean, remember how I am a tiny woman with T-rex arms!? If a haunted axe murderer or drowned woman or freakish animatronic got loose in my house, I would be so dead. And you know what attracts those sorts of things? Darkness. I don’t automatically control the darkness just because I’m an evil overlord! Maybe if I was a knife-wielding psychopath* but I’ve really worked on not running around murdering people. I’m not a monster of the darkness. It’s not mine.

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He probably isn’t afraid of the dark anymore, but I’m still sane, so.

And sheesh, excuse me for not allowing myself to become desensitized to the horrors of violence! Look, I can still handle violence. I have written horrifying torture scenes (and liked it**). I can’t handle gore. Ugh, squick. I don’t need to handle gore to want to dominate the world! I don’t need to handle gore to effectively command minions! I might have to to fight The Chosen One but like, probably not the super gratuitous kind because it’s not like I’m going to flay the skin from his bones or rip her to pieces using razor wire. I’m going to try to just get my sniper to shoot ’em. Because I am an effective Overlord. I’m over the whole killing them myself and or making them suffer thing. I know to just kill them. So it shouldn’t require more gore than I can handle or else I’m doing it wrong anyway.

Just because undead often are associated with Overlords doesn’t mean they always must be! Besides, I don’t have a way to control undead. So that would be a horrible idea on my part to try anyway. I am a competent Overlord!

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Remember in FMA:Brotherhood how well working with zombie-esque creatures went for the corrupt military? Spoiler: it didn’t; anyone who got in their way was eaten.

As for the first two, short and cute is a trick of the enemy. Honestly, all it takes for me to Overlord is to want to take over the world and to be able to do so competently. The fact that I am deeply in love with my husband and can be gooey with him does not make me less of an Overlord. The fact that I highly value loyalty and friendship and would go out of my way to help someone does not make me less of an Overlord.

My perfectly mortal fear of spiders and darkness and scary crap does not make me less of an Overlord. It might affect my competence here and there but I can face my fears if I have to. (I already have, when I needed to move my baby to her crib but I was sure Freddy and his horrible animatron friends were all in the hallway, but I picked her up and ran through the danger zone before they could get me anyway for my kid’s sake. Look, I have a vivid imagination, okay?) What anyone should judge me concerning my Overlordship is whether or not I can capably perform actual Overlord duties, like following Peter’s Overlord List. There’s nothing about not being afraid of the dark there because that’s not actually important. Anyway heroes who are like ninjas and stuff, and even just regular heroes, can hide in the dark. Do you know who totally loves darkness? Batman.

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I do NOT want to face Batman.

The darkness can be a scary place for villains too.

When you’re making your villain, he doesn’t automatically gain Immunity From Bad Stuff because he’s evil because all things bad are not one coherent being. There’s a lot of bad stuff. Bad things can happen to bad guys because of other bad guys. That, in fact, creates complex moral issues. And beyond that, you don’t automatically get to love the darkness just because you’re evil. The darkness affects me the same way as a lot of other human beings: I can’t see in it, things in my peripheral visions look odd and scary, and I remember all the scary things I’ve ever heard or seen. Why would I be different just because I’m evil?

So maybe your villain, if she’s a woman like me, does find herself freaking out about murder-rapists when she’s walking home alone at night. Even if she’s a villain. Because when I was walking home from an evening class and went through an area where there HAD been a rapist a year before I started attending college, I had to run through because that was a legit fear! These things happen. And maybe they don’t like horror because of an overactive imagination. Maybe they grow faint at the sight of blood. These things are human, they’re not innately anti-evil.

And maybe if we stop worrying about these non-issue stereotypes of evil that don’t actually necessarily make a villain better in any way and start worrying about what actually makes the villain potent, worry about making the villain a person, we’ll start making better villains.

And again – BATMAN.

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*Actually, when playing a game called Murder In The Dark, I got to a point where the game got too scary for me to play because my brain could not not take it seriously and I started having high amounts of anxiety playing because I legit thought I’d die in the back of my mind…but a little before I quit playing, I finally got to BE a murderer and yeah, then the dark wasn’t scary at all because I was the thing that makes the dark scary. So if I was a different kind of villain, I probably would own the darkness. I’m not that kind of villain.

**Well, the writing was flowing really well. It was an easy scene to write and that’s always excellent. And as a writer, I’m basically an emotional vampire, which is to say I feed off of the suffering of my characters and readers and there was a lot of emotion to feed off of in that scene.

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The Right Amount of Genre Savvy

Whenever I’m in a place that’s dark and I’m by myself, I of course know that monsters aren’t real; there is no Slender Man, there are no hideous monstrosities with razor claws a foot long and a maw full of teeth and a body that’s Lovecraftian, there are no Uncanny Valley horrors. Of course I know those things don’t exist, which is why I bolt from any room that has the light off and slap desperately at any lightswitch of a room I’m entering and run entirely on adrenaline navigating the dark area so these things, which definitely, absolutely don’t exist, don’t kill me.

I can’t help it. I’m too imaginative, and too genre savvy. See I’m all charisma; I’ve got pathetic T-rex arms, I’ve got enough endurance to run all of ten seconds, I’ve got all the speed of a three-legged corgi, and while on a human assailant, I know many, many places that are good to hit, most assailants that definitely don’t exist who are going to kill me are humanoid at best. That means that I may not be blonde, but I am so, so, so dead in any sort of horror setting.

It’s not just the dark that brings out my involuntary genre savviness. I straddle the line between reality and fantasy constantly and while I always keep careful track of where that line is, I like to pretend it doesn’t exist, and I am actually knee-deep in Narnia (or wherever) so sometimes I do expect a cat-sized dragon to show up after I hear an off-screen crash. Except not really because only lizard-sized dragons who aren’t really dragons actually exist. If there’s any actual dragons crashing off-screen, it’s one of my dragon figurines the friggun cats friggun knocked off a-friggun-gain. Or my kid got it. Tiny mammals are really bad at not knocking things off stuff.

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Turns out real-life dragons are sorta derpy (still want one, though)

But I like to run through totally pretend and impossible scenarios that would never ever happen because they’re totally pretend just so I’m prepared. I have a reply to the Doctor (it involves re-directing him to any of my Whoovian friends because I have a family here and his Timey-Wimey stuff isn’t really for me) and a plan for if I discover Narnia in any of my closets, cabinets, paintings…shoes…and ditto for falling down any rabbit holes or looking glasses. Getting stuck in a virtual reality video game? Yep, have a plan for that.

Of course, these things will never happen. I know that. But it pays to be prepared. In fact, I’ve had a password with myself (and now my husband) just in case anyone from the future or an alternate version of myself ever approaches and I don’t believe it’s me. I mean, if they have an important message for me and I’m like, dude come on, whatever, time travel isn’t real, they probably have very limited time and I need to make sure they can make me believe them super fast so they can do whatever they needed to do! So if they can give me the password, then I know it’s me. Problem solved. And that’s why I don’t like other people knowing my middle name.
(Actually, I have no idea why I don’t like people knowing my middle name. My password is no longer and hasn’t been for a while my middle name.)

So here’s the thing: I’m not breaking the fourth wall with all my genresavvy because no matter how gentresavvy I am, I am not aware of a fourth wall. I  am legit convinced this is the most real of any reality (and while the possibility of being a brain in a jar is, I suppose, A Thing, I find it to be a moot point but that’s another discussion entirely) and there isn’t an audience and no one is watching me (besides God who does not count) and therefore there aren’t ANY walls.

Oftimes, when a character is genresavvy, he’s also  breaking the fourth wall. That’s totally fine. And there are plenty of examples of characters saying “in the movies” and “in the books”. Sometimes, it’s a matter of saying “not like in the movies/books”. I don’t feel like that counts; it’s giving a reference point and then saying “You don’t know what this is” and chucking savviness out the window. But…whenever a character is savvy, it’s often the hero. I want to see more properly savvy villains.

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“You got me monologuing!”

Not the fourth wall breaking savviness. The kind who just know what’s going on.

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Of course, there’s nothing wrong with those who have fourth wall breaking savviness, it’s just usually impractical for a serious story.

While there are plenty of reasons a villain will not recognize himself as a villain, that doesn’t mean that he has to fall into the same pitfalls as every other villain. Sometimes it’s a matter of plain intelligence; there are pitfalls that are stupid. No one should fall for those. But there are many that are matters of cliche and trope, of history repeating itself.

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Let’s see. I have Napoleon’s example of a failure of a war fighting Russia…ehhh, what the heck, let’s just make all the same mistakes. (And let’s do it right now, even though if we’d hold off until after we defeated Britain, we could actually win this war.)

Your villain doesn’t have to know he’s a villain to learn from the mistakes of others and make wise decisions. If he’s a fantasy villain, he can still be aware of all the tropes and step around them. There are ways to be a dictator without being a ruthless dictator that is Obviously Bad – although, even a ruthless dictator isn’t necessarily Obviously Bad. You just have to have something worse. If he’s a super villain, he probably knows he’s a villain, and he should probably avoid over-elaborate death traps that don’t just, y’know, kill the hero, or fighting Batman. And if they’re on Earth, they ought to have plenty of history to study – which means you’ll have to study it, sorry – to know how best to manipulate people and countries and not invade Russia.

Being genre savvy isn’t the same thing as playing dirty, either. Knowing full on that going into a sword fight with someone who will beat you unless you throw sand in his eyes or kick him in the groin means that you can get in the sword fight and play dirty, or you can not get in the sword fight. Pick a champion to face off for you. Use tropes heroes always fall for of goading or whatever to do something else. Being savvy doesn’t even have to mean knowing the Villain Tropes that happen all the time, but can refer to the things I mentioned above, being horror story savvy, genie savvy, things that aren’t heroic or villainous but you can certainly look at past mistakes and not make those same mistakes.

Basically, I guess I’m saying that if I was a hero and I came across a stream in a mystical wood and I was very thirsty, I’d stick a stick in there first to make sure it didn’t kill me.
And if I was the villain…I’d do the same thing.

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Drabbles

Having more technical difficulties. I got a tablet hybrid after my laptop died, and sometimes when I dock it in the keyboard, it just…randomly doesn’t work anymore. It’s very frustrating since there’s absolutely no reason for it. It’s gotten worse and is the last thing I want to deal with when I’m trying to write a blog post after forgetting until the last minute that today is Monday because despite how I might think it should go, Christmas does not make a week of Saturdays afterward.

Anyway I hope you all had great Christmases, and if you didn’t, then I hope that you’re having a good Monday, should such a thing exist, and barring all that, I hope you randomly gain mutant powers tomorrow and are able to wreak revenge on all those who oppose you.

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If I could have any mutant power, it’d be not being in student debt. No, wait, I want my mutant power to be one of those mythical adults I keep hearing about who have their lives together.

Anyway I’m about ready to throw Pandemonium – that’s my tablet – across the room (to be honest, most of my rage has to do with it starting this nonsense right as a zombie attached to my neck and I had to press the D key or die and obviously all I could do was die, I don’t even LIKE zombie games that much, I just want to earn that Kongregate badge and go) so lemmie just do a short post with a writing exercise.

It’s called a drabble. A drabble is 100 words, no more, no less. Certainly, typing exactly 100 words doesn’t have to be hard, but unless there’s some motion in the drabble, something that happens, it’s not a very good drabble. It’s like a hyper-condensed short story, so it has to have a purpose. Getting really good at these is actually pretty hard!

If you want to try it and share ’em, go for it – I haven’t done drabbles in a while but I’ve been considering picking it up again. It’s a good way to focus in on fast action, or bring out a poignant scene in a smaller space. Brevity is the soul of wit, they say, so use this to capture that soul in a jar and pretend like you have one. (Wait, maybe that’s just me who has to pretend.)

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Christmas Diversions and Traditions

Hi everyone. I know this post is late, and I blame Christmas diversions. I haven’t been able to make a proper backlog yet, so apologies.

In thinking what to write, my mind is again drawn to villains celebrating a holiday. While I’ve already suggested that it’s possible for a villain to just want to celebrate a holiday like a normal person without wanting to destroy it, I wanted to add that a good way to execute this is not to think of it as a villain celebrating the holiday, but your character celebrating it (your character, who happens to be the villain).

That aside, there are many other types of traditions to consider. In fact, they could just have their own traditions, not shared by anyone else, superstitions or compulsions. Heck, even evil cultists have traditions. Evil, sacrificial traditions, but they’re still traditions.

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And each holiday carries with it several variations of traditions. My family – er, back when it was me, my mom, and my brother – had the tradition of clam chowder for dinner on Christmas Eve, and a Christmas Eve present of new jammies. Some families do goodie plates and they are the best kind of people in the world. Some do Elf on the Shelf. Some do Revenge Against Elf on the Shelf with their G.I.s, Darth Vaders, and Elsa toys. Some carol. Some watch every Christmas movie they own, including the ones that technically aren’t Christmas movies but what the heck, it wouldn’t be Christmas without It’s A Wonderful Life and The Little Princess! Some build snow forts. And some ruin carols.

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Course, some are Scrooge and Grinch and it’s not even because they’re mean or evil but just because the holidays can be stressful and suck a lot. So even if you don’t really want to do holidays with your villain, even if it seems like your villain doesn’t really get into any holiday spirit, you can find out what other traditions your villain likes to keep, no matter how small-scale they might be, like a nightly routine.

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TRADITION!

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Over 9000

Villains often are motivated by power, that’s no secret. And some of the things they’re willing to give up for power, whether that power is immortality or a macguffin or just plain old power, always seem to be something in the range of “anything”.

That’s fine, I suppose, for someone who just really wants power. And there are those who are so purely motivated by power that they’re willing to become a lich or pull a Faust or some other crazy thing to get it. But if your villain is motivated by power, you might take a moment to ask if there’s something behind the desire – if the power itself is a motivation or a means. The difference between the two is huge, and realizing that your villain has a totally different motivation than “get power”, and “get power” is just a means can mean understanding your villain on a level you couldn’t manage before. I think a lot of times when our villain feels austere to us and just won’t talk like our heroes, it’s because we don’t take the time to truly understand them.

Sometimes it’s just because they’re a huge jerk.

But consider wealth, which, if you ask me, is a type of power. Plenty of people are motivated by money, but why? I mean, I like to have money, and I’m willing to bet you probably like to have money. Why? The assumption goes that money gets you things. I can’t go buy some delicious, delicious pho or delightful sweets or a couple hundred games from Steam if I’m broke. Usually if someone says “they’re motivated by wealth”, it’s pretty well assumed that they’re not motivated just by having the  dollar bills themselves, because that’s pretty pointless. I mean they smell interesting, or if we’re going with gold or jewels, they’re shiny and pretty, but it’s the value of those items, the purchasing power, that matters. Motivation of wealth is generally assumed to be motivation of having things. You could break it down into why someone wants those things – I’m motivated by purchasing power for food because yum, or games because who doesn’t like to have fun? (Pft, I’m a 90’s kid, I want to get rid of student debt more than I want pho or games.) Determining what a person would buy is great for understanding them, but why they want to buy those things tends to be more self explanatory.

But power itself isn’t necessarily obvious like money. The assumption is that one wants power because power allows one to do things, like money allows one to buy things. But while buying things is more obvious in its motivation, “doing things” isn’t. What things do they want to do and why they want to do them are both important. If the character wants to have god-like powers, why is that? Is it just because they want the thrill of being all-powerful, able to shape the world to their will?

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That’s cool and all, if not a bit manic.

Or do they want something more than that? Do they want to make absolutely sure they’ll never be out of control again? Make others who looked down on them suffer? Attract someone? Remember that villains are people and people can be both simple, attracted to the shininess of money, attracted to power for power’s sake, but more often, they’re complex. And the complex ones are almost always more interesting.

So if your villain is motivated by power, double check to find out whether or not they’re actually motivated by power, and if they are, why – and if it’s just any power they can get their hands on, or a specific type, like money.

Consider also what your villain is actually willing to give up for power. I for one would not actually be willing to give up my eternal soul for power, though granted I’m not hugely motivated by power in the first place. I wouldn’t give up my kid.

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Xanatos (Gargoyles) wouldn’t give up his family either.

Villains are evil but that doesn’t mean that they are all that it means to be evil. They’re people. They have limits. It’s possible they’d be willing to give up absolutely everything for one thing they want, but it’s just as likely that they realize there are other things they want more. It all depends on the character, but never assume that just because they’re a villain, they don’t value family, friends, or other things of immeasurable value for something like power. It’s possible that power might mean to them retrieving a lost loved one, in which case it’s giving everything up for the loved one, not the power. That goes back to the means.

Power is a basic, common, and obvious motivation for villains for a reason, but make sure if that’s your villain’s motivation, you do have a reason.

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