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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Homeowners

I have some good news and some bad news. I bet you can guess which one is primarily relevant to you!

The good news is as of last Tuesday, I’m a homeowner. And as of last Thursday, I actually LIVE in the house I bought.

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Relevant to the bad news: putting this picture in was excruciatingly irritating.

 

The bad news is that for reasons, our wifi isn’t working. It’ll never be as good because we moved from a city with good wifi options to crap options but this is worse than that because not even that wifi is working due to something being broken.

Thanks to the miracle of a smartphone, I may get incredibly spotty internet using it as a spluttering hotspot. But if I have to write a whole post with all the trimmings, waiting for my linkbacks to load each time, waiting for web pages and pictures to load on the everythings, we’re gonna have a bad time.

[This is a pretend picture of Sans from Undertale because I just said that putting in pictures suuuucks right now.]

Hopefully my wifi should be fixed Wednesday. Hopefully. We only get Xfinity aka Comcast in our new city and to say I mistrust them is to be kind so who knows. But sometimes you have to deal with the devil to get decent (and only decent) internet.

So lemmie just leave you with a reminder before I go back to packing: bad guys think they are good guys (I’ll just have to add links later I guess) which means that it’s just as easy for a protagonist who is supposed to be a good guy to be a villain. In that, it’s a matter of perspective. It’s easy to justify one’s own poor life choices, and it’s easy to assume the worst of someone else’s. Oftimes the way we separate villains and heroes are by the means behind the methods – if someone wants to save all the babies and children, and they do it by killing anyone they perceive to be a threat to babies and children without discrimination, they’re still a villain. Maybe your hero isn’t really all that heroic. Take a look at their actual actions and the reasons that were immediately behind them. Don’t justify. Scrutinize. Maybe they’re not a good person, and maybe they’re actually a villain.

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Violence and Gore

Short one today that’s more my irritations on a somewhat relevant topic:

People don’t seem to know the difference between gore and violence a lot of the time.

There is a difference, a significant one. See, I don’t do super well with gore. The image sticks in my head and stays there for ever and ever. But I have little problem with violence. If it’s against small children then my mom instincts kick in and it bothers me because I want to go destroy whoever is hurting the small child, but in most cases I can handle it. For me, this matters  on a regular basis just because if I’m talking to some random person who doesn’t know my tastes, if they recommend something and I mention I don’t like gore, if there is violence they will tell me I wouldn’t like it.

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Exhibit A

While on a moral level I think violence is bad, as a storytelling device, I’m totally comfortable with most of it. Right now, we’re going through the fun process of figuring out if I could watch Attack on Titan – I’ve been told it’s very gory so while I’d like to be in the know of a popular anime, I can’t watch it. Course someone else said it’s just really violent, and the gore isn’t worse than FMA: Brotherhood, so now my husband’s watching it since he knows my level of tolerance.

I think it’s worth noting the difference between violence and gore when you’re writing a villain, because as villains are likely enough to commit heinous acts of violence, knowing exactly how far they’re willing to go and how you want to write it will change the feel of your villain.

Most of the dictionary definitions involve the use of the word “force” – swift force, harmful force, whatever. My definition is an action intended to harm someone or something in any way. Punching a wall is violent. Pushing someone down the stairs is violent. Heck, yelling cruelties at someone is violent. Sure.

And then gore, that’s the blood and guts.

There’s just something…crude about graphic scenes. Base, horrifying. And I feel like that rubs off on the perpetrator – for me, the more you describe violence and gore, the more that the violent person seems like a monster or a base creature, like a wolf ripping into prey more than a sentient man. Whereas, if most of the gore is implied, more focus is on the act itself, the effect is somewhat more variable. Something brutally violent will likely still have a bestial effect on the perp, but more delicate work adds layers of sociopathic genius. Things get even more warped when the perp is performing artwork with the gore, in which case description of it becomes necessary, and makes the perp something beyond beast or man.

My biggest gripe with gore is that usually I feel it’s an unnecessary cheapshot. Like, it’s an inelegantly used shortcut to horrified, cringing audience reactions. There are certainly people to whom that sort of thing appeals, though that begins to edge into gorn territory (it’s a portmanteau of two words and I don’t advise googling it if you can’t figure it out) which in a way is a different matter entirely. I mean, if your end goal is to be super gross with guts then…er, have at it, I guess? But if you’re going for a horror factor, I just feel it’s kind of cheap. Immediately jumping to the obvious, using a sucker punch method. Sometimes that’s appropriate, but again, a lot of times I feel it’s inelegant. If you’re looking for a more sophisticated villain, then blood and guts everywhere isn’t going to help that image. Probably. Maybe something like Hannibal Lecter could prove me wrong. I wouldn’t know since I don’t want my OCD to catch onto any element of the show and make me think of it forever, which is exactly what would happen, so I don’t watch it.

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Course with my limited knowledge of things, I think he’d be a pretty good example of sophistication wrapped over a base, monstrous, bestial creature. 

Anyway worrying about the sensitivity of your audience aside, when you are writing violence, or a character stumbling across a scene where violence happened, I think it’s important to think first of the feel you want the overall story to have, the scene to have, and the perpetrator to have before you decide on how much you want to describe any gore. It’s possible to get a sickened feeling without every scrap of flesh and every drop of blood detailed. It’s possible to be horrified with more focus on the act and less on the results. Don’t just assume that it’s better with more detail; figure out what your story actually needs and go with that.

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Undertale: You

The final and most important villain of Undetale is you, the player. But that’s your choice. Oh hey, did I mention that you absolutely shouldn’t be reading these if you haven’t played? Go. Do it. It’s great. I laughed, I cried, I maybe possibly perhaps swore a ton at Sans…good times.

Anyway, YOU. You have to take responsibility for your actions. Some players like to blame Chara for their doing the genocide run. But that’s ridiculous. Chara is barely a person and more a concept. You are the one who chose to let that into your heart. You’re the one who decided to kill Papyrus when he reached out to you in love. To kill the heroine of the story. To shatter Mettaton’s dreams. To bring the final slap in the face to Sans. Those were all your choice. You could have stopped at any moment and you didn’t.

But your villainy isn’t even just about genocide. No. If you complete pacifist run, and then keep playing over and over, never letting the denizens rest…you’re the one getting in the way of their happiness so you can enjoy the game again. Sure, that’s what many games are for. It’s like reading a book again. But Flowey warns you at the end of Pacifist that you’re the only one who can get in the way of everyone’s happy ending.

I guess what it means is that Undertale is setting itself apart from other games. It’s not just here for your entertainment; it’s here to make you think about the “Others” that you just kill. That yes, everyone you encounter is a monster – many are monsters that you’d see in other games and kill without a thought. Papyrus and Sans are skeletons – is there a game where you kill monsters where some of those monsters aren’t skeletons? (don’t answer that. The true answer is irrelevant.) I mean, in Kingdom of Loathing, there’s a skeleton’s monster description that amounts up to OH BOY SKELETONS YOU LOVE KILLING SKELETONS IN GAMES best part. It uses most of those words in just not quite that order.

But Papyrus and Sans are people. And yet, even if you get that and enjoy their characters, and then play again…are you truly recognizing them as people or just characters? The fact that they are, in fact, fictional is somewhat less important. They’re well fleshed out. You can still afford full personhood respect for a fictional character. Armies of fanboys and girls prove that much. So do you respect the characters enough to  make your interference and leave them alone? Or are they your playthings, forever, and ever, to force them to live the same life again and again for your own amusement? Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you have a mindset where playing the game again doesn’t make everyone relive it, it’s just a memory reflection, a piece of time you’re looking at…but Undertale makes it abundantly clear that isn’t the case for these characters.

So in the end, you’re the villain if you can’t let them just…live.

And then there’s genocide. I did genocide because I wanted to kill everyone because I’m not a good person. It wasn’t curiosity to see what happened, my brand of completionism is more based on getting all the achievements or collections of whatever, not seeing every possible dialog or ending. I just…wanted to kill everyone. I don’t think I could explain it to you if you don’t also have a mote of evil in your soul.

I also purged Chara from the system because while my sins will remain with me always, I’m not so evil to force the rest of Undertale to live with them. It’s not fair to them. It’s true, in reality, if I decided to just start killing people, I couldn’t just…erase that, not let the people affected choose not to live with my decisions. But Undertale is a story, and I am a storyteller, and I’m far too used to having the story, ultimately, go the way I want it to to not do so now.

But I’m still a monster. I still killed everyone, even Papyrus.

Is it proper to say the player is a monster? In a world where there are monsters, and they’re people, not evil, is that proper?

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The worst kind, Asgore.

Yes. Monster has always had two meanings to me. See, there are creatures that are of a “monster” class – and then there are things that are meant to terrify and hurt you. The first usually come from a creature that has frequently been in the second until it just becomes known as a monster, regardless of whether or not it’s actually a monster, or if it’s Sans and Papyrus.

But ultimately, what a monster is supposed to be is a creature that is horrifying and wants to hurt you. That’s what we mean by monsters. That’s why we call adults who hurt children in any way a monster. Maybe all the creatures in Undertale are a class of monster, but in the end, you are the real monster.

Frankly, I think the people who do it just to see, like Flowey, are worse than I am. Would you really kill someone just because that’s an option, out of curiosity to see what would happen? But that’s literally what you’re doing in a completionist-driven genocide mode. You met everyone, you found out what great guys they are, and then you chose to kill them just to see? Me, it’s just the twisted part of me.

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See just normal crazy evil people stuff.

And I’m addicted to telling tragedy in my stories, so…yeah, my fingers itch a bit around fictional characters. It’s not an unusual trait for a writer.

Just always take care in deciding to kill – with games like these that make you think, you might discover that you are a monster – that you are the villain.

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Undertale: Chara

Reminder: This post is 5000% spoilerific and you can’t enjoy Undertale very well if it’s been spoiled for you; novelty is important to the experience. It’s cheap, it’s on Steam, go enjoy it, probably don’t do genocide.

Now, on to talking about doing the genocide path.

The genocide path brings in a mostly unseen villain. The fallen human and the player character are not actually the same person, yet in a way the player character IS Chara until Chara is fully reincarnated. Frisk’s name is never spoken in genocide, so it’s like Frisk doesn’t exist; there is only Zuul. I mean Chara. Whatever.

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Chara is something more of a primordial evil. And yet, it’s not quite that, either. Chara expresses xherself – the gender of neither Frisk nor Chara is ever revealed, and is frankly irrelevant  – as that feeling you, the player, get when you level up, when your stats increase. In my interpretation, Chara is calling xherself the drive behind the hack and slash. A spirit of destruction. The utter lack of care about who you are destroying in favor of your own gain, of growing stronger, the glee at being so strong that nothing, nothing, can stand in your way.

Ultimately for me, this means I’ve always had Chara with me, since I’ve done enough grinding to experience that glee of tearing through monsters. What, you think you’re big and tough? I am over leveled. Now die! HAH!

And yet, it isn’t as though I’ve never considered what I”m killing. If the game says it’s “just monsters”, well, that’s the point of Undertale, isn’t it? Are they “just” monsters? But it’s arguable that the monsters in Undertale aren’t really monsters at all. They’re sentient beings who have a different set of souls and different powers from humans, and they look different. That’s all. In which case, the one who doesn’t care what or who they are is the real monster – that means you and Chara. But more on you later.

I’ve thought about the things we kill in games for exp. In tabletop games like DnD, I don’t enjoy pure hack and slash. We’re dealing with some goblins? Well…I speak gobbledygook, can I try to roll diplomacy? Everyone looks at me like I’m crazy. Usually the DM makes it clear that they’re cannon fodder, won’t speak to me or won’t speak much. (Depends on the DM. I’ve had some great ones.) I just…would like the chance to talk to the monsters and see if they aren’t people too. And Undertale gives you that chance.

And Undertale chides you if you don’t. Hah. Chides. No.

You lose everything if you don’t.

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By Zeon-in-a-tree on DA

You are such a slave to your need to kill it all that you can’t ever really have peace. That in the end, even if you decide to save everyone, you’ve let Chara be your ruling motivation – you won’t let them stay saved. You’ll kill them all for exp eventually. That’s who you are, when you don’t even try to find out who you are killing. You aren’t the one in control. Your drive for hack and slash is.

For a lot of people, the reason they do genocide is just curiosity, completionism. But that’s not necessarily what Chara is about, even if xie is a punishment for the completionist. It’s why I’d suggest mere completionism isn’t good enough to do genocide in Undertale. Because it’s not a good enough reason to evoke the spirit of selfish gain…in many ways, the spirit of villainy. Not all villainy, but a portion at least.

I’ve heard people suggest you beat Chara by wiping the computer of xer presence. Or that it would be cool to have Chara be a villain to fight. But you don’t beat xer that way, either way – you cannot defeat violence with violence. In trying to be strong enough to kill Chara, you are evoking the very spirit of Chara, so how in the hey is that supposed to defeat Chara? And just wiping the memory of what you did isn’t enough either. As long as you carry with you the drive to kill and become powerful, Chara wins.

I did wipe my computer. It was a little difficult to figure out. But the hack and slash stain remains, and it always will. Flowey’s soul was just lost; Chara has no soul, and if you invite Chara in, neither do you.

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Undertale: Flowey

Whelp, I did it. I have Sans’ blood on my hands. My muscles are still quivering from the fight. And now that I’ve fully dredged up every villain in Undertale, let’s talk about them.

For the record, these posts are going to be incredibly spoilerific so if you haven’t played Undertale, go do it. You won’t really be able to play the game after it’s spoiled for you. Novelty is a really important element for the game. It’s only like, idk, $15, so just go play it. It’s awesome, 500/10 stars, would recommend to everyone forever.

The first and most obvious villain is Flowey.

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While I would concede that Asriel is not a villain, I will argue that Flowey is. Flowey has no soul, only the will to live, whereas Asriel is the lost soul hidden somewhere within Flowey. They’re maybe the same person, but they’re also not.

Flowey is a creature of malice, but he’s clever enough to be far more than just a killing machine. And he’s terribly creepy. Part of his creep factor is the reversal of expectations. He’s an adorable golden flower, one of the most innocent objects ever. And what a cute name, Flowey the Flower! Aww. But then he pulls his demon face on you.

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Artist SovanJedi – find on either Deviantart or Twitter

He acts like your best friend, and immediately tries to kill you. Since betrayal is a primal fear, and with the effects of the reversal of expectations, yeah, it’s pretty scary.

Of course, what freaked me out the most with Flowey is that he was able to do things he shouldn’t have been able to do. Breaking the fourth wall is often hilarious but it’s not funny at all when the villain is using it to have power over you. My first playthrough, I accidentally killed Toriel. It was a total accident – she said “show me you’re strong enough” and the frogs from earlier said sometimes if you hurt someone, they’ll give up, so I assumed that was what was going to happen here. I fought her, but it’s set up so when she has like, I dunno, three, four attacks worth of health left, your attack suddenly does basically a critical hit. I hadn’t meant to kill her. I quickly restarted.

But Flowey still knew my sin. Do you know how creepy that is? No! Saves un-do it! This isn’t how it’s supposed to work! This flower defies the world as I know and understand it. I mean it’s not like it’s the first time ever a video game character has defied my use of quitting and booting up the last save.

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But the way he did it…it was just…shiver…and then I rapidly uninstalled the game and cut off the cloud save from Steam. And yet…Flowey still knew. In fact he knew all too well how saves worked and claimed to be able to do a save file as well. I had to get my husband to exorcise my computer for me. I could have looked up how to do it myself but it was just creeping me out so badly I didn’t want to get near the computer again until that demon was gone.

Course Flowey is never really gone, is he? No.

Besides all that, he does use his save file power when you fight him as Photoshop Flowey. It’s. Unnerving. It’s unnerving to have an in game character delete and destroy YOUR save file and make his own and boot his own.

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Normally the power to keep trying against an enemy who has beaten you…is YOUR power, not the enemy’s. To have a power inherently your own taken from you and used against you is terrifying.

But in the end, I’m fond of Flowey. Because in the end, he’s just desperate and hopeless and he has a wonderful moment of…not quite redemption, but true change, because he’s witnessed pure love. Well if you do the Pacifist route anyway. He gets to taste true fear in Genocide…but it’s in playing both that you can find what he really is.

He’s just lost.

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So lost that it’s confounding to the point of frustration to him when you don’t kill him when you have the chance. From wixeal.tumblr.com. 

I find him to be a villain because how he copes is base and cruel. He can’t find meaning in the world in friendship and love, so he resorts to killing everyone. That’s not a good way to handle it. While he just desperately wants to feel, what he really wants to feel is love and friendship. Which is why Chara is so exciting to him. Someone who is as cold and empty as him, someone who was once a friend, who could perhaps be his companion in the dark. Instead Chara just kills him. But pacifist Frisk – and from now on if I’m going to say “Frisk” for pacifist and “Chara” for genocide for shorthand and clarity – is able to reach deep into Flowey and find Asriel, and remind Flowey of who he really is. And when he sees what Frisk has done for every character in the game, including himself…

Well, at that point, There’s only one possible villain left. And it isn’t Flowey.

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Primordial Evil

I beat Sans, so the Undertale posts are soon to come. First though, let’s talk about the Primordial Evil.

As I’ve said repeatedly, villains are people too. But primordial evil is not a person. And sometimes you’d like to write a person who is actually an embodiment of primordial evil. Maybe they’re an evil god. Maybe they’re not a person; primordial evil just took on a humanoid form because human shaped things are easier for other human shaped things (us) to work with. So. Now what?

Primordial evil is that classic sort of evil, and as long as you can keep separate this thing that is the essence of evil, that is all things bad and nothing good, that cannot understand love or friendship, and any person who holds a modicum or more of this evil within them, you should be okay. At that point, it’s just determining how much of a real person is in there and how much of it is just plain evil. The further you go from actual person, the less relateable your character will be, keep that in mind.

And what is primordial evil, anyway? Aside from, y’know, evil. What motivates it? Just…being evil? Why? I mean, evil isn’t a motivation. Let me start with my own view of primordial evil on a religious note, since Satan is a pretty good common primordial evil figure.

The specific reason for why Lucifer fell – my sect’s version tends to be a biiit different from other sects – isn’t so important as the fact that in the end, it meant Satan didn’t get to have a body, he’s stuck as a spirit forever and ever, while the rest of us spirit peeps get badace flesh bodies and it’s awesome. When speaking about Satan’s motivations, it usually revolves around pride and envy. “Misery loves company.” “He’s just jealous of your body and is trying to get you to misuse it.” “He wants power over you.” Y’know, that sort of thing. (Idk if that’s super different in other religions, so just understand this is where I’m coming from.)

But in the end, all of those motivations really are just…pride and envy. Maybe he can’t understand love (maybe he can, my understanding is that he is, after all, a person) but either way it’s not something he can really enjoy. He can’t marry, procreate, have a family, or any other “ultimate good” we can. And since he can’t and presumably would like to, the next best thing is to just…destroy it for everyone else.

That’s what you get when you combine pride and envy. I want that. I can’t have it. So no one will.

And that’s my understanding of all primordial evil. It doesn’t matter if there’s any Biblical fall story attached. It could have just been an ancient entity that was released or whatever. But primordial evil that wants to destroy all that’s good? If it has any mind at all, if it isn’t destroying good/existence just because, like a force of nature, like how rain falls and wind blows, that’s in its nature…if it has any mind at all, I sincerely believe its motive will always be envy. That motive may be buried incredibly deeply. Incredibly deeply. Might be buried under layers of the sheer joy of destroying the object of envy, of denial, of blind hatred. But I believe it’s there.

And now that I’ve said it, it’s entirely possible that you will nod and say that makes sense, or that you will instantly want to prove me wrong and make a primordial evil with a different internal motive. That’s cool, I’m glad I can inspire you. I know some of my coolest ideas were born of defiance. But. The primordial entities I’ve seen that have worked best for me are the satanic kind, just trying to destroy existence because existence is a sore reminder to it of all the things it doesn’t, wont’, can’t ever have. Trying to prove that deep down, all humans are just like it, evil, pft. That’s merely trying to insist that friendship and love and the things it can’t have aren’t even real, and that’s why it doesn’t have them. Denial. Envy. Pride.

Anyway always take care when you’re working with primordial evil since it can easily be a pretty boring enemy with no complexity, and never, ever confuse a person with primordial evil, even if your character is pure evil; a person will have nuances primordial evil doesn’t.

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Temper Tantrums: A Star Wars Post

My kid is only 18 months old – that’s a year and a half for you whiny babies who don’t know anything about how to count tiny humans’ age and complain we do it in months – but she, like several of her counterparts months older or younger, has already hit the terrible twos.

It’s kind of amusing at first the way she bursts into loud tears when I say “No” to her, and throws herself on the ground. Like, where did she learn that? I’ve done my best to keep her from looking much at screens which means she’s had no TV…and she hasn’t had many playdates until recently, nor otherwise interacted with other kids. Yet she still does the classic throw herself on the ground manuver. All the other toddlers who have hit the terrible part early also thrown themselves on the ground. I guess it’s just innate? I personally honestly find it funny. Like how is that supposed to change my mind, kiddo? I guess it’s just a reflexive, pure expression of emotion.

Hey you know who else was kind of into unbridled emotion? Not that I’m a big Star Wars buff* or anything, but I’m pretty sure it was the Sith.

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Idk I might have misunderstood their style of using the Force. *I am seriously not a Star Wars buff.

My husband and I finally got around to seeing The Force Awakens recently and I’d heard so much about Kylo Ren. Most of it was bad, with a few differing opinions, usually from people whose opinions I respected a lot, so that was good and intriguing. The bandwagon is to hate on him as a whiny baby. But. I’m not going to be joining that bandwagon.

Here’s my thoughts. When Kylo Ren loses his cool, whips out his lightsaber, and starts smashing things without regard, yeah. That’s pretty much a temper tantrum. And temper tantrums aren’t really admirable in any fashion. It’s unbridled emotion, a total lack of control, childish. We all look down on them because they don’t make anything better, and it’s something parents often try to get their kid to grow out of it. Or they should, anyway. Not impressive. And no, it’s not a good trait for a villain to have. Villains need to be able to be in control.

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Brian Kesinger’s adorable work.

However, it is a trait that people have. And villains are people. People have flaws. So it’s not unreasonable that a villain, as a person, could have the flaw of temper tantrums. Does that make them a bad villain? It really depends on how much the temper tantrum gets in the way of their being able to do things. That’s my own benchmark for flaws. Villains should definitely have flaws! But those flaws shouldn’t be self-defeating. As for temper tantrums, it’s not an impressive trait in the slightest and if you want to roll your eyes at it, I can hardly blame you. Usually, if you’d want to call someone who is an adult who throws temper tantrums a whiny baby, I also wouldn’t blame you. But. I don’t feel like that’s quite fair in this instance.

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Anyway it’s not all bad, right? gave us this hilarious moment.

Remember that Kylo was personally trained by some ill-defined Sith douchebag who seems much less collected than Sideous. It’s as likely as anything else Snoke just led Kylo to let his emotions go completely uncontrolled. And as I said, a temper tantrum is a pretty big display of total lack of control. That’s why we turn our noses up at it. But that’s such a Sith thing. Sorta. I mean you can’t really be a great fighter if you can’t keep yourself in check. But as a fledgling Sith, is it so out of the question that just…letting it flow in any expression could be a part of training? Kylo’s training isn’t complete, after all.

There’s also Kylo’s position and the bomb that was Anakin Skywalker. It’s been hashed over pretty well that the big problem with Anakin is that Darth Vader was so cool, to go backward to his developing up to that ended up requiring a character that many people didn’t like. At all. But if we want to have a dark lord of awesome develop, and Abrams wants us to watch Kylo blossom into his idol, whelp. The precedent of kind of whiny confused post-teen has already been established. But honestly it’s not like Kylo was really all that whiny. And it isn’t like he didn’t have any moments of promise, either. I mean, remember that he took a shot from Chewie’s laser crossbow of +2 death and proceeded to have an epic battle with people who shouldn’t have been as good with a lightsaber as him due to their lack of training but were anyway because sure, why not.

Anyway it’s not like I have a whole lot to lose in personal investment if I’m wrong about my projected path for Kylo’s development. Star Wars is an important piece of my childhood but I’ve never really been that much into science-fiction. I don’t know, it just doesn’t do it for me. Maybe it’s because I have a hard time keeping up with technology and science and the advances are cool but don’t make my heart race, so the fantasy of those things tend to be beyond my understanding and I’d rather read a story about dragons. But I can appreciate a good storyline regardless of whether it’s cloaked in the magic of technology or, er, magic. And I can recognize a good or poor villain regardless. And for a story that is so important to so many other people, I am invested in their happiness, in yours if you’re a fan, so I really do hope that I’m right, that Kylo develops into something worthy of Vader’s shadow. Because I’d hate to see this reboot go to waste. And because I’m not as invested for myself, I won’t bother to waste emotions hating on Kylo when he comes up on my Facebook dash, but if you’re invested, I can understand why you don’t want to ease up on him. But all the same, I think you should. I don’t think he is nor will grow to be a villain that’s as poor as most people think right now.

And hey, if nothing else, he’s given us the above mentioned comics and the Emo Kylo Ren twitter and that’s worth something, right?

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Death Note

Death Note is an interesting story if for no other reason than that the protagonist is a villain.
I mean I guess you could argue that, and in a small way that’s the whole point, but I believe Light Yagami is a villain.

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Look into those eyes, that grin, and tell me he’s not deranged.

I want to avoid spoilers because my husband and I are watching the anime and he hasn’t seen or read it before, but the basic plot is that there are death gods – Shinigami – who use notebooks called Death Notes to kill people by writing their names in the books. One Shinigami gets bored and drops his notebook into the human world where a high school student, Light, picks it up and upon realizing it’s real, decides to use it to wipe out the criminal population, ruling in righteous and abrupt judgement. The police catch on, this mystery killer is dubbed “Kira”, and the police bring in the world’s most famous detective known as L. L and Light begin a chess game of wits, moves and countermoves. Everybody dies. The end. (no wait. That’s not how it ends.)

If you simply write a person’s name in the Death Note, they die of a heart attack.

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Is killing evil people evil? That’s a big question in Death Note. Some of the antagonists – who are the good guy police, it’s all inverted – believe that it’s not even necessarily about who Kira is killing. It’s the power to kill someone that is evil.

You know? I don’t think that’s wrong. I mean, technically speaking, we all have the power to kill someone without a Death Note. Sure, it’d be really easy to kill someone just by thinking of their face while writing their name in a notebook. But like, we have guns. We could just get one and kill people with it. In fact, people do that. A lot. That’s kind of the thing in the media and stuff. Bombs and shootings. So it’s not like having the power to kill people, even easily, is special or eludes us. And we do generally agree that doing so is evil.

But there is the question of killing people who are judged to be evil. As a moral person, I would argue that no one human really can judge. That’s the point of God. (Not to say people who don’t believe in God aren’t moral; just to say, speaking as a moral person and not, say, from my overlord-sona, if you will.) I mean, evil is a really deep concept. There’s actions, and intentions, and perspectives…and change. If a really evil person could change for the better, who are you to deny them that journey? It doesn’t matter if you will never forgive them, no matter how saintly they become. Who are you to deny them the journey of redemption?

But even beyond that, Light was thinking that if judgement was swift for evil acts, people would never do evil. Quotable Dudes, like one of the leaders of my church, have also literally said that. And what I know personally of conditioning also heavily suggests that. Light is probably right.

But see that’s a problem. I consider that concept evil. The whole point is that people can do evil things if they chose to, that to be so conditioned by punishment and possibly reward to do only good is just another form of tyranny, mind control. That’s evil. That’s cutting off agency. Technically one might be choosing to do good but is it really choosing to do good, does it really count, if it’s only done to avoid swift punishment and possibly also to get something good? If nothing else, I do hear people complain about the phenomenon of planning on doing something, but then someone, particularly Mom, asks you to do it, and all of a sudden you have zero desire to do it. You were GOING to take out the trash, but then Mom nagged, and now you don’t want to.

So maybe it’s all in perspective, and maybe your perspective is EVIL! but looks appealing and voila, villain. After all, I don’t believe in moral relativity, but I do believe that everything isn’t black and white – so sometimes it is a matter of perspective, but a lot of times, it isn’t.

Let’s take a quick moment to add what Light’s big mistake was, in my opinion:

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Raye Penber, FBI; Died of a heart attack.

L suspects that Kira is either a policeman or associated with the police, probably a loved one. He brings in 13 FBI agents to investigate the Japanese police force with which he is working. Light discovers that he’s being followed, goes to careful lengths to act like a normal student, and then to kill his stalker, Raye Penber, along with the other agents and their director. How he does it is clever enough, I guess, but completely unnecessary.

The day that Raye is wrapping up his report is the same day Light weasels out of him Raye’s name; he, Raye, specifically says “Light is a normal kid; not suspicious,” as he’s making his final notes. And Light suggests he knows that Raye doesn’t suspect him. But he gets Raye’s name out of him anyway and then gets all the FBI agents killed. Why? WHY? There was no reason to do that! I mean if it’s a matter of just declaring loudly, “Kira will not be opposed!” I guess it was necessary? But then that brings in how Kira will not just kill the evil, but also those who oppose him – which really does make him a tyrant. Besides that, the whole charade is when things start getting way stickier for Light. Mostly because even without his oversight, L uses just the information about his agents’ dealings to narrow down a list of suspects, but then there’s also

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Naomi Misora

Raye’s fiance, an ex agent. And even though she doesn’t get her vital information to L, L is alerted to the fact that she had wanted to contact him and then disappeared before she could. Which means L figures that it was probably someone Raye was investigating who is Kira.

Good job, Light. You should have just let it go.

Consider whether making a move or just keeping on stealth mode is the better move carefully. Always. And please, if your villain thinks he IS justice, maybe break the stereotype a little where he doesn’t assume that everything he does must then be justice and doesn’t feel guilt when killing people that are innocent, like the police. You know? The “I ought to be unopposed!” bs. I mean, it’s totally fine. It works. It’s tried and true. But shaking it up and having someone stick to a more stringent moral code as a villain would be cool too. What if Light had refused to kill anyone who wasn’t a criminal, police or not? L would have had a heck of a lot harder time catching him.

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Character Building Exercise

I said that this week I’d talk about Undertale, but Sans is really, really hard, okay? Sheesh, if there’s anything after the hour long laser show of his special attack I will probably end up ragequitting harder than I’ve ever ragequit before.

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That heart is you. Look at that spinning circle of death lasers.

So today we’ll just talk about some character building; my husband and I just finished off Fate Zero, and it brought up some interesting questions to ask about your character. (As a side note, I personally didn’t much care for Fate Zero. The storytelling style was, imo, unappealing…and I felt like their use of child deaths was a pathetic cheap shot.) For those unfamiliar with Fate Zero, the basic plot is that wizards summon ancient Heroic Spirits to fight each other to claim the Holy Grail to make a wish.

We’ll start with Ryuunosuke:

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Ryuunosuke is a serial killer. He mostly summons his spirit on accident – he was toying with summoning a demon and has no idea what the Holy grail wars are. He just wants to kill people, children mostly. He summons Gilles de Rais – if you know the old Bluebeard fairytale, you know he was a murderer. The historical figure was a commerade of Joan of Arc who got into creepy occult, sacrificed a bunch of children to the devil, and eventually was put to death for a way more mundane crime. Embezzling or something.

Since they’re both murderers, Ryuunosuke and Gilles get along famously. They eventually have a really creepy conversation about God. Giles declares that God never punishes the wicked – that he didn’t die from murdering children but because the people wanted to steal his lands. Ryuunosuke asks if there is a god, sounding upset that there might not be, which confuses Giles. Ryuunosuke explains that the world is so cool, that there’s something magnificent in every detail if you just know where to look, that there must be a god, and he thinks that God must love humanity since he spends all his time writing the stories of humans. He continues that he thinks God must love all kinds of stories, the good and brave as much as the blood and gore, because “why else would he make blood and guts so interesting?” This is heartening to Gilles; obviously, with his work with Joan, God is a big deal to him, and it’s exciting to find a point of view where God is just another performer, even a clown, that can be impressed by horrible misdeeds as much as anything else.

I’ve…heard a lot of, erm, interesting viewpoints on God from villains before, but not this particular vein before. And while the conversation was uncomfortable for me, it did make me think more seriously about how many of my own villains think of God, if they even remotely believe in one or not, if they want to, hope to – what, exactly, is their situation with it. Because in a big way, I think, one’s belief in God can be, often is, a reflection of their belief in morals. Even if one does not believe there is a god, this can still be helpful in understanding a person’s moral standing. There are plenty of atheists who rightly point out that doing what’s right because it’s right is a higher moral behavior than doing something that’s right because you’ll avoid punishment and get a reward. And therefore doing what’s right to avoid hell or gain heaven…there can also be the perspective that since there isn’t any omnipotent being watching out for humanity, you personally have got to do it. Obviously there’s a lot of variety when it comes to believing or not believing in any god.

The other interesting conversation in Fate Zero was about what it means to be king.

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King Arthur, Gilgamesh, and Alexander the Great gather to discuss kingship.

Ultimately, Alexander the Great insists that to be king is to live the most inspiring lifestyle he can, to encompass the dreams of his people on the full spectrum of good and evil, to give them something to look up to. Arturia (Aurthur, who is a girl in Fate Zero) believes a king should be humble and serve his people, encompassing an ideal. Gilgamesh just kinda holds himself above most of the conversation, seeing the other two as items for his own amusement. Alexander mocks Arturia’s ideals, saying that she couldn’t possibly understand her people that way.

What does it mean for your characters to be kings, or even just leaders, figures others look up to?

Ultimately, what role does your character try to fulfill, want to fulfill, expect to fulfill? Not what role do they actually fill – not what you want or need them to do.  It’s not just their own ideals; maybe they have a view of what it means to be king, which is why they would never want to be king.

Part of the hard part of asking big questions about your character is determining what those big questions even are. So I think it’s important to look for inspiration anywhere, even an anime you didn’t much care for, to find new dimensions to add to your characters. I know I’ve only worried about my characters’ religious views if religion is a really important part of the story, or if religion is an important part of the character.  But religion is always kind of a thing, even if it’s just a personal moral code and rejection of anything more. You could argue that’s not religion, but that’s not the point; you have to consider religion to determine your character doesn’t have it. And while I have overlords…what they want to do is different than who they want to be. I haven’t thought much about that.

While you shouldn’t include everything about your characters in a story, you can never know too much about them yourself. Besides, each new discovery brings with it a new realization for the whole story, a new development.

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Rhinovirus

The common cold sounds a lot cooler when you say “rhinovirus” instead, doesn’t it?

Anyway that’s what my little one has, and it’s actually pretty bad (who knew a stupid rhinovirus could make a kid’s temperature rise well above 104?), which is why I haven’t been able to play through a genocide run on Undertale, which in turn is why I’m writing about how much cooler “rhinovirus” is than “common cold”. I actually wanted to do three posts this week about what we learn about villains from Undertale. It’s going to be 100% spoilerific so if you have been planning on playing, better not read the posts about it. And you should plan on playing it. I’ve really enjoyed Undertale.

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Anyway if I can’t get to it this week, and it’s likely my kid will be sick all this week, then I’ll try to finish up the genocide run and get my thoughts up next week. I guess I should go because my kid is throwing a tantrum because I wouldn’t open up the fridge for her, which is her new favorite hobby: get mom or dad to open the fridge.

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