The Perfect Villain Is Not All Evil

While the enemy can be multiple individuals forming a uniting force, such as invading aliens wanting to take over Earth, we will focus on an individual foe for the purposes of this article.

Every story needs a villain and that villain needs a purpose. No matter how dark and sinister antagonists may be, they are people too and must have wants and needs. The antagonist must believe his/her purpose is reasonable and justified, if not righteous. Gone are days when the villain was merely a shadow of a person and can no longer be portrayed as a man with a handlebar moustache, an evil glint in his dark eyes, wearing a black full-length coat and a hat, and looking to tie a damsel to the train tracks. The protagonist’s nemesis has morphed into characters of substance, someone who has plans, take calculated risks, and willing to do whatever it take to achieve his/her goal while eluding capture. As writers, we must dedicate the same effort in characterisation for the perpetrator as we do for our main character.

Today’s villain can be anyone, such as a bully in a children’s story or a murderer in a crime story or even a ruthless and power-hungry individual. Stories need a villain but the perfect villain is not all evil. That person has to have good points as well to give the character depth, such as a murderer might be good to a sibling. The antagonist must be three-dimensional.

Unless something unexpected has happened to turn a character into the antagonist, there should be a history of wrongdoing. Ordinary and law-abiding people don’t usually wake up and commit a crime or moral injustice. Those traits have to be there to begin with. The wrongdoing should be measurable, where the next action is worse than the previous. And with each action, the person slips further into his/her own dark world.

Antagonists need to be faced with difficulties as well. Of course, the protagonist’s actions in the story may be enough to cause our villain annoyance, but can you delve further? Are there other characters (knowingly or unknowingly) interfering with the antagonist’s plans? Is there some other conflict that burdens the antagonist? Perhaps a bully is bullied at home. Or a person may have murdered someone to protect another person, but tread carefully with this scenario – a person would still have to be capable of such an action. It would change that person for life and he/she would have to deal with being captured as well as nightmares and anguish over taking someone’s life.

While the reader may disagree with the villain’s actions from a moral or legal point, the writer must ensure the reader understands the villain’s actions. And if the writer can cause the reader to feel sympathy for the villain, then that writer has created an in-depth character. As strange or uncomfortable as it sounds, get into your villain’s headspace and think what actions you would undertake for the plans to succeed. Who stands in your way and how will you deal with them? Actually, as a writer, you should step into all your characters’ headspaces to ensure their actions and thinking are unique to them. It’s easier than looking at a character from a distance and guessing what that person would do next.

Be mindful not to slip into using dialogue that has been overused and should’ve been tossed out decades ago. Powerful and intelligent dialogue will make your villain a worthy adversary, whereas ridiculous and wince provoking declamations and comments will surely turn your villain into a cartoon buffoon where readers will wish for an anvil to fall on his/her head.

When you’re breathing life into your villain, make sure they:

  • have redeeming qualities as well as negative traits
  • have wants and needs like everyone else
  • doesn’t perceive themselves as antagonists to the protagonists (from the villain’s viewpoint, those roles are reversed)
  • believe their actions are justified and reasonable
  • are intelligent, otherwise they would be caught in chapter two (where’s the fun in that?)
  • encounter conflicts of their own
  • use believable dialogue that is commonplace for the period of the story (avoid cheesy cliché’s and speech that is stereotypical of villains).

 

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Rules About Non-Fiction Writing

There are rules that apply to writing non-fiction aimed for scholastic or technical publications, newspapers, magazines, e-publication, or books.

Get Your Facts Right

Don’t presume, guess or surmise. A factual article should be conclusive of its information. There will always be someone out there that will know about the topic you’re writing and will recognise presumptions dressed as facts. If you’re writing for a publisher, then you will not only bring yourself into disrepute but also your publisher as well. That means you may not be published next time you submit your work, or at least with that same publisher.

All information needs to be researched thoroughly whether it ends up being part of the publication or not. In fictional writing, the author has to know the backstories of each character that plays a significant part in the story, whether all that information is revealed is up to the author. In non-fiction, it’s the writer’s duty to ensure the information presented is accurate and can stand up to an expert’s scrutiny.

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Scholarly, science or medical articles or books require in-text citations and references. It’s wise to have professionals in the same field approve your piece and possibly get that approval in writing so you can include it in your book. Unfortunately, a newspaper article has neither the room nor the interest level to include an expert’s accolade of your work. Although, if the article is published on the internet then that may be possible if an expert posts a favourable comment at the end of the article.

Quotes

Including quotations serves to break up lengthy paragraphs, thereby encouraging the reader to continue, while substantiating your article. A quote from a professional strengthens a non-fictional piece of work. Factual articles without direct quotes or reinforcement of factual information may be viewed disparagingly. When you do quote someone, ensure you state clearly their full title and their representation.

Examples:

Dr Michael Greene of XYZ University stated that …

Dr Michael Greene, a biologist who has been studying this field for 20 years, has documented similar experiences …

Dr Michael Greene of XYZ University said, ‘…’

Note: In Australia, we do not put a full stop when shortening a word like ‘Doctor’ (Dr) if the last letter in the word matches the last letter in the shorten form.

Direct quotes must contain quotation marks. While double quotes (“ ”) are still acceptable, the single quotes (‘ ’) are the Australian preferred quotation mark.

Personal Opinions

One of the biggest mistakes authors can make is including personal opinion as the right one. Your opinion may be clouded by experience, which can sometimes be unique and not shared by others. Stick to the facts and what esteemed professionals have proved rather than your take on a subject. However, if you are a professional in the field that you’re writing about, then sharing your opinion may be valid but avoid using it as an opportunity to force your views as right and another expert’s opinion as wrong.

 

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Fiction Writing

Most writers have probably heard the advice ‘write what you know’. While this holds true, American Author Flannery O’Connor’s ‘start with anything you can make real’ approach is less stifling and opens the door to creative possibilities.

Many people who take up the craft of writing turn to fiction. Perhaps writers gravitate to fiction because everybody has a story to tell. You can create fiction from life or from your imagination. You can create fiction that tells a 500-page story or one that tells its story in a few pages.

Unlike other genres that fall within the non-fiction world (such as memoirs), writing fiction allows limitless imagination. You can invent worlds and create ordinary or awe-inspiring characters dealing with real issues, the supernatural or heart-stopping terror. But it takes more than just imagination.

Story Concept

It’s vital to have a concept or idea in mind first. Once you have this, it’s a good idea to plot your story. Remember to have an unexpected twist or two in the story; a basic structure of a beginning, middle, and end; and a thorough knowledge of your characters. Fiction takes dedication, so be prepared to spend a great deal of time on it.

Enjoy the Ride

When writing fiction, don’t make readers arrive after the crisis has happened, have them on the edge of their seats waiting for that big bang.

I watched Jessica disappear under the car.

Could become:

Jessica stepped back onto the road to take in the whole sunset over the mountains. A loose rock stole her footing just as a car hurtled down the gravel shoulder and headed straight for her. I leapt towards her, willing my legs to move faster. I shouted, but it was too late. I glimpsed Jessica’s wide eyes before her body disappeared under the moving vehicle. Her fading screams echoed through the deafening screech of brakes and the sickening thud of flesh mingling with metal; burnt rubber filled the air.

Now we can see it, hear it and feel the anguish and pain – we’re experiencing the action as it happens.

Give Life to a Scene

Read your work out loud. This will help to expose many grammar errors that can slip in or phrases that don’t make sense. It allows you to get a better feel of how your manuscript is flowing.

As writers, we learn how to describe a scene, but are you describing it efficiently?

The sun shone on the golden sand as the spume pulled away from the receding waves that struggled in the sand.

This certainly paints a picture, but is it doing enough? If we add the other four senses then it may become something like this:

A salted sea breeze crept towards the shore and mingled with the day’s humidity. The sun threw down unforgiving rays of fire that scorched the sandy beach. Rolling green waves crash upon the thirsty sand while hopeful seagulls cried out beneath the clear blue sky in search of food.

Not every setting will have something for each sense, but stop to notice the sounds, tastes, smells and tactile elements. Remember that these sort of descriptive passages have their place. They tend to slow the pace, so you wouldn’t have a full on descriptive passage in the middle of a scene where you want to create excitement or urgency.

Characters

Most novels and short stories are about a person or group of people with a goal. In many cases the events of the story dictate that goal. This can be as simple as a teenager deciding to take a job at the local surf shop, because he has a crush on a girl who works there. Everyone he meets and everything that happens in this village can be linked to the romance.

Develop your characters. Decide on the traits your characters will possess and give your characters experiences. If someone is a gentle and kind person then you may have that person help an elderly man with a chore or drive him to visit his grandson. A mean spirited person might stomp on a child’s favourite toy. Sticking a quick-tempered person, who is running late for an important meeting, in a traffic jam on a hot day has potential for the writer. The character could rant and rave, even kick the car if it boils over. It shows the character’s demeanour and keeps the storyline interesting. Use situations that stimulate emotion and create a fuller storyline. Emotions also help readers relate to your characters.

Dialogue

Make the characters believable.

A small feed store supplier whose customers are mostly farmers isn’t the kind of personality who’d say something like this:

I apologise for the delay with the arrival of your order. Our courier experienced a shipping displacement that should be resolved in twenty-four hours.

It would be more likely for this character to use language that would suit the clientele. If the customer were a farmer, then perhaps the employee would say something like this:

Sorry mate about your hay order. Somebody put it on the wrong truck heading the opposite direction, but it’ll be here tomorrow, you can count on it.

A person who had little education would speak differently to someone who was a scholar. A business person would talk differently to a rock musician. Think about who your characters are.

Add a Twist

Referring back to our story about the teenager working at the surf shop for the love of a girl could end with a happy ending, but what else could happen? Think about the possibilities. After several dates, the surfer realises this girl isn’t for him, but in his attempts to win her over he has become a skilled surfer. He competes against the best and wins. He gains popularity and a sponsor where he meets the sponsor’s daughter. You could even throw in another twist and have the readers reeling in their seats wondering what else was going to happen.

Revise, Rewrite and Edit

It’s more than just taking your manuscript from the seeds of imagination to having it actually written, it still has to be presented to readers (and appropriate publishers if that’s the way you want to go). Your story needs to be a saleable product. You may dream about being a professional writer with your books in stores all over the country. However, publishers care about their investment in a product and how well that product will sell. That’s why it’s up to you to present the best copy to a publisher.

Publishing Options

Once you have finished and it’s ready for publishing, you need to consider which publishing avenue you want. If you want to obtain a publisher, your focus turns to a synopsis. This gives a perspective publisher a clear understanding of what your story is about in clear concise paragraphs. Don’t be afraid to reveal the entire plotline to your publisher. They need to know your book is worth their effort and the money it takes to produce, market, and ultimately sell it. If they don’t think it will sell then they won’t accept it.

Unfortunately, not all good manuscripts are accepted. You may have written a worthy story, but if it doesn’t fit the criteria that the publisher is looking for or if they have already produced something similar then they may not present you with an offer.

If you want to self-publish, you’ll need a book blurb to help sell your book to readers. This publishing option means you will need to cover the cost of front cover and layout designers, editor and proofreader, printers, and marketing. While you’ll have complete control as to what your book will look like, you have to handle all the work, make all the decisions, and organise designers and printers. With the exception of printers, the rest of the workload and expense still applies if you opt for self-publishing an e-book. Self-publishing has improved writers’ dreams of being published, but whichever way you want to go, enjoy the journey.

 

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Writing A Novel

It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a niggling idea for ages or tripped over inspiration on the way to work; if you have made the decision to write a novel then congratulations. Making the decision to write a novel is the first step. There are of course many others, but having reached this decision is an excellent start.

Some writers like to brainstorm, make copious notes, and generally organise themselves into a story. Other writers jump straight into the deep end regardless of where the story’s start, middle or end is. Writing isn’t always a perfect process. It proceeds backwards, inside out, or upside down more often than simply forward. You are the writer; it’s your decision. Do what feels right for you, but make sure the finished product is worthy of a publisher’s time.

What Is Your Story About? 

Deciding the course of your story is actually working out the plot. It could be about a ravaged refugee fleeing his war torn country, or a little boy that is bullied for being disabled, or a sweeping romance set by a lighthouse on a remote island. Once you have the main storyline, subplots will emerge until you have a full-bodied plot. A plot needs a beginning, middle, and an end. It also must have conflict and a resolution.

Who Are Your Characters?

Usually there’s a main character (a protagonist) and readers want to see this hero win or overcome whatever happens. To help conflict along, there is usually another character that is evil, mean, cruel, or whatever negative points you wish to add. This villain is the story’s antagonist. You need to know all your characters, even the ones playing minor roles. You have to know their faults, their weaknesses, and their strengths. They have to have likes, dislikes, and habits.

To help you visualise these, you could draw rough sketches of them or use models from magazines. Be careful not to have all your characters looking beautiful with perfect bodies unless there is a specific reason to do this. Write a list of characteristics, such as age, facial hair, tattoos, hair colour, eye colour, and so on. You need to know them well, so you know how they would react in any given situation. Remember that not all people will react in the same way. Make sure your characters are believable and natural.

Don’t make your protagonist perfect. If your protagonist is flawless, your readers will have trouble connecting to him or her. After all, nobody’s perfect. For the protagonist, character development is very important. Scenes must tell the reader something more about the character. This will help the readers feel more strongly about him or her.

The same applies to the antagonist; he or she shouldn’t be completely bad. If they have no good or human qualities then they will seem wooden and the story will fail. There must be something about the character that readers can relate to or understand.

Serial killers are a different type of character and, even if the readers don’t know who the killer is, they will hate the person. Even if the readers understand the motivation behind the killings, they will celebrate at the killer’s arrest or death.

Start Writing

There are several common approaches to writing:

  • Begin with the ending in mind. If you know the ending of the story, it can help you form the theme, the plot, the settings, the characters, and it can help you progress more easily towards that ending.
  • The big picture approach. Try to create the world (the overall setting and environment), treat it like a canvas, and then paint your characters and situations to create your novel. Your canvas could include geography, races, towns, cities, capitals, cults, factions, governments, etc.
  • Dive in approach. You have an idea and you start writing while it’s still fresh in your mind.
  • Start with characters. Create three or four characters and let the plot build around them. This way will allow the characters to be more embedded in the plot.

Make The Commitment

Understand what you’re undertaking. Many wonderful writers go unnoticed and unread because their drawers are filled with unfinished novels. If your novel isn’t written, or if you don’t attempt to get it published, then the blame is yours. Set small goals so it will inspire you to continue when you achieve each goal.

Create a Writing Habit

It’s no big surprise that humans are creatures of habit, so make it work for you. Train yourself to write every day – whether it’s a few paragraphs, a chapter, or a nominated number of pages – and dedicate the time to work on your novel.

Set aside an hour where everyone understands it’s your time to be alone and write. If children are likely to interrupt during this period, then create a reward system where they are treated if and only if they leave you alone while you’re at your computer or desk.

Use whatever time is available to you – morning or night. The ideal time to write is when you are the most creative, which will vary for each individual; however, this may not be possible so don’t give up. The important thing is to write even if it isn’t at a time when you’re creatively tuned in. Train yourself to be able to write when you have the time and you’ll adapt. Bottom line: just make sure you write daily.

Create a workstation or area for your writing. Find a cosy place where you can relax and there are no distractions. Select a good chair to sit in, which won’t give you back pains, and position your equipment accordingly for optimum work without causing any injuries or stress to your body. You don’t write a book in an hour, it takes months, so protect your body.

If you are a procrastinator, try setting an unbreakable deadline. Writers tend to work better when there’s a deadline to face.

Seek Constructive Feedback

Never show your precious writing to someone you don’t completely trust. Your writing is in its ‘baby stage’ and it needs to be nurtured and loved. You need someone who is encouraging yet honest. If a part of the story or character isn’t working then you need to know that.

A manuscript assessments from a professional is a good way to obtain unbiased feedback that is constructive. Knowing what works and what needs work allows you to move forward with your novel.

Drafts

Rewriting is what makes the story better, but be careful not to over edit because this can knock the life out of your story. Always save and keep every draft. You never know if your computer will suddenly develops a flutter – you don’t want to lose your hard work. Or if you get a little carried away with editing, then you still have a previous copy elsewhere. Label each draft clearly so you know the order of the drafts. Add a date and time to your labelling if it helps.

Example:
Novel Title Draft 1 or Novel Title Draft 1 4.15pm 12032019
Novel Title Draft 2 or Novel Title Draft 2 6.30pm 14032019

Spelling

If you’re using a spell check program to help pick up typos, ensure the default language has been changed from American to Australian spelling. Auto-dictionaries will undo the correct spelling in favour of its default, so either turn the spell check off or ensure it’s set to Australian English.

Publish Your Work

Make sure your manuscript is polished and is fit to be seen by a publisher. Consider hiring a professional editor or have it professionally assessed.
Don’t forget to ensure your manuscript fits the intended publisher’s format requirements and guidelines.

Other Important Tips

A good way to start writing a novel is to think about what interests you. If you don’t write for yourself, your novel will seem superficial and plastic. It’s better to share your plans with someone else that you feel comfortable with and discuss plotlines. Write what you know and enjoy the process.

Keep a record of any ideas you may have. You might want them later.

An amazing process can happen when developing characters, it’s as if they come alive when a writer’s fingers move frantically across the keyboard trying to keep up with the characters’ dialogue. It feels as though the characters have taken control and want to have their say in their own words. The writer is merely a puppet trying to take down the quotes as if it were being dictated. Something wonderful is happening. It’s magical! If this happens to you then don’t fight it; go with it. You have accomplished something that authors yearn to do and not everyone has achieved.

Try not to lose heart in your book. When you get to a boring bit and stop for the night, you might not want to go back to that part. If you feel that way, try writing an exciting bit to get yourself motivated again.

Don’t be disappointed if you lose heart. Many writers pen hundreds of stories a year, some which never get past the first page let alone the first chapter! You’ll know after a while if a story you’re working on has captivated your attention and imagination. If you don’t feel this right away, then keep developing ideas and persevering. Sometimes it helps to listen to music or go for a walk. Think of different scenarios and adventures. Think about how the characters might feel about these adventures, or themselves, or even other characters around them.

Never give up! Some people will discourage you, but many more will love what you write if you love it as well. Write with passion.

Jot down your ideas. Its good to see at a later date what you were previously thinking about a subject matter, character or situation in case you view things differently.

 

The Pros and Cons of Going On and On and On …

laptop's keys

When a Pencil is Just a Pencil
It’s easy to fall into the rambling trap. Taking up an entire paragraph where a simple sentence will do the same job. There is little point, for example, describing all the uses of a pencil (its colour, its size, the smoothness or scratchiness of the lead, and so on). Even with technology taking over nearly every aspect of our lives, I think it’s safe to say we have all used a pen or pencil, so we already know these aspects without reading about it.

Re-Discovering a Pencil
Is it ever useful to describe the details of a commonplace item? Sticking with the pencil idea, we would describe it if it were new to the character. Perhaps technology has completely taken over and manual writing instruments no longer exist and haven’t done so for centuries. If a character unearthed one and the character has never seen it before, then a description would be appropriate, but the challenge would be to make it come alive for the reader, after all let’s not forget that the reader still knows what a pencil is. The writer may try to make it a bit comical until the character finally works out the pencil’s purpose and how to use it correctly. Then there’s another opportunity when the lead becomes blunt and the character has to work out how to sharpen it.

When a Pencil Reveals More
There is a reason to draw attention to the pencil without describing its purpose. How a character treats and uses a pencil can benefit a writer in developing that character. A pencil with a chewed end shows the user’s habit of gnawing on a pencil. Perhaps the user does this subconsciously while thinking about what to write, or it may be a nervous habit that surfaces during exams. It shows the reader more about that character.

Let’s call our character Jim. So what happens if Jim’s pencil is broken and he borrows a pen – is the urge to chew on the pen overwhelming even though Jim doesn’t own it? And how would the other person (we’ll call Melanie) feel when receiving the pen back with the end crushed and evidence of saliva still clinging to it? Melanie might get some satisfaction if the pen’s ink is now spread all over Jim’s lips, mouth and teeth, but what will Melanie do? Would she yell, cry or become violent because it was a gift or an expensive pen? Would she bin it in disgust or tell Jim that he can keep it vowing never to loan him anything ever again?

A chewed up pencil shows the reader more about a character, but a row of perfectly maintained pencils on a neat and organised desk will also reveal a character’s habits, nature and mindset. What if the owner of these pencils and tidy desk was Melanie? Imagine the conflict between Jim and Melanie then. It poses the question – what is their relationship? Are they merely students in the same class? Co-workers in a training session or general meeting? Are they related or have they recently started dating? Their relationship could impact Melanie’s reaction to her chewed pen.

Unleashing the Pencil
Developing characters, creating conflicts or even writing about a pencil’s description are good ways to ignite the creative flow and unlock writer’s block. It doesn’t matter what is written as long as you write. It might trigger an idea, inspire a story or help with solving a writing issue. Even if it ends in the bin, at least you’re moving forward with your writing. So, pick an object and write about it.

Put in every detail you can think of. Ask questions – who would use this object and why? You may find that you move onto other things as ideas start to form. Don’t fight it; go with it. This isn’t the time to worry about where a comma should go.

Exercising the Pencil
As a writing exercise, create a character and give that character good and bad aspects, habits, a job, family, and then put an odd object into the character’s possession. This creates more questions. Why would this character have such a thing? Does the character treasure the object, or is the person ashamed of it? Has it ever been lost before? Did the character try to get rid of it, but couldn’t for some reason.

Questions move writers forward. Never stop questioning, never stop moving forward and never stop writing.

Sharpening the Pencil
Once you have finished your draft, go back and tighten your writing. If one word can do the work of multiple drawn out words or one sentence gets to the point better then a paragraph then replace it. With the exception of the writer’s style, each word has to earn its place on the page.