5 Must-Dos for Writing Compelling Villains

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We all have our pet-peeves in literature and movies. Maybe you’re an avid romance reader who loathes the billionaire/poor plain girl trope. Or, perhaps you’re a fantasy lover who hates novels that use cliché fantasy races. Maybe you’re into horror, but you hate it when the main character doesn’t survive at the end of the story. I’ve heard all those complaints before, and trust me, I get it.

 

My pet peeve though?

 

Flat, boring villains. Bad guys who are bad just because they’re bad guys. Still with me? Allow me to elaborate.

 

Here in the real world, not many people wake up in the morning and stretch their legs, plotting out a day full of evil events to pass the time. So why does the villain in your novel have no real reason for being such a jerk? We know we’re not supposed to like the antagonist, but there should be at least some rhyme or reason behind their behavior.

 

Here are five quick tips to bust those weak villains.

 

  1. Remember villains are not always an external force. Sometimes, the conflict stems from the character’s inability to overcome internal fears or doubts. Sometimes the hero makes mistakes in his quest for justice and truth, and those feelings come back to haunt him later. Give your hero an internal villain to battle throughout the novel. Not only does it help your character grow, it adds another juicy bit of conflict to the story.
  2. Some stories have more than one villain. Like we saw in the Divergent series, sometimes our hero can be faced with a lesser-of-evils scenario. While the good-conquers-evil trope is wildly popular, the real world is often a lot more complicated. We are placed in situations where we are forced to set aside our opinions and ideals for the greater good often. Supernatural fans rejoice every time the writers force a partnership between the brothers and the King of Hell. The enemy of my enemy is my friend…right?
  3. Villains need motives. Even if your antagonist does wake up in the morning and brush his teeth while daydreaming about the atrocities he will commit later, surely there’s a why buried in there somewhere. Is there a traumatic instance or absence in his life? A psychiatric disorder? An event that caused them to lose hope or patience? This isn’t to say every antagonist needs a tragic backstory. They just need an explanation behind their behavior. Take, for example, an oppressive government entity. Why do they want to control the people? Is it capitalist greed? Do they believe they are helping somehow? The idea of an Evil Republic that is evil just for the sake of being evil falls a bit flat, and leaves your villain feeling undeveloped.
  4. Avoid cliché ‘bad guy’ dialog. We’ve heard the same lines rehashed repeatedly throughout the years in self-indulgent villain monologues. Unless you’re crafting an antagonist who was influenced somehow by the villains of film and literature, it’s probably best to avoid lines like, “We meet again” and “Say goodbye, hero!” Even if you’ve written the most fascinating backstory for a villain anyone has ever read, the corny dialog will remove a significant amount of their intimidation and believability for readers.
  5. Remember that your bad guy probably doesn’t see himself as evil. With a few exceptions, most people tend to think of themselves as the hero in their own story. While your antagonists’ actions might be selfish and devious, they probably have a certain goal in mind that makes their behavior justifiable (at least in their mind). By giving your villain a goal or mission, even the most heinous of actions can seem like a logical enough decision (morality aside).

 

I could keep going, of course. I love writing bad guys. What is your favorite technique for creating compelling villains? Do you have a favorite bad guy?

 

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Tips for Writing with a Busy Schedule (Reblog)

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Even on my days off from my “day job,” it always feels like I have a million things to do. Between course work, childrearing, and running the errands on my never-ending to-do list, trying to squeeze in 3,000 words a night can feel impossible. Luckily, here are some great tips published by author Ed A. Murray.

Hope you guys enjoy as much as I did!

We live busy lives, and they only seem to be getting busier. So on top of everything else, where in the world can we also find time to do that thing we love?

via 3 simple tips for writing around a busy schedule — Ed A. Murray

Creating Suspense: 9 Tricks to Create and Heighten Suspense in Your Writing

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As a writer, I have always had a difficult time committing to a genre. I enjoy trying out different voices and styles, tweaking the world building or altering the setting until I often wind up with a “cross-over” manuscript. No matter what genre I drift towards, however, my love of suspense always seems to leak through. While it can be difficult to master the art of creating suspense, a novel that maintains a decent amount of suspense throughout the story can keep a reader’s attention despite possible plot holes or underdeveloped characters. Human nature is a curious thing, making suspense vital to an engaging story.

So, how do you hook a reader on the edge of their seat? How do you keep them reading until the last page?

  1. A strong hero requires a strong antagonist. This doesn’t mean you must write in the toughest of tough guys or the evilest villain you can imagine. It means that the hero’s opposition must be at least equal to his strength. If the hero is very obviously stronger/smarter/more resourceful than the conflict, readers will lose interest. Give your villain strengths or resources the hero lacks. Make the struggle an internal one the hero might not be quite ready to confront. Whatever the problem is, make sure your character suffers a little. Your readers will bond with them during their struggle.
  2. Raise the Stakes. Maybe your hero initially just wanted to steal enough money to pay his rent. Raise the tension by raising the stakes on his success. Perhaps instead of stealing rent money, your character is stealing food to keep his family from starving. Perhaps your hero was spotted, and now must evade law enforcement while trying to fix his cluttered life. Much like the point above, make your character suffer a little. If the stakes of the conflict aren’t high enough, readers are unlikely to be invested in the outcome.
  3. Break Your Reader’s Expectations. Chances are, your book will not be the first one a reader has opened. Avid readers are often difficult to surprise, having studied the same tropes and common set ups we analyze as writers. While many readers might prefer the predictability of a formula (the romance genre comes to mind), there are no set rules to writing fiction. Who said your romance novel must end with a happily ever after? Does good always conquer evil? It’s your story; feel free to challenge the reader’s expectations of where it is going and what comes next.
  4. Use Time to Your Advantage. Few things put the rush on a character quite like a ticking clock. Use time to create a sense of urgency for your character. Give him a deadline, and consequences if it isn’t met. Perhaps your character will lose the man of her dreams if she doesn’t tell him how she feels in time, or her father will die if she can’t find the antidote. Time is often a cruel master in the “real world.” Why should fiction be any different?
  5. Cut Down on the Action. Suspense is not created in the action-packed scenes filled with violence or action. Suspense is created on the pages between. The action-packed murder scene is not where suspense is created; suspension occurs during the abduction, or the attempt to locate the missing person. Suspense is created with questions, while action scenes offer deliver answers.
  6. Evoke Your Reader’s Emotions. Don’t just give us the logical reasons to care about the outcome of the conflict. Make us care. There are a variety of ways to do this, from introducing more emotional language to internal monologues or revealing dialog with other characters. However you tackle it, make sure your readers can feel why it matters. Don’t just tell us he’s nervous, show us the sweating of his palms and knots in his stomach.
  7. Add Uncertainty. Your character has been struggling along the same conflict for the first half of the novel, and they’ve finally identified a solution. Want to keep the suspension going? Add uncertainty to that ‘solution.’ Maybe it’s an approach no one has tried before, or one that has failed others in the past. Perhaps the last person to try things this way didn’t live long to talk about it, or maybe your character is in a situation there is no historical precedence for. Give your characters uncertainty and anxiety to go along with their plan, and let it transfer onto the page.
  8. Don’t Give it All Away! This one is difficult, I know. When we’re first learning to write, many of us learn to “set the scene” by giving an overabundance of information in the first few chapters. Some writers will try to fill in the entire backstory of their fictional world within two chapters, making sure to explain exactly why the conflict at hand matters. While this is great, it often removes a lot of the suspense and questions from the plot. Instead of wondering why things are done differently in World Q, the reader feels as though they already know all the answers. What could be left to learn? While it can be tempting to flood your readers with information early on to ensure they “get it,” resist the urge! Readers are often savvy people who enjoy connecting the dots on their own. Instead of squishing your character’s entire life story into the first two chapters, play around with weaving in bits and pieces gradually throughout the story. Your pacing, and suspense lovers, will thank you.
  9. Kill Someone. But Ivy, you just said murder isn’t suspense! Well, that was true. It’s not. I am also certainly not advocating stabbing anyone with your pen. When I struggle with suspense, I love dragging my friends together for a game of Clue. Pay attention to how the game plays out; the more the murder mystery increases, the more you want to know who killed him! Aim for the same feeling in your literature, and your readers will be hooked until the end.

 

What are some of your favorite ways to introduce and maintain the suspense? If you’ve got any tips, be sure to leave them in the comments!

How to Get Away with Murder (Sort of)

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A great post, and great advice! I love to use those people who get under my skin as “feeder characters” my creatures consume later. *cue maniacal laughter*

I bet you have one, we all do. That person who sets your teeth on edge, who drives you up the wall, who makes you google how to get away with murder (I’m joking about that last one…). That person who makes your life difficult. Have you ever thought of them as Novel Fodder? Novel Fodder […]

via Annoying People Make the Best Characters — Blissful Scribbles

Crafting the Psychological Thriller

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I came across this fabulous read by Mindy Schmidt and couldn’t resist the urge to share. The cat gifs make it all worth it, I promise.

For years now I’ve been almost exclusively writing YA fantasy in all its various forms – paranormal, dystopian, urban, speculative, and even a bit of science fiction (but that was a mistake, a very big mistake) – all revolving around a central, incredibly clichéd angsty romance. But for the last few months I’ve been writing a contemporary […]

via What is it like writing a dark psychological thriller? — Milly Schmidt

The Inheritence

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My mother was always just a bit too much. She was habitually loud in conditions that called for quiet, overly-emotional in settings that required tranquility and calmness. She was careless and altruistic, finding room in her heart to love everyone apart from herself. When her episodes would come, she would turn on all of the lights in the house and turn the stereo all the way up, chasing away our worries and gloom with the sound of Miles Davis mixed with the tapping of feet as we danced. Though she smiled often, the expression was often but an empty gesture, something meant to reassure us that we would all be okay someday. She apologized often, forgave easily, and adored her family even when we were undeserving. On nights when I was sure my heart would break, she would sit next to my bed and whisper, “The hurt always precedes the happiness.” I watched her passions consume her, her obsessive nature driving her towards madness. Even at the end, she kept a smile on her face and hope in her heart. She never stopped to question if it was all worth it.

My father, in contrast, was never quite enough. He was a man of few words and somber thoughts, soundlessly chasing his woes with a bottle of Jack Daniels each night before bed. Even before the inevitable divorce, my childhood was filled with empty chairs at school events and dinner plates left untouched. While my mother showered the world in warmth, my father loved only himself and that which could benefit him. He often spoke in riddles, puzzles meant to perplex us children into silence and restore the peace. While my mother cried almost daily, I am convinced my father never learned to shed a tear. He was emotionally distant, maintaining a lifestyle driven by order and futile procedures. While my mother often felt too much, it was unclear throughout my childhood if my father ever felt anything at all. When he met the end of his life, he showed no fear or regret. He seemed to simply accept what was to come and surrender, wasting no effort on emotional goodbyes or last minute efforts to change the past.

Most expected me, the daughter of two such extremes, to find a happy medium. Instead, I became a walking contradiction, the embodiment of both extravagances in one fragile frame.

There are days in which my heart feels heavy, consumed by sorrow and guilt over the misfortunes of persons I have never met. Others, I am lost in a sea of self-preservation and narcissism, allowing my own troubles to blind me to the struggle of those closest to me. There are times in which I desperately want to connect with another human, to feel the warmth of their touch or the joys of companionship. Other days I am grateful I’m a cat person – my cats will never ask me to go on walks or socialize with other humans. Some days I am clingy, wrapping myself around my lover’s figure as though seeking to trap them within my embrace. Other days I crave solitude, allowing myself to disappear into the murkiest corners of my psyche as I search for long hidden answers to the questions of my life. Some days I am too loud, yammering on incessantly regardless of who is listening. Other days the words seem to become trapped in my mouth, my teeth a dam to prevent the secrets from spilling out.

Some days I am too much.

Some days I am too little.

Some days I wonder if the madness will come for me as well.

10 Questions to Get to Know Your Characters (AKA Schizophrenia)

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  Normally, hearing voices in your head and having conversations with yourself signifies some pretty serious psychological issues. For writers and creative types, however, what looks like a sudden onset of schizophrenia is more than likely just a Tuesday afternoon.

      One of the easiest ways to ensure readers hate your book is to stuff it full of poorly constructed one-dimensional characters. While plot and setting are critical to a story, dialog and characters can make or break the final piece. In order for people to enjoy reading your work, you have to convince them to care about your characters. If the characters aren’t interesting to the reader, there’s no reason to care about their fate or the outcome of the story. If we aren’t invested in the protagonist, we are unlikely to care how his story ends. In order to fulfill this need, your characters have to be well-rounded, lifelike people with personalities of their own that your readers can identify with. Like the rest of us mere mortals, they have to possess both strengths and weaknesses, fears and ambitions. I know you’re asking by this point, how do I keep all this straight and create a story or scene full of lifelike characters? Luckily, that’s the fun part.

      The simple answer is this: get to know your characters. Think back to some of your favorite fictitious characters in books you’ve read in the past. What did the author do to create the dynamic facets of those characters’ personalities? Can you think of any books you’ve read where the characters were just not incredibly well written or interesting? Did you finish that book?

      Every writer I know uses a different technique to flush out and develop their characters. Your approach may be different, and that’s okay! We all have incredibly unique writing processes, and that leads to the incredibly different works we create. Well-developed characters have a way of taking on a life of their own, and in my experience sometimes even write themselves. I was in a grocery store with another writer friend when she stopped and picked up a container of hummus, mumbling something along the lines of hummus sounds like something her protagonist would be likely to eat. To anyone else, a grown woman picking out snacks for her imaginary friend looks a bit strange. To another writer, however, I knew I was watching her character flush himself out.

      Getting to know your characters can be useful during any stage of the writing process, though it is particularly helpful in the pre-writing stage. There are several websites filled with character mapping exercises for newcomers, and they can help provide better insight for you as an author on who your characters really are. If you’re feeling lazy and don’t want to pop open a new tab for Google (no judgment here), here are a few questions you could try answering along the way.

  1. What was your character’s childhood like? Did they have any siblings? Any issues with school or at home?
  2. What is your character’s personality type? Do they prefer to be alone, or surrounded by company? Are they introverted? Friendly? Playful? Somber?
  3. What is your character’s lifelong dream or fantasy? Will they ever be able to achieve it? What is in their way?
  4. Use your five senses to describe your character. What do they look like? Do they have any distinguishing physical features? Do they have a particular scent either naturally or from perfumes or colognes? What does their voice sound like? Are there any identifying accents or pitches? Do they have a taste? Maybe your hero is charming to look at, but the smell of stale cigarettes cling to his clothes. Maybe your heroine appears mousy and unnoticeable until she sings with the voice of an angel. Whatever your angle, sensory details help connect us to the setting and characters.
  5. What are some quirks or odd behaviors or habits your character has?

  6. What are some of their most notable achievements?

  7. What are their greatest weaknesses? Is our bad boy secretly afraid of spiders? Maybe the strong female protagonist is stubborn to the point of unreasonable. Perhaps the lonely scientist is a bit of a know-it-all, chasing off potential friends.

  8. What is your character afraid of? What thoughts keep them up at night? Where did the fear originate? Will they overcome it?

  9. Does your character have any regrets? Any moments they wish they could live twice?

  10. What is your character passionate about? What do they care about strongly enough to lay down their life for? Will they be presented the opportunity to do it?

      While these questions alone are nowhere near enough to fully develop a well-rounded character, they are a great way to think outside the box and get to know your characters a little deeper. Have fun and happy writing, everyone!