Writing Tip: Get The Villain Right

I recently watched a documentary that featured a quote that I feel hits the mark in a few different ways.

“I’ve always asserted myself as a villain because villains are always the more interesting characters in any story that I grew up reading and because the villain in any walk of life is the person who refuses to follow blindly and always wants to question things, and for me, art is supposed to be a question mark, so I’m merely asking questions.”
– Marilyn Manson, from the 2006 VH1 documentary Heavy: The Story of Metal

First, the quote speaks of villains in stories, showing why I believe the villain is actually the most important part of a story, which is why I personally find that Marvel movies tend to be forgettable, because they put the emphasis on the hero while the villain takes a backseat (really, though, I watch a Thor movie to see Loki, not Thor, and I’ll never forget Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight). To me, it’s the villain who holds everything together while we follow the hero on his/her journey. It’s the villain who makes the journey possible and necessary, so, in my not-so-terribly-humble opinion, a strong villain is needed for a strong story.

The second part of the quote talks about the nature of the villain. The villain is the one who doesn’t do what he/she is supposed to do but instead does their own thing for their own benefit. A villain can be seen as someone who wants to bust the status quo and shake up the world. Think about that the next time you hear about protests over issues such as minimum wage or lack of healthcare; remember that the current minimum wage or current lack of healthcare are the status quo, and the protestors want to bust that status quo for their own benefit, which, to the side wishing to preserve the status quo, makes them the villains. Also remember that corporations that strive to pay employees as little as possible and push to give people as little healthcare as possible are doing this for their own benefit, making them the villains as well, even though each on the opposing side sees themselves as the hero. This kind of makes me wonder if this world is mostly villains up against villains. Sure, we have our real heroes – those who sacrifice their time, effort, and even lives for the good of others – but I feel there’s a lot more villainy going on than people tend to realize or want to acknowledge.

Finally, the above quote discusses art and how art poses questions. I feel it’s important for art to ask questions, especially uncomfortable questions. A comfort zone is a safe zone, one in which risks are not taken and challenges are not faced. With fiction, in order to escape this comfort zone, uncomfortable questions should be asked, the status quo defied, and the mindset of villainy brought to the forefront, a mindset that bathes the truth we don’t want to see in a twisted light we have been raised to believe isn’t right or moral.

This is how to create an interesting villain, and, to me, this is the most important aspect of creating a strong story. It’s the villain who makes the hero stronger. If the villain isn’t done well, then what makes the hero a hero except for our predetermined images of what a hero is?

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How To Write

When someone would ask me how to write, I could give them technical details concerning story layout, scene, dialogue, character development… all that good, writery stuff. But if someone would ask me what to write, there was nothing I could say. Now that I’ve seen the below quote, though, I think I know how to respond.

remember-a-tune

This is exactly how I feel when I’m writing. It seems more like remembering. And you know what they say? The more you try to remember something, the harder it is to recall.

3 Days, 3 Quotes: Day 3

A sincere Thank You to Novelacious for giving me this 3 Days, 3 Quotes opportunity! Go check out her blog!

As you may already know, I’m not a terribly great rule-follower, so while I should nominate three people for this 3 Days, 3 Quotes challenge, I’m going to simply ask anyone who wishes to share a quote they love to do just that, whether here in the comments or on your own blog. And if you want to post a quote to your blog then link to it in the comments on this post, you’re welcome to do that. We’ll call it an open opportunity to advertise your blog. 🙂

I hope you enjoy the quote. Here it is:

dance-in-the-rain

3 Days, 3 Quotes: Day 2

A sincere Thank You to Novelacious for giving me this 3 Days, 3 Quotes opportunity! Go check out her blog!

As you may already know, I’m not a terribly great rule-follower, so while I should nominate three people for this 3 Days, 3 Quotes challenge, I’m going to simply ask anyone who wishes to share a quote they love to do just that, whether here in the comments or on your own blog. And if you want to post a quote to your blog then link to it in the comments on this post, you’re welcome to do that. We’ll call it an open opportunity to advertise your blog. 🙂

Before we get to my quote of the day, here’s one shared by Rae Longest in the comments section of yesterday’s 3 Days, 3 Quotes post:

Maya Angelou:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

I hope you enjoyed that quote and I hope you enjoy this one:

always-forgive-your-enemies

3 Days, 3 Quotes: Day 1

A sincere Thank You to Novelacious for giving me this 3 Days, 3 Quotes opportunity! Go check out her blog!

As you may already know, I’m not a terribly great rule-follower, so while I should nominate three people for this 3 Days, 3 Quotes challenge, I’m going to simply ask anyone who wishes to share a quote they love to do just that, whether here in the comments or on your own blog. And if you want to post a quote to your blog then link to it in the comments on this post, you’re welcome to do that. We’ll call it an open opportunity to advertise your blog. 🙂

I hope you enjoy the quote. Here it is:

martin-luther-king-jr-keep-moving-forward

If Everyone Was Decent, We’d All Get This Award

Here’s an excellent quote from muh man, Joss Whedon:
“What I would like is to never again win an award just for being a decent person.”

For full context of this quote and the award he mentioned, check out his recent Forbes interview about equality for women (link below). It’s a pretty quick read, so it won’t take much of your time.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/yec/2016/07/07/the-strong-female-standard-an-interview-with-joss-whedon/

But yeah, great quote, don’t you think? By the way, if you’d like to read some of Joss’ quotes on writing and life, check out this article covering 7 things Joss has said about those two very subjects: http://www.hypable.com/joss-whedon-best-quotes-writing/

Andromeda

The decision to watch television shows that I once enjoyed is a tough one. On the one hand, I could go back and affirm why I loved a show so much, as was the case with the bad but good Cleopatra 2525 and the delightfully cheesy Mortal Kombat: Conquest. On the other hand, there’s a chance I could spoil my pleasant memories of the show and end up wondering how I could possibly think it was all that good in the first place, which is what happened with Highlander and the 90’s X-Men cartoon (speaking of animated X-Men, there’s a hilarious but NSFW Honest Trailer here).

However, there are also times when I don’t remember a damn thing of a show I watched, and in that case I get to rediscover it all over again. This happened recently when I chose to watch a television show called Andromeda (also known as Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda). Premiering back in 2000 and running for five full seasons, the show starred Hercules: The Legendary Journeys actor Kevin Sorbo as Dylan Hunt, a High Guard captain of the starship Andromeda Ascendant, who is pulled into the orbit of a black hole and, as a result, frozen in time until a salvage crew manages to pull the ship back to normal space 300 years later. Having not aged a day, and now aware that the intergalactic government he was sworn to serve, the Commonwealth, has fallen, leading to galaxies being plundered and people living in darkness, Dylan takes it upon himself to put together a skeleton crew and wage a one-starship mission to restore the Commonwealth and bring peace, justice, and unity back to the known worlds.

Andromeda

Sounds cool, right? Well, it is!

From the mind of the late Gene Roddenberry, the famous creator of Star Trek, Andromeda pulls together a diverse cast of unlikely heroes and melds them to perfection. There’s the leader of the salvage crew, Beka Valentine, who becomes the street-smart first officer Dylan needs if he’s to understand this new universe he finds himself in. There’s Tyr Anasazi, one of a genetically altered human race known as Nietzscheans, whose stringent self-preservation instinct is a great foil for what Tyr calls Dylan’s “blind idealism.” This rendered dramatically clear in a late second season episode when Tyr proclaims with his typical Shakespearean confidence, “When the universe collapses and dies, there will be three survivors: Tyr Anasazi, the cockroaches, and Dylan Hunt trying to save the cockroaches.”

Also on the crew is Rev Bem, who is essentially a monster, from a race of monsters, attempting to walk a path of peace. There’s also Trance Gemini, an adorably mysterious purple girl with a tail, exuding the type of innocence you’d likely see from someone who seems to have only recently come into contact with the people of the known worlds. There’s the scrappy mechanic, Harper, who can’t help but to fall in love with the image of the starship’s AI. And finally, there’s the Andromeda’s AI herself, whose flesh-imbued avatar is nicknamed Rommie, who must deal with learning emotions such as love and how they contrast with what she was made for; as she says, “I’m a warship, and warships only know how to do one thing, and that’s kill.” The dangers of this direct contradiction of emotions affecting her basic programming and how it may all end up driving her insane is a subject brought to the forefront in a couple of my favorite first-season episodes: “The Mathematics of Tears” and “Star-Crossed.” Through her struggles, the character of Rommie is an eye-opening device for bringing up the question of whether we can choose to be what we want or if we’re simply destined to be what we are.

Andromeda crew
From left to right: Trance, Harper, Beka, Dylan, Tyr, Rommie, and Rev.


What I enjoy about the crew is not only how well they fit together in the good times, but also how seamlessly they blend in moments of conflict. Each has their own motivations and desire to use the current situation they find themselves in (and the current starship they find themselves on) to bring their desires to fruition. So Dylan not only has to deal with the external struggles to reunite the worlds of the former Commonwealth, but also the internal conflict of keeping the crew together and working as a team. Each character is true to themselves which speaks to how well-developed they are.

Currently, I’m only through the first two seasons, but what I’ve seen has been a television show that is well-written, cleverly at times, has a wonderful cast of characters to latch onto, and does a fantastic job of drawing the viewer into its world as it explores what we refer to as the human condition, mixing in something to learn about ourselves as a species, something touched on at the very beginning of each episode with quotes from fictional characters within the universe:

Andromeda quote1

Andromeda quote2

Andromeda quote3

It Sounds Good, Sure

Sometimes, when browsing around social media sites, I see people posting quotes that sound like reasonable nuggets of wisdom to hold onto. And that’s cool, there’s nothing wrong with that.

But me being the type to not accept anything I read at face value, of course, I have to think about these nuggets of wisdom, especially if my ninja intuition tells me that something feels amiss about a certain quote. After reading a number of quotes that I could throw out a nice counter-argument to, I’ve finally reached a point now in which I want to do exactly that. Heck, maybe I’ll start a series in which I respond to a quote I see somewhere, you know, if I don’t get lazy and simply not do it.

Anyway, here’s a quote I saw recently:

waiting4inspiration

And my response to that is:
Exactly. I don’t write to force my story, I write to serve it. I’m the waiter and my story is the customer telling me what to write. When I don’t have a customer, I don’t have anything to write. But when I do have customers…

And that makes sense, no? I mean, the above-pictured quote sounds good, but it assumes that all writers write the same way, which is simply untrue. Everyone writes differently, and no, I don’t believe in the two categories of plotter or pantser (I recently began to call myself a “puzzler.”). That’s like saying there are only two genders, male and female. We all have our own differences, however little or large, so of course we, as writers, have different ways of writing.

This is why when someone asks how to snap out of writer’s block, I can only offer suggestions that work for me. But my strategy for combating writer’s block – which isn’t as much combating as it is cowering in a corner until it gets bored and goes away – may not work for someone else, and that’s okay. If someone else’s strategy for pushing through writer’s block is to keep writing until they push through it, that’s fine. What works for one person may not work for another, or maybe it will.

That’s the cool thing about writing, or any art for that matter: there’s no one way, or right way, to do it. You simply do what feels right for you. And if what feels right for you is waiting for your muse to wake the hell up and give you something already, then that is what’s right for you, even if a nice-sounding quote tries to tell you different. 😉

Act As If…

“In improvisational acting, there’s this great rule that I’ve used in my life, which is ‘act as if.’ Act as if this is completely normal. Of course I’m supposed to be interviewing Barak Obama or of course I’m supposed to be playing guitar with Bruce Springsteen, and, of course, there’s a big part of you inside that’s saying, ‘What are you talking about? This doesn’t feel completely real. It doesn’t feel completely real to me.’”
– Conan O’Brien

I love love love this Conan O’Brien quote. It’s incredibly empowering to ‘act as if,’ and I can tell you from experience that it can help to bring you out of a negative attitude, into a more positive one. Act as if you’re okay, even if there’s a huge part of you screaming that you’re not. What you may find is that the hand you’re looking to reach down and pull you out of that pit you’ve fallen into is your own hand, is a small sliver of you that has decided to do nothing more than ‘act as if’ you can pull yourself up, you can dry your own tears, and you can keep moving forward.

If there’s a challenge you’re facing and you doubt that you can overcome it, act as if you can.