Net Neutrality Takes a Hit

Well, shit.

The FCC voted 3-2 today to let Big Bidness make deals with websites for faster internet.  That’s basically going to kill net neutrality (see more about that at the link).

Read this article at the Washington Post for shenanigans.  I don’t believe Wheeler for one second that this won’t become the slipperiest slope of all slopes ever.  We’re already paying way too much for internet in the U.S.  This only reinforces my opinion that we’ve become an oligarchy already and the corporate assholes are running the country.

I kinda want to leave. But where to go?

I kinda want to leave. But where to go?

Image: Ktrinko / Wikimedia Commons

Write your Congress critter and contact the FCC here to protest.

Update:  Here is a comment email you can use to send a comment. 

The Light at the End of the Tunnel


I just turned in my research slide assignment.  I only have to comment on other people’s slides (apparently, that’s our final) and take a test and then I AM DONE with the World’s Worst Semester.



Image:  samarttiw /

There will be time off.  I must begin The Great Purge, in which I divest my dwelling place, nicknamed The Crumbling Albatross, of an excess of crap that has piled up over time.  I have also decided, when I’m ready to begin the next book, to do a mini-NaNoWriMo.  There is a little bit of organization to do first, because I haven’t looked at it in ages.

Someone in a forum, in response to a mini-rant about crap, said my world is about to get bigger in a bit.  Let’s hope so—I placed a pretty tall order to the Universe.  It can wait just a little, like my Eddie Bauer raincoat I won’t get until July, but not much longer.  For a change, I’d rather not see this:

 “Universe here.  Your order has been canceled.  We shipped it to someone else.” 

W-what?  Noooooo!

W-what?  Noooooo!

Image:  David Castillo Dominici /

 When it could just do this:

“Universe here.  Your requested item is no longer on backorder and has been shipped to you.  Enjoy!  :D” 

Much better.

In the interim, I’ll occupy myself with taking numerous Buzzfeed quizzes (I got Captain Kirk, people!) and planning what to do on my vacation.  I’ve already bookmarked so many things that I’ll need another month to do them all.

Fine by me. Not gonna want to leave.

Image:  David Dixon /


Reflections on the A-Z Challenge 2014


And so we’ve reached the end of another Blogging from A-Z Challenge.  Thanks to Arlee Bird and the A-Z Team!  I’m posting my reflection early because I can.  And because I’m behind on homework (again).

Doing these character posts has been more difficult than I imagined.  When I create a character, I don’t always think about these elements consciously.  Writing the blog posts forced me to dissect the process.  I’m not entirely sure that’s how I even do it.

It’s magic.  No, really.

It’s magic.  No, really.


Now I sit here eating fancy avocado toast with sea salt and Old Bay and sipping a cup of tea (seriously, I should just move to London already–I drank a whole damn pot) and wondering what to write about next.  I suppose I could finish the Vocabulary series.  I should think up something else.  I’ll study on it and get back to you.

I’m very glad I made a plan.  Without it, I couldn’t have kept up with a post a day.  I only had to double up twice—that makes me rather proud of myself.  Especially considering that I’ve been in two of the most insanely insane classes this semester.

  • A document design class (I suck at this)
  • A healthcare writing class (I could not possibly care less about this)

Learning to work with InDesign has been interesting, but I doubt I’ll ever use it.   I don’t use it at work now and if I suddenly had to, I could have learned it online for free.  With school more expensive than ever and less return on that investment, I’m not sure I want to throw more money at it.

I’m already in indentured servitude to student loans. 

I’m already in indentured servitude to student loans.

Image:  Wikipedia

I’ve decided to take the summer off to write the sequel to Rose’s Hostage.  You’ll be kept up to date on my progress; I might do another mini- NaNoWriMo of my own for it.  I may not go back in the fall, depending on what happens.  If I do return to school, I can do it in the spring semester and not face any issues, according to my adviser.

My plans for the next five or six months include:

  • Doing another edit of Tunerville: my last reader bailed (she’s having a baby—yay!), so my sister has stepped up and is working through it now
  • Hopefully getting my Rose’s Hostage critique back from Brian and doing those edits
  • Querying Tunerville
  • Working
  • Working out
  • Going to London and Cardiff to:
    • Visit some friends and family
    • See Riverdance (!!!)
    • Attend the Doctor Who Experience
    • See the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studios
    • Nom on as many delicious things as I can stuff into my face (hey, I’m going to be walking everywhere)
    • Do whatever else I feel like doing that won’t get me thrown out of a pub or arrested, heh heh

I’m driving everyone crazy because this trip is all I can talk/think about.  Sorry, but it has been so long since I had a real vacation, where I actually get to go somewhere far away for EIGHTEEN COUNT ‘EM EIGHTEEN days instead of just taking a day here and there.  Weekend trips don’t really count.  And you have no clue how badly I need to get the hell out of here.

This was starting to look pretty good.

This was starting to look pretty good.


Speaking of which, about those Sherlock pictures in every single post in this series?  It started as a joke in my chat room, so I decided to put one in each post and see if anyone would call me on it.  Nobody did.



Image:  Dave Buchwald / Wikimedia Commons

Just kidding.  It was fun.  If you have any thoughts about a series you’d like me to do, feel free to make suggestions in the comments.  I’ll be pondering.  I keep having this weird feeling that something major is going to happen and it has nothing to do with school, so maybe whatever that is will give me extra goodies to post.  In the meantime, I’ll try not to go AWOL while I finish these final school projects.

Thank you for stopping by during the Challenge, and thanks to those of you who have been reading on a regular basis.

Character: Z is for Zzz–Death of a Character

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Z is for Zzzz—the Big Sleep, or death of a character. 

Killing characters for fun and profit is sometimes part of a writer’s job.  It’s not as easy as it sounds, however, especially when you’ve created one for whom you (and the readers) have developed a fondness.

The death of a character can advance the plot or it can be secondary.  In crime fiction and mystery, which is typically about murders (more dramatic), a death sets the plot in motion.  We rarely know the victims or see little of them before they’re killed.  But without their sacrifice, there is no story.  We don’t usually feel for them except a passing sympathy for whatever plight caused their demises.

It’s different when a writer kills off a beloved character.  In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (I don’t really need to put a spoiler warning here, do I?), the shocking death of beloved Hogwarts headmaster and Potter mentor Albus Dumbledore caused a great deal of mourning.

Yes, I bawled all over my hardback.  Not ashamed. 

Yes, I bawled all over my hardback.  Not ashamed.


While this was a very upsetting thing, the story needed it in order to move forward.  Harry had become too dependent on Dumbledore’s aid and comfort.  He needed to step up and fulfill his destiny as the Chosen One and take charge of the mission to stop Voldemort.

What are some of the good reasons writers kill characters?  Well, they vary, but here are a few:

  • He’s standing in the protagonist’s way, either benignly (as Dumbledore did) or malevolently (as Magnussen in the Sherlock episode “His Last Vow”)
  • He’s grown tiresome (Nikki and Paolo on LOST) and adds nothing to the plot or character development.

In this case, you might reconsider whether he belongs there at all.  If you needed him for a purpose—he stole the elderly protagonist’s purse, thus setting her on a road to becoming a crime-fighting granny—fine.  But make sure his death doesn’t compromise your other characters.  If Granny’s moral code isn’t to kill but to capture, having her beat him to death with her cane is a non sequitur.  It won’t ring true, and readers will notice.

  • For dramatic effect, to force either a situation or growth on the other characters (Dumbledore again)
  • To enable the succession of another character (killing off a protagonist is tricky, and will probably require some pre-planning)

Before you decide to remove someone from your narrative, ask yourself the following questions.

Do you need to kill a character?

What do you hope to accomplish with this person’s death?  If you’re killing someone just for the sake of doing it, then you’re probably wasting your time.  Meaningless deaths that don’t affect the other characters in some way aren’t necessary and can piss off readers or viewers.  Think about The Walking Dead.  This show kills people right and left, but fan favorite Hershel’s brutal death at the hand of the Governor in the Season 4 episode “Too Far Gone” left everybody in a state of shock.

Hershel, we hardly knew ye.  Well, we did, but that’s beside the point.

Hershel, we hardly knew ye.  Well, we did, but that’s beside the point.


Is it the right time for him to die?

Harry Potter was able to step up after Dumbledore’s death because he’s gained enough strength through training and experiences both at Hogwarts and outside it to handle the situation.  He grew up.  In Deathly Hallows, the Harry we see has worked through his angst about being the Chosen One, and he’s able to accept the help of his friends, who leave school to go with him.  He’s mature enough now to deal with it.

How will you do it?

Sometimes, you have to do the big, grand gesture, if for no other reason than this person would not go gentle into that good night.  But a character’s death doesn’t have to be dramatic.  A quiet exit can carry just as much (if not more) emotional impact.  Joyce Summers’ death in Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t a huge, Big Bad-caused train wreck.  After recovering from a serious medical problem, she simply laid down on the sofa one day and slipped away (“The Body”).  I triple dog dare you to watch Buffy find her mother without crying.

You don’t have to show a death to make it tragic, either.  In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the faithful, hard-working horse Boxer collapses one day and is sold by Napoleon the pig so he can buy himself a drink.  The scene where the injured horse is carried off in the knacker’s van, with Benjamin the donkey attempting a futile rescue, is heartbreaking.

We don’t see Boxer die, but we know where he’s going, and we don’t want to know.

Will you bring him back somehow?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes in The Final Problem, and readers of the magazine The Strand canceled their subscriptions en masse.  He was so inundated with letters begging for his return that he resurrected Holmes in The Adventure of the Empty House.

Poor Watson. *cue The Lonely Man theme*


It should go without saying that you need to write the character’s comeback so it makes sense within your fictional world.  Holmes had an elaborate ruse to explain his resurrection.  In fantasy literature, writers use magic, potions, or other supernatural means to bring back characters.  In my novel Tunerville, the city is infested with newly raised ghosts, the first of which becomes a comical secondary character.


Regardless of how you do it, a character’s death is a profound moment for the other characters.  Death brings change, and with it, your story will have to move in a new direction.  Make it count; give your dying character the best death you can.

Character: Y is for You (and not Mary Sue!)

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Y is for You.

You are the author.  These are your characters.  You gave them life and imbued them with all the traits you wish you had, you think they should have, or you’re glad you don’t have.

Every character has a little bit of the writer inside him.  But there are problems with basing a character entirely on yourself.

The Mary Sue conundrum

You may find that you’ve slipped into writing an idealized version of yourself.  It’s doubtful such a character will pass the Mary Sue test, but you can try it.  It’s difficult to look at yourself objectively in this fashion, and a character based on you may not be as authentic as you’d like him to be.

Let’s face it; we all want to be him.

Image:  Wikipedia

If you write yourself into a book as Stephen King did (he appears in Book Six of his Dark Tower series as himself in 1977), you might be tempted to go too far the other way to avoid the Mary Sue conundrum and make yourself into a weak, whiny character.  You could actually end up with something pretty amazing, if you’re a skilled writer with years of experience.

It’s too meta

Metafiction is when a work of art uses self-reference to draw attention to the fact that it is a work of art.   The Stephen King/Dark Tower thing was very meta; the writing of the books actually affected the outcome for the rest of the characters.  Sometimes, the narrator of a book will reveal himself as the author, as in Clive Barker’s Mister B. Gone, or as in the book itself telling part of the story (Toni Morrison’s Jazz).

In TV, stories about characters who are in show business are meta.  Personally, I hate this; I’d rather see shows where the characters are a bit more of a stretch.  Actors playing actors, writers writing about writers writing, singers performing on shows about singers.  People who do not do these things have a hard time relating to the characters’ situations.  I don’t want meta when I’m watching TV; I want to escape into an alternate universe.

This show is all about escape. 

This show is all about escape.


That’s what made the early seasons of Roseanne so brilliant.  The Conner family was a working-class, everyday family with the same problems and issues as many of their viewers.  It was a little meta in that Roseanne Barr’s comedy had its roots in her blue-collar origins, but it worked because the viewers could relate to the characters.  I had a very hard time with Full House for this reason:

  • Danny Tanner had his own talk show (played by Bob Saget, a TV host and stand-up comedian)
  • Joey Gladstone was a comedian (played by Dave Coulier, who also did stand-up comedy)
  • Jesse Katsopolis had a band, Jesse and the Rippers (played by John Stamos, actor and musician)

These aren’t things most of us do.  The only thing that saved the show from being impossibly meta was that the focus wasn’t on their jobs but on the relationships between the characters and their unusual family situation, and that it was so clean it squeaked.  There was nothing objectionable; everybody could watch it.  But meta characters like this are usually hard to take seriously.

 Criticism is too personal

If readers don’t like a character who is a reflection of you, can you handle that?  Writers sometimes have a hard time taking feedback on characters that are nothing like them.  Imagine if you poured your heart and soul on the page and it’s really yours, and they rip it to shreds.

Next on Oprah:  Writers who play the characters they write on TV!

Next on Oprah:  Writers who play the characters they write on TV!


When you write anything, whether it’s based on your own life/experience/traits or not, you lose yourself in the creation of it.  It comes out of you.  It’s yours even if you’re writing about a sentient dog who runs an underground railroad for stray cats.  (Okay, I have no clue where that came from, but I just climbed three flights of stairs four times for my afternoon workout and I’m dizzy as hell.)

Alisa Carter has a good post here about how to take criticism.  While you’ll probably be lurking inside your own pages anyway, it’s less of a blow when the character someone is critiquing (or attacking) isn’t your own.

Character: X is for Xposition

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X is for (E)xposition.

When you’re setting up point of view (POV), consider how your reader will discover things about your character.  If you don’t get inside his head, you’ll have to reveal it through the thoughts, actions, and dialogue of other characters.

Exposition can be accomplished one of two ways:

  • Show, where the writer lets the reader infer information from action, words, thought, feeling, etc. rather than explaining everything
  • Tell, where the writer advises the reader what is happening

Telling done wrong tends to pause the action and the narrative stops moving forward.  You might have to explain a few things about your character to get the readers up to speed, but it doesn’t have to be in the form of an info dump.

BEEP BEEP BEEP!  Stop the story; we’re backing up!

BEEP BEEP BEEP!  Stop the story; we’re backing up!

Image:  duron123/

A good example of an info dump is something I mentioned in the V is for Villainy post, where villains in movies (and some novels and comics) stop what they’re doing to explain their motivation to the hero.  Mostly it’s done to give the hero time to untie himself or think of a countermove.  If the information isn’t woven into the narrative naturally, then the story clunks (as I like to put it).  It takes a few beats to get started again and jerks and hitches like a car with a messed-up transmission.

You shouldn’t have to grind the action to a halt to clue readers in.  There are ways to weave information into a scene where the character is doing something mundane.  He could be reading an article to get information; in that case, you can intersperse action and thoughts with the article to keep the reader connected to the character.  (Disclaimer:  I’m not the expert on this and for all I know, my critique will come back from Brian Keene with half the following scene cut to ribbons!)

Here’s an example from Rose’s Hostage, where you first meet John Robert Cook, Jr.  In Chapter 5, he is enjoying his coffee and newspaper before work:

             Yesterday’s bank robbery dominated the front page.  The Black Bandit again.  The guy had robbed four banks now, the take larger each time.  This time it was almost two million.  He whistled through his teeth.  A nice sum.  The jerk probably wouldn’t know what to do with it, though.  Scum like that usually blew their money right off, buying expensive crap and putting the rest up their noses or into their veins.  Still, he was getting lots of press.

            The thought made him frown.  He paged through the section, finding nothing about the motel room killing.  He skipped to the local section.  There it was, page four.  “PROSTITUTE, CUSTOMER FOUND DEAD,” the headline blared.  Below, in smaller type, “Motel Serial Killer Still At Large.”

            Why was this all the way in the back?  The Black Bandit should have been back here, not this.  He read the article.

RALSTON (AP): The bodies of a man and a woman found Tuesday in a local motel room have been confirmed by Ralston police as the latest victims of the Motel Shooter, a possible serial killer who is targeting area prostitutes and their customers.

             Customers.  Huh.  Idiots, risking disease or worse.  He took a gulp of coffee and grimaced as the hot liquid burned his throat.

Bullets recovered from the bodies at autopsy matched .9mm rounds found at two other similar crime scenes.

           No way to trace the gun.  .9mm weapons were like cigarette butts in the gutters.  They were everywhere.  He continued reading.

Media Liaison Officer Brad Mercer said the Motel Shooter case had its own task force.  City council members have complained about this, citing the overtaxed detective division, which is also assisting the FBI with a recent rash of armed, takeover-style bank robberies perpetrated by a man known only as the Black Bandit.

Mercer would not confirm or deny that the department had placed the robberies at a higher priority than the Motel Shooter case.

             Higher priority?  Ridiculous.  There were hostages.  Of course it was.  They couldn’t afford to ignore him.  He would see to it they had no reason to.  And they mentioned the Bandit in his story.  Couldn’t they leave him to his own article?  Damn.

 Earlier, you get some things that tell you John is very picky—how he likes his coffee, that he rearranges the paper before reading it.  What else can you discover about John from this?

  •  He’s searching for the local crime articles.
  • He doesn’t think much of the bank robber, the Black Bandit (called that because he dresses all in black—the cops and reporters aren’t very creative).
  • He’s reading a particular article, about the shooting of a prostitute and her customer.
  • Why does he care if the cops can trace the gun or not?  Hmm.
  • He refers to it as his story.  Did you catch that?
It’s elementary, John.  He must be a car salesman. 

It’s elementary, John.  He must be a car salesman.


  • He doesn’t like all the attention the bank robber is getting.

Soon after this, your suspicions are confirmed.  A little reminiscing before work and we know something about John that no one else knows.

Your character could also explain something to another character.  This is difficult; often, it works better just to narrate what the reader needs to know.  If you use this technique, avoid Hollywood dialogue, or the dreaded “As you know, Bob.”  Make sure your character should actually be explaining something in this scene, rather than just using it to inform the reader.  You can use it to move the story forward—since people rarely give complete explanations of anything, leave out a bunch of stuff or even make him lie to Bob.  Let Bob discover it later.

Showing takes more time than telling.  There will be times when you need to convey some information but you don’t have room for an entire scene or chapter illustrating exactly how X happens.  In that case, you can use your narrative for exposition.  It’s a balancing act—not too much of one or the other, or your reader (and you!) will grow tired.

I’ll finish it laterrr—maybe not. 

I’ll finish it laterrr—maybe not.

Image:  marin/

In this useful post from Writer’s Digest, Roseann Biederman suggests a tool to help you spot and vanquish telling for exposition where it doesn’t belong in your narrative.

Character: W is for Worldview

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W is for Worldview.

A character’s history and experiences shape his view of the world and of his place in it.  It’s more than how he sees himself; it’s his intellectual perception of how the world works and what effect he can have on it.  With this in hand, he can take in stimuli, reason through what is happening and why and eventually take action.

Well, John, my deductive skill tells me that we’ve discovered a robot turkey. 

Well, John, my deductive skill tells me that we’ve discovered a robot turkey.


Perception is cognition of events, etc. as a whole.  We know people have different levels of perception and they all see things differently.  This is a great way to show something about your character.

A number of things can shape a character’s worldview.  Whether they control him and by how much depends on the proportion of their influence in his life.


Some cultures are isolationist; they believe (and teach their children) that the outside world is full of peril or is at odds with their beliefs.  For example, Amish people prefer to live a certain way in accordance with their religious dictates.  While they do make a conscious choice to join the church as adults, they rarely decide to leave their communities because their upbringing doesn’t support an existence in modern society without a huge adjustment.

A character who is exposed to other worldviews, especially during his formative years, will have more tolerance to different ways of doing things.  If your hero’s viewpoint is at odds with the situation in which he finds himself, he’s going to have a much harder time of it if he hasn’t been raised with open-mindedness.

Or open-pantsedness.

Or open-pantsedness.


Religion and spirituality

Many people depend on their faith for answers to the most puzzling questions of life.  Religious belief can be rigid; it doesn’t always allow for alteration and acceptance.

In the 1973 film The Wicker Man, Police Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) comes to the remote Hebridean island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl.  He finds a hedonistic society that is at odds with his own strict moral upbringing.  This dichotomy causes him a great deal of anguish, and it keeps him from seeing the real reason he’s there until it’s too late.

Robin HardyÕs THE WICKER MAN (1973). Courtesy: Rialto Pictures/ Studiocanal

You’d think the people running around in animal masks would have given him a clue.

Image:  Rialto Pictures/ Studiocanal /


What are some of the things we learn at school?  Besides reading, writing, history, and computer sciences, we learn socialization and cooperation.  We also learn about bullying, abuse, and cruelty.  A character who went through this in school could view people in his adult life with suspicion.  If they try to befriend him, he might think they have an agenda and avoid them.

Think about this from the bully’s point of view, too.  Your character may not be a pleasant person if he’s used to taking what he wants and getting his own way.


News and popular opinion gleaned through television, radio, and internet influence people all the time.  The worst part about media is that it’s not always accurate.  People tend to take the easiest route toward learning something.  They take what they see and hear at face value and rarely bother to fact-check, unless what they’re hearing sounds suspiciously far-fetched (and often not even then).


Our friends are a huge part of our worldview.  We surround ourselves with like-minded people, and share experiences with them that reinforce those attitudes.

I’ll be there for you…but only if you're the same as me. 

I’ll be there for you…but only if you’re the same as me.


When new people come into our circles, they sometimes shake up the status quo and give a settled group a new perspective.  Depending on that person’s motives, the change can either strengthen a group or tear it apart (which provides the writer with excellent conflict material).


Your character’s worldview gives him a unique perspective on events.  Take two different people and put them in a situation with the same exact stimuli at the same exact time.  The things one person notices when he walks into a room will tell you a lot about him, as opposed to what another person would see in the same space.  See how their reactions and what they perceive differs.

This will absolutely change the way you write a scene.  It’s a huge help when working with show vs. tell.  And a character’s altered perspectives will provide you with numerous opportunities for growth and development.


Character: V is for Villainy!

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V is for Villainy!

So you’ve decided to create a villain.  Congratulations!  Villains are great fun to write.  You can experience the worst of humanity, do really horrible rotten awful things, and wallow in depravity, muck, and vice.  All vicariously, of course.

And the clothes.  Don’t forget the clothes.

And the clothes.  Don’t forget the clothes.


Villainous characters rarely come in one flavor.  There are several types, including the following, and different tactics for dealing with them.

Sympathetic villain

This one is hard to do without lapsing into antihero status.  He’s a villain because something bad happened to him, or maybe his circumstances forced him into doing the wrong thing (or the right one, but in a convoluted and awful way).  Either way, he chose his path, and he might even have grown to enjoy it.  We may not like him, but we understand him.


You might be able to reason with this villain, especially if you lean toward giving in to him.  If you can do that without hurting anyone, he might just shut up and go away.  But you better have a contingency plan for his return, because he’s learned that villainy will make you cave.

Examples:  Khan in the film Star Trek: Into Darkness, Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books.

This had nothing to do with the subject, but it made me laugh really hard despite the horrid misplaced apostrophe.

This had nothing to do with the subject, but despite the horrid misplaced apostrophe, it made me laugh really hard.


Unintentional villain

This is somebody who never set out to be a villain, but she ends up one anyway.  Through her actions, she hurts and threatens other characters.  She doesn’t mean to be bad and may even be puzzled by other characters’ reactions to her behavior.  An unintentional villain may also be someone who causes an accident or incident and then, terrified of the consequences, proceeds to make the situation worse with every subsequent move she makes.  Or she might just be so stupid that she’s dangerous.


You can distract this villain long enough to escape or perhaps to push her down another path.  If she’s lashing out from blind fear, you’ll have to placate her somehow.  Show her you’re not a threat, that you’re on her side.  Maybe you can talk her down by making her feel safe.

Example:  Rhoda in The Bad Seed, Elmyra Duff from Tiny Toons

I’m gonna hug you and squeeze you and love you forever!

I’m gonna hug you and squeeze you and love you forever!


Pure evil villain

One of my favorite characters to write was the baddest bad guy in Rose’s Hostage.  Dale Conroy is Joshua’s second-in-command in the bank robber gang.  He has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  I did get inside his head, so you see his anger, his posturing, and his motivation.  But even though you understand him, you still hate him.  Everything he does is only to benefit himself.

Dale isn’t very clever on his own—he needs help to pull off his dastardly plot.  Unfortunately for everyone in the hideout, he knows where to find it.


Superior strength may defeat this villain, but if you don’t have an army behind you or you can’t outfight him, you’ll have to be clever enough to find his weakness.  Everybody has one and if you can figure it out, you can take him down.

Examples:  Voldemort in the Harry Potter books, Smaug the dragon in The Hobbit, Charles Augustus Magnussen in the Sherlock episode “His Last Vow.”

Magnussen is just plain nasty, no doubt about it.

Magnussen is just plain nasty, no doubt about it.

  Image:  the

Pure evil villains are the ones most likely to laugh maniacally and spend ten minutes explaining their wicked scheme to the hero while simultaneously buying him a chance to figure out an escape.  Seriously, this has been so overused.  If you have sufficiently shown your evil bad guy’s machinations before the final showdown, you won’t need to do this because your hero will already know about it.

Now what are some of the things that make a villainous character great?

  • He has to present a challenge to the hero.  An effective villain forces the hero into a corner.  He may actually push the protagonist so far that he’ll do something bad himself just to stop it.
  • He has to have a purpose.  Even the most terrible villains in history have reasons for what they do.  They may be twisted and stupid, but they can still end up perpetrating great evil, like Hitler with his Final Solution.  Why would a person go to so much effort unless he really believed his reasons were sound?
  • He has to be someone to whom we can relate.  The most frightening villains of all are those who walk among us and are just like us.  We all know someone who would tip over the edge if the situation were just right.  Even more terrifying is the thought that we might do the same.  When we see ourselves inside a villain, it makes us shudder.  And if he’s attractive to us somehow, desire might even tempt us to take his side.
That voice would make us do almost anything.    

That voice would make us do almost anything.


Whether we understand his motives or not, a good villain should have traits that make him human.   If he’s just an unreasonable monster, like Freddy Krueger, we look on him as a force of nature, the same way we see a tornado or an earthquake.  Sure, those things are destructive, but they aren’t that way out of spite or pain.

Take time to develop your villain as thoroughly as you do your hero.  After all, they’re two sides of the same coin.

Character: U is for Underpinnings

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

U is for Underpinnings.

No, not backstory and not underpants.  I’m talking about internal conflict, which is a mental or emotional struggle that occurs within a character.  Backstory is the events of the character’s past, his timeline and history.  Underlying conflict can stem from that.  Is there something he has to work out within the confines of the action?  It could be a past trauma, something from childhood or more recent, like a divorce or death.

He could be the survivor of a tragedy or a disaster.  The experience could leave him with messed-up thoughts and stress reactions, and it can interfere with his future decision-making.  Let it give him a phobia, and you’ve got a huge potential conflict that can even directly affect the action.

Watson will forever harbor a fear of smarmy French waiters.

Watson will forever harbor a fear of nerdy French waiters.


The events of the narrative can also precipitate internal conflict.  Let’s look at Frodo Baggins of The Lord of the Rings.  Frodo grew up in the Shire among his friends, adopted at 12 by his Uncle Bilbo Baggins when his parents, Drogo Baggins and Primula (really?) Brandybuck died in an accident.

It’s a pretty tranquil existence, and Frodo is content to live it as it is.  Then, along comes Gandalf poking around for what he suspects is the One Ring, which Bilbo, who just bailed on his birthday to go hang with the Elves, left in Frodo’s care.

Where he goes, trouble follows. 

Where he goes, trouble follows.


When Frodo first has to leave the Shire, he thinks he’s only going to Rivendell and the matter of the Ring will be dealt with there.  It’s a tough journey, but he doesn’t know that he will be the Ringbearer charged with its destruction (he volunteers, actually).  Like Harry Potter, Frodo has to deal with some heavy decisions and shocking events on his journey.  But the worst thing is what the Ring is doing to him while he’s trying to destroy it.

Because Frodo is pure of heart, it takes longer and hurts more, but he eventually succumbs to its insidious influence.  The conflict changes him deeply and wounds him terribly.

And leaves him in dire need of some Rivendell hair and skin products.  

And leaves him in dire need of some Rivendell hair and skin products.


You can use the story to help the character work through his traumas or leave them separate and simply allow them to influence events.  People tend to avoid things that remind them of painful experiences or elicit the same feelings.  Your protagonist could do this and screw himself in so tight your readers will wonder if he ever gets out.  A little tension never hurt a story, nor did a little glimpse of underpinning at just the right moment.