5 Things Not to Say to the Writer in Your Life

Once you start announcing that you’re a writer, a lot of things are said. Questions about your work, your motivation, your plans and everything else that anyone could possibly question come up. Comments about the validity of writing as a profession, your chances of being successful in the field, and options for writing in the professional spectrum are (ahem) helpfully  doled out. Sometimes even outright criticism surfaces. These are just a few of the statements we hear a lot and we wish we never did.

What Not to Sayto the Writer in Your

“What’s your [insert story, novel, or novella] about?”

We appreciate your interest, and love the fact that you care enough to ask, but…that question is pretty much impossible to answer without sounding like a moron. We’re writers, and while some of us are lucky enough to be able to speak as well as we write, most are not (me included). Intricate, sweeping epics are reduced to a few jumbled, confusing sentences mumbled by a darty-eyed writer who looks like they want to sink into the floor when this question is asked. You’re sweet, but do us a favor and read the official synopses when the book comes out.

 “Can I read it?”

Thanks for offering, and I mean this in the best possible way, but NO, YOU ABSOLUTELY MAY NOT. If it isn’t already published–whether traditionally or on a site for beta readers–there’s typically a reason. We bare a part of our souls in every story we write and it’s hard to let go of our work, even when it is ready for public consumption, let alone before.

“Is [insert certain character] a real person? Who is it?”

… Maybe.  But considering that I may or may not have had them murdered with a fried zucchini in chapter three, I’d rather not say. Some writers do pull characters from their own lives and there’s always the possibility that they’ve used elements of the person asking, which can make for a truly awkward conversation if the qualities pulled are unflattering.

“Are you published yet?”

If the writer in question is not yet published, this can be awkward and embarrassing and on the whole, a humiliating reminder that they’re not as successful as they planned on being after countless drafts and years of editing. If they are, the implication that you doubt their ability to write a publishable piece can…well…sting. A lot. Not a great outcome either way.

 “You know you can’t make money doing that, right?”

…Do you know how often writers hear/read that? DO YOU?!?!? Of course we know it’s not always a viable career. That’s not the point. The point is getting to do what we love, regardless of whether or not it means suffering through an office job the rest of our lives to support the habit. We know the likelihood of our work taking off is slim, but we still have to give it a shot. And even if it never puts one extra dollar in our accounts, it makes us happy.

How about you? Any particular things you hate hearing as a writer?

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Burnout and How to Beat It

Do you ever feel hopelessly stuck in the middle of a story? Or just too exhausted from real life to throw yourself into a fictional one? It’s easy to get burned out, especially if you’re trying to juggle writing with a job, school, family, and the billion other things that will demand your attention. It’s not fun and it’s not easy to have ideas and feel unable to write them, but remember who and what you are: a writer. It’s a title that comes with doing. Not doing something perfectly, merely doing something. Like these things, perhaps.

1. Write Stuff.

It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, just that you are. Do some journaling, scribble down some really pathetic fanfiction, make overly detailed lists of what you did today–just write something! You won’t feel like it, but do it anyway. Nine times out of ten, once you’ve been at it for a few minutes, you’ll find yourself getting lost in the words just like you used to–even if the words you’re lost in aren’t exactly a masterpiece.

2. Write Different Stuff.

Switch projects. Maybe several times. Burnout can easily stem from falling into a rut, whether that rut involves obsessing over a single project, settling into a dull writing routine, or simply getting bored. Trying something new or alternating between several different types of projects (eg. a novel and an essay, or a short story and a memoir) can be enough to reignite your interest and draw you back into your passion.

3. Write Stuff for Yourself.

For me at least, one of the things that stops me from writing is knowing that other people will read what I write and might not like it. That’s stressful and can lead to so much hair-pulling and nail-biting that suddenly writing at all seems rather unappealing. The best way to break that mentality is to write things that are for your eyes only(at least to begin with) and forget about everyone else’s opinions for the time being. Write things the way you would if no one else was ever going to see them and you’ll find yourself having a lot more fun.

4. Don’t Write Stuff.

Sometimes, the best way to get back into the groove is to step out of it entirely for a while. Give yourself a well deserved break. I keep running across quotes from famous writers on Pinterest and Tumblr about how a true writer writes every day or how a writer can’t not write, but I don’t agree. Everyone needs a break once in a while, no matter how much they may love what they do. Parents take breaks from time to time; does that mean they aren’t true parents? Doctors, nurses, and police officers do, too, but that doesn’t make them bad at their jobs. So, why is it any different for writers? If you’re tired, go have an unhealthy snack, read a few good books(fun ones–books about writing don’t count), and come back to your project in a few days when you’ve had a chance to collect yourself.

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The Five Things a Writer Needs to Read

1. The Classics

They’ve survived for centuries for a reason. Even if they aren’t your favorite light reading (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you if they aren’t, despite the apparent belief that all writers must devote their bookshelves only to authors who’ve been published for over a century or whose work is primarily existential) , they’re well worth the read.

2. Your Genre

If you’re well-versed in your chosen genre, you’ll soon get a pretty good idea of its cliches and common mistakes, as well as how to avoid them.

3. Your Old Work

I know it’s painful. Very, very painful. I ran across some of mine the other day and had to fight the urge to feed it down the garbage disposal. But, not only can you see how far you’ve come, you can pinpoint areas you may still struggle with. Who knows, you may even find something worth salvaging for a new piece.

4. Other Writers’ Work

Because it’s way easier to spot other people’s mistakes than it is your own. And the more practice you get at problem-spotting, the easier it’s going to be to spot your own mistakes, from plot holes to painful word choice to grammar accidents. There are various sites that cater to amateur authors (fanfiction.net, fictionpress.com, etc.) that work well for this sort of thing.

5.The Things that Set Your Soul on Fire

You know what I’m talking about. The stories that made you want to write your own in the first place. The ones that spark new ideas and make you think. That fire up your creative spirit when you think  you’re too exhausted to write. Whatever you enjoy the most, that’s what you should be reading. So, go! Read!

What do you read to help yourself write? Let me know in the comments!

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Somebody Order A Villain?:Part Two

~ Firstly, I apologize for the absence. I started my senior year, so between course work, college prep, working, trying to find a better job, and non-school-related life…I got a little distracted. ~

As I’ve already made abundantly clear, I’m quite fond of villains. In many cases, they’re more interesting than their hero counterparts(and usually better dressed). They’re unpredictable, appearing in all shapes, sizes, and emotional states. They’re troubled, by anything from guilt to greed to the continued existence of the human race. And everything that makes them fun to hate and a joy to read also makes them terrors to write properly.



1. Sauron – A good villain is driven.



Whatever it is that your villain wants, he has to want it with every fiber of his soul. Heroes can occasionally be apathetic about what they’re trying to accomplish since they’re often dragged into quests and adventures against their will, but the bad guys cannot.  If your villain is lackadaisical about getting what he/she wants, then the rest of your story is going to lag, as well.



The Eye of Sauron as portrayed in Peter Jackso...

The Eye of Sauron as portrayed in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy as Sauron’s form in the Third Age. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron stopped at nothing to retrieve the One Ring. He sent all kinds of nasty beasties and recruited unsavory characters to help see that little piece of power returned. A fact that helped keep the action going through three books and as many movies.



2. A good villain believes in what he’s doing.



Considering the things that villains do? They better believe in it!  Without believing that his actions will bring him to his goal, a villain won’t be driven(see above) to do much of anything and you won’t have a story.



Granted, there may be doubts. Every human on the face of the planet has doubts from time to time, and letting your baddie have some from time to time can go a long way toward making her more human. However, unless your tale is a tale of redemption, make sure she pushes through them.



3. Professor Moriarty – A good villain is the kind of person your protagonist would have as a BFF.



If he wasn’t, you know, evil. In a lot of great fiction, the protagonist and the antagonist are two sides of the same coin. Good and evil versions of the same person, if you simplify things.



Take Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, for example. They’re both brilliant. They both invented professions to suit their talents. They both possess a penchant for great schemes, and neither has ever found anyone to keep up with them until they crossed swords with each other.

English: Sidney Paget's drawing of Holmes and ...

English: Sidney Paget’s drawing of Holmes and Moriarty in Mortal Combat at the Edge of the Reichenbach Falls. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


4.Queen Levana – A good villain is not good.





First, allow me to qualify that statement: a good villain is not doing bad things for good reasons. If that’s the case, your character may be more of an anti-hero than an antagonist.

*spoiler alert*  In Cinder by Marissa Meyer, the antagonist, Queen Levana, embodies this concept pretty well. She tries to murder a three-year-old princess in order to steal the throne for herself, tries again when the princess is in her teens, routinely brainwashes her own subjects, and orders certain disabled infants to be murdered at birth. Not a nice woman.



A villain does what they do for reasons that they consider good, but that likely sound insane/diabolical/repulsive to the average person. Typically, their motivations revolve solely around themselves. Granted, there are exceptions to this, as with almost all aspects of writing.



5. The Weeping Angels – A good villain is frightening.



Human or monster, psychopath or sociopath, explosive or calculating, a good villain should be scary in some way, shape, or form. The worse your protagonist’s opponent is and the more your readers hate him/her, the more emotionally invested they become in seeing him/her vanquished.

The Weeping Angels are living statues from Doctor Who. In the series, they move faster than the human eye can blink and if they reach you will either send you back in time to feed off your potential energy or snap your neck, just because…well…they can. Either way, they can be terrifying. As such, when an episode features them, you’re totally invested in the plot and seeing them lose because you’d really like to be able to sleep that night. Not that you will.

And I’m not posting a picture. If you’re a Whovian, you will know why.



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Quirky Names: Yes or No?

A while back , during my blog challenge, I did a post on some of the names I’ve used for my characters. Reading through the list, the first names are innocuous enough–if a bit on the unusual side–but the tenth is…well…undeniably odd. If you’ve read the post, you’ll know that one of my characters is called Squeaky. That isn’t his real name; he was dubbed that by my protagonist because of a certain falsetto quality of his voice and the fact that she was cranky over him trying to kidnap her. However, he’s known as Squeaky throughout most of the book, with his legal name only being mentioned once in passing. Why? Because…

1. The quirkier the name, the clearer the picture.

For minor characters especially, you want to be able to devote only one or two sentences to characterization before moving on with the main characters’ story. Picking a name that says something about the character–whether it points out a physical trait(as with Squeaky), an ethnic heritage, or just plays on name connotations–is one of fastest ways of getting your point across without going into too much detail.

2. Remember me?

Some of the most famous fictional characters in the world have quirky names. Sherlock Holmes, Professor Xavier, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Xena, Spock–all quite unusual. It’s a part of what makes them memorable, and can serve to help your character stand out from the rest (not that you should rely solely on that, but still).

Conversely, if you have a crowd of oddly named characters and leave your main character with the only normal name of the bunch, that works, too. It certainly seems to have worked for Rowling.

3. Tonal Quality

The names you choose can help set the tone of your entire piece. Quirky ones, in particular. A ridiculously pretentious moniker adds to a period piece. An obscure(but not too obscure) ethnic name enhances an exotic setting. A giggle-worthy nick-name can pull together the elements of a comedy beautifully. And so on.


                                                 On the other side of the matter:

1. If your name is Kanjjdighw, you may be trying too hard.

There are limits to everything, and this is one area where the line between okay and not-okay is paper-thin. A name that’s so unusual it becomes unbelievable is definitely in the not-okay zone. It’ll annoy your editors, alienate your readers, and drive your spellcheck berserk.  As writers, we tend to get a bit obsessed with being unique, but it has to stop somewhere. It’s better to have a dull name in a great story than a name so odd no one pays attention to the story.

2. One thing is not like the others in this picture.

Sometimes a quirky name just does not fit. Trying to shoehorn one into a drama or a serious piece of historical fiction is seriously wrong, and your readers will know it.  You don’t have to go completely the other way and name everyone John Smith, but throwing fistfuls of fun, irreverent names at a sombre novella won’t do it any favors.

3. All things in moderation.

If used sparingly, quirky names can be lovely. If used too much too often, they can lose their punch and make your work sound like you were spending a bit too much time thumbing through baby name books. Realistically, not everyone in an average group of friends/acquaintances/enemies is going to have an intriguing name. A variety of names–from the outrageous to the everyday is typically your best bet–that all fit your particular story is your best bet. Besides, the personalities are the important bit, anyway.

So, where do you guys stand on quirky names? Discuss in the comments!


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Worlds Away Writing Challenge Day 1


                                            Worlds Away Writing Challenge:

Seven days of questions, prompts, and ideas to keep you writing. The rules?

  • Answer each question/prompt as completely as possible.
  • Add the link-icon to your posts.
  • If you are so inclined, challenge other writing bloggers(or just any blogger in general) to challenge the challenge by completing the…um…challenge.

Day 1: Given the chance, would you spend a day in the world of one of your short stories/novels/whatever? Which one? Why or why not? How would you spend the day? Would you survive? If yes, write a short scene from your day with your characters.

It’s…hard to say. In a way, I would love to. Most of my worlds are dripping with adventurous journeys, nefarious plots, and a general sense of mayhem and fun, all of which I like to think I would enjoy. However, I have my doubts that I would last ten minutes in any adventure executed sans safety equipment.

Secondly, my own characters would hate me. Period.  Adventurers, inventors, scientists, thieves, the occasional pirate–nowhere in that group does a writer fit. Though, it might be amusing to see one try…*plot bunny*…Moving on.

That being said, were I foolhardy enough to venture into one of my own creations…it would be the one from my Victorian Vagabond storyline. That’s the one with the adventurers, thieves, pirates,etc. Fun, right?

I imagine we would spend the day in Mayhap Manor with me pestering Alec to teach me how to shoot and trying to break into Zissa’s lab to play with the chemicals. Mayhem would likely ensue, thanks to some pesky villain or another deciding it was the perfect day to strike. And then I would probably die tragically, as I have no idea what to do in an imbroglio.





“Pretty please?”

“For your own safety, it’s out of the question.”

“Por favor? Per favore? S’il vous plait?”

“Absolutely not!”

“C’mon…what harm could it possibly do?”

“Look, you nearly get us killed every time you so much as write about doing something dangerous. I shudder to think of what would happen were  you to try it yourself. Let alone something as potentially fatal as covert surveillance.”

“Well…if I can’t do that…can I play with your rifle while you’re gone? Or perhaps the explosives?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake…”

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My process for creating characters tends to be…erratic. My main character, from which most of my secondaries stem, sprang from a very confusing tenure on an RP forum(don’t ask). My favorite secondary was inspired by my cousin and my favorite movie protagonist.  A few came from who-knows-where in the recesses of my brain. But no matter where the characters came from…none of them seem particularly keen on listening to me.


My main villain began as the helpful, upright, kindly uncle of said character, but then decided–all on his own, mind you–that he was going to be the villain of the piece and that was that, regardless of the author’s feelings on the subject.


English: A stereotypical caricature of a villa...

Good grief, Warren, why couldn’t you just STAY GOOD?!?


The author, while decidedly irked with his antics, has given up on convincing him otherwise.


Actually, that seems to be the pattern for most of my characters that actually succeed in becoming 3-dimensional. Author carefully creates character. Outlines character’s life and behavior down to the minutest detail. Character says “Ain’t no way,” pulls a 360, and does whatever he/she very well wants to do. As in the case of the protagonist who has rejected two potential love interests thus far.


It can be immensely frustrating. However, it’s gratifying, too. You know your creations have come alive when they start taking matters into their own hands.  I think it’s the way it should be. In fact, if you aren’t discovering new, unexpected things about your characters…you may have a problem. If you can easily predict their next move, so can your readers. And that doesn’t make for a good story.

The primary sign that your characters are dead? You. If you’re having trouble writing, if the whole project just doesn’t feel right, if trying to work on it just makes you want to pull your hair out, look at your characters. Switch a few roles around, subtract a few and add others. You’ll be surprised.

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Saturday morning, my folks and I spent the morning at a bookfair sponsored by our local library association.  I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday, and all three of us came away with a tote-bag full of books each. Mine were half 1940s mystery novels. In addition, I’m working on making a t-shirt  design featuring literary detectives. Beyond that, the novel I’m working on is a mystery. Needless to say, I kind of have detectives on the brain, so I thought it would be fun to list some of the qualities of a great detective(coincidentally using most of the detectives that are going on the shirt).


1. The Hardy Boys~A great detective is likeable.


In my younger years, these guys were my favorite detectives. They were smart, capable teenagers who got to go off on adventures, crack amazing cases, and had an uncanny ability to recover from getting conked on the head at least twice every novel. They got to do essentially everything the average kid wants to do with his/her life.


Cover of the revised edition of The Tower Trea...


I know that an anti-hero works just as well or better than the classic heroic crime-solver in many cases, but even the worst reprobate of a detective needs to have some quality that your audience can love.


2. Nero Wolfe~A great detective is unusual.


Rex Stout’s mysteries are one of our family’s primary sources of road trip entertainment(audiobooks–relax, no one was reading while driving). Nero Wolfe has always been a favorite, mostly because there’s no one else even remotely like him. He’s a brilliant private detective who never leaves his brownstone, collects all evidence and clues through his hired help, has an immense collection of orchids which is matched only by his impressive poundage, and is easily the most snarky, disagreeable, and cranky character I’ve ever read. And yet, for some reason, he’s still likeable.


Publicity photograph of Maury Chaykin as Nero ...

Publicity photograph of Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe in the A&E TV series A Nero Wolfe Mystery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the points I keep coming across for writing good mysteries is that you must always have a hook, and I can actually agree with the general wisdom for once. Without some sort of unusual quality, most detective protagonists fall flat and lose readers within pages of their introduction. The quality itself doesn’t matter; the more creative and off-the-wall, the better, as long as you can make the reader believe in it–and your character.


3. The Saint~A great detective is himself a mystery.


I confess that I have not actually read any of the actual books featuring Simon Templar. They tend to be rather hard to find, unfortunately. All I’ve been exposed to is the 60’s TV show, but I did love that. Simon had a definite air of mystery in whatever he did, and I found that intriguing. It helped keep me hooked on the show.


Many Saint novels were reprinted in new editio...

Many Saint novels were reprinted in new editions in the 1960s to capitalize on the popular television series, starring Roger Moore. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously, this isn’t a hard and fast rule (since when is anything in writing?), but almost all of the best written detectives I’ve come across have something about them that the audience doesn’t know, but is dying to find out. A secretive past, a shady past-time, a great tragedy from long ago–the possibilities are endless and they can add a tantalizing depth to your characters.

4. Sherlock Holmes ~ A great detective is versatile.

Do I even need to explain Sherlock? He’s fantastic, he was one of the original fictional detectives, he’s one of my fictional crushes, HE IS THE ULTIMATE DETECTIVE!

And he’s also an expert swordsman, boxer, master of disguise, chemist, and he writes about various types of ash in his spare time. See what I mean about versatility?

English: Sherlock Holmes (r) and Dr. John B. W...

Having your detective specialize is great. It helps pinpoint your target audience, determine facets of the protagonist’s character, and just generally helps with the details of writing a decent character. But don’t let him/her get pigeonholed into one specialty and never leave it. A forensic scientist at the top of her field is great, but make sure she has skills outside of categorizing stab wounds and classifying the stages of rigor mortis.

  5. Hercule Poirot ~ A great detective is brilliant.

Hercule is one of my favorite characters of all time. He was sophisticated, endearingly arrogant, unintentionally funny, and, above all, brilliant. Kinda reminds me of a cat I had once. He was both intellectually superior and common-sense smart. He knew both facts and human nature. That’s what made him dangerous as a detective and awesome to read.

Hercule Poirot

Hercule Poirot (Photo credit: elena-lu)

Every character, detective or not, should be brilliant in his or her own way. There are far more varieties of brilliance than garden-variety smarts. Some are people-brilliant, some are book-brilliant, others are nature-brilliant, others still tech-brilliant. Whatever their area, make sure your detective shines.

Hey, guys! I’ve been fiddling with the blog again (now you’ll know why, if it suddenly decides to go haywire). Please note the new suggestion page and feel free to add one!


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You Had Me at Character Development: The Romance Post

So, the next on the list of voter-chosen posts is romance.


One of the reasons I included it as a potential topic is that I have serious trouble putting together a decent romance that’s cohesive, logical(if romances count as logical), and still fun to read. They’re a pain, to be honest. Hence why I need to work on them.

I’ll try to do what I did with the villain post last week and list a favorite fictional couple with each point. However, there really aren’t that many fictional couples I’m crazy about, so no guarantees.

1. Flynn Carsen and Simone Renoir–A good couple is balanced.

The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice

The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In one of my favorite movies, The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice (Yes, I’m aware that it’s a corny Indiana Jones parody–that’s why it’s awesome), the hero and heroine are thrown together by a series of events that would sound entirely ridiculous if I tried to summarize them. So I won’t. Go watch the movie. The characters themselves are a) a burnt-out genius who safeguards the world’s most dangerous artifacts and b) a 400 year-old vampire who safeguards the key to unspeakable power,  and despite how it sounds, they actually fit together quite well.

As a couple, they are very well balanced. Simone is immensely powerful, but Flynn is brilliant. Flynn is awkward, but Simone is confident. This cuts out the risk of Lois Lane syndrome and makes for a fun story because both characters have complimentary strengths and weaknesses. In fact, the only problem I have with them as a couple is the speed with which they became one. Two days, guys? Really?

In writing your own romances(especially if it’s in first-person), it’s easy for one character to become the focus–they end doing all the thinking, all the rescuing, and heroically solving all the problems. That isn’t good reading, regardless of whether it’s the hero or the heroine. Balance is key.

2. Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley–A good couple doesn’t always get along.

Jeremy Northam as George Knightley in the 1996...

Jeremy Northam as George Knightley in the 1996 American film adaptation of Emma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s get one thing straight right now–outside of Emma, I…well…I don’t want to say hate, but that’s pretty close to what I feel about Jane Austen’s work. There’s just so much talking and dancing and discussion of feelings and…ugh. I tend to prefer explosions and murder over tea and country walks.

That said, I did enjoy Emma, partially because of the good romance. As a couple, Emma and Knightley (more on his part than hers, which was a bit irksome) spent most of the book bickering about one thing or another.

The fact is, no couple gets along all the time, regardless of how much they love each other. That’s something to keep in mind when writing couples. They’re going to have their disagreements and said disagreements will be unique to each couple. Some will have soft, quiet arguments, some give each other a week-long silent treatment, others go for broke and start throwing things–but they all have their moments.

3. Carl and Ellie–A good couple takes time.

I think the first twenty minutes of Up contains one of the sweetest, most well-crafted romances in animated film history. It hits all the high points of a fifty or sixty year relationship and shows the growth of said relationship from playmate to best friend to significant other to spouse. In other words, it takes its time.

Carl & Ellie

Carl & Ellie (Photo credit: dr.chesed)

Too-quick romances are one of the things that usually trip me up when I’m attempting to weave a little sweetness into a story. Since I know they’re going to end up together, it’s incredibly easy to forget that the audience doesn’t know the characters or their motivations or their reasons for getting together nearly as  well as I do, and just shove them together within ten pages. All done! Back to the fun stuff! Yay!

That doesn’t work, sadly.

To really connect with the characters and to root for their relationship, your readers need to see the development of their friendship and their feelings. I realize that different couples move at different speeds, and you can feasibly have one head-over-heels within a week whereas another one can date for a decade, but there still needs to be development of some kind. Otherwise, your poor readers are simply going to be confused.

4. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark–A good couple needs chemistry.

In this case, the example couple is there to show what not to do. In my opinion, at least, there was no chemistry in their relationship. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of The Hunger Games, but I just couldn’t see it. (Frankly, I’m more Team Gale.)

The Hunger Games (film)

The Hunger Games (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regardless of how much it seems like two characters should fit together as a couple, there are times when they just…don’t. No matter what you do, what situations you write them into, they can be ridiculously stubborn little beasts and absolutely refuse to fall in love. It can’t be helped. So don’t try to force it! If a couple has no chemistry, try something else.

Next Post: Hunger Games Review

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Someone Order A Villain?

Apparently, my readers are obsessed with evil.

Given the choice between book reviews, romance, and villains, the votes always came up in the bad guys’ favor, and I can’t say I blame you. Villains are fascinating. Their motivations, their schemes, their fashion sense(*cough* Megamind *cough* Loki*cough*)…It’s all endlessly interesting to those of us not inclined to try enslaving the human race.

Not only are they interesting, the villains are a vital part of any story.  Sometimes more so than the protagonist. But they’re infinitely easier to ignore when it comes to characterization, backstory, and well…everything outside of describing their lair.

In doing the prep for this post, I put together a list of my favorite villains and the things learned from them. The first on that list?

1. Loki (and also Gollum!)-A good villain has a goal.

And making your hero/heroine’s life miserable doesn’t count (unless it’s revenge or some such).  Neither Thor or The Avengers would have been half as interesting if Loki’s only motivation had been evil for evil’s sake.

Character poster for the film Thor featuring T...

Tom Hiddleston!

In a lot of the books, movies, and graphic novels I’ve come across, the antagonist has indeed had goals. But they were cliched, weak, and pretty much just an excuse to get in the protagonist’s way and provide a convenient obstacle.

Ideally, the villain’s story should be just as deep as the protagonist’s, just on the opposite side of the coin. The same rules apply. Even if it’s not necessarily shown, your baddie should still have the same type of character journey–from inciting incident to coming away a changed person–as your protagonist, including having a serious want. It doesn’t even have to be a valid (to a sane person) goal, as long as the villain believes in it and wants it with all his/her black little soul.

Take Gollum, for example. His devotion to the One Ring consumed him and drove him to do anything to find it again when it was stolen from him. Try to find something equally addictive for your antagonist.  Power, money, fame, revenge, or the last potato chip–it really doesn’t matter as long as they want something.

CG depiction of Gollum created by Weta Digital...

Everyone must have a PRECIOUS!

2. Mr. Gold – A good villain loves something.

While watching ABC’s Once Upon a Time, I’ve found that I like the villains a lot better than I do most of the heroes–though some of that may be more due to the choice of acting talent rather than characterization (Hello, Captain Hook!).

David Blue and Robert Carlyle

In the case of Mr. Gold, almost his entire journey from ordinary man to the Dark One is revealed through flashbacks, and one of the recurring points in his development is love. It tends to get him in trouble a lot, but it’s also what makes him such a strong character. The betrayal of his wife–his love–helped drive him to magic and the darkness that came with it. His later love of Belle is…well…it’s trying to change him, but that’s…well…that could be going better, but I digress.

Everyone–evil incarnate or not–loves something, whether it be human, animal, place, thing, or idea. It’s what makes them human, more relatable, and can help give them goals(see above). Unrequited love, in particular, has made quite a few excellent villains.

It gives the reader the slight hope that perhaps the baddie in question could change, that maybe they still have a spark of humanity left–and it makes it all the more tragic(and fun for the writer) when they don’t.

3. Megamind (And Luke Castellan)- A good villain has a reason for being who they are.

I love Megamind. He’s just so freakishly awesome and bumbling and brilliant and he does what I would probably do were I a supervillain (e.g. fail spectacularly). And he has good reason for being as jaded as he is. Being mocked, misunderstood, and generally hated for being different will do that. Add in the fact that he was raised in a prison and groomed for villainy, and you’ve got a pretty good reason for his turning out the way he did.



Judging by my research, you don’t just wake up one day to find that you’ve become a full-fledged villain with rayguns and henchmen. There are always reasons. Revenge, love(as aforementioned), hate, or greed. An old hurt or a new desire.

And in general(excluding Megamind), even with reasons, the change from hero to villain is still gradual. As in the case of Luke Castellan from The Lightning Thief. He may have started and ended a hero, but that middle bit was pretty sketchy. With the mental scars of abandonment, enough time and toil to get bitter, and the perfect opportunity, poor Luke snapped. It can happen to the best of heroes, shockingly enough. And that’s what makes for a good twist.

4. A good villain does not do harm without reason.

I could not think of a villain to fit this one, sadly. I feel like a failure as a geek. But, moving on…You really shouldn’t let your baddies run amok when it comes to dishing out mayhem and destruction. As tempting as it is to let them push the limits and EVIL ALL THE THINGS, it can begin to border on the ridiculous if all your villain does is inflict torment for no apparent reason other than making your hero a martyr.

You guys have any to add? List your favorite villains in the comments!

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