Case Study: The Try/Fail Plot

Case Study: The Try/Fail Plot

Greetings,

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The stock images are from Pixabay because I fear using too many images from The 100. The two 100 images were taken via Google search for study and review.  (Please don’t sue me.)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a case study, and since I enjoy talking about them so much, I figured it’s been long enough.

What I’d like to do is talk about a plot type and then see it in action. This plot can be used as a side-plot or a main plot depending on what type of story you want. Because I subscribe to Brandon Sanderson’s WriteaboutDragons.  He calls it the Try/Fail plot. The idea is that when a character reaches a challenge a two-pronged series of options happens.

He fails AND the problem gets worse, or he succeeded BUT something else goes wrong.  Sanderson also calls this the “No-and, Yes-but” system.

So let’s see this in action:
I’m a huge fan of The 100. My mom turned me on to the show, and I think it’s fantastic. One thing it does better than any other show I can think of is use that plot to keep the conflict going and the tension high. The whole show is a giant “no-and, yes-but” plot, and each challenge follows the same formula. I’ll go over a short example in a part of an episode, just to avoid spoilers and any lawyers looking to take the $5 I have to my name.

The episode title is Many Happy Returns. It’s Episode 4 of Season 3: Here’s the scene. A group of teenagers are searching for one of their friends. During their search, they discover someone trapped, hanging off a cliff by a thin branch. They’re already looking for someone they lost, but they can’t leave this person to die.

One teen grabs a rope and begins to go down to help the trapped teen.  Does it work?

No! The rope breaks AND the kid who went down to save said trapped person FALLS TO HIS DEATH!

So what do they do next? Trapped person is still stuck on a branch.

They scour the area (some wreckage) for things to cobble together to get some stuff they can use as a rope. (You see they lost their rope on the first attempt.)  Down goes one of the MAIN characters.  Does it work?

Well, YES…he gets to her….BUT….

The-100-2x04-many-happy-returnsTheir hodgepodge rope breaks. One of the characters has to hold the pieces in each hand becoming a human link in the rope.  Does he hold on?

(Well, lets pause for a second.  That character holding the rope? He tried to kill the main character currently hanging by that hodgepodge rope. So it’s not hard to believe the guy would just let go. So here’s added tension.  Let’s get back to this plot though.)

Does he hold on?

Yes…BUT….a group of “grounders” (savages) starts attacking!

Do they hold on? Yes, BUT one member of their team takes an arrow in the leg.

Do they hold on? Yes, BUT while they’re being attacked by grounders a horn sounds, which symbolizes that a vaporous acid is about to blow through the area. They have moments before they’re melted.

They pull their friend up. The main character realizes the kid who tried to kill him a few episodes back was the very one who was instrumental to saving his life.

help-2444110__340What about that death mist? Turns out, that was the main character’s sister distracting the enemy.

Sanderson says in his video that he usually likes three failures before the characters reach the goal.  If you look above, you’ll notice this mini-plot works in that regard too.

The try/fail plot is a great way to build tension. The trick is to look for ways to make complicated situations even more complicated. I hope this example helps you see how this plot works and is successful. I highly recommend The 100 because it’s good fun, and it’s great for studying plot structures.   I’m a bigger fan of it now than I’ve ever been, though I like it for intense scenes like the one above. When there’s a struggle of some sort or conflict or important goal, I tend to ask myself, “Now how can I make this even more difficult.”

NOTE: Beware rage quit!  The readers tend to want resolution. And if you keep delaying the issue without some sort of reward for the reader, you’re going to abandon them.  If I had to offer you a number as advice, I’d say, don’t exceed five complications for a minor plot, especially if this is a sub plot. Readers tend to be more forgiving if you have a no-and followed by a yes-but.  So yes, they get the guy off the rope, but now their party is smaller, and they’ve been delayed in finding the friend they originally went out to save.  So the plot moves forward, and the subplot provide an added degree of complication.  Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

 

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Book Review: Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland

Book Review: Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland
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This cover image was taken from Amazon for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

I’ve recently started eating more greens thanks to my friend the Quintessential Editor. (I’m pretty sure he recommended this book.) This book was something I read to help me with outlining more.

Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, does a few things that I’m a big fan of.

The first thing I’m a fan of is the case studies. Each arc description is summarized and supported with examples to help illustrate how such a plot plays out in different movies. I should explain that this book is a bit different from what I’d call plotting.

In plotting, you’re marking the key plot points and events in a story. This is so readers see progression in the overall narrative. I’d wanted to improve my development of characters as they progress through the plot points. This novel did that. Weiland breaks down three types of arcs: The positive change arc, the neutral change arc, and the negative change arc. She breaks negative change into three more I can’t recall off the top of my head. The case studies and benchmarks she provides are things I plan to pull out while outlining my next main project and editing whatever I’m working on. I think understanding these types of character arcs is a must for writers. How you feel about them and how you apply those thoughts is as unique as the storyteller in my opinion, but understanding them matters.

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This image and the feature image were pulled from K.M. Weiland’s website for review purposes. As I’m trying to recommend her book, I’m hoping she’ll forgive the use of these images.

Another thing I’d like to highlight is the idea of “The Lie Your Character Believes.”  That resonated with me. I won’t go into it here because 1) I fear copyright and 2) I think authors, especially those who feel they struggle with outlining, should give this book a read. I actually listened to the audio edition, and that was super helpful for a guy like me.

I’m less inclined to be entirely beholden to some of the more rigid benchmarks. Weiland gives specific percentage marks for each point of the story. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I completely disagree, I just don’t know that I’d be that militant about where certain shifts in the story happen. What I will say is those benchmarks are great guides, but stories need a bit of leeway.

What I intend to do with this book and information is weave some of the elements of this book’s character plot points with my plotting.  This should keep the sense of progression my stories have (which I feel are solid) and give me a way to plan the emotional journey of my characters a little more carefully.

Creating Character Arcs is a great outlining tool that provides informative case studies for each type of arc. Authors or aspiring authors should pic this up and add it to their toolbox of story building tools. I’m a fan of “how-to” books that are this simple to understand and through in presentation. I can’t say enough about those case studies!

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

Growth of a Character: The Plot isn’t the Only Thing That Moves

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I’ve been starting the habit of reading more books on writing. It’s something I’ve always believed in, but didn’t really practice as much as I should. I read plenty, and I listen to video blogs and podcasts when I’m not furiously doing the other things that life has me doing.  The thing is, we have to take the time to hone our craft, and it’s not enough to simply write. Writing without learning about the craft or trying new things won’t lead to growth.

 

I’d mentioned a few times how Caught was a bit delayed because my editor didn’t think Sal’s arc was clear enough. As is always the case when I hear feedback, even if I disagree with it, I started doing some research, and the book I’m currently listening to, Creating Character Arcs  by K.M. Weiland, has at least got me thinking. See, my struggle is some characters don’t change. I like some of those characters. So I had to figure out a way of thinking that allowed me to distinguish between one arc and another.

Here’s one choice that’s important: The events your characters experience should change them, or the situation or people should change as a result of your characters.

That, to me, is the distinction that matters. I’ll post a “review” of the above book once I finish it, but I’m far enough along in that book to know I’ve pinpointed that choice as one every writer should make.

Case study:
15326549_1179426122094499_6318367043184922848_nTyrion from Betrayer’s Bane: This was the December Book Cover of the Month. I finished this book last week, and I’ll post a review on it in a few weeks, but Tyrion is a good figure to study. You have a character who’s come to believe a simple truth: Nothing is more important that the elimination of the enemy.

Without giving you too many spoilers, I will tell you what matters is he has a fundamental belief.  Each plot point serves to in one way or another test that belief. As the story progresses, he’s even tempted by other things. Then his moment of decision comes when he has to choose to let go of that belief completely or hold to it. That moment of choice must feel realistic. The temptation to change coarse must feel tempting to the reader, and the moment of decision must come at the character’s most delicate frame of mind. Michael G. Manning does an amazing job of following those threads to a satisfying conclusion.

Iron Man:
This story I feel less likely to have spoilers, so I feel a bit more ready to point out some of the specifics.  Tony Stark has a fundamental belief in the beginning of the movie. Nothing matters as long as you have wit and money. There may be other (and even better) ways to say it, but this is him in a nutshell. Sure, when he’s captured he learns the pain of irresponsibility, but he still counters this with his mind and financial power, but he’s fighting the symptoms of the problem. He’s still pretty caviler about things until the his newest weapon nearly falls into the wrong hands. Here he has the chance to let let the responsibility go, or accept it and do something. That moment of choice is when we see Stark’s growth.

But what about those other arcs I like so much? I’ve been open that I like a character who  doesn’t change. When a character doesn’t change, the world around him has to. This is the nature of a story. Something must change.

Captain America: From beginning to end, our hero is who he is. Yes, he gains power. Yes, his looks change. But those are superficial. He starts the movie a young man believing that truth and justice are worth fighting for, and ends his battle paying (or seeming to pay) the ultimate sacrifice for his belief. He doesn’t change. But every other character around him does. His belief becomes  a beacon of light for others to look upon. Characters look to him and decide to follow his example, or reject him and become his opposition.

overcoming-2127669_960_720A great plot is an equally great place to start, but events (especially those as traumatic as the ones we see in literature) test people. If those people hold tight to their beliefs (regardless of their truth or falsehoods), the characters around him should be inspired by those actions (or they should try to kill him).  If the people don’t change, the characters should. People crave companionship. If the world around us doesn’t change we’ll eventually change ourselves to fit in. Peer Pressure and Social Norming are examples of this truth.

How do you do that?  Well, part of it is to consider how your character will react to the events you’re about to put him through? Who is your character at the beginning of the story?  Who will he be at the end? Who were the other characters when they meet your main character? Who will they be at the end?

Plot shows a progression of events, but that’s just part of it. Characters should grow or help those around them grow.  I thought I’d spend a bit of time offering my thoughts and seeing what everyone else thinks.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

 

 

 

Ripping off the Best to be the Best

Ripping off the Best to be the Best

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On occasion, I’ll stand in front of my students and discuss the problems I’ve faced in writing or in the Navy.  I’ll tell them about challenges with how I approach a story or how I deal with something when I struggle.

I look at these young men and women, hold my head up high, and say, “I cheat.”

If one looks around enough, they tend to see the same things happen over and again.  I don’t get as angry when people say, “there are no original stories,” anymore.  Oh, those who say that have poor english skills, but that’s because that’s not what they necessarily mean.  Usually, they’re talking about plots.  The originality should be the voice and vision of the author.

When I tell my students that I cheat, I wasn’t talking about violating the UCMJ or even academic standards.  I was simply expressing that I make every effort to learn from others so I don’t make the same mistakes.  That’s one of the reasons so many of my blogs focus on my mistakes.  There are a lot of people trying to make their mark in the world, and I don’t want them falling for the same tricks I’ve fallen for.  I don’t want them making the same mistakes I make.

hobo-826057_960_720I also like to take inspiration.  One of my favorite things is to put stories in an imaginary blender and see what original concepts come out.  I’m currently doing a read-through of an upcoming book, 1,200.  The glimmer moment (idea) came from a story I was covering for the Navy.  You see, there were (at that time) 1,200 homeless veterans in the city of San Diego.  So I took that actual issue and ran with it.  Remember that blender I told you about?  One thing that always seems too convenient to me (though I do it, too) is the arrival of the Mentor or Impact Character.  (Sometimes one man fills the same role.)

A little boy makes some glass disappear, and here comes a giant to explain the boy’s a wizard.

A farm boy buys some droids, and they just happen to belong to the man who can teach him about the Force.

There’s a million of them.

For the most part in my life, I’ve been blessed.  I’ve had some amazing mentors in my life, but I’ve also had to figure a few things out on my own.  So when I was brainstorming for 1,200, thinking about how to make this more interesting, I took away the mentor.  What an original idea!

blender-297110_960_720No it isn’t.  I TOTALLY stole that from The Great American Hero.  It’s about a guy who finds a super suit, but it doesn’t have any instructions.  I’m not even going to lie.  I applied an interesting concept in a different way.  So when my main character (whose name is probably going to change) discovered his powers, he was on his own.  This book is less dark than Caught, but still much darker than Journals.  So I took a concept, and made it my own.  I do it all the time.  And even if the plot police shine a light in my face, I’ll tell them, “Yeah, I did it! And I’d do it again!”

Heck, I think about what I can steal all the time.  I even steal from my day job.  We teach our Sailors about host nation sensitivities and cultural concerns.  The Navy takes great care to make sure its Sailors understand we’re representatives of our country and how to be good guests in all of the countries we visit.  This is true even in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nations we’ve operated in.  The Navy knows it’s Sailors must be better people than those we’re there to protect others from.  That means we have to train our Sailors in what to think about.  I was about half-way through preparing that lesson plan a few years back when I realized it’s no different than what an author has to think about when worldbuilding.  Academic concerns lead me to hold back the majority of the list, but a few include cultural values and religion.  I’ve even mentored a few Sailors who want to be authors on this concept.

I steal from other authors.  I do not plagiarize.  If a magic system does something interesting, I file it away in my mental file cabinet.   The concept to New Utopia was heavily inspired by Valley of the Wind.  The trick is more about how you apply it.

QUICK SHOT 2011
Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Matthew Leistikow, assigned to Fleet Combat Camera Group Pacific, leads Sailors in a wedge patrol formation during patrol familiarization as part of the Fleet Combat Camera Group Pacific Summer Quick Shot 2011. Quick Shot is a semi-annual field training exercise intended to train combat camera personnel to operate in a combat environment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David A. Brandenburg/Released)

As I sit and look at 1,200, there’s a LOT of work I have to do.  I’m glad the Brown Pipers are enjoying it, but I still think there are some genuine issues to work out.  (If you remember my blog on discover writing, 1,200 is one of the last two books I wrote by discovery writing. Sure, I had some idea where I was going, but I didn’t outline at all.)   But the concept is working pretty well.

There are video blogs out there who explain a lot of your all-time favorite movies and songs are, in fact, not the original tales you thought they were.

What do I steal?

Parts of a concept:  I may not take the entire premise, but I do look for an element that fascinates me.

Fantasy elements:  I was going to say I steal magic systems, and I steal those, but then I realized I steal pretty much any ONE aspect of fantasy element if the mood suits me.

Elements of characters:  I wrote about this in my blog about character development.

What don’t I steal?

Entire plot lines:  Valley of the Wind inspired New Utopia, but New Utopia is built around a few separate issues.    Though others do this (and it’s not illegal or unethical), I don’t.  I don’t because I’d be too tempted to draw more and more from the source of said inspiration.  For instance, I borrowed the concept of the magic system in New Utopia from Mistborn.  It’s different enough, but I keep a very stern hold of myself.  I only take small parts.

lego-516559_960_720Let’s talk about blending again.  I mentioned it above, and this is something I do in pretty much every stage of life and writing.  I steal all of these great things, and then I take them all apart and put them back together like a Lego hodgepodge creation of my very own.  I don’t actually know where I got the technique from, but I haven’t seen anyone who approaches it quite that way.  So maybe that’s the one original thing I bring.  I’m not saying I’m the only one who steals, I’m just saying that’s my particular twist on burglary.  If you do it the same way, let me know.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

What is it to be a Hero?

What is it to be a Hero?

My favorite thing about the blog so far is the inspiration I see from comments to older posts. I’m glad you all enjoy character studies as much as I do, and when I talked about “flawed” vs “Traditional heroes, you all gave me some great ideas.

The first idea I wanted to tackle was the idea of a hero, and what makes one heroic. I thought about this for some time, and decided it came down to sacrifice, courage, and loyalty. For my character study, I’m going to say I’d like my hero (regardless of his flaws or perfections) have all three of these if you look hard enough.

So since I have three traits, I should highlight three characters right?  Makes sense to me at least.  So without much more ado, here are three characters that I think are fantastic heroes because they exemplify these traits.  BUT as a special aside, NONE of these characters are (at least regarded) as the main character of their stories. This means Sam is out from Lord of the Rings because I honestly think  he is the hero of that book.

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All images from Pixabay because I fear copyright even when I feel I fall under fair use.

Perrin Aybara is absolutely my favorite character from Wheel of Time. Oh Rand is awesome and Mat is fun (and he has my name, so he has to be awesome right?), but Perrin’s heroics are worthy of study.  (Look, Rand is easily a hero, but he’s too easy).

Sacrifice: He didn’t sacrifice his family. He LOST his family, but that doesn’t actually make one heroic. Not in my standing anyway. Instead, what he sacrificed was the simple life he always wanted. Through the whole saga he wants his wife and a simple life. This is exceptionally heroic as most people don’t long for that, especially in fantasy. Most characters dream of adventure and discovery, but Perrin just wants to be a blacksmith. He gave that up to be the man he knew he had to be. He continued to do so even thought it cost him.

Courage: Here’s where Perrin may fall short a bit in relation to the other two heroes I cover, but he still has it. No. I’m not talking about facing trollocs or whitecloaks. I’m talking about facing a part of himself that he doesn’t like. Look anyone can face external dangers. Fight or flight kicks in, and a man has to defend himself. That’s not (in and of itself) courage. It’s self preservation. Perrin faces his identity as a wolfbrother. He’s lived his whole life taught to believe wolves are evil, and THEN he realizes he’s becoming one (or like one).  He doesn’t necessarily want to embrace this part of his life. Instead, he chooses to. He has reasons, but he doesn’t just face this part of himself out of self preservation or even to save his friends. He does so because he must.

wolf-1768913_960_720Loyalty: This is where Perrin has the title. Rand frequently puts Perrin in the most danger. He even forces Perrin to go back home to deal with events in Book 4 that Rand can’t deal with. Rand has his reasons, but Perrin never fails to support Rand. He’s the first to try and understand Rand. He’s the one who goes home to defend it. He’s the one who steps up.

Xander Harris is the only character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer who doesn’t grow into something more. Heck even Dawn gets training as a slayer. Xander is just a guy.

Sacrifice: So where Perrin has some obvious areas of sacrifice. The question, if my criteria hold up, is what did Xander give up?  This is tough because Xander is actually a pretty selfish character. Sure he LOSES people, but what does he let go of that he would have if he’d stepped away from the Scooby Gang?  I thought about it, and nearly changed characters when it dawned on me. What he gave up was any chance to be special. Most people want a chance to shine.

bat-149892_960_720Most people want a chance to be in the lime light or be seen as important. Xander happily plays third or forth fiddle to a group of people that become exponentially more powerful and unique than he is. There was an adorable episode in Season 3 where all he wants to do is help. He KNOWS something’s going on, but everyone sort of shuns him away. He also finds his power there. In that same episode he sacrifices the opportunity to be exceptional just to be a part of something greater than himself. Go watch that episode and see how he eventually turns that to an advantage. Every progressing season he stays back. He is the normal, consistent part of life for individuals that are so much more. This becomes the need he fills for the team.

Courage: This is more on the nose than I’d like. But when his sacrifice is his choice to remain normal in a paranormal world, he’s also choosing to willingly put himself in danger when he’s always out of his league. It’s different from Perrin. Perrin faces his own fears because he’s bigger and stronger. Then he gets more powerful. Xander doesn’t have those advantages. All he has is the willingness to put himself in harms way over and over again just to stay near those he loves.

Loyalty: He takes a knock here, but not a big one. Let’s put this elephant on the table. He hates Angel and wants to kill him. Maybe even still. BUT, when he CHOOSES to see good in a person, he’s untouchable. He brings Willow back. What helps his loyalty shine here is how fierce he is with it. He hates who he hates, and loves who he loves. He’s as true as the North Star, and he doesn’t shift. Even his tolerance of characters he’d rather see take a stake to the heart is based on his friends’ desire to see them protected (though again, Angel makes this hard to justify).

wizard-147663_960_720My final character is one I’m proud of myself for. This is mostly because, again, it’s easy to point out the hero of the story. They’re usually the ones on the cover. But my point is what makes a person heroic, and is it always the main character? In this case, how about Charity Carpenter from the Dresden Files.  (Love you Waldo, but you have a (INSER COPYRIGHT) as you’re a (INSERT SPOILER) now. Don’t freak. I’m not saying he’s NOT a hero. But he was already rewarded as one, so I don’t have to defend him.)  Charity though, she’s fascinating to look at under this light.

Sacrifice: I’m in the Navy, and I’m a coward. I chose to avoid a certain problem rather than ever face it. But let someone you love put himself or herself in danger time and time again. It’s harder than ACTUALLY putting yourself in danger. (Any of my service members want to argue?) She gives up her husband for years, and THEN has to let her daughter go. She also sacrifices the VERY power that would make her able to fight, and she lets this power go to be a mom.

Courage: I’m going to double tap this. Facing danger, easy. Letting those you love PUT themselves in danger? Nope. I can’t do that. I’d rather take on the entire magical world by myself with a slingshot and a prayer (no offense to that guy who fought a giant) than let someone I love come anywhere near danger.

Loyalty: Where Xander is loyal to a fault, Charity’s loyalty shines despite her wishes. She lets Harry in her life (and those of her children) because of Michael. In point of fact, she, though begrudgingly, allows Harry to remain in that family despite every reason to turn him away. THEN she agrees to watch over his child. Loyalty isn’t always shown by being there when your needed. Sometimes loyalty is putting up with a person you’d rather not just because someone you cared about asks you to. This is where Charity shines. No, she doesn’t exactly like it, and that much is obvious, but she still does it.

What do you all think? Do I have too many qualifications? Not enough? What would you add?  What would you let go? Feel free to comment below. Or, offer other characters (I left a bajillion out).

Thanks for reading,

Matt

The Bad Guys: The Different Types of Villains

The Bad Guys: The Different Types of Villains

vader-2023850_960_720I was jumping around the Blogverse (if that’s not already a common term I’m trademarking it) and found J.R. Handley’s blog about Villains.  That got me to thinking about the “types” of villains.

This isn’t to be confused with conflict, which Quintessential Editor covered so well in this blog. Villains are a source of conflict, but I’m talking specifically about the different types of villains you see in stories.

I did some jumping around and found this blog from Word Hunter and this blog from Ongoing Worlds blog.

Both have a lot of great information, and they break villains down to a very fine degree.

However, I tend to like things kept simple. Things can be broken down into micro-categories, and one should work to do so. But where the above blogs give you the micro, I thought I’d attempt to offer the major categories of villains. The distinctions I give them are out of my own mind, but may overlap. My goal is to create a smaller list of “broad” terms to describe whatever villain you might be creating. That list can be broken down into either of the lists I mentioned above.

So here we go:

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    This image and all others are copyright free from Pixabay.

    The deity villain:  This isn’t a post about religion. That said, this type of villain deals with any deity be they good, bad, or man-like (the Greek gods were very petty). Any “god-like” or “devil” like character would fall under this category.

This villain has what seems to be absolute power. This villain rarely acts directly. He/she has agents who do his/her bidding. The final conflict between the hero and deity villain don’t always end in direct conflict, but they can.

Stories from this point of view often have a “helper” deity. This usually gives the hero (if he isn’t a god or demigod himself) the required power to delete this evil, thus preventing Deus Ex Machina. Now, some stories have many different villains (the Greek gods were dastardly in some regards, but they weren’t the “main” opponents, just meddlers that made life more complicated for hero and villain alike).  But stories that focus on this villain as a source of conflict are go-to Scifi and Fantasy villains.

Case Study: The Mistborn Trilogy (1st era).  I was going to analyze this more deeply, but it’s just a great series, and if you haven’t read it, I don’t want to spoil it for you. This trilogy meets all the criteria I mentioned above.

Case Study: Lord of the Rings. As I mentioned above, the hero and deity villain don’t have to face off directly.

2)  joker-1822273_960_720The inversive villain:  I did a blog about symbiotic villains recently.  These guys all fall under that category. The sole requirement in this type of villain is that the villain is the equal opposite of the hero.  I did plenty of case studies for this in the blog I just mentioned, but I do want to elaborate a point.

It doesn’t matter how powerful or weak the character is. What matters is the qualities the hero shares are manipulated and skewed through the perception of the villain. Some inversive villains are equally as powerful as the hero, while others are comparatively weaker. This depends on how much the hero’s “power” defines him. Whatever defines the hero also defines the villain, it is the stance on the issue or the application of those defining traits that make the conflict between these villains and their heroes so compelling.

william-shakespeare-67765_960_7203) The betrayed villain: A point of emphasis. Here, the point is betrayal is the nature of this villain. It doesn’t matter if it’s the villain who betrayed or was betrayed. If the cause of this characters negative actions are a direct result of a foreseen “slight” you have a betrayed villain.  Betrayal is a key theme in this conflict and to this character. This villain rises due to a wedge driven between he and the hero. They were friends or family at some point.  Don’t be tempted to throw Magneto in this. Magneto and Charles still care about each other. Neither feels betrayed and they, in fact, often protect each other from perceived “greater” threats. No, Magneto belongs in the inversive villain category.

Case Study:  Iago (my favorite villain of all time).  Iago felt betrayed. The reason for his actions revolve around a promotion he felt he deserved but was instead slighted.    He was able to pull off his plan because of the trust he still feigned through the play.

This is a common theme in this sort of villain. , but it isn’t mandated. In fact, sometimes a   betrayed villain is born, and the hero knowingly creates him. The point is, this villain’s motivation and reason for dastardly deeds is based on a sense of betrayal. I thought about this topic a long time, and couldn’t readily think of a “main” villain of this type in Fantasy or Science Fiction.  So if anyone here more well read than I am knows of a scifi/fantasy villain who falls in this category, please say so in the comments below.

monster-571215_960_7204) The pure evil villain: These are the guys my generation grew up loving to hate. These villains are very common in cartoons. Pick an 80’s cartoon, look at the villain. These guys are falling out of style these days because their motivations are harder to believe. These are the guys who simply exist to be bad. They have no motivation nor cause for their evil deeds. Any villain who is bad, but there’s no identifiable cause of that evil falls into this category.

I’m not so against this type of villain, but my editor and many bloggers talk about them, and most say these types of villains are unsatisfying. That doesn’t stop Hollywood from cranking out villains who fall under this category, but there’s a reason for that. TV and Movie fans have a lesser expectation of depth. Unless you’re sitting down for a 30-minute cartoon, the viewer doesn’t tend to care “why” the villain is doing what he’s doing. To shift your villains out of this category, give him a motivation the reader can identify. I’m personally NOT going to make it a requirement that the reader empathize, but some would argue the requirement. I absolutely agree the reader/viewer must understand a character’s motivation to be promoted out to this category, but I don’t think the reader has to agree or empathize with it.

5) light-saber-1542459_960_720The cause villain: If all you do is give your “pure” evil villain a “cause” this is what you’d get. Here is a villain who has a “reason” for what he’s doing, but that reason can vary. It doesn’t matter here if the reader agrees with the cause. What matters is the reader understands it.

Case Study:  Grand Admiral Thrawn from Star Wars. He wanted order in the Galaxy. He did some awful stuff to see that order delivered, but he did it.  For fans of the series, I have a question you can debate in the comments below.

I was going to create a new category for the power-hungry villain, (which might be where Palpatine goes) but it doesn’t matter that the cause is “more power.” If the villain has a cause, he’s a cause villain.  This is the villain whose primary motivation is the accumulation of (or of more) power.  That means this is where those evil emperors/kings fall under too.  He’d be pretty easy to get a long with if the world would just do what he says and give him what he wants.  You may argue Palpatine goes here, but I’m less convinced. Yes, he wants to rule the galaxy, and that might be the point that wins the argument for you, but did he develop that want for a reason? This is what creates the power-hungry villain subcategory of a cause villain from a power-hungry villain. If the villain’s cause is more power, you’ll see this (specific) version of a cause villain.

Case Study: Sylar from Heroes. His whole purpose is the accumulation of abilities. He still has a cause, but that cause is specifically related to power. Yes, Palpatine and Sylar are cause villains, but their motivations might differ. I’m not wholly bought in on the idea that Palpatine simply wanted “more power.” I’d be very interested to see a debate on the subject in the comments below.

So there it is.  I’m pretty confident I could set any villain in one of the five categories above. The subcategories (power-hungry being so important I felt I had to at least address it) are more about plot and conflict than the motivation for the characters.  Do you have a villain I can’t throw in one of these categories? If so, what category would you give them? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Strong Female Characters

Strong Female Characters
kid-matt
I’m thinking I was six. Yes, that’s me in the center. Those three are only a few (a FEW) of my sisters.

As I write this, I’m stricken by a loss the world suffered. I won’t discuss it other than to mention the role that women can play in stories. I was basically raised in a house full of women. I had a few brothers that stayed with me on occasion, but the ratio in my house was always at least 2:1.

My mom raised me by herself for five years, and during those five years, I wasn’t very helpful to her. Because I know how strong the women in my life are, I look for female characters who are strong. There are different types of strength, and I’ll get to those, but for me, I hate any story that portrays a woman as anything other than a character who happens to be female. (For the record, I feel this way about religion, color, and ethnicity as well. Stories about race issues or religious issues are important, I’ll even write a few.) There’s a difference between a book about (in this case) women’s issues and a book that simply thinks women need men to exist.

There’s the Bechdel Test. But this only ensures the women have something to talk about. It’s a good test to put your characters through to prevent the issue I’m discussing, but I have a different challenge.

Develop your character. Determine everything you want to determine, then flip a coin to determine gender. Gender has a role in character. Men react differently in certain situations than women, but I’ve found that some stereotypes are mitigated when gender was determined after archetype and function in a story.

There are some amazing female characters in the world.  Some that come to mind right away:

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This image is used for critique an analysis purposes as are other images featuring these characters.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Who I may want to argue is the greatest female character of all time).

Egwene al’Vere from The Wheel of Time

Vin from Mistborn (Who may give Buffy a run for her money, but I’d still argue Buffy would win…okay…I’ll have to post a blog about that in the future).
Lessa from Dragonriders of Pern.

I could go on, but I just wanted to throw out a few things to consider.

The Bechdel Test has its limits both good and bad. Imagine a book about a woman who’s an assassin. She goes through the whole book killing bad guys and just being awesome. I’d probably love this book, but it fails the Bechdel test. There’s not even a second woman for the first to talk to.

My adaptation to this is that if you have women (or a woman) in the story, make them characters. You’ll never make everyone happy, but the first thing to do to ensure you have (we’ll call them) non-weak women in your story is to give them a role in said story.

The Next step is then to give them strength.  Now, all of the above characters are extremes.  They’re LITERALLY strong women. They could kill people, but that’s not the only type of strength.  It is one way. And if you’re working on an action fantasy story, ask yourself, “Is the only reason this character isn’t a girl because I’m a guy?” But if you’re writing science fiction and there isn’t a “magic system” of sorts, don’t worry. Other ways to make those characters strong exist.

The Mentor Archetype:  I’ve recently given Supergirl a second chance. I’m glad I did. That show’s pilot was still one of the worst I’ve ever seen, and I have issues with some of the on-the-nose “cause” plots. But I submit to you this:

The strongest female character in that show is Cat Grant.

MyriadSupergirl (Kara) has all these powers, but notice how heavily she relies on every other character in the show (particularly Cat) to move forward in the plot. In fact, the only time she’s “strong” is when she’s fighting. (Yes, that’s a pretty mean thing to say, but I watched the first season, and that’s true).  Now, Kara has her moments. She finds out who’s responsible for a certain death, and that scene is amazingly strong. She’s not weak, I’m just saying Cat is far stronger as a character.

Cat is who the women on that show want to be. Cat is who everyone turns to for advice. Cat is the one who gets people moving. They still deal with a lot of issues, but they’re issues that are unique to her character, not her gender.

Writers, it’s fine to make women “super” but that doesn’t actually make them strong. Strength, in my opinion, isn’t a measure of power. Power, is a measurement of physical capability. It’s my opinion that strength is demonstrated when one’s power is lacking, but one finds a way to succeed regardless. So don’t think “give them superpowers” is the answer. Instead, give them a role in the plot that isn’t “love interest.”

Cat is the mentor in this scenario.

Other non-super, but still strong, female characters include:

Kay Scarpetta

Cindy Thomas (from The Women’s Murder Club series)

Karrin Murphy (A great character study in and of herself)

Stormy Llewellyn (from Odd Thomas)

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Stock photos from Pixabay

My point is that character should be strong regardless of their attributes. I’ve posted blogs about developing characters and evaluating their progress. In light of recent events though I felt this post might be particularly effective. No, I didn’t mention that character or the woman who played her. She, quite frankly, requires no mention. She altered generations.

 

 

Thanks for reading,

V/R
Matt