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Villains Scenes Sans Heroes (guest post)

[My hands are shot, so Dither stepped in at the eleventh hour to help me out. I requested him to cover one of his favourite topics.]

I love villains!

I like to meditate on narrative design, and something about villain scenes has been bothering me for some years: the scenes of villains being demonstrably villainous in the presence of, … no main cast members. It seems to go against good storytelling practices. Yet, these scenes worked. Why?

The first scene that comes to mind is Vader’s conference with the Moffs from A New Hope. As a kid, this was easily one of the most boring scenes to me because I didn’t understand why Vader Force-choked the rude engineer guy. Sure, he called Vader a sorcerer, but then Vader demonstrates his magic by tickling the man’s Adam’s apple. That came out wrong.

I didn’t understand until I was an adult the “senate” that was “dissolved,” and that the conference was about how the Emperor was consolidating political power. The scene is still kind of boring now, but at least I know what’s going on – moreover, it helped me to realize the scene was helping to establish something about the setting itself… it’s an expository scene: featuring Darth Vader.

The second scene, and the far more recent example, is Voldemort’s execution of Charity Burbage at the beginning of Deathly Hallows. Unlike the attacks that Harry witnessed as a result of his connection to Voldemort, this scene seemed like a mistake in my view – either because we shouldn’t see something the main characters can’t see, or because it betrays the fact Snape is one of the good guys.

Something else is going on though, and that’s exposition: in the scene we find out that Voldemort is disappearing people and going about his “New Wizard Order” business. It’s important to note that what is going on isn’t important because it’s from the point of view of the antagonist (or any of the villains), it’s a specific method of delivering exposition.

As a writer, you must be careful about what you show the audience. You don’t want to show the villain being evil for evil’s sake. You risk alienating your audience with arbitrariness, or worse, making the villain more sympathetic or likeable than the protagonist – as is often the case with cartoon villains prior to oh, the 90s. It’s the logical (unfortunate) extreme of “Villains Act, Heroes React.”

If you create a scene in which the villains appear independently of the heroes, remember that you’re writing an expository scene – whatever happens, the purpose of the scene is to deliver to the reader information about the setting or situation (which can be seen as similar to, or as an extension of, the setting itself). It isn’t about characterizing the villain, at least not primarily.

Here’s the thing though: exposition is frequently viewed as boring to the modern audience, and scenes featuring villains doing stuff are often a welcome change of pace. In fact, showing the villains doing stuff can be way better than just having someone tell the heroes that the villains have done Bad Things – it’s part of that whole “show don’t tell” thing we hear all the time about storytelling.

Moreover, using a villain as a vehicle of exposition gives you the opportunity to inject character into the exposition: and you should take that opportunity. If you need the hero galvanized to action by the heinous arson/murder/jaywalking of the villain, then make sure you show the interesting or unique method by which your villain does so: maybe he jaywalks to polka?

It might sound like I’m contradicting myself, telling you to do something that I just told you not to, but you should be used to getting contradictory advice about writing: the point isn’t that there are hard and fast rules to storytelling – but more you should be aware of what you’re doing when you tell a story. “If you’re going to do this thing, but don’t do it like that.”

Villain Scenes Sans Heroes can work when they inject character and perspective into what might otherwise be dry exposition. You don’t have to use them, and oftentimes they might not actually lend anything to the work: and yet, they can be an effective tool in the right story. For example, if you need to introduce your antagonist in Act 1 but the hero doesn’t meet him until Act 3.

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Write Positive

ecstatic

Listening to: 하드캐리 Hard Carry – GOT7

The other day, I read an article… I don’t even remember what it was about now. I want to say it was about being productive as a writer, but it could also have been about managing chronic pain. They’re kind of the same thing.

There was a list of suggestions/tips, but the only one I remember was Be Positive. It’s so true, but I forget it. I’ve always had this curse of being too negative–I’m way worse in life than I think I’ve ever been on my blog. And I know it’s not a good thing. Is that ironic? I don’t know, it’s like in the past, it was this loop and I couldn’t break free.

People who are happy are more productive. They experience less physical pain from certain conditions. I have RA and I know that when I’m happy, active, and productive, my pain level is more manageable. So this isn’t a hum. I know how this works and I’m qualified to judge that it does.

When I read this, I thought about what a good mood I’ve been in. It’s been at least this past week, but it might actually go back to when we started dog-sitting. If this positivity is a side effect of living with pets, I might need to get my own dog.

Anyway, after I read the article, I decided that I wanted to actively pursue a positive mood while writing. I decided to listen to a GOT7 album or watch an M/V every day before I set in to write or edit. Sometimes I write with it in the background.

If something makes you happy, it has value. I feel kind of silly saying that something that unfailingly makes me intensely happy is KPop, but it does.

That song about a dysfunctional relationship makes me happy. It’s the choreography.

It is a joy to watch people move like that. Sometimes when I watch big dance numbers, either in M/Vs or Bollywood movies, I cry. I can barely walk most days, but I love dance.

It was just a joke, but I went ahead and did it. My good mood has persisted. I want this to be who I am all the time.

Editing Sof Ha’olam Smola is going insanely well. It’s a lot of work, but I know what I’m doing. I have invaluable beta feedback. That gave me a direction, and now the biggest thing I’m working on is repairing a weakness I’ve always worried about.

I was up til half past 2 writing a 2156 word note planning revisions. I remember way back in (what, July?) when I was worried about Itamar’s character development and motivations. I’m finally confident that I have it well in hand.

Right now, the MS is flawed. But it’s sort of glorious, because I know what’s wrong with it. I know what’s wrong with it and I know how to fix it. I’ve trimmed 3000 words in tightening the prose and removing superfluous words.

I might actually have this done by November. WHICH WOULD BE PERFECT BECAUSE I HAVE THE BEST IDEA. Seriously excited about this.

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Writing Romantic Scenes at 2AM

giggly

Listening to: Kiss Me Kiss Me – 5 Seconds of Summer

Not a sexy scene, but a romantic one. Gideon is supposed to be thinking about what he likes about Itamar at this point. I tried listing his good points: he’s good-looking, funny, protective (good and bad thing all at once) and they have stuff in common. Itamar reads and he’s nice, even if he is a bit worryingly devious.

Anyway, it’s 2 in the morning and I couldn’t think of anything to write. But stubbornly would not go to bed before Hubby. So I thought, oh just ask him to describe what he likes about me and I could sort of take off from that until I figured out what to write.

I forgot that Hubby uses ALL OF THE WORDS. So he started off on this speech that I’m just too tired to listen to. Probably there was something nice and sweet in there about us having the same values, but then the subject of my possible death came up and he just started ranting about hating stupid people, so I had to interrupt him.

Me: So basically, you love me because I agree with you and I’m not a shithead.

I can’t stop laughing.

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​ Finally got to see the Aquabats!

optimistic

Listening to: Hello, Good Night – The Aquabats!

It’s been a really good few days.

owenandhubby

We took Owen to a Provo Rooftop concert. It isn’t on the roof anymore, which is good because I need a wheelchair for such events. And enough people to found a village attended. :D It was absolutely amazing. Defies description. I have wanted to go to an Aquabats concert for literally years. The fact that I was able to go despite crippling arthritis and social anxiety is life-affirming.

I had to stand on my wheelchair to see, which is the most painful thing that I have ever done to get something I wanted. My feet fell asleep from the pain. I did not know that was possible, but it certainly made it difficult to stand. We got ice cream after the show and the weirdest thing happened: I didn’t want it. It just paled in comparison. Not in a depressing Nothing Will Ever Be As Good As What Just Happened way, but in a gratifying I’m Good, Thanks sort of way.

When we got home, it was about midnight (Provo is only an hour away) and I couldn’t sleep. Remember that incredibly daunting scene I was procrastinating over? I wrote it that night. Just banged it out. Then I couldn’t sleep until 3, just planning the next chapter and playing games and hanging out with myself.

The next day, I had pretty much lost my voice and I couldn’t move to get out of bed. That was kind of awesome too. I just kept listening to Alestorm play Hangover on repeat. I didn’t want to burn myself out on Aquabats, so I haven’t listened to them until today. Also still recovering arthritis-wise. I had to type this on my iPad. ^^;

Anyway, the story continues well. Last night, I was getting frustrated with the pacing, so I tried journaling. I made a time line for the roughly two-week period that covers the next four or five chapters. A lot of important stuff happens, and I realised that when I use up this outline (as in fully convert to actual writing) I will be halfway through the book.

I have such a good rhythm going. I write every day, even if all I have time to do is revise or make notes. The major hurdle right now is the event that will likely mark the halfway point. Certain things have to happen before that, but the bulk of the paranormal elements occur after. I’m paranoid about this getting boring or the romance trying to resolve itself before time. I have a lot of supporting characters who can’t get lost in the shuffle.

First draft. Just gotta keep telling myself that.

The good things don’t stop either. After I finished my outline, the subject of Dune came up. (Hubby and I were up quite late, just talking) I told him (again) that he should read Dune Messiah. That book always makes me think of my amazing summer in Oregon. It’s been six years, but I still go back and read the book-related entries sometimes. Dune Messiah, Everything is Illuminated, and The Sword. Especially The Sword. I bought a copy because I need to read it again.

I’ve ask been watching Paddington again. I have missed that little bear. I’m almost done watching all of the original shorts and today I watched the film with Owen. (Well, he was there for part of it.) I’m such a sap that I cried twice near the end.

I’m so happy right now. I don’t feel like nothing upsetting could touch me. I just feel so blissfully fulfilled and… Content.

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Starveling Cat

sore

Listening to: Castle – Halsey

~*~

City dark was nothing like country dark. In the country, night fell gently, an old boy slipping in the back door after sharing a few drinks with the guys. Cities fought back the night with billboards, street lamps, and every window blazing with rebellion against bedtime. Cities were St. George against the dragon with swords of light.

A nice analogy, but the dragons it refers to are not the darkness. Not the literal darkness, anyway.

I lay stretched out on a park bench, one arm hovering over my eyes. Blocking out the light of the nearest lamp post without obscuring my vision completely. A girl had to sleep with both eyes open in this city.

“Please, don’t hurt me…!”

That sounded like the rest of my analogy. The dragons. I let my eyes roll back as if drawn by gravity. The scene settled into my vision like a card slotting into place in a viewfinder. It was even upside-down.

Continue reading

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Bravery vs Moving On

It is difficult to ask for something that you want.

Especially when you have to ask a person who has a history of saying no to you. It’s even worse if you think about it and realise that they don’t just say no, they also flake off after not saying no, and wincingly weasel away to the effect of a no without having to actually say that excruciatingly hard to blurt out two-letter word.

Not to digress completely, but I have a very hard time with people not directly saying an actual bloody No. There has to be a reasonable balance between Joss Whedon axing his own show thanks to impatience and giving people enough rope to hang you.

The point is, we all have things that we’ve wanted for a long time or used to have but don’t have now. Someone looking for a new D&D group. Anyone trying to find a boyfriend or girlfriend. Following up on a query letter.

Mine is email roleplay. I haven’t done it in forever, but it used to be the most fun thing I did. It was like writing and playing video games and reading a comic book at the same time. I also did all three of those things, so it was awesome. I’ve tried off on and for literal years to get Hubby interested. Some cases are rather stunning failures. I don’t know if it’s better or worse that one of my favourite characters came out of one of them.

We’ve all been playing D&D for a few years, and I’ve actually got (kind of) two different groups right now. So it’s not like I don’t get to roleplay, but it’s different. It is fun–right now I have a lot of characters, and two of them have amusing romances with NPCs. At its most awesome, the roleplaying at the table is like watching a movie and playing a video game. Not… not like writing at all. And not just because I’m not physically writing.

At this point, I don’t know if I should just let go of the idea of ever RPing through a writing medium (email or chat client) again. It always feels like a question of bravery when I want to ask someone about it. Because… not a solitary activity. Honestly, the loss of RP in my life is why I despise MMOs. Solitary things mean I can do them by myself, which means I can do them. Also, the answer is so rarely yes. Being brave enough to ask would be fine if it ever paid off, and it just hasn’t. In years.

Is it time to move on? On the plus side, I could stop having anxiety about being told no or being avoided like we’re smegging teenagers. But then there’s the fact that I would be consigning myself to The Rest of My Life not having something I want. Which is a bit shite.

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Mature Relationships in Fan Fiction

Continuing from yesterday…

All of the fics I read featured adult characters in romantic relationships. And yet, not one of them really acted like an adult in a romantic relationship. There is a great article I read recently that lists nine “signs” that tell you you’re in a mature relationship. Very few of the things on that list even happen in a teen romance.

It seems like the kinds of things that get explored in fan fic romance are high drama (“1. Being your significant other’s partner isn’t hard.”) and low substance. Fluff is fine, but too much can be like eating cotton. Bleh. Take another look at that list–a lot of those signs not being in evidence will tend to be the source of drama conflict for a fic. The same kind of place teen romance gets its drama.

To contrast, I will describe an adult romance with actually adult characters. In Put Up Your Duke, there are both internal and external conflicts. Internal: Isabella has low-ish self esteem and is trying to develop her identity, while Nicholas is a unsure of himself around her and doesn’t know how to work with a partner, let alone a wife. External: Isabella’s abusive parents turn their bad behaviour on her sister after she has married, and the man who lost a title to Nicholas (legitimacy debate) is bitter and trying to get the title back. In their relationship, they fail to communicate occasionally, but that is not the major source of conflict. In fact, they have frank discussions that either prevent or clear up problems that would have a fan fic for any fandom blowing out the drama speakers.

My feelings boil down to this: most fanfic seems based on relationships the way that anime characters portray them. Since the target audience for anime are teens and children, there is a decided skew when the characters are adults. (it also really bugs me when non-Japanese writers apply very Japanese tropes from anime to non-Japanese characters, but that is a topic that I should probably not raise…)

And that is probably where the mischaracterisation starts. Maybe it isn’t all a case of Can’t Write Guys. Some of it could be the age gap. A young writer might think a shy man and a flamboyantly extroverted man would have huge relationship bumps to overcome over the space of years, based solely on those aspects of their personalities. They might miss that Captain America and Iron Man fought over more subtle things than not being the same kind of person, or that Black Widow and the Hulk might have come together over something more complex than We’re Both Broken Birds and tragic purple prose.

Teen romance is fine. But when I want to read fan fiction about fictional grown-ups I love, I would like to see them be grown-ups… unless it’s an AU where they are teenagers. I would probably love that. But only if that’s what it said on the tin and it was what I wanted to read right then. I want to choose it, not click through seven fics and not see one grown-up wearing grown-up pants.

We do not live in a world where a person stops mattering when he or she passes the age of 30. (hell, RDJ is 51, you guys.) People continue to have sex and fall in love after that. And holy crap,they are IMMENSELY more interesting when they do that stuff when they are any age older than 20.