The Pitiable Antagonist

Gollum. The Phantom of the Opera. Draco Malfoy. Severus Snape.

What do all of these have in common? They’re all antagonists, of course.

And, probably, we have another emotion associated with them besides hate.

Sometimes, we love to hate the villain (Umbridge, anyone?). If they’re evil enough, we might love being terrified. Occasionally, we might even decide we love them, in a weird sort of way (Moriarty!!!). But it is rarer to pity the villain. Why?

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Well, first off, pitiable villains (or antagonists) aren’t right for every story. Certain stories may require certain sorts of villains, depending on the plot and the themes present. I’m going to skip giving you an explanation and assume you can decide for yourself what kind of villain you need. Let’s say you want to create a villain your readers will develop a certain empathy for…

1. Backstory. Please don’t make this a clichéd backstory; we don’t need another villain who is incapable of love because of some dark event from his past. (That is to say, it’s not wrong to write a backstory like that, I just think it would be neat if you were more creative.)

snape2Backstory is key, because that’s usually what makes us pity the villain in the first place. Think how much our attitude changed toward the Phantom once we learned what happened to him. And Snape. I actually hated Snape for the first 6 ¾ books. And even when Harry learned his whole backstory, I still didn’t like him… but there was an empathy present that I had never had for him before.

2. Empathy is different than pity. I know I sometimes use the words interchangeably, but honestly they’re different. Empathy is being able to understand another person, to feel their emotions even. Pity is feeling sorry for someone. A lot of times, the two go hand-in-hand.

But when it comes to villains, empathy is usually already present (or should be). We need to be able to empathize in at least some way with the villain, even if we don’t agree with him or approve of his moral choices. We don’t have to love him, we don’t even have to pity him. But give the villain something the readers will identify with; it can even be something as small as being addicted to bacon (because isn’t everyone addicted to bacon, deep down?).

Pity, when directed toward the villain, plays a completely different role than empathy. Pity unlocks something in our hearts that allows us to feel compassion for someone whom we thought was unlovable. Of course, everyone experiences emotions differently, but I think that’s what generally happens.

For example, Gollum. I wouldn’t necessarily call him a villain, but he’s definitely not a loyal sidekick either. He lies and deceives, and even goes so far as to try to get Frodo killed. Plus, he’s after the Ring, which is never good news no matter who you are. But Gollum is also a very tortured character, twisted and demented by his lust for the Ring. He was not so different from a Hobbit once, and the Sméagol side of him still longs for the way things used to be.

3. Make sure pity doesn’t take away the villain’s strengths. Unless that’s the whole point you’re doing it, of course. Every character has a mix of both strengths and weaknesses. It’s really easy to give the villain too much strength and not enough weakness, but pity can sometimes have a way of flipping that around.

For example (and this is a completely unofficial, off-the-record statement) my villain has… certain persons involved with his backstory that have not yet… been revealed. In fact, I haven’t even decided if I want to write it that way or not. But just plotting out my poor villain’s tragic past has made my pity meter start beeping like crazy (actually, I think it exploded once, it was so bad). Unfortunately, if I choose to actually write about said events, I’m going to have to find a way to not completely strip my villain of everything that makes him the depraved, fearsome, epic bad guy that he is.

That’s all the tips I have for you today, but I love villains (especially when they give you the feels), so I might just have to start writing more about them.

Do you have a favorite villain that you pity?

(Or a favorite villain in general?)

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The Truth About Clichés

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about clichés. Writers are told to avoid them like the plague. They are a horribly awful very bad idea. A big no-no. Clichés are a sign of lazy writing, amateur writing, and all sorts of other writing that you’d never want to associate with.

Think of the young, orphaned, teenage protagonist who is secretly the Chosen One but doesn’t know it until an old, bearded, magical, wizard-like mentor tells him.

Think of the Super Evil Bad Guy who has a bazillion evil traits and zero good ones, who’s so evil, there’s no hope of redemption.

Think of love triangles, dark and stormy nights, ancient prophecies that always come true, and my personal favorite, quests for magical artifacts.

By the way, I am definitely guilty of most if not all of the above.

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So if you’re not supposed to use clichés, what are you supposed to do? Well, you’ve heard it before. You have to twist the cliché. Do something unexpected with it. For example, if you just have to have a Chosen One in your story, perhaps you could give your protagonist a big ego about his special status. Or maybe the Chosen One isn’t the protagonist at all.

See, agents and editors hate clichés. Readers notice them, too. They roll their eyes and might even stop reading altogether, and that’s the last thing writers want. The solution? Be original.

But that’s not what I’m aiming for. I want to go deeper. Twisting clichés is fun and entertaining, and will probably improve your writing, but there is a line that you are not allowed to cross.

People are afraid of originality.

Let me say that again, just to make sure it sinks in:

People are afraid of originality.

We live in a culture that is addicted to comfort, and can’t handle the unfamiliar. We all have our comfort zones, and we are perfectly happy staying inside them. And yet, we get tired of the same old, same old. If we still read books at all, we are absolutely terrified of anything original. Clichés are familiar, something we know. They’re tried and true, they’re safe. Comfortable. Boring, even. So when authors twist clichés, it’s a win-win. The book still holds that hint of familiarity, and yet it’s something different, something fresh.

But when the author does something completely original – well, that’s when people aren’t sure what to think. Even agents and editors shy away. That’s why J. K. Rowling got twelve rejections before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published. Sure, there are probably lots of clichés in the Harry Potter franchise, but it’s just that no one had done anything quite like that before. No one knew what to think. And now, twenty years later, millions of other authors have been inspired by her books.

But being original – really original – is hard work to begin with. Even if you do manage to create something amazing, you’ll have to deal with rejections and general disinterest. And I shouldn’t even mention the workload. Tolkien spent years writing The Lord of the Rings. Twelve, to be approximate. And that was just one story. Before that, he wrote The Hobbit, and before that, he was developing the language and lore of Middle-earth.

In conclusion, I highly discourage it. Don’t be original. It’s way too much work. It won’t pay off right away, if ever. Stay in your comfort zone, keep your readers in theirs, and everyone will be okay. Twist those clichés, insert plot twist or two, but don’t go crazy with your originality. Stay safe. No one wants that idea that doesn’t quite fit in with anything else.

Okay. Let me say what I came here to say.

Be brave, dear writer. Pursue things that no author has pursued before. Step out of your comfort zone. Leave behind the familiar. Write about things that scare you, terrify you even. Write about things that make you sad. Write until your tears stain your notebook. Write to embark on a journey of discovery. Write a real, honest story, not the watered-down version that people like. And when you’ve finished, take another step, perhaps the hardest step of all. Let other people read it. It will take them outside of their comfort zones, yes. But that’s good. Let them embark on this journey of discovery, too.

And don’t give up. Giving up will be the easiest path, I can guarantee you that. You may fail. But you can get up again. You can keep trying. You may get ten rejections, you may get a hundred. But you can keep writing. If it’s a story that tugs at your heart and won’t let go, God put it there in front of you for a reason, and you had better keep writing it.

What are some of your favorite (or least favorite) clichés?

What authors have inspired you?

#NaNoPrep: The Do’s and Don’ts of NaNoWriMo

I hate lists of do’s and don’t’s. In fact, I hate writing rules in general. So it seemed logical for me to type up a list of rules about what to do and what not to do during NaNoWriMo.

Actually, I had a lot of fun writing this. Every item on this list is something I’ve learned from personal experience. If you’re considering participating in NaNoWriMo this year (especially if it’s your first time), it might be just what you need.

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

DO look at your schedule sometime before the first of November, and make sure you have enough time to get writing done. Note any holidays, etc., when you won’t have as much time on your hands. Be sure to be practical when making time to write… if your brain doesn’t begin functioning until lunchtime (like mine, ahem), then getting up early to give yourself time to write is NOT a good idea.

DON’T try to do it on your own. In other words, don’t just assign 50,000 words to yourself as a personal, private challenge. Last year I considered doing this because I was afraid to officially commit to it. Luckily, one of my friends encouraged me otherwise. Make yourself an account on the official NaNoWriMo website. It is much more motivating. Even if you don’t win, you’ll get some pretty awesome prizes.

DO spend time with your family. It’s important. And when you do, try to talk about something other than the novel you’re working on.

DON’T stay up late to write on a school night. (I have to put this here to encourage responsible behavior. Whether or not you actually take my advice is up to you.)

DO make time to spend with God. This should be #1 on the list. It should be your first priority, the most important thing on your schedule (even during the other eleven months of the year). He is your sovereign Creator, and he deserves your worship. Consider asking Him how to let whatever you’re writing glorify Him. After all, whatever you do should be done for His glory.

DON’T obsess over word-count goals. If you’re constantly checking your word count while you write, you won’t be as productive. Did you know that Microsoft Word has a feature that enables you to turn off your word count?

DO make sure you know what you’re writing before November hits (that’s why October is NaNo Prep Month – unless you’re a die-hard pantser), but:

DON’T wait for inspiration to strike every day. It won’t. Sometimes (okay, probably twenty-eight out of the thirty days), you’ll just have to sit down and make yourself start writing. It’s painful sometimes, because even as you’re writing them, the words sound like squeaky chalk on a chalkboard. Write them anyway. You’ll fix them later.

DO pick up a copy of No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. He walks you through NaNoWriMo, week-by-week, and has a lot of great tips to offer. I checked it out from the library last year and had it for the entire month of November. This year I’m considering buying my own copy.

DON’T forget practical things like eating, sleeping, and exercising. Eating and sleeping are no-brainers, but exercise is just as important. Sitting in front of a computer makes muscles stiff and eyes sore (not to mention wrists and fingers from all that typing).

DO make sure you have your own computer (or notebook, or typewriter, or Morse code machine, or whatever you prefer to write books with). This one seems obvious. But I didn’t have my own laptop until after NaNoWriMo last year, and certain anonymous members of my family got annoyed and thought I was hogging the computer. Which, of course, is impossible to do if you’re writing 50,000 words in a month.

DON’T give your family hourly updates on your word count. Trust me on this one.

DO make sure you have enough chocolate to last you through the month. Chocolate is good for pretty much any circumstance you could possibly run across during NaNoWriMo… it’s there to comfort you when the words won’t come, it’s there to celebrate with you when you win, it’s there to melt in your mouth when you cry for your characters and the hardships you’re putting them through.

That’s all the tips I have today, but since NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, I will probably be doing a series of posts similar to this one.

Will you be participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

Do you have any advice to add to the list?

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In Honor of Tolkien

Hi everyone, I’m really sorry I haven’t blogged in a while. Maybe I’ll tell you about my Camp NaNoWriMo adventures sometime, but today I have something special to write about. Apparently there’s this thing going around where lots of bloggers write Tolkien-related posts in honor of the release of The Fellowship of the Ring on July 29, 1954. (I missed the anniversary by a day, but who cares.) Therefore, as a huge fan of Tolkien, I will dedicate this entire post to talking about, and fangirling over, his books.

Favorite Character:

Samwise Gamgee.

If you asked me who my favorite character was, I would not hesitate, not in the least. Sam is my favorite character, hands down, no arguments.

Why?, you ask. Well, first off, I always love the sidekicks for some reason. Sam Gamgee, obviously. Ron Weasley from Harry Potter. John Watson from Sherlock. Even amongst my own characters, I love all the sidekicks the best.

I could give you an exhaustive list of all the reasons I love Sam, but that would just lead into…

Favorite Chapter in the Entire Trilogy:

“The Choices of Master Samwise,” from The Two Towers.

(WARNING: SPOILERS)

If you’ve never read the books, go read them the ending of The Two Towers is quite different from the way its respective movie ended. The book ends in Shelob’s lair, when Sam thinks Frodo is dead, so he takes the Ring with the intent to destroy it himself. (In the movies, we don’t see this part until The Return of the King.)

Anyway, in this chapter, we really get to see Sam’s character come out. He’s in quite the predicament: He’s just traveled across half of Middle-earth with his best friend Frodo, only to be attacked by a gigantic spider when they are so close to the end of their journey. He is devastated because he thinks Frodo is dead, and he is torn between his duty to his friend and his duty to Middle-earth. The last thing he wants to do is take the Ring and destroy it himself. He longs to go back home to the Shire. He can’t bear to leave his friend alone in this dark place. But he knows he can’t stay with Frodo; otherwise the enemy would find them both and take the Ring. His heart longs for vengeance against Gollum for deceiving them and bringing them here in the first place. But he knows that wouldn’t be worth it.

I love seeing Sam’s internal struggle here. Deep down, he knows the answer, but he has to wrestle with it first. Eventually he sees that the fate of Middle-earth rests in his hands and that it is his solemn duty to finish what Frodo started. This passage is the reason Sam is my favorite character in the first place.

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Things I Wish Were in the Movies:

(MORE SPOILERS)

-Tom Bombadil and that whole part about the Barrow-downs

I know Tom Bombadil was a pretty ridiculous character who added almost nothing to the plot, but I liked him. I think there were some things which he said and did that were important. And the Barrow-downs, which also added nothing to the plot, were pretty creepy. They were kind of a part of the whole Tom Bombadil subplot, too. I think it would have been fun to see.

-Éowyn and Faramir’s romance

The movies did mention it, but it was infinitely better in the books. The reader sees them get to know each other, and their love grows as the story goes on. It also offers more closure for both of the characters. It’s one of my favorite parts.

-Arwen

Um… Talia? Arwen is already in the movies… duh!

Exactly my point. She was much different in the books. Now don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with the movie’s version of Arwen. It’s just that she plays a lot bigger part than she did in the books. Like I said, I have no problem with it. It just bothers me a little bit.

Favorite Quotes:

I’m limiting this to book quotes. Otherwise we’ll all be here all day. Also, I’m only going to mention my personal favorite quotes, which does not include the really famous ones that everybody knows and loves.

“You can trust us to stick with you, through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.”

-Merry

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.”

-Gandalf

“I am Aragorn son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will.”

-Aragorn

“The Shadow that bred them [the orcs] can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. I don’t think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them.”

-Frodo

That’s all I have for now, aside from the fact that Tolkien has been an inspiration to fantasy authors everywhere, including me. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you in the comments about anything and everything Tolkien-related.

Do you have a favorite character? A favorite scene or chapter? Or any other Tolkien-related comments?

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Fear (and an exciting book announcement)

I must admit, I was a little scared to post this. Fear is almost always a part of the writing process. What-ifs are a very common form of writing-related fear: “What if I fail?” “What if no one likes it?” “What if I don’t meet my deadline?”

I’ve asked myself all of these questions before. I’m afraid of failure. I’m afraid I won’t ever finish this beautiful story I love. I’m afraid that when I finally do finish it, no one will like it. I’m afraid of letting myself down, but I am also afraid of letting everyone else down. I’m afraid they will compare me to so many better authors, like I compare myself to my favorite authors. I’m afraid I won’t meet my goal before my self-imposed deadline (especially during NaNoWriMo).

There are three main reasons why I am writing this post: 1) to (hopefully) give myself motivation to actually finish editing my book,  2) to attempt to push past some of my fears of rejection, and 3) because I am so very excited to finally and (in)formally announce this book. I wish I could say it is getting published, but I’m not quite there yet. I hope to publish it one day. That’s my goal, anyway. So now I’m going to tell you about it.

I’m secretly afraid no one will like it.

But here we go.

*deep breath*

The Title: Twelve

The Plot (I apologize, for I have not had much practice writing synopses): 

For years, Roland has been searching for the rest of the Artifacts. He already has one of them, ever since a strange old man gave it to him and told him to seek out the rest. But someone – Pravus is what he calls himself – is out to settle a personal grudge with Roland, and claim all the Artifacts for himself.

One night, while being pursued, Roland stumbles across a woman who has been attacked, only to discover that she shares his goals. They escape their pursuers together and then set out to locate the rest of the Artifacts.

As it turns out, there are in fact twelve Artifacts, each belonging to a separate person. Once they are together, the twelve set out on a quest that is as ancient as Time itself. All they have to guide them is one riddle, and the knowledge that Pravus will stop at nothing to find them. But every step they take seems to take them closer to Pravus. No one can be trusted, because Pravus is obviously getting his information from somewhere… and it very well could be one of them.

The Characters (I will not introduce all twelve; only my favorites):

I would share some pictures from my Pinterest boards (because each character has their own separate board), but I’m not sure how legal that is. I would have to download all the images from it that I wanted to use, and sometimes I just get really paranoid about copyright laws. Instead, I’ll give you the links to each character’s board. The things I’ve pinned will hopefully help you get an idea of the character’s personality. Please forgive any minor spoilers, but there won’t be any major ones.

Roland (main character):  Roland is… honestly, hard to describe. He’s a very complex character, as two sides of him are constantly dueling one another. He refuses to explain this to anyone else. Although he is the “leader” of the quest, he does not possess many leadership skills. Or social skills, really. Aside from these flaws, he is very adventurous. Here is a link to Roland’s Pinterest board.

Shea: Originally I had aimed to base Shea off of Sherlock Holmes. Somehow, in the writing process, this didn’t happen, and instead she is now somewhat based off of myself. She is quiet and observant, and always has something on her mind. She keeps many of her thoughts to herself, but likes to figure things out – solving riddles, translating unknown languages… you get the picture. Here is a link to Shea’s Pinterest board.

Kirk: Kirk is definitely one of my favorite characters I have ever written. He is an ESTP, which is about as opposite from me as you can get. (I’m not sure if it’s exactly opposite, but almost.) He is openly rebellious, sarcastic, and conceited. None of the other characters like him, but he serves as the comic relief for the reader. Here is a link to Kirk’s Pinterest board.

George: The last character I am going to share is George. I love him almost as much as I love Kirk. George is there to make sure everyone behaves themselves, and to ensure that logic is always being considered. He and Kirk are foils of each other. (If you don’t know what a foil is, it’s a character who possesses opposite traits of another character, in order to highlight the other character’s traits.) George is calm and diplomatic, and serves as a secondary leader next to Roland. Here is a link to George’s Pinterest board.

And finally, some excerpts:

(I made fancy graphics for these!)

“Fine,” he said, much more softly this time. “I suppose if your little secret is more important to yo

How about a memorable quote? I’ve always thought of this one as the “inspiring Gandalf quote” of my book. It doesn’t sound nearly as awesome out of the context of the story, though, so just keep that in mind.

Courage,

And here is the last excerpt I will share today:

another exerpt

 

Confession: I actually edited this one a bit before I posted it. And please excuse that run-on sentence at the end.

That’s it for today, folks! I hope you enjoyed everything I shared. Please note that anything I said is subject to change, because I am still in the revision process.

Are you working on a book or a story you would like to share? What do you do to combat writing-related fears?

The Role of Humor in Books

Fred and George. Mrs. Bennett. Pippin and Merry. The Thenardiers. Jar Jar Binks. The Dowager Countess. Everyone loves them. Who are they? They’re the comic relief characters, of course. Oftentimes they come in pairs – this is known as the comic relief duo.

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Photo and artwork copyright 2017 by Talia Prewette.

Humor plays an important part in all stories, whether the story itself is a comedy or a tragedy, a drama or a thriller, a mystery or a romance, fantasy or science fiction… you get the picture. If you haven’t noticed, today is April Fool’s Day, a day which is traditionally remembered for playing pranks on people. It is the day of humor, and, coincidentally, it is also the Weasley twins’ birthday, which is pretty cool if you ask me.

Comedy and humor serve their own purpose, and that is making people laugh. Laughing relieves stress and anxiety, which is why comic relief moments often come at none-too-happy times. I would definitely like to point you to Les Miserables as an example of this. Spoiler alert: everybody dies. I always cry through the whole thing. The Thenardiers (you know, the people who “adopted” Cosette and own an inn but always pickpocket their customers) are the comic relief. Now, in the book, I would definitely not call them that. I don’t know why, but for some reason they’re more like villains. (You can find my post on villains here.)

I’ve used this technique (humor to lighten a serious moment) in some of my own writings. Sorry, I won’t be giving away any spoilers, but in the book which I am currently editing, there is a particularly… tragic… moment, and one character says the wrong thing at the wrong time. He’s know by the other characters for constantly being offensively sarcastic. So he says something at an inappropriate time and gets punched in the face for it. It’s awesome. I greatly enjoyed writing it.

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I just really like the Weasley twins, okay?

Of course, comic relief is not the only way humor is used. There is an entire genre dedicated to humor: the comedy genre (one of my dad’s favorites!). Comedies are exactly what they sound like – the entire story is funny. It’s not just sprinkled here and there with a few good laughs, but the entire thing serves as one big joke.

One of my favorite comedy movies is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I don’t know if it is technically classified as a comedy, but it definitely could be. If you’ve never watched it, it’s about two dumb highschoolers from the 1980’s who go time traveling. They bring a bunch of famous historical figures back with them, so you can imagine the comedic disaster that follows.

Even in the Bible, there are comic relief moments of sorts. My favorite such passage is Luke 20: 1-8:

One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Jesus does stuff like this all the time, and it’s awesome! The Pharisees just don’t like him at all, and they are constantly trying to trap him in his words and teachings. And then, much to their great disappointment, he always turns around and traps them.

So what is the main purpose of humor? Mostly, it’s just there to make people laugh. Psychologically speaking, if someone laughs about something, they will associate whatever they were doing with that emotion. Even if it’s something as tragic as Les Miserables, they will still remember those few comic relief moments. In addition, I have found that laughter really does relieve anxiety – sometimes almost instantly. Sometimes, you just really need a good laugh.

What is your favorite comedy book or movie? Do you have a favorite comic relief character?

 

Evil: Villains and How They’re Presented

Hi guys! Whose life is super busy right now? Mine is. That’s why I haven’t been able to post anything for… yikes, a long time. ANYWAY, I finally have this month’s Monthly Theme planned out. This month’s them is Evil, and I’ll tell you why.

Next month is Easter. So, next month I’m going to do the theme of redemption. But in order to understand it, you have to see what we’re being redeemed from. Thus, this month I’ll be looking at evil. Plus, I’ve wanted to write a post on villains for a while. So here we go.

There are so many villains out there… Lord Voldemort, Darth Vader, Prince Humperdinck, Professor Moriarty, Inspector Javert, the White Witch, Agent Smith, Loki… (apparently lots of them have titles in front of their names… except for Loki.) There are also some stories with multiple villains. Like, I don’t know… maybe something like LORD OF THE RINGS?! You’ve got Sauron, Sméagol, Saruman, Gríma Wormtongue, the Orcs, the Uruk-hai, the Witch King of Angmar, plus the rest of the Nazgûl, and if you want to consider the entire history of Middle-earth, you’ve also got Morgoth, (confession: I have never read The Silmarillion, so when I read it, I will give you the list of all the villains), not to mention Balrogs, giant spiders, fickle wood-elves, goblins, unfriendly residents of Laketown, Azog and Bolg, and last but not least, Smaug. (Come on, you should know by now that I can never pass up an opportunity to mention Benedict Cumberbatch.)

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aw look, it’s cute little smaug

I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked writing villains. Let me define what I mean when I say “villain,” because I have very specific criteria that all my villains have to meet…

  1. They have to be male. I don’t know why, but I just can’t see myself writing a female villain. I have nothing whatsoever against female villains, and lots of my favorite stories have female villains. It’s just that I don’t like writing them.
  2. They have to be evil. There are all different types of villains out there, and different ones work for different genres. For some stories, the villain may not be evil at all, like Biff from Back to the Future. In other stories, the villain may be the personification of evil itself… like Voldemort. For me, I always have to have the Voldemort type in my stories.
  3. I’ve always read that the villain should have a backstory that defines who he is, and that he should have some sort of motivation to oppose the hero or whatever he’s trying to do. In other words, he shouldn’t just be evil for no reason at all. Maybe you know that he wants to take over the universe but you don’t know why. (I’m guilty.) And… this is always a problem I have. I NEVER know why my villain is the way he is. But, a couple weeks ago, I figured out his entire backstory and now I’m SUPER excited about it!! No, I will not be giving you any spoilers.

Anyway, I’ve always liked writing my very specific villains. But there is more to evil than villains, just as there is more to good than heroes. The villain and the hero are mere representations of very real things in this world. I once wrote an essay for school on the nature of good and evil. It’t too long to recount here, but in it, I emphasized that the entire world has fallen short of perfection. We are all sinners; therefore, we are all evil. All sin is evil in God’s eyes. All of us have given into temptation; all of us have chosen to follow another god besides the Creator of life; all of us have chosen sin over righteousness; all of us have been born into this sin nature; and all of us will die like this. Everyone in this world is a sinner; therefore everyone is destined for eternal punishment. There is no hope for us. Evil rules our lives and there is no escape from its bondage. We are, and always will be, slaves.

Unless a Savior comes to redeem us.

Unless our Creator himself comes to pay for our salvation.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

There should be a sort of desperation when we realize how evil we truly are. When we realize that this evil has been holding us captive ever since Adam and Eve sinned long ago in the Garden of Eden.

star-wars-1204193_640I think villains are meant to portray this. Bad guys are there to provide conflict for the story, yes, but there is also something more. What happens if the villain wins? Hmm? Think of your favorite story. Now ask yourself, what would have happened if the villain had won?

I don’t know, it depends on the story. Sauron would have ruled Middle-earth and everyone would have been his slaves. Voldemort probably would have killed everyone and taken over the wizarding world. If Biff had gotten his way, Marty’s life – and the entire space-time continuum – would have been ruined forever. If Prince Humperdinck had won, Westley would be dead and Buttercup would have been doomed to a horrible life of misery. And if the White Witch had won… never mind. Don’t even get me started on Narnia. There is sooooo much symbolism in the story, I don’t even know where to begin. Needless to say, all of Narnia would have perished in fire and water, borrowing her own words.

Do you see that? That’s desperation. Most people classify the things listed above as “stakes.” In any good story (and this applies to most genres), there are high stakes. The hero has to win. It is this fact that forces the hero to fight against the evil. We instinctively know that evil is not natural, that it was never meant to be. And when it threatens to become the highest power, we know we have to fight it until there is nothing left in us to fight with.

Villains are people who represent the very real presence of evil in our world. They are a sort of twisted reality – they are a nature contrary to what was meant to be in the beginning of time.

That’s all I have for now. I don’t know if this post will end up having more parts to it or not, but rest assured that I do have a couple of things planned for the month of April, and they are very compelling issues, so I will be forced to write them. I’ll probably have a ten-part series next month, knowing me, but I guess we’ll have to see.

Do you have a favorite villain? Why do you like them specifically? What would have happened if they had won?

An Analysis of a Story

Today I’m going to talk about what makes a good story. No, I’m not going to discuss the roles of the protagonist/antagonist; I’m not going to talk about a good plot, setting the stakes, introducing conflict, or what makes a compelling character arc; I’m not going to talk about how to create a truly magical fantasy world. All of these things are valuable to a story and are worth knowing, but today I’m going to talk about something called… well, I don’t actually know what it’s called.

What makes a story stick with a reader?

(Don’t get this confused with what makes a reader stick with a story. Today we’re flipping that and looking at it the other way around.)

What is it about some stories that stick with us forever, while other stories we forget about within a week, even though it was wonderfully written and kept our attention? What common element can be found in all timeless stories, stories that will never be forgotten, ever?

Like The Lord of the Rings. It’s one of my personal favorites, and I think it is definitely classified as a timeless story. In fact, this example works out perfectly, because Sam Gamgee (who is the best character in the entire saga and no you may not argue with me) actually tells us about, in his opinion, what makes the best stories:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something…. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

He said this to Frodo in The Two Towers, and he is completely right on every point he made. And he stumbled across that element that should be in all stories if you want them to stick with the reader forever.

Readers want to see characters who fight until the end, even though it looks bleak and impossible. Even though evil will win for sure. Readers want to see characters fight for what they believe anyway. They want to see characters hold on to what little good is left. And of course, good wins in the end. Because these characters fought, even though they had lots of chances to turn back and give up, even if tragedy struck or the darkness ruled, the characters fought and they won.

Readers want to see the timeless truths that are written on their hearts. Everyone, regardless of their religion or worldview, knows instinctively about the constant battle between good and evil. Everyone, whether or not they have ever heard the good news of the Gospel, has an internal longing for redemption. Redemption from anything that holds them captive. And all the best stories illustrate this.

We are a fallen race. We know we are lost. We long to be redeemed. And because of this universal need that drives us, the great stories stay in our minds. If a story depicts an epic display of selfless love, or a dramatic rescue, it will affect us. If we are Christians, the story will especially resonate with us because we know about the saving grace of God. If we are not Christians, the story will leave us thinking about greater things, things that are beyond us, wonderful things we cannot even begin to imagine. And it will still resonate with us because we know that there must be some truth in it somewhere.

And we know that achieving redemption is never easy. There is always a struggle, always a fight. Usually there is a sacrifice. The Harry Potter series is another wonderful example. Regardless of whether or not it was intended, there are countless redemptive messages within that series. The darkness keeps pressing in, evil is overtaking everything, and yet there is a glimmer of hope. There is still the promise of redemption. And the characters had lots of chances to give up. But they never did. They kept fighting until the end, despite tragedy, death, and the general feeling of hopelessness. And they won.

See, all the good stories have that element! A fall from grace and perfection, the long fight against evil, and finally one savior who redeems them all and defeats the evil. This is the Gospel. Sometimes at the end of the story we even get a little glimpse of the end of the end – where everything will be made right again. In The Return of the King, in the very last chapter, we see this. Frodo sails away to the Grey Havens, which is a place where there is no evil and no pain. That part always makes me cry because it’s just so good.

Whether we realize it or not, the Gospel is written on the hearts of humanity. We know the struggle between good and evil is real, and we know we need a savior. Sadly, many of us do not have a personal relationship with the one true Savior: Jesus Christ. And yet, these stories still resonate with us. And maybe, one of them will strike a chord within us and leave us wanting more – and maybe we’ll be led to the Savior.

If you take any great story – any story that has stuck with you from the first time you’ve read it – and you analyze it, I guarantee you will find a story of redemption.

I’ve shared my favorite stories with you, but what are some of yours? Which stories have stuck with you? What was it about them that drew you in so much? I’d love to hear from you!