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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A Proper Fangirl’s Guide to The 49th Mystic

I am SO VERY EXCITED FOR THIS POST. Seriously. I would say Ted Dekker was my favorite author, except I’ve already given that title to J.R.R. Tolkien.

But, if you’re a huge Ted Dekker fan like I am, I’m willing to bet you’ve read his latest book and LOVED it. Dekker did a lot of interviews/video series about it, and in almost every one of them, he claimed that The 49th Mystic is the culmination of his entire career. As an author, I kind of brushed his statement off… because every book I’ve ever written has felt like the culmination of my career.

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But he was right. The 49th Mystic is truly something special. It’s not like his other books. But then again, it is. It reminds me of some of his older stuff, like the Circle Trilogy. It’s part epic fantasy, part thriller, part theological disquisition. And plus, the villain is pretty sweet. Like Marsuvees. ❤ ❤ ❤

(Why on earth did I put a bunch of little hearts next to Marsuvees’s name?!)

For the sake of everyone who has not yet read the book, this is going to be a spoiler-free post. However, I highly encourage you to stop reading this post right now and go read the book first. But in case you need a little extra encouragement, I’m going to give you 6,781 reasons that you should read it:

  • It’s reminiscent of the Paradise Trilogy. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that it takes place in a small, sequestered town. We get glimpses of another world… there’s some magical books somewhere… and did I mention the super-fancy, super-evil, super-good-looking, super-amazing villain who shows up out of nowhere and starts taking over everything?
  • The way it ties into everything else. Dekker is a master of weaving different series together. You can read them independently, but it’s so much more fun if you read them all, because then you get the full picture! Also, The 49th Mystic made some connections that I wasn’t expecting. If you’d like, it might be interesting to read The 49th Mystic, Green, and Immanuel’s Veins all at the same time. No spoilers. Just sayin’, it’s a good idea.
  • It’s the long-awaited continuation of the Circle Series. Okay, kind of. The subtitle is “Beyond the Circle.” And let me tell you, it is EPIC.
  • The villain. Oh wait, I’ve already mentioned him. Moving on…
  • The characters. The main character is nice and all, but I like the side characters the best. I usually do, actually. Not to mention the villain. And there were some pretty awesome side characters here. No spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.
  • The sheer epic-ness of it all. Dude, it’s a seriously amazing book! And the theme… the way the theme plays out, all the deep theological points, definitely awesome.

Yes, that was in fact 6,781 reasons. I counted them myself.

About the only thing I didn’t like about the book was that you have to wait until October 2 for the sequel. Two. More. Long. Months. To go. (And The 49th Mystic came out in May, so back then it was even longer.)

You know, I think it’d be fun to start an official fandom for Ted Dekker. There used to be one. They used to have an annual Gathering (no joke). But now? There are no memes, no fanart, no fanfiction, no cool merchandise. If you can find any of it, it’s a very rare treasure indeed.

But you know what? None of that matters. Great books don’t exist to have the loyal following of avid (and frankly obsessive) fans. No, great books exist to change you, and the truly greatest books point you back to God, to display His glory.

And I can say with confidence that The 49th Mystic will do that.

Have you read The 49th Mystic? What did you think?

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?

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!