Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Your Villain's Day Job

Hey y'all, it's Faith -- and today I'm ranting about villains.

I’m always frustrated by the villains who wait until the last minute to rise up against the heroes. I mean, by this point, the heroes know your ambition. They’ve learned your strategies and built up a lot of strength. By this point, the actually stand a chance against you. Why wait?? Why not squash them when they’re young and helpless?

Case in point: The White Orc from The Hobbit movie trilogy. (Not the book. The book knew better than to do this.) If you haven’t seen the movie, fair warning: I’m gonna drop a few spoilers. But honestly, they aren’t that hard to see coming.

In the movies, the creatively named White Orc bears a grudge against Thorin Oakenshield for slicing off his arm and defeating his army when he was on the verge of conquering the Mines of Moria. Similarly, Thorin wants revenge on the White Orc for killing his grandfather in front of him during the same battle. Throughout the first and second movies, the White Orc sends incompetent orc bands and inefficient wargs against Thorin and his company, which -- surprise -- fail to kill any of them. Before the first attack, the camera pans to a hill not far from Thorin’s camp -- and the White Orc is right there. Seriously. He can literally see their camp from where he is, and he does nothing. Really? I mean, I’d understand if he was off directing orc armies somewhere, but why is he right there and why is he not attacking them in their sleep? It’s nighttime! At least some of them are sleeping! GAH, White Orc!

Sorry. Had to get that out of my system.

Traditionally, authors and screenwriters excuse this sloppy villain behavior by saying the villain is too proud to underhandedly attack the hero. They want a big showdown with lots of witnesses. (See Voldemort in all of the Harry Potter books.) While this may be true for some villains, it’s not realistic to expect they all behave this way. I think it goes without saying that their real motivation for withholding their wrath is purely plot related. “I can’t kill him! We’re not even thirty chapters in!”

Actually, I would enjoy a villain who constantly broke the fourth wall like that, but that’s beside the point.

So how do we avoid this trope? Obviously, we can’t have our heroes dying before the story even starts. While watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (and ranting about the White Orc), my younger brother cut in with an interesting proposition. “He’s scared,” he said of the White Orc. “He thinks Thorin will beat him.”

The movie never says that, but I think it’s a plausible theory. And it’s an interesting aspect for a villain. What if instead of thinking the hero is too weak to be worth his time, the villain knows his opponent is an actual threat? What if he sends his henchmen not out of pride, but out of fear for his life? But Faith, you might protest, cowardly villains aren’t any fun. The only place for cowardly villains is in cartoons. Well, I would protest that. A cowardly villain will turn the audience against him or her, that’s for sure. Maybe you want that. Or, maybe your villain is just very sensible. Why would you put yourself in personal danger when you have so much resting on you? The whole war effort might hang on your shoulders! You can’t risk your life fighting a bunch of hard-to-kill upstarts!

You know what would also be fun? A protagonist who thinks this way, and keeps stalling going up against the villain because “so much depends on me and frankly I’d rather not die.”

This brings me to another point: Why is it so important that your villain stays alive? Of course, from a personal standpoint, most everyone wants to stay alive. But think about it: your villain is the “boss level” of your story. In all likelihood, he has thousands of minions at his fingertips. How did he get that far? Did he rise to power through charisma and persuasion? Did he kill his way to the top? Was he thrust into power against his will, hero-style?

And now that he’s at the top, how does he stay there? Is there any in-fighting? What sort of conflict is he facing from inside his regime? Does he have to do paperwork? Does he have friends? Enemies (aside from the heroes, of course)?

What I’m trying to get at is this: your villain should not be sitting in his castle (or volcano or lab or something) all day waiting for the heroes to show up. Unless he’s Smaug and didn’t actually know the heroes were coming. Or unless he’s Sauron and is a disembodied eye that literally can’t move. I guess those two have excuses. But the rest of you villains -- no. Be proactive. Watch out for vicious upstarts. And when you have the chance -- KILL THEM. DON’T WAIT. THAT WILL BE YOUR DOOM.

Unless you’re not really a killing sort of dude. In which case, you’re probably more of an anti-villain. And speaking of that, why don’t we see more of those? We have all sorts of anti-heroes; I don’t see why the anti-villains should be cheated.

So what do your villains do all day? If you don’t know, take some time and figure it out. You’ll probably be surprised at how productive this sucker is. Be sure to comment and let me know what you discover!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Before the Internet

First of all, it has been two weeks since we've posted (or rather since I've posted) anything.  Faith was supposed to do this one, but I decided to just write it.  Now on to the post.

I recently acquired a 1955 Remington typewriter, in mint condition.  I've been using it for writing short stories, and I have fallen in love with it.  Of course, my computer-age brain is still getting used to going down to the next line before I hit the margin.  It doesn't do it automatically!  It just stops!  Anyway, it's been a lot of fun getting to see how people wrote essays, reports, thesis, and entire books.  If you messed up a page, you had to start all over again.  I think it would wear on my patience after a while.  

There are some advantages to not being able to edit what you wrote.  First of all, it's very good for rough drafts.  You just blurt everything, and then you can go back later and look at it.  It's all there, and you are free to mark up the page as much as you like.  In fact this typewriter has a double-spaced setting, which I will be using in the future.  Lots of room to write, and no way to delete an entire paragraph.  I mean, you could use white-out, but an entire paragraph?  You might as well just start a fresh page.

All this typewriter business has gotten me thinking about writers before the household computer.  In some ways I think they had it better.  Once you wrote something, you wrote it.  It was there, and it wasn't changing.  Now, if you re-type that paragraph or even sentence in your word processor, the original statement is gone forever.  For some of us that might not be a bad thing, but I have had instances where I would have liked some things to come back.  

Now don't get me wrong, there were plenty of ways to destroy your writing.  In Lucy Maud Montgomery's book Emily's Quest, the main character burns an entire manuscript because a friend of hers told her that it was badly written.  When she finds out later that he was lying, she has no way of getting it back.  Burning was a very popular method for destroying your works before you could hit the delete button, however when we delete a file it goes to a "trash can" in our computer.  When you burn something, it does not come back.  

The last thing that fascinates me, and probably what makes me wonder the most, is that authors which we now revere and read with respect (Fydor Dostoevsky, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jules Verne, Jane Austen, the list goes on and on...) wrote their works entirely by hand.  Well, Tolkien probably used a typewriter, but you get my point.  War and Peace, one of the largest novels known to man, was composed by Leo Tolstoy entirely by hand.  That is 590,000 words, re-written multiple times, and all in Russian (some of it's in French too, so more than one language).  This guy makes modern authors look pathetic.  

When you think about the kind of work that people used to go through to write a story, it makes our world much more encouraging, and causes us to grin and say "if they could do it, so can I".  I know I've thought that to myself.  

Keep writing, on your computer, by hand, or by typewriter, and don't worry if you don't think you're brilliant.  Some things just take time.  Heck, I don't even like my own writing most of the time.

~ Grace Weiser

Monday, July 4, 2016

Make 'Em Laugh!


July means more Camp Nano, and another short story!  This month's category?  Comedy!

Yes, comedy.  My worst nightmare.  That sounded oddly dark, but it wasn't meant to.  It's really hard for me to write funny things on purpose, so I'll be struggling through this challenge and hopefully come up with something that doesn't make people roll their eyes and close the book.  

So what's the first step to writing comedy?  Knowing what kind of comedy you're writing.  There are multiple different types of humor, not all appeal to everyone, and some are easier for certain people to write.  Now that I've said that, I will attempt to define these different forms of comedy in the clearest way I know.  

#1.  Slapstick
This is what most people think of when comedy is mentioned.  Full of puns and funny jokes, banana peels and trap doors, it might be the easiest to write.  If you are looking for a good example of this type of humor, watch any children's cartoon from the 60's or 70's (The Pink Panther comes to mind).  Of course this kind of humor has to be perfectly timed or you're left with everyone giving you funny looks.  If you have one character acting as comic relief, this is a good style to grant this punny soul, especially if you're focusing on the lighter side of comedy.  When you're describing slapstick, keep the vocabulary short.  This humor might have a knack to it, but you don't need to swallow a dictionary.  Unless, you know, that one character likes long words but can't pronounce them properly.  In which case, charge ahead.  

#2.  Deadpan
This form is also known as "dry" humor, and is a personal favorite of mine.  I find it fairly easy to write, and it usually manages to at least make me smile.  Deadpan is probably most recognizable as sarcasm, which when done well can be hilarious, but when done badly can be extremely mean and hurtful.  That being said, be careful how far you take your sarcastic character.  Another way to portray deadpan is to describe something unusual or funny in a totally normal and even voice.  This is difficult when writing, as many times your reader has more control over the tone of your character's voice than you do, but it is possible to pull off.  I have found that long words tend to add to the flavor of this form of humor, making it rather the opposite of slapstick in that regard.  Deadpan is certainly not for everyone, and there are people who are not as skilled at recognizing it even in everyday life.  They may read your story and not find anything particularly funny, or they may take sarcasm as a compliment (all the better for them I suppose).  Don't feel let down, just go find another reader.

#3.  Satire
Satire is difficult to master, but extremely effective once you have.  In a brief definition, satire is taking a serious and well-known point or problem and representing it in a ridiculous or belittling light.  Gulliver's Travels by Johnathan Swift is a perfect example of satire.  His Lilliputians represent the English Whigs and Tories, only they divide themselves with low heels on their shoes or higher heels.  We would regard low and high heels as insignificant details, and certainly nothing to start a war over, but that is exactly the point that Swift was trying to make.  Do not watch a cartoon of this story to learn about satire, as there is none whatsoever in any version I've seen.  Read the actual book.  Satire also takes the form of exaggeration and sarcasm.  Again, Johnathan Swift.  In 1729, he published A Modest Proposal, an essay discussing a solution for poor parents who cannot feed themselves or their children.  You can read it for yourself online through Project Gutenberg, but be warned, it is extremely morbid.  Satire, like deadpan, can be taken seriously in the wrong hands.  Unlike the other forms of comedy, however, it is not so much a hilarious read as it is an eye-opening one.  

#4.  Dark Comedy
Often using deadpan in it's presentation, dark comedy is the morbid side of humor, and when done well can either be revolting or relieving.  Joss Whedon, directer of Marvel's Avengers series, sums this one up perfectly: "Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke."  Now this joke doesn't have to be complicated or precarious, it can be as simple as a man asking for a slice of pizza before he's executed, or Iron Man wondering if everyone wants to go to Shawarma after he's been scared back to life by a giant green gamma monster.  One of the things I like about dark comedy is the way that you feel relief after reading it.  He might be a gargantuan, hideous, space monster, but hey boys, he looks a lot like Alex when he needs a Snickers!  Dark comedy lifts a weight off your shoulders, but in a slightly twisted way.  

#5.  Surreal Comedy
Surreal comedy is a form of humor that doesn't try to make any sense at all, and only exists to make us laugh.  This is not slapstick, as slapstick can have quite a lot of sense in it.  Surreal comedy is totally random, and has no rhyme or reason behind it.  For example, this:

Another good example would be the entire Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams.  This is a lot of fun to write, because anything can happen at any time, and for any reason or no reason.  

I hope my definitions and explanations have helped.  If I have missed a form of comedy or haven't been clear on one of them, let me know in the comments.  Have fun writing your funny stories!

Oh and for a funny 4th of July pick-me-up: