Villains: A Twisted Love Story

Villains. Most stories don’t make sense without them. They are needed to propel a story forward, by giving our hero someone to confront. Nothing will make your hero look even more heroic than a worthy opponent. Therefore, villains are quite important. And they need to be written well in order to give your story the grit that it deserves.

That is why motivation is a very key ingredient when creating a villain. Many times, writers will put in a lot of effort into creating their main characters or even their side characters, but they’ll come up short on the villain. Villains, while they are the bad guys, they still need to be more than just being bad – they need a motivation for being bad. 

So, what makes a good villain? Well, the easiest way to begin building your villain is to understand that villains are ordinary people who have experienced complicated pasts. And personally, what better motivation than love? Think about it – the stories that we enjoy most, the ones that resonate with us most, are the ones rooted in love. Love can be a very powerful motivator, not just for your hero, but also for your villain. While a hero’s motivation of love for a family member, a significant other, or a civilization usually yields good results, a villain’s has the opposite effects. But if you think about it, the best villains are the ones with relatable backstories that serve as motivation for their evil-doing. And who is more relatable than someone who is laying everything out on the line for someone or something that they deeply care about?

While you’re writing your story, be sure to pay special attention to your villain and give them a backstory that is relatable. Perhaps something along the lines of a twisted love. 

The Good Short Story Tips and Tricks: Hook and Pacing

DSP typically plans and produces six to twelve anthologies a year with a short story word count ranging from 5k to 15k words. Technically, there is no sole right way to write a short story, but there are a lot of wrong ways. However, we’ll focus on a couple of methods used to entice your reader and get them hooked on your story for the next twenty to forty pages.

Let’s assume you know the components for proper characterization, tension, theme, POV, etc. For a good short story, you only need to place heavy emphasis on two aspects of your story; a good hook and your scenes moving at a face pace toward the climax.

The Hook

The hook is the opening line or scene to ensnare your reader. It’s a statement that makes them develop an interest in your story right off the bat. For a short story, you want them vested in your tale from the very beginning because you don’t have a lot of words to develop your character or theme. There are several easy ways to write a hook that will have your reader jump into your story; in media res, mystery, and disturbing.

In medias res means, “in the middle of the action”. Instead of starting out those teenagers having sex by the lake and then getting killed one-by-one by the psychopath in a hockey mask, you start the story with one of them running for his life while being chased by the psychopath. In my story, Malicyne’s Puzzle, the hook took place with a battle between a pirate ship and a naval frigate. Thela’s Angel started with poor Thela getting beaten to a pulp by her husband in the inn. Daughter of Darkness starts the story with the holy knight, Rhain, landing a killing blow through a demon lord’s heart in the temple of night elves dedicated to the worship of the Tri-Headed Queen.

Mystery is a very common mechanism. You start out with a profound statement or an enigma for your story. In my book, Fallen From the Stars, it opens with the following:

“Come with me.”

A gunshot rang out, followed by a woman’s scream and the world turned to utter darkness. That’s all I can remember.

Was the main character shot? What happened? Who said, “Come with me?” Readers don’t find out until Chapter 12 Bad Memories, but in a short story, you reveal the mystery of the hook usually at the climax or at the end.

Disturbing is a less common one but is great for grimdark fantasy, horror, or something in which you’re going for shock value. It makes your reader shout, “WTF did I just read?!?” and then they are compelled to read on just to figure out why you wrote that. The Disturbing method will typically contain triggers (again, for shock value).

A word of warning about using the Disturbing method – know your audience. If you’re a fantasy writer who typically writes YA epic fantasy and you want to try your hand at grimdark fantasy, your loyal fans are in for a rude awakening. Secondly, a lot of publishers have a “no graphic [anything]” rule (or rules on certain triggers in general), so don’t violate submission guidelines by writing something that will make people wonder if you’re sane or turn your editor off to you.

Pacing

After you’ve written your hook, all your scenes following should be paced as if racing toward the climax. You’re not walking or building up to the climax, you’re running to it. A perfect example of how you should pace your story is by watching the promo trailer for Dragon Age: Origins. Here’s the link (Warning: Violence and Blood):

What did you see here if this was a story? An intrepid band of adventurers on a quest in monster-infested mountains filled with ice, snow, and death. There is the brief pause by the main character, a weapon is thrown from the ice and then boom, we are running through the action building up to the climax of the sorceress Morrigan casting a powerful lightning bolt that lays low the dragon. Did you note how fast the action moved and how it flowed from one character to the next? This is how your short story should flow from one scene to the next, and then building up to the climactic battle with the dragon at the end.

Master this and you’ll sweep your reader up for an intense ride with only a few thousand words.

Happy writing!

Nip the Naysayers

It is hard enough being a writer, sending your writing out only to receive rejection letters. But what about those around you who are critical of your passion for a career that pays little, but calls to your soul? I get criticism too. Often people tell me they see it as a hobby. It is not a hobby to me. It is my life. They don’t see it that way no matter what I tell them. I want to share some tips on how to ignore them, keep writing, and maintain your sanity.

A rejection letter is harsh. When your aunt or employment counselor chides you for not becoming a lawyer or an executive, it’s even harder. They make you grind your teeth at night and develop headaches because you feel like quitting writing just so they would be quiet. Well, take heart.

Writing, like the arts, doesn’t get much love from those who don’t see it the way we would like them too. From their perspective, it’s a dalliance, a hobby–or worse–a waste of time. To those of us who are serious, getting published in magazines or books is life or death. We love seeing our byline in a publication and are bit by the itch to get the next byline or the next publishing contract. We perfect our query letters and synopses to the best of our ability.

If you do sense you are under attack, perhaps telling people you are busy writing and closing the door to your writing studio will do the trick. Be assertive, but not overly upset and they should get the hint. We can’t change them. It is a sad fact of life, but we can change the way we respond to them. It’s not fair, but life is not fair.

Another great way to get naysayers off your back? I can think of two. One, you put honest effort in… and you are, right? Two, they see you succeeding at it. Then they will look forward to seeing your next published book or that article in the magazine you were dreaming of seeing yourself published in.

Never take the chiding or ridicule seriously. Maybe they are secretly jealous of you, seeing you reading your draft of your writing project, looking like you are not spending your time more responsibly and wishing they had the time to do what you are doing. It’s them, not you. Treat this the way you would if you got a rejection letter. File it away and keep writing. Keep writing because you are not writing for them; you are writing for you, the editors, your readers.

That’s what matters. Own it and be responsible for it. Getting angry is giving them another reason to harass you for not following your heart and work instead on an oil rig- -anything that makes “actual money!” See it from their perspective. If you follow all these suggestions, you may persuade them to see yours. They may even offer help or suggestions.

Good luck!

 

The Great Debate: FanFic

Fan Fiction. Where do you stand on the big debate? I am personally neutral on the matter, as I see the arguments to both sides, but I’m still curious. How do other writers feel about fan fiction?

By its very definition, fan fiction, or fanfic, is a written genre where canonical elements such as characters, settings, plot lines, or specific scenes from already published works are then used to create new fiction. Given this piggybacking nature of the genre, the whole concept of fanfic has stirred a great debate amongst authors, publishers, and readers as to whether or not fanfic is blatant plagiarism or a form of inspiration on which to build new work? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

On one side of the debate, there are those who are absolutely against it. And perhaps one of the biggest arguments against fanfic is that many see it as plagiarism. Most people who argue against allowing fanfic to be a thing, see it a direct rip-off of work that has already been published. There are plenty of authors, such as George R. R. Martin, who greatly despise fanfic. And I’m sure we can all see that argument, why write about someone else’s characters when you can just create your own? 

Another argument against fanfic is that it’s all just sexualized trash based off different ships. For anyone who may have forayed into a fandom to check out some fanfic, you know what I’m talking about. If you were to google Harry Potterfanfic right now, I guarantee you that 90% of it will be Harry getting it on with Ron, Harry and Hermione, Draco and Hermione, or Harry and Draco. Either way, a lot of fanfic does seem to go the way of the ships – whether they make sense or not (Adam Taurus and Blake Belladonna anyone?).

But there is a counter argument in favor of fanfic. Mostly, some people see it as a stepping stone to other, more authentic works of fiction. The best example of this in our modern day is 50 Shades of Grey. What started off as Twilightfanfic ended up taking on a life of its own. And regardless of how you feel about the series, there is no denying the massive success it experienced once the characters morphed into Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.

With that in mind, there are plenty of fanfic writers who would argue that its simply an exercise in aspiring writers to practice their development of original writing. Writers all have to start somewhere, so by using fanfic as a sort of memetic exercise, one could argue that fanfic writing allows aspiring writers the chance to better understand how to construct a work of fiction, by essentially rearranging a favorite work of theirs. This time of response shows fanfic in a more approachable light as it establishes writing not as the focus of a perfect, finished product, but rather as a process. 

So, with that in mind, the great debate continues. What do you guys as both writers and readers think? Are you in favor of fanfic? Are you against it? Or are you like me and pretty neutral on the whole thing? 

The Power of Persistence

Ask anyone who knows me, and they will all agree about a quality I am famous for: my persistence. Any writer worth his or her salt should be persistent. I want to talk about persistence in this post.

It takes a lot of guts to be a writer and send your writing into the world. But when you do, you risk receiving rejections. Yes, the dreaded rejection slip that comes in the mailbox or via email makes a writer’s heart sink deeper than the Titanic. It takes a lot to escape the downward spiral of depression post rejection.

But in order to succeed, you must overcome the fear of rejection and learn how to conquer it to get an acceptance letter. I have more than a few rejection letters of my own. I have not wallpapered my walls with them, but I do receive them. I just file them away and I keep sending writing out. I have a tough thick skin too. Rejection letters are no fun. They make you feel like your efforts were unappreciated, like the quality of your writing was poor but that is not true.

Some writer bitterly commented to me once about the x number of rejection letters he got compared to me. Ah but I keep trying. I am like that bad coin or song that plays over and over in your head. I don’t quite go away.

I got good advice from a friend and very published author: He told me I was looking at it all wrong. I would like to share his advice with you. Editors need a story to fit in a slot in a publication. They need x number of stories to fill a book. So next time you are rejected, and maybe if you are lucky, the rejection letters get more personal, file it away and keep trying. Never take it personally.

Also, trust in yourself. You are the master of your words, the creator of fantastical worlds never seen before. Trust that you can not only survive rejection but that you will eventually gain that coveted acceptance letter. You are the master of your fate. I keep a record of everywhere I send my writing, every anthology, every magazine. Once you have a long list of places you send your writing to, you can reflect on all the times you tried. That alone is something to celebrate. It is better, much better than giving up.

I hope that soothes the sting. That is a great way to perceive rejection. Another tip to keep in mind is to keep the rejection letters that were encouraging you to submit again. Keep a tally of those letters from editors. Maybe your next story or article is good enough to fill a slot in a publication. You will never know until you try.

I waited a year for an editor to decide if he/ she wanted to publish my story. I withdrew it when they didn’t reply by a certain date. I sent it out again to HellBound Books, who are publishing it this spring. See? If I had given up in utter despondence, I would have missed out on that opportunity.

Be brave enough to persist. Always strive to improve the quality of your writing. Nothing is more powerful than persistence. Persistence is an admirable quality in a person. I hope you all found this post about persistence helpful.