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!

The Perfect Way to Write Your Novel

Here it is: the cure-all secret that will revolutionize your writing. Are you ready? Do you want to know the perfect way to write a novel? Alright, here is a step-by-step guide below:

1) WRITE!

Thought I was going to let you off easy? Nope. The whole point of writing is to write. It doesn’t have to be good; it just has to come out on paper. That is what editing is for. The key that you need to focus on is sitting down to that laptop or notebook every day and writing something down. There really is no magical secret to writing a perfect novel. Everyone’s novel is perfect in its own way. The real magic lies in actually starting it so go write!

2) Set Realistic Goals

If you’re struggling to get writing, then setting yourself a goal of 5k words a day is a little unrealistic. In fact, it’ll feel next to impossible because when you sit down to write, you’ll get intimidated and suddenly your shower will be in urgent need of cleaning. And if your shower gets cleaned, then you should do the toilet and the sink while you’re at it. And hey, your living room could probably use a dust, and if you dust, obviously you need to vacuum too. Oh look, it’s bright outside. Why not go for a walk? If you’re going to walk, might as well make it productive and take a walk to the grocery store with the canvas bags because it’s about time you stop killing the environment and start meal prepping. If you’re going to eat healthy, might as well exercise in order to lose that gut so you should sign up to a gym. In fact, let’s take a drive to the gym to test it out? And – NO! JUST STOP! Rather than set unrealistic goals for yourself that will then be met with copious procrastination methods, take a deep breath and settle for something more achievable like 500 words. You can even set yourself a time goal instead, like set aside an hour every morning or evening to get some work done. Either way, start small and then work your way up to bigger goals as the smaller ones start to become second nature.

3) Take a Short Break

This is key. Short breaks are good for keeping your sanity. While it’s fun to immerse yourself into your work, short breaks help to avoid burn out. Rather than trying to schedule an eight-hour writing session on Saturday, try to go for six one-hour sessions spread across the week, and a special two-hour day on the weekend. And throughout those writing sessions try to factor in a quick 10-minute break where you can stretch, make yourself some tea, and just step away from the computer or notebook for a minute. It is also a good idea to give yourself a couple days a month where you just don’t write at all. Instead, go for brunch or binge Netflix. Do something that gives your brain a break from your work. It’ll actually make your work even better when you go back to it with fresh eyes.

4) Don’t Give Up

Inevitably, we will all hit a wall at some point in our story. It might happen early on, it may occur in the middle, or it might even come at the end. Either way, the proverbial writer’s block comes for us all. But the key is how you deal with it. Give yourself no more than 48 hours of a break and then get back to it. Even if after 48 hours you still feel like you’re blocked, power through. It’s better to write utter trash that can later be edited than to sit and wait for the brain fog to clear. Writer’s block is the leading cause for stories to go unfinished. Don’t let it happen to yours.

5) Repeat

This one is pretty simple. If you paid close attention to Step 4, you should have a finished product to show for it. Good job. Once it’s been edited and sent out into the world, you can move on to the next project on the agenda, and that is to repeat the cycle: Write, Be Realistic, Take Short Breaks, and Don’t Give Up. It’s not a magic formula, but in following the simple steps you will feel like you’re creating magic.

Happy Writing!

Finding a Home for Your Story: Advice on Publication

Way back when I was about 22-years-old, I took a poetry class that changed my writing forever. I’m by no means a poet. I barely managed to write any decent poetry during the class. And since leaving the class, I’ve hardly ever written a poem – except for the occasional one that is born out of a purely emotional moment. But my lack of poetry skills isn’t what I took away from that class. It was actually quite the opposite. I walked away from that course as a newly-infused writer full of confidence and a sense of hope. As writers, we should always be filled with a sense of hope as we tell our stories. And we should always be hopeful that our work will find its intended audience.

That is probably the biggest take away that I received from my professor. She often spoke about “finding a home for your writing.” At first, we all thought she was talking about publication and finding the right magazine or journal to accept your work. That’s not remotely what she meant.

She told us a story about a series of poems she had written, which subsequently got rejected from every place she submitted to. Discouraged, she put them away in a file cabinet and forgot about them. Then, one day years later, she was going through the file cabinet and found them again. She was experiencing some personal difficulties at the time and her own words ended up being exactly what she needed to hear in that moment.

“Sometimes, you won’t always reach the broad audience base every writer dreams of,” she said bluntly. “Sometimes you’ll find that what you created will only reach a few people or even just one: yourself.”

The silence after she said those words covered the room in an impenetrable cloud of thought. I scanned the pensive faces of my fellow students as they digested what she’d just said.

Sensing many crushed dreams in that moment, my professor smiled as she added, “But you also have to keep in mind that your work serves a higher purpose. Everything you pour onto the page is intended for someone to read – to provide someone with whatever comfort they need in that moment. It will always find its intended audience so don’t be discouraged by your words. Use them. They will always be hope for someone who needs to read them.”

To this day, I still get chills when I think back to that moment in class. Every writer has a moment when they defined themselves as a writer – and that was mine, at the back of the classroom, quietly absorbing this poet’s wise words. Yes, we all want to be discovered as the next J.K. Rowling and have our stories printed for the masses, but those grandiose dreams are really us getting ahead of ourselves.

The journey to finding a home for our story doesn’t begin at the end of the road with a publishing contract and an advance; it begins with ourselves. We are our story’s first home. We are the ones who need to take comfort in our own words – after all, they live within us. Finding the hope within our writing will have a ripple effect. So far, I’ve had a couple short stories published and each one was the most honest version of the story in my mind that I managed to tell on paper.

See where I’m going with this? When you stop writing for the masses and write for yourself, you will be free to create the purest form of your story – and that version always manages to find its intended audience, whether large or small.

Cardinal Sins in Writing

Amateur writers make a lot of mistakes. After all, writing is a learning process. You should always practice, practice, practice, and get your work edited, but what about during the process itself? What is it you should avoid as much as possible before you send your work out to the beta-readers? There are a lot of cardinal sins in writing. I will go over several here. Chances are if you have one or more of these in your story, your lit agent, or publisher will give your work a pass. In no particular order of importance, they are:

1. Tell, do not show. You tell me someone is angry, happy, or sad. You do not describe the body language to allow myself to make that judgment for myself. You use adverbs out the wazoo. A good rule of thumb, avoid using emotive words altogether. Also, avoid using descriptive dialogue tags when said and ask should suffice.

2. You use Passive Voice. The plane was exploded by a bomb instead of: A bomb exploded the plane. Was, were, had, to be, being, has been, have been, etc. All are passive verbs. Now you don’t have to try to eliminate all your passive verbs, but your action verbs should considerably outnumber your passive verbs.

3. Your Main Character is a Mary Sue / Gary Stu. Your character can do everything. They are smart, beautiful, strong, fast, sexually attractive (I’m talking h-a-w-t), can fight with just any kind of weapon, cast spells, the child of a god, (sigh!) the list goes on. Or maybe, they are not all those things, but you’ve constructed the story so that every challenge your main character faced, they just breezed right through.

4. Your story has no tension. Are the victories and arguments your character faced too easy? No setbacks? No twists? Everyone just goes along with the MC just because they are awesome? Yeah, don’t do this.

5. You pacing is disjointed. You put the climax in the middle of the book and the denouement is the wrap up from there on out. When gearing up for that epic battle, it completely fizzles or worse yet, it’s extraordinarily brief or doesn’t happen at all. Remember, your readers are conditioned to enjoy a completed story of beginning, middle, climax, denouement.

6. You switch POVs. Either choose First or Third Person. There are others, but uncommon and not really used effectively. If you choose First Person, then your story is told through your Main Character(s)’ eyes and by what they know. We don’t have the luxury to get into someone else’s head unless your MC can read minds. Third Person is quite common (and there are different subtypes), but if you switch POV’s from one character to the next, give us a scene break or chapter break so we know we’re hopping around. Second Person or other styles are very rare – use with caution.

7. You info-dump. If you write about the elves’ special coming-of-age ritual, we don’t need to know every single little detail about it unless necessary and especially if you tell it as if I’m sitting in History class. If we don’t need to know it for the story, odds are you didn’t need to tell us. Cut it out.

8. You did not research your story at all (or enough). You have a battle in the early 1800’s and your MC mans a Gatling gun, mowing down enemies. Except that the gun wasn’t invented and put into use until the American Civil War. Make sure you have done all the necessary research related to your story. If you set your story in an era where there is a lot of contention or debate among prominent historians/scientists, your safer bet is to go with the more popular accepted theory.

9. You did not write for the market. You love Twilight. You decide to write a love triangle with a sparkle vampire, a buffed werewolf, and a human girl who needs a boyfriend. Except no publisher wants a Twilight clone. They are done with it. They are also done with Harry Potter, Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Grey,and Game of Thrones. They are sick of the Chosen One trope. All of this is clearly written in their submission guidelines, but you wrote your Twilight story anyways. Was your story good? We won’t know unless you self-publish because that’s your only course of action from here.

In short, finish your story, and get it done. But after that, go through and look for all these areas of perceived weakness. Clean it up. Then gather your beta-readers to let them look for any weaknesses you missed.