Last week I turned in my first chapters of DbC 5 into writer’s group. It was a bit of a hot mess, like first submissions often are, but it was a sufficiently entertaining hot mess. I’m happy with the response. We will push forward.

Friday I spent about three and a half hours in a car so that I could spend two hours doing RPG panels at SaltCon. It was fun. Their panel track is still in its infancy, so attendance was light. I think the administrator worried about that, but I’ve been doing this too long to worry about stuff like that. I’ve done 7 pm Valentine’s Evening panels before. You make do.

After that came recovery and a fair number of pain pills. On Sunday if finally burned out on Blood Bowl II, which means that It’s time I get DbC 3 in hand. I don’t have an actual deadline on this one, nor do I have a huge pile of first draft notes to enter, so my goal is just to work on it an hour or more each night. It will take a little more restructuring than the second draft did. I want to cut about ten percent from the beginning, but we’ll hit that at a good, solid pace and once I’m past that and they leave on their mission, the book should fly by.

I didn’t want to just talk about news this time and this week’s events don’t present a natural theme, so I thought I’d borrow the theme from CQ’s monthly topic: Villains.

A common problem we see in movies is that the villain is more interesting in than the hero. This is a bit easier to pull off in movies than in the written word, I believe, because of the lack of POV writing. Cracked has pointed it out several times, at least on their podcast. The reason the villain is so interesting in movies is that his motivation doesn’t need to be well-reasoned. In many movies, if not most, if you actually examine things from the villain’s side, things fall apart very quickly.

But in a novel, we tend to have large portions from the villain’s POV. Their motivations and their plans need to hold together better than in a movie, and because of that, the villains in books fall flat a lot more often than in films. In movies they can be visually flamboyant and over the top. In a book, they have to make sense, and they are often petty and cruel, psychologically damaged, and rife with unlikeable traits that are unpleasant to experience from their point of view.

I think my view on villains was shaped by doing too much Shakespeare in college. I know it crystalized when watching The Rock with a friend with whom I’d done said Shakespeare. This friend pointed out that the movie was so compelling because we wanted Ed Harris’s character to win as much as we wanted the heroes to win, just like in most Shakespeare plays. I realized at that point that I’d been doing the same thing in my own writing.

Usually, I do one of two things with the villain. Either I give them a noble goal and a believable reason they don’t believe they can achieve it through noble means, or I put them in a much more evil organization and make them the underdog, so that the reader begins to root for them (because we always root for the underdog). It’s not uncommon for me to receive notes early in a book where new readers express distress as two characters move toward an inevitable clash and the reader is upset that either of them will die.

This is, of course, exactly the response I’m going for. That tension adds all sorts of drama to story, and how it will play out in the end will keep a reader on the edge of their seat throughout good portions of a book. It can also make them hate you, of course. Use it with caution.

Of course, this takes you back to the problem you have in movies: making your hero interesting enough to face off against your villain. That is harder. Heroes can be as boring as bag of doorknobs.

Generic, industrial doorknobs. The bag is nothing special either.