winning by losing (row80)

Just a quick update on my novel, and ROW80.

My goal: 250 words/day, 5 days/week.

Thus far,
Monday: 742/250
Tuesday: 389/250
Wednesday: 416/250

It’s a tiny goal, yes, but it makes what I actually do look impressive.

I’ve noticed something about one of my characters. He’s perhaps the most brilliant badass character I’ve ever written. Huge, strong, smart, skilled, good coordination, good reflexes. … And he’s never yet won a fight in this story. I’m starting to think that he’s not going to. (For those of you who’ve seen pieces of my book, yes, I’m talking about Uriel.)

And yet, in each case he comes out ahead. I’m not sure why, or how, or what it is he does to manage this. He escapes at opportune times while pulling switches, lets himself get hit where he’s protected… he even lets himself get gunned down once.

How is it that his escapes, his deflections, his clever tricks and his patient ‘play dead’ schemes earn him more– and more reader admiration– than if he simply was a fighter to match his build? Why is this more effective?

We’ve seen this before. This is the story of the clever tailor who sewed ‘seven in one blow’ on his clothes and began ridding the land of giants. It’s purely a traditional protagonist trait… but my character being something of a noble trickster-villain, it’s taking a very odd turn.

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when the pov character can’t make it

Finishing this last chapter, I ran into a bit of a surprise. My villain is smarter than I’d planned. He has given my hero some false information to keep his attention focused elsewhere, and is trying to solve the problem of the rogue heroine on his own. … Without my pov character being present.

The hero doesn’t get to hear what’s going on, not yet, at least. Important things are going on, and they can’t be ‘filmed’. As pretty much the last obstacle in this book (and I still very much like my plot, even if it’s not to-code, as formulas go), this has been giving me some trouble. Worse, since it’s near the end, there’s no time for another subplot.

So, what do you do?

I came up with a few ideas to work around this, and I thought that I’d share.

Timeskip. Move to a place where the character can hear what’s going on. It might be a little late, in some cases, but there’s very little wrong with throwing a character into a developed situation that they’re not expecting. Shake them up and watch them stumble about a bit. So what if you couldn’t see things developing? Figure out what’s going on as new bombs explode on the poor guy. The downside? It’s hard to keep the character confused without doing the same to your audience.

Plot Device. This one’s a little hacky. Give the hero a spy for whatever reason. I don’t actually like this idea as much as the last, but it will work, especially if you want to carefully control what the character does and doesn’t know.

Rework It. So your hero is shut off? Change the situation– find a reason that they can get there, whether it’s reorganizing how things lay out or tweaking your other characters (in this case, my villain) so that the option of inviting the POV-guy is worth whatever downside.

Figure It Out. In this case, this isn’t an option for me. But in others, this is a nice alternative. Someone says something that reminds the character of something else. Put their ‘aha’ moment far away from the event. Spur them on that way. This isn’t always an option, but if so, you can motivate the character and get the pace increasing.

Just a few thoughts that I had on the situation. Feel free to add your own!

good villains don’t pull punches

Easy to say. Much, much harder to pull off in writing. Why? Because realistically, there’s only so much that can be done to a character before they break. The more realistic the story, the more the reader identifies with the protagonist. The more the reader identifies with the protagonist, the more the events in the story don’t just happen to the characters– they happen to the reader, too.

I’ve toted my love of George Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series before. Why? Because a very well developed character, a beast of a fighter that had been developed painstakingly for three (long) books can win a fight, take an injury in the process, and die of tetanus. There are so many characters in his books that he can realistically kill a huge portion of his cast like that. It heightens your sense of danger for the favorite characters, it takes away the safety net, and the knowledge that some of these characters are not going to survive the next few hundred pages makes the material gripping. Good villains don’t pull punches.

The problem with imitating this style, however, is that stories that aren’t a series of 200k novels have a much smaller cast. You can hurt them, you can kill them, but know that whatever pain and torment they go through… it’s not just going to magically go away. These characters are going to have to last you till the end of the story. And a good villain, a good danger, is going to hurt what it comes across.

I’m about sixty percent of the way through my book. My heroine has already broken her arm twice, and during plotting for future chapters I’ve very nearly decided that I’m going to shatter her knee and kill a side-character that I’m rather fond of. There is no healing magic. She’ll never run again, or walk without her staff. Why? Because there’s a villain with the advantage who is clever enough to find her. Take away his advantage, let her win the struggle immediately, and he’s not much of a villain. On the other hand, give my antagonist what he seeks (answers for her possession of a dead friend’s mask) and he will kill her. Good villains don’t pull punches. There is no ‘before I kill you’ monologue. No last requests. No ‘by the power of sheer will’ victories. No drastic change in skill when it’s convenient for him to lose a fight.

Why do people love a good villain? Because that struggle between the characters, the wavering balance of power, the trade of victories and defeats is what makes the adventure. Without tension, conflict, that sense of danger and concern for losing something precious… there is no story.

villain: tarren kanichende: if the hero

A quick note on Danache linguistics–

The most common letter combinations are ‘ch’ (sh), ‘rr’ (split r), and ‘ii’, which is the same as the short ‘i’ but reserved for the end of words, such as the names Arielii and Remerdii. The letter ‘y’ is one of the most common vowel and changes from a hard to soft pronunciation depending on surrounding letters. ‘Rylan’ is hard (Rye-lan), ‘Wyrren’ is far softer (Were-ren).

Tarren II Kanichende
(tahr-ren kahn-E-shen-day)
“The elevated place.”

I’m thinking through the novel again and imagining how I’d write this book if, without changing any of the events, I tried to make Tarren the hero. If Blue Crystal had been told from his perspective, what would it turn into?

Different, certainly. Tarren has the unfortunate habit of stereotyping the people around him, with the exception of his children (but not his wife). Moreso than them, his closest companions are a pair of pet tigers, Time and Fate.

Things I’ve come up with so far…
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villain: tarren kanichende: introduction

King Tarren II Kanichende de Marla“The first and worst of all frauds is to cheat one’s self. All sin is easy after that.”

King Tarren II Kanichende de Marla

I’ve always had problems with King Kanichende– he makes threats that sometimes he doesn’t keep for some reason, and his drive wavers and falters. I’m not sure if this is a fault on his part, or if I’m trying to keep my protagonists from being killed immediately (short book). I’ll start with what I do know about him.

Tarren adored his little sister.

Arielii Kanichende, the golden princess of Vastii. Beautiful, graceful, popular Arielii, full of dry wit and wry humor. Arielii could make a fool out of anyone, build up or destroy reputations. Arielii had wings, and was so thin that she could glide across the chasm their city was built around and make a show out of it. Tarren had been against her marriage to Chyril Jadis to begin with; he wanted Arielii to stay in the royal city and her marble palaces, not travel over the god-forsaken surface to marry. Arielii left too eagerly, too happy for a chance to see new things, though Tarren would have done anything to bar her (and tried, unsuccessfully– he still thinks that someone had told Arielii of his plans to stop her).

Arielii went to Renideo to her new husband, who lived in a flatter, less glamorous manor amid a series of underground lakes. She wrote to Tarren on occasion, always promising to return to see him, and told him that while the buildings were less than impressive, she loved the swans, which lived across the cavern with the lakes between them and the humans. They were white, but where they lived the algae glowed, and it cast a blue light on their plumage. Blue swans beating their wings against the water, flying over the city, with plenty of room for her to join them. When Tarren became the king, he had his inside men within Renideo start to give him regular reports on his sister. She didn’t seem to be missing him. She had a daughter, a half-wit, which she let the servants raise in hopes of a better child. Several years later she was pregnant again, and that was the last that Tarren heard of her directly.

Tarren’s inside man detailed the facts of her death thus: Arielii had survived the labor and was doing well, while her son had been stillborn. Her husband and half-wit daughter went into the room and were left alone. When they left the room again, Arielii was dead, and the retarded girl stopped speaking entirely. She didn’t say anything again until she was almost ten. Chyril married again, and his next wife also did not live for long. By the time the territory directly south of Chyril’s holding turned hostile, Chyril was on his fourth wife and kept a private harem, but no other children. Wyrren Jadis, Arielii’s daughter, was nearly twenty. Despite the obvious mental ability retardation the girl was reputed to have written a long, detailed thesis on a highly dangerous form of magic, probably ghostwritten by one of her father’s practitioners for the sake of her reputation.

The rebellion of Aiche to the south was almost convenient. Tarren set his inside man to stage the presence of his assassins in Chyril’s castle and demanded his niece pay him a visit– she could have three maids, but no guards of her own, and would be returned after the rebellion, provided that Chyril did not join or come to the aid of Aiche. Chryil agreed, and sent his only child.

Wyrren Jadis de Renideo had her mother’s golden hair, but her face was stiff, immobile. Her eyes didn’t open more than halfway, her mouth hung slightly open, and she never moved her eyes– she turned her entire head when she wanted to look at something, a stiff, ugly mockery of his sister’s features. She came with three maids, one pretty, the other two as ugly as herself, one fat, the other scarred and sallow. She also came with a slave bound in gold, a serious looking red-haired man who wore a sword at each hip and moved like a bodyguard. Her father had set her up with a man as a ‘possession’, to claim him as property to give his daughter her own guard, Tarren was sure. Despite the breech in terms, Tarren was satisfied enough that the girl could be tricked into revealing the details of his sister’s murder.

the role of a villain

A post partially inspired by listening to Tarja (formally of the band ‘Nightwish’– I adore gothic/classical crossovers in music) on the drive home from work yesterday. This month so far has done exactly what I intended it to do, completely re-examining my plot from the antagonist’s perspective. Sometime between the tracks ‘Poison’ and ‘Damned and Divine’ it occurred to me that everything would be better if the ‘romance’ between the villain and the heroine was genuine, not a set up at all, on both sides.

First off, if I do this it would mean that I’m missing a good part of the story focusing on the heroine. I would have to display their relationship as aside while dealing with a bigger problem. I’d have to come up with another plot to thread in with the two I’ve already got going. But it makes the story stronger, it makes the ending even more powerful, and it gives me the chance to really focus on some of the important characters that I’ve neglected.

Villains, I’ve discovered, subscribe to the principal that hate is not the opposite of love; that’s indifference. Give the audience good reason to love your villain, and it’s easier to twist. His betrayal of the protagonists is also his betrayal of the audience.

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Also, I’ll be starting my first weekly ‘Villain Month’ showcase on Saturday, linking to everyone’s projects!

know your enemy (antagonists)

There comes a time when a writer has to stop their story, turn and look at their villain, and admit that they’re phoning it in on the antagonists’ performances. I simply have not given any of my (multiple) villains the treatment that I’ve given my two main heroes. I don’t know what they’re doing while I’m focusing on my heroes. I don’t know their subplots. I don’t know what problems they’ve been going through behind the scenes.

So far I have four villains to counter my two heroes: A king, a lord, a winged bully, and a high-ranking slave. I’ve managed so far, but I just invented the last on the list (Sorche du Remerdii, the man who gave that cheeky line I mentioned here), and in a high-tension scene he feels flat.

Lesson learned: know your villains. I’ve decided that June is going to be ‘Villain Month’. Each week will be dedicated to developing and writing side-stories about one of my villains. That way I’ll be ready for my second rewrite, and I’ll be posting up character exercises, collages, and notes on development. I’ll also be exploring the extent of their power, what they can and can not do to the heroes, and why.

No flat enemies allowed.