Tag Archives: writing advice

Your story may be only as good as your bad guy


I’ve taken several writing classes and one of the things I learned is so true.
And that is, sometimes your story is only as good as the villain (or antagonist in writer’s jargon). In horror stories this seems twice as true. Many a good story has collapsed because the villain, monster, or evil house or creature was feeble and scary as a wet napkin.
And when that happens, the audience and reader feels cheated because they invested so much time into the story.
What makes a good villain? In horror, they should be scary, yes. But he, she or it should also have more than one dimension. They need charisma. They need character. A hint of humanity or melancholy. Villains can also be mirror reflections of the good guys, the protagonists, of course in a bad way. That is, they are everything the good guy is not. In my book “The Weeping Woman” villain Mercedes shares traits with the protagonist, detective Blue Rodriguez. Both had bad childhoods, have paranormal powers, and most importantly, they want to be loved, although their reactions to that need is what separates good from evil.

The devil is always a good villain, but we don’t just want to a red guy with horns and tail. We expect that.
In “Constantine,” I loved the Satan character played by the wonderful Peter Stormare. He was a weird creature in a white suit, which enters, feet first dripping with a black goo as if he stepped right through perdition. He’s funny, evil, and creepy.
A brilliant portrayal of a bad guy was the Red Dragon in the book by Thomas Harris. A madman, yes. A killer, definitely. But interesting because he was an abused boy who turned into a monster. Jame Gumb (AKA Buffalo Bill) in “Silence of the Lambs” also was killer with a hint of sadness. And the king of them all, Hannibal Lector, who was erudite, witty, charming, and a cannibal.

For half of “Psycho,” we felt sympathy for Norman Bates. Annie Wilkes in “Misery” loved Liberace as well as to torture her houseguest.  And Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” talked with seriousness about the brilliance of Huey Lewis and the News and got enraged over people with better business cards.

So we’re talking depth. Villains with depth give our stories more depth, life and dimension.

When writing our antagonist, we should also form an in-depth character sketch—similar to what went into forming the hero. Even a haunted house should have a background. Take Shirley Jackson’s, “The Haunting of Hill House.” This place becomes a full character. Even the fog in “The Fog” has a backstory.

Of course, there will be those who are evil just because they aren’t any other way. Take the alien in the movie of the same name. What made it so damn great was its perfection at being evil and malevolence. And as always, the main story is really about how our protagonists act in the face of such a villain or evil.

So make sure you craft good villains, otherwise they could kill your story as well as the good guys.

For really bad horror pics check out:



How to keep going during NaNoWrimo or anytime


This month, I’m sure many of you are typing away hoping to meet the goal of 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month. And you should be halfway there.
Earlier this month, my writing friend Bonnie Dodge and I gave a presentation at our local library on the annual event, namely how to prepare, good story questions to ask yourself, and how to keep going.
All three are relevent but I want to focus on the last one because I believe it is good advice when you are working on a first draft or even are stuck in a second, third or umpteeth draft.
Here were some of my suggestions:
Write from a different point of view — If you have been writing in the hero’s point of view or voice, try writing in the villan’s or a minor character’s. This will give you and your work another vision. Maybe writing in the villan’s voice will give you a whole new prospective on your antagonist.
Kill your internal editor — This is especially important in a first draft. Don’t go back and fix. Go forward. Nothing will slow you down as returning to your last page to try to make it perfect before you go on. Cliche as it sounds, let the ideas and words flow out of you just like the chocolate fountain at Golden Corral.
Free writing — This is one of my favorites if I get stuck. Just go to Starbucks, a quiet corner of your house or tuck yourself away in the corner of the library and write with lap tap or the good ole fashioned paper and pen. How you feel that day. About the people around you, the smells, and sights. About a memory. Trust me. After an hour of this and you will want to run back to your computer and write again. You probably will even return with new stories.
Don’t stop to do research — Research will slow you down everytime on a first draft. My friend had good advice. Add asterisks in the place where you need research and then, go back later. A search and find will help you locate those places.
Talk to another writer — Call up a writing buddy and bounce ideas off each other. Go have coffee and talk shop. You will feed off each other’s energy. WARNING: don’t get do sucked into communication that you concentrate on writing pages and forums. This is ok for five minutes, but they are terrible suckers of time.
Don’t delete anything, just keep going — Especially on a first draft. Don’t say, “this is not good enough” and get rid of it. You will find that out in the editing phase. Just keep going forward.
For those of you who haven’t tried National Novel Writing Month, you are missing a great opportunity. By the end of November you will have the start of a novel. What an accomplishment.

And as an aside for those of you following my recipes, I just added chicken enchiladas to the recipe page.