“All stories are about wolves. Anything else is sentimental drivel.”
That’s a strong statement—lots of ways to interpret it. I love it because to me, it says that all stories should have a villain. And I agree. How can you have the good without the bad? Where would the tension live? If something has to be overcome, you need a villain to vanquish. And if the plot needs redemption the story needs a villain to redeem. (A Christmas Carol without Ebenezer’s reform? Unthinkable.)
The villain isn’t always a person. It can be an institution,or an illness, or Mother Nature. All those ‘larger issue’ villains work for some magnificent tales, but my favorites are the really awful, mustachet wirling, gloating, cackling, venal bad guys.
Good villains, the kind we love to hate, are never one dimensional tools included just to make the protagonist work hard to overcome something. A well-drawn villain is a fully fleshed out character with attributes, history, and purpose strong enough to motivate and justify the hero’s tribulations. We’re so fully shown who and what Mordred is that his relentles spursuit of King Arthur is entirely credible—and because Arthur is beautifully depicted
—it’s personal to the reader. Now that’s an enthralling story.
Whether redeemable or irredeemable the villain is often the best part of a story. No one can think of Oliver twist without Fagin popping upwith his “…face obscured by a quantity of red hair” as he beats and betrays the children he has enslaved. We don’t forget Oliver, but we don’t dream about him either (or is that a nightmare?). When a character is that memorable it’s because something, if not everything about him, is relatable.
To develop a really badass villain, one whose actions the reader can understand and accept, the character needs some face time. Not as much as the hero certainly, but enough to lay the background for future actions, enough to make him real and fathomable. There is nothing more boring than a serial killer who is seen only through the gruesome details of the killing. If he is complex, as real people are, if he is exceptional in some way that supports an evil bent, then all the more disconcerting—like the jolly neighborhood butcher whose cutlets may not all be beef.
Some of the best villains have sterling personality traits. Perhaps they’re charming, or witty, well mannered and gracious. Traits contradictory to the villain’s actions make those bad actions all the more frightening. Showing the bad guy through contradictory traits is a powerful tool but if you work at it you can spin evil traits to appear benign—until they’re not. That’s chilling.
A well-developed villain written as an authentic character will give any story the spice it needs. Who will your next villain be?
I’m trying to think of something to write about. So far no luck.
I can write about anything I am familiar with, but that would take the fun out of this particular exercise.
This writing will be on something I am not familiar with, so I’ll go to the internet and see if there is something I’m interested in.
Well after looking at the internet for a bit I got bored and started to see what was happening on Face Book. This is where I spent the next hour or so looking at what my friends were doing. Not much, but I still checked out their pictures and stuff.
Oh yeah. I’m supposed to be looking for something to write about. I brought up Word and stared at the curser: nothing happened. I write about ghosts and stuff like that, I know something is supposed to happen. I minimized it and checked on my emails. Nothing interesting there.
Again I maximize Word. The curser just sits there doing nothing. I hoped it would do some writing on its own like in all the paranormal shows. But no, my curser only stays at the beginning of a line.
I minimized Word again. And change over to the internet once more. Nothing there either, but I see I have an unfinished game of match the pictures on Miss Fishers Murder Mystery site. It’s something to pass the time while I try to think of what to write about. After another twenty or thirty games.
I maximized Word again, still nothing.
I’ll go to the living room and watch some television. A good game show followed by a car repair show. I guess then another car show, maybe two.
I have an idea. Maybe since it is October I’ll write something about Halloween. Where at the end of it, the vail between the living and the dead thins.
It is said that ghouls and demons along with other creatures of the night escape from their dimension to walk freely amongst the living. There might be a story there, nah.
I do enjoy sitting on my front steps handing out candy to children wearing their costumes of super heroes and arch nemesis. The kids do not realize that the costumes are a disguise, making them safe from the evil.
I know, throw in some ghosts. I’ll ask Spirit, she’s my muse and hates being called a ghost. If she can’t help me, no one can.
Okay. Now I’m ready to tackle that super short story. Sitting down at the computer again, I maximize Word. But I am greeted by the lonely curser, the only thing on the page. This is getting frustrating. I know that if I wait long enough some ghost or spirit will type a message or at least unintelligible words on the screen. But still no.
I’m getting to the point of helplessness. What can I do to remedy this situation, go back to see what’s on the internet or maybe read a good book for inspiration? It appears that Spirit is not going to help me.
I have run out of ideas. There seems to be only one course to follow. I maximize Word, watch the curser, still staring at me. I folded my arms and stare back at the screen. This is a staring contest I intend to win.
Ralph Hieb grew up in New Jersey. After spending time overseas serving in the military, he returned home to New Jersey. While attending college he met his wife Nancy.
During the time he spent stationed Europe he didn’t miss an opportunity to travel around. Sightseeing and enjoying the culture are things that he still loves to this day.
Both Ralph and Nancy enjoy traveling to places that they have never been to, though sometimes they like to revisit former destinations. They want to visit Australia and New Zealand someday.
Ralph enjoys reading paranormal novels. He decided that he should try and write one. He is currently writing short stories, but a novel is in the future.
Sometimes, you get it right….
When I saw this review of my Titanic love story THE RUNAWAY GIRL, it tugged at my heart.
Yes, it’s a wonderful 5 star review, but more importantly, my story has captured the interest of a young girl who wasn’t much of a reader beforehand.
Reviewed in the United States on September 23, 2020
Two women hold the keys to his heart. Only one will survive that fateful night…
When Ava O’Reilly is wrongly accused of stealing from her employer, she has no option but to flee Ireland. The law is after her, and she has only one chance at escape – the Titanic.
Aboard the ship of dreams, she runs straight into the arms of Captain ‘Buck’ Blackthorn, a dashing gentleman gambler who promises to be her protector. He is intrigued by her Irish beauty and manages to disguise her as the maid of his good friend, the lovely Countess of Marbury. Little does he realise, that the Countess is also in love with him.
As the fateful night approaches, tragedy strikes further when Ava is separated from Buck, and must make a daring choice that will change her life forever…
A sweeping historical romance set aboard the Titanic, from the author of Her Lost Love (Christmas Once Again).
Praise for Jina Bacarr:
‘A delightful holiday romance that has all the charm of a classic Christmas movie. Christmas Once Again is perfect for anyone who loves a holiday romance brimming with mistletoe, hope, and what ifs.’ Andie Newton, author of The Girl I Left Behind ‘A breathtaking holiday romance that is sure to stay with you long after reading’
‘A mesmerizing holiday romance that is sure to sweep you off your feet and take you away to another place, another time.’
‘A fabulous book you won’t want to miss’ https://youtu.be/S-33oEM4DlI
THE RUNAWAY GIRL e-book, print and audio book:
This book is incredible a truly remarkable story, Sylvie diary, notes photo's and recordings are inspiring. the real story of glamourous Sylvie Martone has to be solved and told. She will never be forgotten. I loved it
Happy fourth quarter. We are a few weeks away from NANO season. I have received emails, seen blog posts and You Tube videos reminding me about NANO month.
A few years ago, I signed up for a NANO account and never participated. Last year, I reactivated my account and signed up to participate in NANO for the first time. I posted questions in some groups for advice and to make sure I was signed up correctly. I was all set.
I had a book I was working on and figured this would force me to complete it. I thought I was doing well. Unfortunately the words just weren’t coming so I switched books.
I figured the book I switched would be easier to complete. I based that assumption on the other two books in the series which were novellas. As I continued to write, the book grew. Every time I thought I had an ending, the characters kept talking.
When November ended, I hadn’t completed my book. I took a break and continued writing. I completed my book…a few months later. I also have the first couple of chapters for the fourth book. By the way, I never intended to write a fourth book in this series, but when your characters talk, you kind of have to listen. So, not completing NANO it worked out for me.
As I stand on the precipice of another NANO season, I’m faced with a very important decision…do I NANO or not?
I don’t want to make a promise and not follow through. Grant it, the only person I would be disappointing is me. Considering how things worked out for me last year, it might be to my advantage to sign up for NANO.
So what are the pros and cons to doing NANO this year.
I can’t figure out a valid reason not to do NANO this year. Writing a book in a month isn’t new for me. After all, that’s what I did every month in 2016. I think right now my focus is a little off and participating in NANO this year could possibly help me.
If I do this, does anyone have any tips on how to survive and win at NANO? Clearly my previous plan of sitting down and writing on a whim didn’t work, otherwise I would have finished my original NANO book.
Happy NANO Prep.
See you next month.
Writers are accustomed to thinking about writing with a 3-Act structure, often shown as an incline plane of action rising gradually throughout the story towards the climax. But another way of looking at stories is their shape based not on action, but on the rise and fall of the protagonist’s fortunes—good or ill.
As I understand it, the notion of these story shapes was first proposed by Kurt Vonnegut. Inspired by his research into stories from various cultures while studying anthropology at the University of Chicago, he discovered common patterns of the fortunes of the protagonists. He found that there is not one universal pattern, but several designs, just as the rise and fall of volume and intensity give shape to different styles of music. These shapes cross cultures and time periods to create the stories we love to read and retell.
To visualize these shapes, he used a simple graph. The vertical axis, or what he calls the G-I axis has good fortune at the top and ill fortune at the bottom. The higher on the vertical axis a character is, the happier they are. Conversely, the lower they are, the more miserable they are.
The G-I axis is bisected by a B-E horizontal axis. This takes the story left to right from the beginning (B) to the, uh, well Kurt Vonnegut has various ideas for what the E stands for, but let’s just call it the ending. It looks a bit like this:
Interestingly, his theory was proven when researchers at Washington State University and the University of Vermont did a computer analysis over 1700 stories. (https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20180525-every-story-in-the-world-has-one-of-these-six-basic-plots ) Text-mining of these stories revealed six basic story shapes, most of which Vonnegut had already described. They graphed each, renaming Vonnegut’s G-I axis to “sentiment scale.” They found that each of the 1700 stories conformed to one of these six shapes:
Our protagonist begins high on the sentiment scale but, by mid-story, finds themselves in low ill-fortune. But, don’t despair. Good things follow, and by the end of the story, our protagonist is once again up in the good-fortune range. This shape is often found in mystery stories and adapts well to the three-act story structure we’ve been taught.
This shape has the main character begin on the lower end of the sentiment scale, but then they rise steadily throughout the story to the upper portion of the G-I axis by the end of the story. An example of this is the story of Little Orphan Annie who starts out as an orphan in a miserable workhouse and becomes the ward of the extremely wealthy Daddy Warbucks, or the story of another orphan, Oliver Twist. Everyone loves a happy ending.
From the obvious example, our protagonist begins very low on the sentiment scale, but then rises to a high good-fortune point—only to have it snatched away. Despite being once again in the lower portion of the G-I scale, the protagonist’s despair is not as low as it was. As the story progresses, the protagonist moves back up again to the top of the sentiment. (You have to see Vonnegut describe this one and others on YouTube below.)
This shape is just the opposite of #2. The protagonist begins in the upper range of the sentiment axis, but who falls into poverty and despair. A simple tragedy.
If you know the Greek myth about Daedalus and his son Icarus who escaped from the island of Crete by flying with wings made of feathers and wax, it won’t be hard for you to envision this shape. Starting around the midpoint of the G-I axis, it rises into good fortune, then falls into the ill fortune range before falling further to the bottom of the G-I scale (when the wax melts because Icarus flies too close to the sun). Not a happy ending.
Named for another Greek tragedy, this pattern falls (as Oedipus wanders toward Thebes, killing Laius along the way). But then it rises (when Oedipus defeats the sphinx, becomes king, and marries the queen with whom he has several children and plans to live happily ever after). Oh, but our protagonist is not destined for a happy ending. The story ends with a plummet to the low ill-fortune range (when Oedipus discovers Laius was his father and he has married his mother—who then kills herself. Oedipus puts out his own eyes). A less than cheery shape.
I must confess that I was surprised that every one of the stories studied fit in one of these six shapes. But Vonnegut tells us about two more shapes.
While he tells this shape is boring, he also says it often can be found in primitive cultures. There is, however, one Shakespearean classic that employs this shape. Things start low on the sentiment scale, stay low, and end low. Can you guess which one this is? See the video link above to get the answer.
And one final shape Vonnegut offers for your consideration—one we don’t often see—where the protagonist starts at the bottom . . . and goes down. Which story is this? Here’s a hint: Kafka!
All this brings new meaning to the question: What kind of shape is your story in?
Can Jasmine untangle her life and reclaim her identity, her life—her soul?More info →