Friday, March 30, 2012

A Recipe for a Dark Lord

In the last post, we talked about how to kill off our villains. However, that doesn't help anything if we don't have a villain to kill off in the first place!  Before we begin, though, why do you need a villain at all? 

Here's why: every story is only as good as its villain. The villain is the one who opposes the hero, who prevents him/her from meeting his/her goals. Without the villain, your story has no conflict—no purpose. Without the villain, your hero could do and have whatever he wanted, instantly, without any obstacles. Without a villain, your story would be--prepare yourself!--boring.

Okay, so you need a villain. That still leaves an important question: how does one go about creating a Dark Lord of the Universe? After all, sometimes it can get a little tough to think of a really evil villain on your own. That’s where this post comes in. I decided to mix and stir and bake an arch-evil-villain, so that all of you can read my recipe, be impressed by all the hours I spent slaving over a hot computer, and bake your own villains.

So, without further ado: a recipe for creating your very own Dark Lord.

4 cups goal
3 cups motivation
6 tablespoons backstory, sifted
2 handfuls minor villains
1.5 teaspoons weakness
½  cup accessories
1 pinch gold or lapis lazuli

Preheat the oven to 873 degrees Celsius (1,603.4 Fahrenheit).

In a large black bowl, combine goal, motivation, and backstory. Blend at light speed for ten minutes, until dough forms blackish lump. Should have the same consistency throughout

(Note: the villain should want something—his goal—that is directly opposite what the hero wants. Your villain must have a good reason for wanting this goal—a motivation. Usually, the motivation is not isolated in space and time, but is the result of the villain’s history and upbringing—his backstory. You need all three of these elements to make the villain believable.)

In a separate, smaller bowl, stir minor villains until thawed. Then quickly fold into the main batter until completely engulfed.

(Note: minor villains are important because your hero always, always, always needs opposition. Without opposition, there’s no suspense or tension or conflict in your story. In other words, it’s boring. But, hey, your arch-villain can’t be everywhere at once, can he? So that’s where the minor villains come in. Minor villains provide conflict against the hero in minor situations. Usually, they’re tied to the main villain and the main conflict of the story as well.)

Add the weakness and knead carefully, spreading weakness throughout the whole lump. This is a most delicate phase—too many weaknesses will make the dough fall apart, but too few will make it dry and fossilized.

(Note: in other words, your villain can’t be all-powerful. He needs to be relatable, and the way to do this is to bring in weaknesses. Often, you can find his/her weaknesses if you dig around enough in the villain’s past.)

Once weaknesses have been kneaded in, sprinkle accessories on top. This is the point in the recipe where you can add your own distinct flair: the curling walrus moustache, the pocketwatch that doubles as a sword, the bright red hair standing on end, or the evil villain cape of awesomeness, for example.

Bake for 1,095 days in the back burner of your mind. Remove from oven and let sit. Should be burned black around the edges.

If desired, add a pinch of gold or lapis lazuli for effect. Serve frozen or boiled in the lava of revenge.

Feeds 1 story.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

5 Simple Ways to Kill Your Villain

Today's post is easy as pie: five ways storytellers have killed off villains before--and the pros and cons of each one of them. Plus, I've included a bonus point at the end. So pull on your gloves, and let's get down to business to defeat the Huns! Er, villains. Or both.

1. Falling from a height

-- Examples: Tangled, Lord of the Rings: Saruman
-- Pros: doesn't force the MC to kill the villain, which satisfies your reader's sense of justice. The MC doesn't have to resort to morally evil means to kill the villain.
-- Cons: very overused. Can also seem like a "deus ex machina," otherwise known as unrelated elements taking a hand in the climax to provide an instant happy ending. Too easy, in other words.

2. Suicide

-- Examples: Saul in the Bible, Denethor (Steward of Gondor) in Lord of the Rings
-- Pros: the villain is messed up already anyway! Psychologically, if he's set up for it, then it works nicely as a logical result
-- Cons: only works if the character has the psychology and situation for this. after all, villains have ambitions and goals, and they think these goals are justified (in their own view of morality), so they wouldn't be likely to just abandon their schemes and kill themselves on a whim

3. Villain's Plans Backfire

-- This form of death is when the villain's plans are turned completely on their head, and he ends up with the punishment that he was going to bestow on the hero.
-- Example: Jafar from Aladdin wants to become the most powerful genie in the world but does not realize that he will also be a slave to the lamp; in Batman Begins, *spoiler* the villain is caught on train that he was going to use to blow up the city's water supply
-- Pros: satisfies our sense of justice
-- Cons: can be very tricky to set up. Plus there's a fine line in whether the hero has the option of sparing the villain's life

4. Killed by Sidekick

-- Examples: Saruman in LOTR is killed by his henchman Grima Wormtongue; Scar from Lion King is killed by his henchmen the hyenas.
-- Pros: good because hero doesn't have to "dirty his hands" in killing the villain
-- Cons: don't let this be a cop-out option! set the villain-sidekick interplay well beforehand, and make sure the hero still has the main role in defeating villain. Perhaps hero saves villain's life, but sidekick, in a fit of jealous rage, kills villain. The important part is that justice is served in every way.

5. Killed by Hero

-- Examples: Maleficent was killed by a direct stab from the prince's blade; in the Star Wars saga, Anakin {a hero at this point} kills Count Dooku under prompting by Darth Sidious/Palpatine
-- Pros: it shows the hero has the strength to do what it takes to defeat the villain; he's not willing to let someone else do the dirty work for him.
-- Cons: morally...a tough question. For Anakin in the example above, Count Dooku was begging for mercy and Jedi laws said that unarmed foes should not be killed. After all, when you kill your enemy after he's down, doesn't that make you just as bad as the villain? There could also be lingering guilt questions and unsolved tension in your reader (and that's the last thing you want at the end of your story! You want the reader to finish with deep admiration of your hero. Or, you probably do.)

Bonus Point: Killed by Fantastic Powers

-- Hey, guys, this is fantasy, and we are the writers. We can kill our villains however we want to!
-- Examples: the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz dies by melting
-- Pros: works brilliantly in fantasy books. After all, you have magic, so why not use it for the best possible use--killing the bad guy?
-- Cons: unless the powers are set up well beforehand, this can seem like a cop-out, like you're taking the easy way out. You still need to make it difficult--in fact, almost impossible--for hero to kill villain.

Naturally, countless more ways remain to kill villains. What are some of your favorites? Can you think of other examples? Happy writing!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fantastic Footwear

Time for a pop quiz! (Just for fun, to get you thinking. No right answers, and, sadly, no prizes awarded.)

1. Name your main character's preferred shoes
a) leather wrapped and tied with thongs
b) silk dancing slippers
c) Hobbit feet
d) iron-reinforced heavy-duty knightly boots
e) no shoes
f) other

2.  What's the main difference between guy/girl shoes in your world?
a) size of the shoe (wrong answer!)
b) color (forest-green vs. lilac purple)
c) style (open-toe, high-heeled, boot, etc.)
d) function (fighting, dancing, etc.)
e) fabric (metal, leather, silk, "exotic" materials, etc.)
f) other

3. Your villain is shoe-shopping. What shoes does he/she buy?
a) the newly-released super-expensive black diamond Sultan Cushioned Supreme 2000x
b) iron studded Sauron armor boots with genuine flames on the sides
c) invisible ninja slippers
d) dragonscale-reinforced riding boots
e) sadistic fairy-dust shoes made for crushing and pounding, in style
f) other

4. So you've got a lot of fantastic creatures in your world. What's your most fantastic footwear option?
a) mer-fin slippers, especially good for swimming
b) dwarf-beard-hair woven shoes--practically indestructible
c) a glass slipper, excellent for dancing with Prince Charming
d) 100-league boots that cause extreme nausea, granted unwillingly by the Faerie Queen
e) chameleon shoes made from fibers that bend to look and feel exactly like the surroundings. By special order only.
f) other

Tally your score and...go write! :)

I hope that mini-quiz only served to spark your interest in your fantasy world's footwear. This is one of the most neglected elements when writing a fantasy world, so there's plenty of room to be original.

Your "exercise," if you'd like one, is to go back and look at a character description your wrote (whether in the story or in your notes) and include a description of the character's shoes. Is he/she wearing any? If so, what do they look like? What is their purpose? Use the ideas above, as well as the pictures below, as a launching pad for your dreaming.

Medieval Design Re-enactment Shoes

Medieval Design Re-enactment Shoes

Shoe Fleur: A Shoe Fantasy, by Michel Tcherevkoff

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fashion in Fantasy: Males

Last post we covered the wide and glorious expanse of dresses, corsets, ballgowns, and petticoats—it’s really cool stuff, believe me, so if you missed it, check it out! Today, we’re covering another key aspect to writing your fantasy novel: what your male characters wear.

1. Capes

            Of course I had to start with capes! What’s cooler than a cape, after all? Now, of course, most fantasy capes are found in the realms of superheroes and evil villains (I always picture Jafar sweeping around in one myself), but that’s not to say that you shouldn’t turn the stereotype around on its head! Just giving a flat 2D character a cape will add a touch of pizzaz, even some vanity, perhaps, and make him a much more fascinating character. This works just as well for women, by-the-bye.
2. Robes

            Bathrobes are there for a reason: they’re comfy, cushiony, and oh-so-soft. True, it’s a bit of a different sort of robes we mean here—I’m picturing something like Gandalf’s getup from Lord of the Rings. Also, of course, there’s the famous Harry Potter movie robes (which, in my personal opinion, are more like regular clothes with a cloak-plus-sleeves thrown on top). Anyway, robes can be a great option because they’re traditional and speak to a whole realm of magically-inclined fantastic folk. So try it out and see if it works in your story!
3. Leather jerkins and leggings

            My gut reaction to this one, gotta confess, is “ew!” However, I’d better acknowledge it, since this is probably one of the more accurate historical ensembles √• la the Middle ages. First a little explanation: the “jerkin” is a long leather shirt that usually reaches to mid-thigh, and it’s worn over a cotton long-sleeve shirt called a doublet (traditionally). Then underneath the guy wears leggings, sometimes of leather and sometimes of cloth. Topping it off is leather boots. You may see this feature prominently among Rangers and other wild adventuresome folk, since it’s fairly rugged and easy to manufacture on its own.

4. Trousers

            In the style of Mr. Darcy of Pride & Prejudice fame, these long pants are basically just your modern suit-pants, though usually worn with a long coat and coattails. This works well for a more laid-back fantasy, or a fantasy with more modern tones. None of that Medieval nonsense for you!

5. Accessories

            Whether or not you’re up for the full dashing pirate gear, you should definitely consider adding the tri-cornered hat as a staple to any self-respecting fantasy guy’s wardrobe. If you’re a patriot fighting for your nation’s freedom or a pirate sailing twenty-three seas, you’ll want that distinguished hat to throw in the air to celebrate your victory—the hat that somehow just happens to keep appearing on your head even after many long journeys and battles. For other accessories, eye-patches and false legs or peaked wizard caps aren’t too bad, if a touch clich√©. But think of your own distinguishing items for each character--a gold monocle, a particular pocket watch, a bowler hat--and use them when referring to the character in order to establish that person more firmly in your reader’s mind.

Doubtless, there are many more areas of dress and garb that we could explore. What are some clothes or accessories that you’ve used in your fantasy stories? Any helpful tips on writing about clothing?

God bless!