Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sargas Chronicles: Part 2

 Villain Character Arc

First, a quick refresher of the three main definitions I'm working with.

Protag/Hero:  The one with the most to lose -- the main character (Frodo, Will Turner)
Antag.:          Oppose the Hero -- supporting characters to the villain (Gollum, Norrington)
Villain:           The one with the most to gain -- the main "bad guy" (Sauron, Davy Jones)

A little sidenote: one way to clarify between villain and antagonist. An antagonist can, and often will, switch sides. Norrington was an antagonist, then became a good guy. Gollum briefly changes to Frodo's side. 

Villains never switch truly. (Sauron, Davy Jones, Palpatine)

Hopefully, by now you have already or are planning to read at least a few writing books on the craft. If not, I won't shun you, but it's a very good idea to do so. Especially written by the same authors that you like to read--since you likely share some of their preferences and stylings.

If you have read, then this is a good refresher. Or you can just hop on down to near the bottom.

Character arcs are simply, the pathway of change.

That is, your Hero absolutely must start at point A in his personality/knowledge/etc. and slowly be changed by the progress of your story and events around him, so that when he reaches point B (or C, or D) he is no longer the same Hero.

sidenote:  If there is no character change...there is no story. 'Nuff said.

The most common format is a three-part arc, though you can have as many parts as you like. Most of humanity seems hard-wired to find a sort of symmetry in three pieces though. (Three Little Pigs, Three Bears, Three Wishes....Four Pigs just doesn't have the same ring, does it?)

In your Hero's character arc, he should begin at the point of change, when some external or internal event (though typically the former) prompts him to change his locale, his mood, his action, his emotion, etc. This is the baseline of your arc.

Examples:  When Frodo receives the ring, when Elizabeth is kidnapped, when Luke cleans C-3PO...

A arc then as rising or mounting action, where the change prompts another change, and another. In the process there should always be at least one, if not multiple, problems. (3 is usually a good number...) And each problem is harder to defeat than the next.

Examples:  Crossing the Dead Marshes/Black Gate is Closed, Jack Sparrow's trickery, Imperial troops...

The final problem is the climax. Directly before this final problem (which your Hero should find a way to defeat) should fall your lowest portion of your arc, when all seems lost. Everything should come crashing down around your Hero.

Examples: Frodo stung by Shelob/collapsed on Mt. Doom, Will captured by Bubossa in the cavern, trapped with Palpatine and Vader...

The Hero should then rise above it (finale/climax/resolution)  and in so doing produce the final change. From there, either the story ends or there's a gradual tapering off that wraps things up.

 Examples:  Finale--ring tossed into lava, tapering into the return to the Shire/Grey Havens, Finale--freeing Bubossa from the curse, tapering into Will and Elizabeth running off together,
Finale--blowing up Death Star, tapering into the "medal ceremony" for Hans and Chewbacca.

But how does this apply to villains, you ask.

Just as the Hero has a character arc, a path of change. Did you know that villains (and to a lesser extent) antagonists alike have one? I don't mean the wishy-washy bad guy transforms into good arc either.  Sauron has a character arc, and Bubossa, and Darth Vader and Palpatine.

There is one important thing to remember, however. Opposites.

Your Hero and Villain character arcs should interact and influence one another, but in utterly opposite ways. Every time your Hero succeeds, your Villain fails. Every time Hero fails, Villain succeeds.

I'm a visual sort of person, so, for your viewing pleasure:  This is a simplistic graphic of two character arcs--the Hero and the Villain. There's blue for Hero and red for Villain, and when those mix, you get purple.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Sargas Chronicles: Part 1

 Define "Villain"

As some of you may be aware of already, I am currently working on a second major rewrite of the science-fiction novel, Phoenix Rising. I'm not far off from my goal: finishing it by the New Year.

My focus, at the moment, is tightly on this novel. And, in the process, on the final chapters that deal with one of my favorite characters--Sargas. I've received from most of my beta readers a response that suggests I did something right with him. And, my hope is that talking about creating him will in turn help you craft better villains and antagonists. (Don't gasp. I know the v-word is a nasty thing to most writers anymore. And yes, I consider those two types to be separate classifications, rather than lumping them together. More on that in a moment)

This is more the introductory blog post, with some basic groundwork. The nitty gritty of character creation will come later. 

First off,  buy this book.  The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. It's relatively cheap. (ranges from about $5-$20 depending on if you want brand-new or slightly used)

Now, those of you that follow my blog know, I don't recommend a book lightly. And certainly do not state things so emphatically. But I'm very serious. If you write a story that has a bad guy...which pretty much means any writer...you need this book.

Even if your villain/antagonist is not a bona fide mental patient, he is likely going to have some of these qualities that Stout discusses. Don't believe me? Did you know that  4% of the human population has some form of sociopathy? That means out of every twenty-five people, one of them is likely at least mildly sociopathic. Name me any bad guy in a book, and I'll bet I can find a sociopathic quality in most of them. So seriously, this book is well worth the money. Every time I start a new novel now, I re-read it and use portions to create my bad guys.

Enough of that plug. On to classifications.

Most of you, I suspect, have read some of these "how-to-write" books, or subscribe to a writing magazine, or lurk in online writer's groups and forums. (which is good, by the way.)  So you're inner writer is probably screaming right now at the word Villain. Am I right?

But, there is no such thing as a villain anymore. Someone who is inherently, undeniably evil...that's old school.

That's what you're thinking, isn't it? Well, in a sense this is true. And in a sense it isn't. Yes, you should never, ever have a guy who is evil simply for the sake of being evil, that is so nasty that there is no sympathy or way to like him.

Unfortunately, however, in our fear to drift into the "evil overlord" realm, the bad guys in most stories have grown weak and not really a challenge for our hero. And do we like to lack that challenge in a book? Ask the pile of books on my floor after being hurled at the wall. They'll give you a resounding no.

So, here's my take. There are three important types of characters in any story, four if you want to count the supporting character roles.  You have your protagonist--or main character. (and supporting characters)  You have your antagonist (which functions as a supporting character for...) Your villain.

Let me clarify now with some definitions, which are all personal opinion.  First off, let's start with antagonists. In my mind, an antagonist is something or someone that in some way opposes or prevents your main character from fulfilling his goals. This can be something inanimate--the gulf of an ocean, the swath of desert, a mountain ridge--or another character--Gollum in LOtR, Commodore James Norrington in Pirates of the Caribbean,  Vizzini in Princess Bride, etc.

These typically are minor setbacks/problem-makers. That is, for example, though Gollum causes problems and slows or even endangers Frodo and Sam and all the Fellowship, Gollum is not truly capable of causing utter defeat for any of them.

A protagonist and a villain have linked definitions. The protagonist is typically your main character, and the villain is typically the main problem. And their definitions are best revealed as follows:

The protagonist is always the one who has the most to lose.
The villain is always the one who has the most to gain.

This is why I separate the villain from the antagonist. To stick with my previous example: Gollum is a nasty guy, who does cause problems, but does he really have the most to lose? Oh yes, he needs that ring...but Sauron needs it more. Gollum would be miserable without it; Sauron would die.

The antagonist disrupts; the villain destroys. Now, this doesn't mean that your villain should be inherently evil. He still needs to have flaws and problems and a motive for doing what he does. But he needs to always be the most evil, the most powerful, the most dangerous, and the most driven, of all your bad guys.

The shadow of his influence should hang over your protagonist as an insurmountable problem. Where would Lord of the Rings be without Sauron?  Where would Sea Wolf be without Captain Larsen? Where would Jungle Book be without Shere Khan?

Think about it.