Beautiful wickedness

On November 19, 2013, J. Garf wrote, I was wondering if anyone knows how to make evil beautiful. I don’t mean making the villains physically beautiful, that’s relatively easy. I mean the act of evil itself. For example, in the Phantom of the Opera, the phantom calls light “cold, unfeeling” and “garish”, while he calls darkness and evil “sweet intoxication.” Is this simply his mad opinion, or could you write something like that? I plan to read the book soon which will hopefully give me some ideas, but does anyone have any advice? Also, how difficult is it to write a protagonist as a villain?

Bibliophile commented, I would say, pretty difficult. I mean, we all want to root for the protag, but can we if they’re evil?

I think that good examples of this on TV are Breaking Bad and definitely Dexter. Don’t watch those shows if you’re squeamish. But in general, if the evil is backed by some good, then we might be able to relate. Like when we had to read Mein Kampf by Hitler, he kept stating his mission over and over again. It’s a good read, there were some things in there that you wouldn’t have expected of him. 

If you were to write a story like that, it would definitely need to be in first person. Otherwise, the character wouldn’t come across as well as he could have.

In the nick of time, Bibliophile clarified: Reading that over, it sounds like I agreed with Hitler, I DO NOT!!!!! It just was interesting to see how his mind worked.

And Michelle Dyck weighed in with, I’m not sure if you can make evil TRULY beautiful. I think you can make it understandable, or beautiful from the perspective of the evil character. But at some point in the story, the readers will begin to see the evil for what it really is.

First off, I want to mention that Dexter and Breaking Bad are both TV series for adults, and for adults with stronger stomachs than mine!

Villains are fascinating! But I’ve never tried to create beautiful evil or an evil protagonist, so what follows is just speculation.

Say we have a species of intelligent cockroaches locked in a war with humans for dominion over the earth. The roaches hope to wipe humanity out, except for a handful who will be kept in zoos. Our MC, Hunneeha, is a young roach lieutenant, who has risen in the roach ranks by dint of her enthusiasm, skill, and team spirit. She and her squad have been assigned to infiltrate an elementary school and kill all the adults and children. In the first scene Hunneeha and her squad are getting ready for their mission. Let’s say the story is written in the first person, and it begins like this:

We gathered in the basement sink. Eleven of them looked at me, waiting for my orders, but Jujo, youngster that he was, sucked on the end of a feeler. I waited for him to come to attention, grateful for the time to think of what to say, how to prepare them. Pretty Panay’s carapace sparkled. She must have spent half of yesterday polishing herself, thinking, perhaps, that cleanliness might contribute to victory. Gross feet thundered overhead. What chance did a shiny carapace have against the filthy soles of a human shoe?

Can we make these cockroaches beautiful? I bet we can, although we may have to get past our own revulsion first. We may write about shine, delicacy, big eyes–and not highlight the icky aspects. We’ll have to individualize the bugs. Some are probably better looking than others. Hunneeha may obsess over her skinny legs.

Are they evil? Suppose we alternate chapters from Hunneeha’s POV with chapters from the POV of Marcy, a high school student who has a part-time job in the school cafeteria, which is the roaches’ target; they’re intending to poison the food. Marcy and the children suspect nothing. We make the reader admire Marcy, too, and his brain somersaults whenever the chapters shift.

The point is, everything depends on perspective. We have to get inside our evil MC’s world, understand his goals, discover what he treasures. As an example, let’s make a hero of a tyrant, one who practices genocide, who by any reasonable standard is evil. His most important characteristic is that he’s an extreme nationalist. At the beginning of our story his people are poor and divided into factions. He realizes that the economy needs a war and that people won’t come together without a common enemy, so he, quite deliberately, picks out a tribe of his own people to demonize. Let’s call them the Bup tribe. Suppose he shines a spotlight on the wealthiest Bups. He publicizes their wealth and contrasts it with the plight of the poorest in the other tribes. As the writer, we don’t show members of this tribe who are poor or charitable or struggling or sympathetic in any way. Instead, we highlight the slow steady improvement in the economy. Maybe we zoom in on a delightful family that’s benefiting from the tyrant’s policies. We show violent acts by Bups but not the treatment that led to the fighting back. For the beauty part, we show a ceremony that unifies the other tribes. There are marches with candles and children singing in enormous rooms with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows and banners. There is an air of solemnity and purpose and occasional joyous laughter.

I think we can make this evil beautiful. In addition to perspective, we’ve been selective. We’ve chosen not to show the whole picture of the Bups. By selection, we can make the tyrant sympathetic and heroic. We can make him handsome and even lovable. I bet we can even confuse ourselves.

If we write something like this, are we evil? Maybe not. Are we doing something wrong? I think so.

And I’m not sure we can produce great stories this way, because we may have to try too hard to make the point. We probably have to make our tale less complex in order to force the readers’ feelings. We shift closer to propaganda than to true story-telling. It’s not very different from writing a moralistic story. In both cases, the subtle grays that make fiction thrilling are sacrificed. It’s why I prefer MCs who are a little flawed and villains who are somewhat sympathetic.

Having said all this, we always stack the deck to some degree in our stories. We definitely want the reader to like certain characters more than others. But we also let our stories find their own way and surprise us sometimes.

Here are five prompts:

• Write the scene in which pretty Panay is killed by a first grader. Make the reader feel terrible. Make him hate the child who killed her. For extra credit (ha!), make the child seem as disgusting to the reader as roaches usually feel to us.

• Decide who wins the school battle. Write the final scene. For more extra credit, make the reader have mixed emotions about the outcome.

• Write “Little Red Riding Hood” from the POV of the wolf. Make him more than likable. Make it a tragedy when the hunter kills him.

• If you’re in the mood for historical research, read up on the American Revolution. Pick an MC on the side of the British, and make the reader root for the cause of the monarchy.

• Write “Sleeping Beauty” from the POV of the angry fairy who wants the baby to die. Make her sympathetic. Make her even correct.

This turned out to be a pretty serious post. But have fun and save what you wrote!

  1. I think imagery is your friend whenever you want to make something beautiful, whether it's physical or emotional. If you can picture something, and you like what you see, suddenly it's not so scary.
    My favorite example of a villain protagonist is the Artemis Fowl series. In the first book, Artemis kidnaps a fairy named Holly for ransom. Never mind that he's already a millionaire. He wants to be a billionaire. Is his motivation questionable? Very much yes. Do you root for Holly to escape? Yes. But are you rooting for him? Yes, because he's a clever little human and you want to see him beat the fairies.

  2. This is hard to do! I have a book with a protagonist who considers all living things food (Including, er, other characters.) I've tried hard to make him sympathetic (he's also loyal and chivalrous, to the point of sacrificing himself. No, that's not a spoiler. He comes back. Long story. 🙂 ), and the whole arc of the book is about this character becoming more "civilized," but people either love him or get turned off by him. So far all the agents I've sent the book to have been in the second category, alas.

  3. Hi Gail. I love all your books. I like that you are question evil and how it can be seen or portrayed as beautiful. I however have no idea how one would accomplish this. But I would love to know if you have ever had a problem with the word "was". It's an ugly word for me and I am having a hard time rephrasing my words.

  4. This came into the website from Sabrina:

    I was wondering, how would you suggest I expand on an idea I have for a fantasy novel? I have the climax scene and no idea where to go from there. I have been suffering from pre-writing writers block for a few months then started my writing everyday a few weeks ago. I'm way more excited about writing now, but I don't know what to do with my climax.

    • Sabrina: What exactly is bothering you about your climax? Is it more like you don't know what events to create that lead up to the climax, or perhaps you don't know where to put/incorporate it? Or do you not have a story to go with the climax yet? (I've been in that last category more times than I'd like to remember lol). If all you have is the climax and you don't know where to go from there, I say write the climax! Just start from the scene you imagine it beginning at, and go as far as you can. The rest of the story will be easier to craft (I find that it is, anyway) once you've gotten some of it down on paper. A lot of times, plot/story ideas you didn't even know you had come pouring out onto the paper while you write even just one scene–which may or may not end up being in the final piece. It's what I do when I get stuck. 🙂

  5. Hmm…this certainly is a difficult question. In FAIREST, I was (sorry, Beauty Ink 😉 ) actually rooting for Queen Ivee the majority of the time. The fact that she was physically fragile made me reluctant to see her come to any harm, physical OR emotional. Only 6.8% of all convicted prisoners are women, so I feel as though people are instinctively more likely to see women as innocent. I'm not saying that's right, but, judging from statistics, it seems to be at least partially true.

    Ivee was emotionally fragile as well. While it's been way to long since I last read FAIREST, I feel as though she committed most of her "crimes" in order to stay unnaturally beautiful. Because her evil was mostly a means to an end, and not necessarily done with the sole purpose of causing her victims harm, it was easier to forgive her. Plus, I always thought she mainly wanted to stay beautiful so that her husband wouldn't leave her. Like I said, I haven't read the book in forever and might be mistaking. Anyhow, assuming that was her reason for wanting to stay beautiful, and thus committing all her atrocities, she becomes more sympathetic. It's pretty hard not to forgive someone when they're acting out of love and/or fear.

    It's also easier to root for a villain when, should they suffer defeat, they'll meet with worse consequences than the hero would have if the villain won out. (Sorry, that sentence made no sense). For instance, let's say Jane is stealing Beth's lunch money. Although stealing's morally wrong, I'd probably feel more sympathetic towards Jane if Beth came from a super rich family, so the lost money wasn't an issue, and had lots of friends who always shared their food with her, so she never had to go hungry on account of Jane's evil-ness. I'd feel even more sympathetic towards Jane if her parents were abusive, and she were using that money to buy bus tickets to her grandmother's house, the only place where she receives any sort of maternal affection. And maybe, despite their abusive ways, she loves her parents and is terrified of social worker taking her away from them. So she uses the stolen lunch money to buy concealer, in order to hider her bruises.

    In the above example, I'd probably root for Jane to continue stealing Beth's lunch money. If she continues, the harm to Beth is nil, but if she stops, Jane's life would pretty much be pure misery.

    Anyhow, this is just my two cents. I'm not sure if it made any sense, since I pretty much always root for the villain, regardless of how sympathetic they are. Seriously–I rooted for the shark in Jaws.

    <3 Alison

  6. Thanks for the post Gail! Just to let you know, I did read Phantom since then and it was really good. The beautiful evil the phantom talked about was mostly his opinion, but it was amazing how much sense he made when he tried to explain it to Christine. A lot of what made darkness beautiful to the phantom at least was the fact that he could be himself – he didn't have to hide behind his mask. And although he was truly evil (seriously, some of the descriptions of what he'd done were pretty gruesome), and his way of thinking was twisted and screwed up, I feel like he somehow managed to be a very sympathetic character. Anyway, great read for anyone who wants a new, interesting perspective on evil, though it is kind of dark.
    Thanks again Gail!

  7. Recently I discussed "was" and present tense "is" with my editor, who felt that they're unavoidable. True. They're unavoidable sometimes, but at other times we can find a more active verb, which I try to do–whenever I remember!

    • I think everyone has their pet peeve words. For me it's the
      double as. "She ran as fast as Felix", "the wall was as tall as six men", "he wasn't as cruel as the Captain". I just hate using the same word twice in a three word phrase. But I end up using it anyways because it's unavoidable. I don't notice when I'm reading, just in my own writing.

  8. So, I know Gail has written a blog post (multiple) on beginnings–but I am so stuck I am to the point of wanting to rip my hair out! I have a story with characters, plot, events, twists, the climax, the ending, even planned events for sequels–it is as planned out as I can possibly make it without having actually written the story. I've tried writing other scenes, beginning at different places, trying prologues…I'm so desperate. I have NO idea where to start!! Any advice on being utterly trapped in a beginning? Any and all advice is appreciated!! 🙂

    • Look for the "trigger" moment when your character's life stopped being normal. Does the story focus on their relationship with one person? Start when they first met. On a job, quest, or mission? Start with their first day. Basically, pick the point where it would be pointless to go back any farther.

    • I'm with Eliza. You might try writing everything but the beginning and see if it comes. When I wrote THE TWO PRINCESSES OF BAMARRE the right beginning came last– not long before the book was published!

    • Thanks, Eliza and Gail! I actually was thinking of The Two Princesses of Bamarre the other day while I was trying to force out a beginning! I think I'll just skip the beginning and see if it comes to me while writing the rest of the story, because unfortunately my trigger point is pretty boring. But it was a really good idea, Eliza!! Thanks so much!

  9. This appeal for help came into the website from Alyssa. Any ideas?

    I gave my MC the ability to know if people are lying just by looking into their eyes, and if they are lying, then she can learn the truth. Also, she can understand the cries of infants. I realized that the eye-reading ability I gave her isn't in use much. I might use it three times in one page, then not mention it again for about 20+ pages. The infant-cry-ability isn't used at all.

    I've also been thinking about expanding this eye ability. She goes through a lot of complicated stuff, as in, hard-to-explain-without-writing-you-a-novel kind of stuff, so she ends up hating a lot of people (like her parents and the boy she loved at the beginning and basically her entire time period), and she gets angry really easily, and she is somewhat compulsive, so I've been thinking about making her able to kill people just by staring at them hard enough/long enough. Does that sound too violent?

    Also, she can write really well (mainly because it is my first real attempt to write + publish a complete novel and that is what I know best), so I have her writing a diary. I noticed the same thing with the diary entries. I put them into the story, but they have started becoming less and less frequent. I also don't have her writing anything but the diary.

    I have started trying to add these abilities into the stories more and more, but I've almost got 100 pages and I don't see many spots where I can work it in. Do you think I could just revise my story a bunch and make the writing and the eye-reading more common? Or would it be better to just write them out altogether?

    I like the diaries. They give more of an insight to my MC's character and thoughts and the effect all of this stuff is having on her(insanity) and all that kind of stuff(at least in my opinion), and I have an excuse I can use for her not having written much, but the eye-reading seems like it would be a lot more difficult to fix. I might have an excuse to get rid of that, but I really like her having it. It is fun to write, and it makes her go that much crazier. Do you have any suggestions?

    Another error I had noticed was that I might say something about a character, and then say something completely opposite that on the next page. For example, I might say that someone does charity work all the time, and that they are an awesome person to be around, but then later say that they would never do a thing for anybody else and nobody likes them. I can just revise that away, right? Or is that one of those things that is harder to fix?

    My third thing was that one of my friends was reading what I had written, and she said that at the beginning she had loved one of my major characters, Eric, and only liked him more as I went on, but then around page eighty he started changing completely and she told me something along the lines of, "Well, sheesh. If I knew Eric was like this, I would never have fallen in love with him!" Is it normal for a character to change that much in such a short span of time? Because this is happening with a lot of my characters.

    Sorry this is so long. Thanks for the help!

    • Just weighing in with my two cents, Alyssa…
      As far as character inconsistency goes, I've found that something called 'Character Bibles' help a whole lot! You can keep them in a document or by hand in a notebook, whichever works for you. It's quite simple. You just list each character's name and jot down their personality, physical description, and any other miscellaneous bits of info you have. Then as you're writing or editing, you can go back to make sure you're keeping your characters consistent. For MCs, I give them each a separate file a couple pages long each. (And some of the info I make up for them never goes into a book — it just helps them become real in my mind.) All the other characters have to share a file, and most of them only need a couple lines. Anyway, if you're an outliner/planner, you'll probably want to put together these Character Bibles before you start writing. But if you're a seat-of-the-pants writer, then you can just add to them as your characters enter your story. It takes a bit of effort, but it's so helpful in the long run. Because who wants to wade through pages and pages to verify what so-and-so's eye color was or where she worked?
      Hope this helped!

  10. I'm thinking about Alison Stewart's hypothetical situation. I'm not sure I'd see Jane as evil, but I would definitely be rooting for her to get caught -provided the person catching her was someone who would dig for the root of her problem and get the poor girl some help!

  11. Thank you for the post! I think that you can present evil as beautiful, but you never really make it beautiful because, well, it's evil. I have a writing question:

    I have a character in my book who was bad, but I'm trying to make him good now in another story. How do I handle the character devolvement just right? Furthermore, how do I make the reader like him? Has anybody ever done this? Is it even possible? It's hard to erase what you did, build up a strong dislike for him in the reader and somehow make the reader like him? Any pointers? Thank you Mrs. Levine for this awesome blog!

    • One word: SNAPE. If you haven't read the Harry Potter books, then I suggest that you do, because Snape is a wonderful example of this. But the basic idea is to give a legitimate reason why they are bad, or pretending to be bad. For instance, if Bob killed 20 people we would assume that he is evil. But if we found out that those people were really assassins trying to kill the princess or something…. Then we like Bob.

    • Sarah and Ellie – I, obviously don't know anything about your story, so any of this advice may or may not help. As for character development: making you previously evil character – I'm going to call him Steve – gradually become truly good will probably help. What I mean is, there should be a turning point – the point at which Steve decided to become good – but he still has some habits of being evil, like going out of his way to trip people or make them feel bad, which he does at first but slowly stops doing. Or, maybe Steve always used to insult a certain person, but now when he talks to her, a good insult comes to his mind but he refrains from using it. Also, a lot of his ideals may be skewed, so even though he is reformed, he may still do or think bad things and gradually have to realize that they are wrong.

      As for making the reader like him, making the previously evil character seem vulnerable now might help. Let's say that people always used to call Steve names, because he was evil and they hated him, but now that he's not evil, those names really hurt his feelings, and the reader and the other characters can see the hurt. Also, this may or may not work for you, but making a character go out of his way to help and love either little kids or animals seems to make people like him. My little brother was listening to a radio show in which there was a guy that no one trusted, but he always went out of his way to help an adorable little boy. Automatically, you like the guy just because he helps little kids. I'm not sure why that is, but it seems to work.

      And one more thing to make the reformation seem natural to the reader is that you should probably make your other characters suspicious of Steve, if you can. The reader will probably, at least in most cases, be wondering if Steve is, in fact, truly reformed. Having your other characters wonder the same thing will probably make it more believable than it would be if they instantly trusted him.

      I hope some of this helps! Good luck with your story!

  12. Wow! This is a complex topic and one I think a thoughtful answer would be as long as the post. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it all. So for now I'll just say that I love the name Hunneeha and "youngster that he was, sucked on the end of a feeler." 🙂

    Sometimes the best stories happen when a writer tries something difficult.

  13. I found Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown fascinating because of the way she plays with just this topic. Who is evil, what makes them evil, what makes them sympathetic, who might be attracted to that evil and why?

  14. Anyone have tips on editing? Whenever I read over my stories, all I can pick out are the things I did wrong. Paragraphs that I can delete, plot holes that need to be stitched up, scenes that just don't make sense. But once you remove the awful parts, how do you shine it up and make it pretty?

    • This is a good question and I'm not sure I have a good answer, but maybe the following suggestions would help:
      – check the dialogue, is it entertaining? Do the character's personalities show? Can you add humor in them?
      – check a scene with your minds eye. Can you really "see" it? Can you add touches of description here and there?
      – the important parts, the ending and climax etc.: are there places where you could foreshadow them?

  15. Turns out this was a timely topic. I always find myself analyzing movies we watch, and last night we watched Robot and Frank. We didn't feel it to be very satisfying. We got to the end and it's one where you say out loud, "That's it?" But because of this post it was interesting from a character perspective.

    I don't think the main character was a villain – if you think of them as doing vile and gross things (which I agree with Ms. Levine is not something I could write about), but he is a "bad guy."

    The main character, Frank, is a burglar, but they don't show you that right away. The way they handle the characterization is that first, they show you his vulnerabilities. Then they reveal his short-comings slowly. And you don't want him to get caught. Especially since he reveals that he has his own moral code. He only pulls big jobs so that only the greedy insurance companies get hurt. (Although contemplating the movie later, he stole jewelry and the woman he stole it from could have been hurt, depending on if the jewelry was gifts, but they don't show that.)

    Also interesting is that they make his kids out to be ungrateful and uncaring. But as the movie progresses you find out that Frank is a terribly difficult person and father. It's really amazing that they care as much as they do. And it turns out they care quite a lot.

    The movie is PG13 and I had to check to figure out why – it's got some pretty bad language. Don't know how I missed that! But it's pretty slow and I think kids would find it impossibly slow.

    I think the Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo has you feeling sorry for the villain. It's been a long time since I read it.

  16. My thoughts on evil…
    Have you heard of the saying, "The Devil doesn't come with horns and a trident, he comes as everything you've ever dreamed of"? It's like that. If you have an evil character and need a bit of sympathy for him, think of that a bit. And if your Evil Person is an MC than it can be extremely helpful. Lets say that your EP (Evil Person) has a sick mother. She has a terribly rare illness and there is only one man who knows how to cure it, with limited amounts of the cure. Your EP loves his mum and wants to cure her, at first he tries the conventional ways, but when those don't work, he kidnaps the doctor who know the cure and threatens him with death, and later kills him when he refuses to help the EP's mother. Then the EP and steals the cure from a family with a little girl suffering from the same sickness and the little girl dies.
    Or maybe your EP is madly in love with a girl and has been since they've both been in kindergarten, but the girl won't marry him until he has a stable income and a home for her to live in (Because, what practical girl wouldn't?). The EP is a cripple, and can't get a normal job, (even though he's brilliant) because he can't walk well, or lift heavy things. The EP finally lands himself a job, but is killing himself with it because he's walking to much on his injured leg or lifting too much on his injured back and then…Some seedy guy comes and offers him a job as the mastermind behind a terrible scheme that will wipe out half the people in New York City. If he does this, he will have enough money to marry his girl and have a wonderfully comfortable living. And maybe his girlfriends dad is abusive, so he wants to marry her quickly before she gets seriously injured. He's definitely evil, but there can be a bit of sympathy for him, because he's desperate, and what he's doing is making his dream come true.
    Make sense?

  17. Good advice! And with the potential to be doubly interesting, because if the girlfriend finds out what the EP's done, will she want anything to do with him? If I could point out something, though:

    "The EP is a cripple, and can't get a normal job, (even though he's brilliant) because he can't walk well, or lift heavy things."

    Calling a disabled person a "cripple" is kind of like calling a black person the n-word. And it's possible to not be able to walk and still have a nice job. Take FDR, for example.

    I hadn't heard that saying, but it's a fascinating one.

    • Yeah, I guess I can see how injured people could not like to be called crippled. Point taken (Although, maybe if he was called that in the book it might help with sympathy???) But yes, it is fairly hard for a person with a bad leg and back to get a job, because becoming president is hard (very muchly so) and you have to go to college to get a decently paying job that doesn't require heavy lifting, like lawyering, or computer tech stuff…and EP's broke, too broke for college and too broke for loans. Or that was how I had envisioned him. It makes him desperate enough to be a true EP. You know?

  18. Okay, I know that this is off topic….. BUT IT'S SNOWED IN AUGUSTA GA!!!!! Haha, I needed to release somewhere, we NEVER get snow. And here we have like 4 inches so yeah, it's pretty awesome!!!!!!!!!

    • I know right!!! Second curse of GA winters, if we don't get snow-snow when it's called for, we get horrid ice storms. Haven't had that happen for a while now though but the last time we got a hole in our roof and all of the city's power went out. But they are really really pretty. I hope you get a 'good' pretty ice storm or at least some late snow Ivy!!!!!!

    • Makes me think of "Chi-beria" (Chicago)–my brothers and sisters have had so many snow days because it's been too cold to go to school…which never happens because it's just always so stinking cold in the winter!! This is the wackiest winter weather I've ever seen.

    • I know – this whether is insane! I live in northern Indiana, and when I was driving to work today, I saw some snow drifts that were taller than semi trailers. That's a lot of snow!

  19. This came into the website from our longtime commenter writeforfun:

    It's been a long time since I last posted – for a while I was working three part time jobs and had little time to blog – but I haven't stopped reading! Thank you so much, Gail, for your wonderful advice! I always look forward to your posts!

    Since I am completely snowed in right now, I have some time to comment! And of course, with such an interesting topic, I have to weigh in with my two cents, too:) I, personally, am a very morally-minded person, and when there is an evil through-and-through villain protagonist who intentionally harms people and never turns it around, I usually dislike the book. I read one book in which the protagonist was a genuinely evil villain – I'm not sure but it might have been Artemis Fowl (it was a long time ago) – and when I read it, I kept thinking, “This isn’t right. He’s the villain. Why is this author trying to make it seem okay to be a villain?” Of course, I’m sure the author wasn’t trying to make it seem okay to be a villain. I’m pretty sure that she just thought it was an interesting story – and it was! But morally, making a villain the hero is just wrong.

    Perhaps part of that opinion comes from the fact that I believe that every creative discipline – music, art, poetry, and especially story writing – has the ability to shape people’s minds and opinions in a way that almost nothing else can. Black Beauty caused the elimination of the use of the headstall. Why? I think because the readers all sympathized with Black Beauty, who was tortured with the device, and therefore the readers took action based on that newly acquired sympathy. What would happen if we made the readers feel so much sympathy for a murderer that they didn’t think it right to throw him in jail, say, for longer than five years? And because of this sympathy, they acted and made it law. Murderers wouldn’t have much to discourage them from doing such evil deeds.

    Okay, I admit it – that’s really extreme! But do you get my point?

    Of course, that’s not to say that I think all stories about villains are morally wrong! In a tragedy, in which the villain ultimately must reap the fruits he has sewn (like MacBeth) the reader is left with the idea, somewhere in his subconscious, that being a villain has negative consequences. The villain can be likeable and interesting, but in the end, justice is served. Or, another way to make a morally right villain story is writing one in which the villain realizes the error of his ways and turns good. The villain, along with the reader, sees that these things are wrong. He becomes reformed and turns his back on the evil he once embraced.

    Woops! I didn’t mean to start preaching! These are just my thoughts, of course, and I don’t mean to seem like an extremist, honestly! I just wanted to point out this side of the topic.

    • writeforfun: Great comment! (And I, for one, don't mind the length.) I agree with what you said about making evil look okay and about how music, stories, etc. have such a powerful influence on people. Thanks for articulating that so well. 🙂

  20. That makes sense to me. I have a couple of stories where the villan "wins," but I've never been able to do it for longer than a flash story. I hope it doesn't come across as glorifying evil.

  21. I just realized that I said Black Beauty caused the elimination of the headstall. I mean to say bearing rein – a headstall is just a bridle. Sorry, my mistake:)

    And sorry, also, Gail, that that comment was so long! Yikes! Does anyone else on here find that they tend to write things that are WAY longer than necessary? When I used to write book reports, my one page reports always ended up being three or four pages.

    Okay, now to the important part. I'm stumped on my story right now, and I need some advice. You see, my MC’s parents (the MCs from the previous two books) have to go off on a mission to defeat an evil agency, while my MC is sent to live with her aunt and uncle. I have the epic mission part of the story down just fine, but I’m having a hard time with my MC’s part. She has a huge secret that she has to keep from everyone while her parents are away, she has to go to a new school, and she ends up gets kidnapped toward the end. All of these help to add tension to her part of the story, but still, ordinary life seems really pale compared to her parents’ epic secret agent mission. How do you make everyday life exciting? Is it even possible? Every time I go from a chapter about the spy mission to a chapter about her, it feels like I don’t have to worry too much about her, because she may be humiliated in front of the entire school, but that’s nothing like being nearly killed after sneaking into the enemy’s headquarters. Does anyone have any ideas for making a regular life exciting? I’ll take all the help I can get!

    • Maybe she can "invent" some type of mystery where there is none, or maybe there really is a mystery. I'm thinking of the book my daughter was assigned this year, Moon Over Manifest.

    • Add interesting characters. I don't know much about your story, but I took what I knew about it and sort of invented my own version to help me think of a way to add interest, and one of the most interesting things I could think of was that at school, there is a kid (who is perhaps also new). S/he is a quiet brooding person and is always staring at your MC with narrowed eyes. I thought out tons of scenarios that could come out of this: An old acquaintance who knew and hates the MC and later helps the kidnappers get her; a spy sent by her parents to keep an eye on her; someone who knew her parents and see's the resemblance and is suspicious of why she's there; or maybe s/he is just a creep. You could use this, or come up with your own characters of interest. You really ought to think of the potential each character holds. This one might betray her, this one might try to protect her when the kidnappers come for her, this one follows the kidnappers and rescues her. Just think up five different scenarios for each character, choose one per character and interweave them all. It will add interest and perhaps some of the characters will create the tension you need. And maybe it will be fun for you. Hope I made sense, and if I did, I hope I was able to help.

    • Neat ideas, Elisa! I agree; I'm usually way more interested in the characters than the plot in a story. So if there are plenty of interesting characters–or, especially, if there's one character whom I absolutely love–I don't mind a bit having less action.
      By the way, writeforfun, what part of northern Indiana? I live in northwest Indiana, about 10 minutes from Lake Michigan, and it snowed ALL DAY yesterday. 🙂 At least there's sun today, though. 🙂

    • Thanks for the input! I had almost forgotten just how helpful it is to be able to ask for advice on here instead of attempting to figure everything out on my own:)

      And I live in South Bend, about fifteen minutes from Notre Dame. It snowed all day yesterday here, too, and my whole family built a ten foot tall snowman together that we named Jeeves. No, we do not normally build ten foot snowmen together, but with all this snow, we just had to:)

  22. I love the idea of a villain as a protagonist! I wrote (well, half wrote) a story about a girl who was a servant in a castle and the princess tried to kill her (because she thought the girl was a spy, but that's a long story) and she ran away and joined a group of people who were overthrowing the kingdom, eventually becoming the figurehead for their organization. But at the same time the princess is narrating and the reader sees that all her actions were just and not as corrupt as the servant girl thought they were. From her perspective the rebellion leaders were the villains, but the servant thought that the princess was the evil one, both because of the rebellion's propaganda and because the princess tried to kill her. By the end of the book, when the rebellion overthrows the kingdom and the princess is killed, both the reader and the servant girl are extremely conflicted as to who was the villain – the princess, or the servant/rebellion. I feel like, for those who don't like the "entirely evil protagonist" idea, this direction might suit you better? I really enjoy the "who was in the right?" idea when I'm reading, though, so this might not be for everyone. Either way, thank you Gail, for reminding me I actually had this story in the first place!

    • This brings up an interesting question. What makes a character a villain? In most books, it's the character whose goals conflict with the MC's. But if the MC is greedy and violent and never gets reformed, are they still a hero? If they're brave and true but become corrupt over the course of the story, can they be a villain?
      I like villain protagonists because they allow you to look at stories in a different way. I think people are wary of them because we instinctively connect with MC's. When we read about a character who's smart and wonderful, we remember our own intelligence and wonderfulness. When we read about someone cruel, we remember we're not so perfect.

  23. Ideas anyone for Alyssa, who wrote to the website? Here's her appeal:

    I am having a problem writing my male characters. In my life, I've always had my head stuck in a book, whether writing or reading. So now, while all my friends are dating this guy or that guy, I'm just now realizing that boys have cooties. It's making it really hard for me to write. Whenever I try to write a boy, they come out how I see a real one – a clueless, stuck up, immature villain. I can't figure out how to write a good, sweet guy that I can actually let my girl characters even tolerate! Help!!!!

    • I don't date either, bu here are some ideas on how to get ideas:

      Read about good sweet guys. Examples, Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice), Edward Cullen (Twilight), Geric (The Goose Girl), Any of Ms. Levine's fairytale heroes (Ella Enchanted, Fairest, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Ever…). There are more, but I can't think of them off the top of my head.

      But several tips. I like guys that will do several things:

      Hold open doors, Give up their seat, Pay for the date etc. I just like those old fashioned southern manners, which makes sense 'cause I live in the deep south. Model a boy off a knight from King Arthur. Note: Lancelot would NOT be a good choice. Just think of easy, sweet things. Picking up dropped books, just being nice and sincere. Really, the list is endless. But good luck!!!

    • I agree with Bibliophile — thoughtfulness and chivalry are huge! Also think of other qualities that make a guy admirable/likeable, such as bravery, compassion, sincerity, humor, etc. Start analyzing guy characters from books and movies and figure out what it is people like about them. Best of luck, Alyssa!

    • I, myself, never liked Darcy. But then again, I didn't like most of Austin's other hero's either, (Although, I did like Colonel B. from Sense and Sensibility, dunno why though, I just did). However, I know lots of people like Darcy, and if you happened to, Shevraeth from Crown Duel has been likened unto him. I can see why. Also, for a totally awesome, completely lovable guy character, look up Razo, in the Goose Girl, Enna Burning and in his own Book, River Secrets, as well as Finn (I always liked Finn.) Bradford in Entwined (I ADORED him) Also Lord Teddy of the same book. And Fairweller, although not him SO much. Galen in The Princess of the Midnight Ball. Maybe prince Luka from Dragon Slippers, but it's been a while since I read that book, so I don't remember my exact impressions of him. Sage/Jaron, from The False Prince. Liam, Gustav, Fredric and Duncan from The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. (They're actually just comical, but also adorable in a ridiculous way.) These are all clean books, and I enjoyed them LOTS. I'll come back if I think of any more suitable heroes. I read LOTS, so I have a stash of characters I love, lists of 'em actually. I catalog my favorite characters with the reasons for why I love them. Find characters you like and decide why you like them. I find it immensely helpful when writing your own characters. Hope I helped. (And yes, gentlemen are the best. I can't believe all the "Hot", "Roguish" absolutely self-centered "Cool" supposed heroes there are out there in the book world. Gentlemen are much better choices.)

    • Try ignoring their boyishness for a while and create an interesting, complex person. Also, look at your girl characters and think about what kind of boy they'd like. Is she shy and needs someone to pull her out of her shell? Is she an adventurer who needs a guy to fight by her side? Is she a heartless woman who needs a gentle guy to teach her to love?
      P.S.: I also walk around with my head stuck in a book.

    • From Alyssa: Thank you! There were really good ideas in them, and I'm going to try them the next chance I get! I feel like I had another question for you, but now that I come to ask it, I can't remember, so I'll most likely be back before the end of the week!

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