Tag Archives: writing

What Makes a Good Villain?

Vincent_D'Onofrio_as_Kingpin_in_DaredevilI read this article earlier this week about getting into a villain’s head, and it got me to thinking about writing villains and what makes a memorable one. Recently, I’ve seen two memorable villains, and I wanted to talk about what makes them great.

Both are from Netflix Marvel shows: Wilson Fisk from Daredevil and Kilgrave from Jessica Jones.

Although they are quite different characters, there are a few things in common between them, and it’s those commonalities which make them memorable.

1. Lots of screen time

The writers didn’t hesitate to give both villains lots of time on screen. Fisk even had most of an episode devoted to his back story, and it was brilliantly done, flipping between flashbacks and current day.

I think if you added up the minutes that Kilgrave probably had less screen time than Fisk, but by Kilgrave being a mind controller, his presence was felt even when he wasn’t on screen. Especially in the early episodes, you never knew when someone controlled by Kilgrave would pop up, and it made the tension so exhausting that I didn’t have the endurance to watch more than one episode at a time.

I’ve certainly seen effective villains who were shadowy presences most of the time, but I  think they made a good decision to devote so much time to these two.

2. Complete back story

By the end of the show, we knew so much about Fisk and Kilgrave and what made them tick. The writers managed to make both into sympathetic characters. It didn’t excuse their actions, but their past made them complete people who were more than just cardboard bad guys. We actually saw Fisk fall in love throughout the season and slowly fill in his lover on his background, leaving us to wonder, “Would she accept or reject him?”

24-kilgrave.w750.h560.2xAt one point in Jessica Jones, it looked for a brief time as if Kilgrave might redeem himself and reconcile with his parents, whose experiments had awakened his talents and made him psychic. That moment made his subsequent actions that much more horrifying.

3. Huge blinders to own actions

One of the most horrifying things about both Kilgrave and Fisk is that both truly believed they were on the side of right. Fisk loves Hell’s Kitchen and everything he did was in an attempt to make it a better place, or so he told himself. Kilgrave insisted that he never hurt anyone, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Lots of villains soliloquize about the rightness of their actions, and the audience reaction is usually “Yeah, right. Even you don’t believe that.” However, by making Kilgrave and Fisk such complicated humans, it’s almost, for a second, possible to agree with them. And as soon as you start down that path, you have to pull yourself back to reality and wonder what you were thinking.

So there’s a recipe for a great villain. Plenty of screen time. A fantastic back story to provide lots of motivation and a deep-seated belief in the rightness of what they are doing.

I’m certain I’ve yet to achieve that with any of my villains, but now I have something to aspire to.

Making Writing a Habit With Gamification

woman-typing-writing-windowsI love writing. Writing energizes me. Why, then do I have so much trouble making the time to do it?

Sound familiar? If you’re like me and juggling writing and another career, it probably does. I don’t do formal New Year’s Resolutions, but I did set a goal to be more consistent in my writing this year. My release schedule was slipping to about 18 months, and I want to tighten that up, which means I need to finish the current book before the end of the year.

Fortunately, an excellent tool crossed my path. It’s Habitica, which makes keeping habits into a game. I wrote about it on my business blog. (If you didn’t know I had one, this is a great time to check it out.) In brief, the idea is that your habits become like quests in an role playing game. Do you habits and you earn gold and experience. Don’t do your habits, and you lose health. Lose enough health and you die. 🙁

Don’t worry. I’m still alive. I’m one of those people who responds well to this sort of motivation, and Habitica has helped keep me consistent with my writing. I made “Write 500 words” a weekday habit. I get bonus credit for each additional 250 words.

Starting this has done a couple of things. First, I’ve been consistently meeting my goal, and I’ve written around 30K words this year so far. While that’s not going to break any records, I’ve completed one novella and am well into the next novel. So far, I’m on track to publish the novel by the end of the year. Oh, and I have written on holidays. Or written ahead so I could take a day off. The game aspect has kept me committed because I don’t want to take damage. My husband thinks it’s silly, but it works for me.

Not surprisingly, the more I write, the faster and easier it becomes. Last year, when I wrote only sporadically, it was hard work most of the time. (Part of that was the story I was working on.) This year, yes, I have tough days, but mostly it’s going smoothly. It’s not uncommon for me to reach 1K words or more in a session.

Setting the goal had one other, unexpected effect. By setting a specific word goal, I know when I’m done. On days I just don’t feel like writing, I can tell myself “It’s only 500 words. You can do that.” And I can. And I allow myself to quit as soon as I hit the 500 mark. Previously, I just had a vague goal to “write when I could.” You can imagine how well that worked. In hindsight, it’s amazing I’ve published as much I have.

I know that word count goals don’t work for everyone. I recently read an article on reasons not to track word count, but the system and Habitica works for me. (Sorry, can’t find the article.)

What about you? What keeps you motivated to write consistently?

Taking a Break From the Novel To Write a Short Story

monster-152733_640I was making good progress on the next Paul and Dafydd story when I alluded to Dafydd having taken Paul home for the holidays. Realizing it was the holiday season, I decided to write that story. I’m over 5K words in, and I think I’ll have it wrapped up in another 2K or so.

I have another Paul and Dafydd short story that had been published several years ago in an anthology, and I’ve been meaning to release it as a stand-alone short for a while now. If all goes according to plan, I’ll release both of them in another couple of weeks, a bit late for prime Christmas season, but still out there before the magic day.

I’m going to experiment with these by putting them in Kindle Unlimited for 90 days. While I am against a narrow release in general, I don’t have as much of a problem with a short-term, narrow release for a short story. I’ll see if being in Kindle Unlimited for a few months leads to a bump in the other novels. My hope is that fantasy readers are willing to buy. I also plan to have my cover rebranding done at the same time, assuming I can find the time to work on the old covers. So far,  I’m busier this month with other business than I had thought I would be. Not a bad thing, exactly, but it is impacting the writing plan.

Still in this for the long haul, so not worried. If my plans go belly-up, I can always hold the Christmas story until next year and just go with the anthology one. Looking forward to seeing how the KU experiment goes.

Oh, I decided to make my author Facebook page active again. Feel free to stop by and “Like” me.

iPad Mini 4 As Writing Device

 I recently upgraded to an iPad Mini 4, and one of the ways I planned to use it was for writing. I’ve been writing on an iPad for several years now, and I can be highly productive at a Starbucks or Panera with my iPad and Bluetooth keyboard. My biggest concern about moving from a full-sized iPad to a Mini was the screen size.

I needn’t have worried. If anything, the Mini might be even better to work on than my old 4th generation iPad. For a start, I’ve always had trouble getting my iPad at the right angle. My usual case is the Apple Smart Cover, and it’s either too low or not angled enough. The Mini smart cover has the same problem, but I have an old tablet stand from Amazon, and the Mini fits in it perfectly. Finally! My iPad at the correct angle.

The biggest upgrade for me has been Split View, and it’s the main reason I splurged on the Mini 4 instead of buying the cheaper Mini 3, which Best Buy still has in stock. The 3 doesn’t support Split View, and I had a feeling it would be useful, providing it was usable on the smallish Mini screen.

Good news. It is, at least for me. How do I use Split View? Now that I’m working on the fourth book in The Warlock Case Files, I can’t keep everything in my head. Sometimes I need to refer back to a previous book for details. I have the three earlier books loaded in iBooks, and I use Simplenote for writing. Both apps support Split View, and it’s been convenient to have Simplenote open on one side of the screen and iBooks open on the other, for quick look-ups. The Safari browser also supports Split View, and I’ve had it open for research as well.

By being so small and light, it’s easy to carry my Mini and keyboard when I’m on my way to a meeting. I make sure to arrive at least a half hour early, which gives me time to bang out a few hundred words while I wait.
Productivity on the go!

So What’s Next?

My latest book has been on sale for a couple of weeks now, and while I’m hardly setting any sales records, I’m not disappointed either. This year has been, for me, a miserable sales year, but I’m looking at it as a learning experience, not as a disappointment.

I got some feedback last year that the covers of my books made them look like Young Adult, which they are not. While I’m not writing erotica, there is a scene at the end of Reincarnated Lover that would probably upset a few parents if they saw their teens and tweens reading it.

I also made a discovery when Scribd severely cut back the romance titles in their catalog. My books had been categorized as romances. The relationship between Paul and Dafydd is an important part of the Warlock Case Files series, but they are not romances. My sales drop suddenly made sense. I had been selling fairly steadily prior to the introduction of Kindle Unlimited. As soon as Amazon introduced the subscription service, my sales plummeted. It took me almost a year to figure out why.

Romance readers are voracious, and many of them flocked to Kindle Unlimited. As far as I can tell, from reading other blogs, sales of romance books were severely cannibalized by Kindle Unlimited. I’ve chosen to go wide, so my books aren’t available in KU. I knew romance readers were borrowing more than buying, but my books weren’t romances, so why did my sales drop?

It wasn’t until my books disappeared from Scribd that I figured it out. Back when I published Haunted Vampire, I selected “Gay” as a category, thinking, why not? Dafydd is gay. Oops. Gay is a romance sub-category (which was not and still isn’t obvious from the category structure).

So I finally figured out why my sales had dropped. I’ve deleted the Gay category, but it will take a while for the classification to go away. When you look at the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” recommendations, the “Also Boughts” are still almost exclusively gay romance.

So what to do about the situation? Changing my categories was step one. Step two is going to be a complete rebranding. I took the WMG Publishing Cover Design class earlier this year, and I’m going to create new covers for the Warlock Case Files books. I’ll brand them so they have a similar look and feel to Buried But Not Gone, which, I hope, doesn’t look at all like a romance cover!

I’m hoping new covers will help, along with changing the category. I’m also hard at work on the next Paul and Dafydd book. Having a new release in that series should also help.

So 2015 has been the year of learning, which I’m okay with. I’m here for the long haul, so I still have plenty of time to figure out all the moving pieces of indie publishing!