Being a Better Writer: Considerations for a Villain Protagonist

Welcome back readers!

By now, unless something has gone desperately wrong, I’m well away from my desk, and this post was actually written back in April! So you’re getting this via the scheduler (which is also why some external links like Patreon or the Facebook page won’t have it until later). Me? I’m presumably experiencing salt air and endless rain. Because, you know, Southeast Alaska.

There’s a reason I live in a sunny location now, but it is nice to visit home every once in a while. I just need to make sure I return from there in a timely manner and have a few months to dry out.

So, what are we talking about today? Well, this post is a sort-of follow-up to our post a few weeks back about how to deliver an effective villain. A reader hit up the Topic Call post active around the same time asking after a villain protagonist.

See, as par for the course when discussing terms that are easily conflated, that prior post (as well as a few others) had discussed the differences between a villain and an antagonist, noting that they are not the same thing (and if you’re wondering how or why, hit that link up there, because this is a very important distinction to get right). Same with a hero and a protagonist: They’re not the same thing. They can overlap, but they’re two different roles that aren’t exclusively linked.

And today, we’re demonstrating that link by talking about one of the rarer combinations out there: a villain protagonist.

That’s right. When the villain is your primary character that the story revolves around.

Now, while I did say these are rarer, that’s not the same as nigh-impossible to find. Sands, I linked a video clip in our discussion on effective villains from Megamind, which is indeed a movie about a villain protagonist. There exists a Star Wars comic series that’s all about Darth Vader and has him as the protagonist killing jedi and wreaking havoc. There are even video games that explicitly put the player in the shoes of a villain protagonist.

So this isn’t rare on the level of say, naturally occurring nuclear reactors, but if you were to do a breakdown of all stories out there, villain protags would definitely be on a small end of that list. Especially if you took into consideration all the stories that claim to be about a villain, but really aren’t, and just paint them as the victim of a misunderstanding or the hero of another story (once again, as noted in our post on villains a few weeks ago, a villain by definition chooses evil actions, so a misunderstanding, accident, or “I’m really the hero” don’t count unless they truly are a villain, something most shy away from).

Then again, it’s not hard to see why most stories are reluctant to embrace a villainous protagonist: It’s hard to get a reader to root for a character doing morally repulsive things. AKA, the bread and butter of a villain.

Which again, isn’t to say that it can’t be done. Megamind for instance, paints its villain protagonist as perpetuating evil … but out of the belief that someone has to fill that narrative, and he might as well engage it if he’ll take blame for it anyway. He still openly admits he’s a villain and does immoral things … but at the same time is a very good example of “evil has standards” since he deliberately goes out of his way to keep bystanders from being harmed and the like. For the most part.

However, Megamind is comedic, and also follows its villain protagonist having a change of heart over the course of the film, switching from villain to hero. And again, he’s a villain with standards. So while he’s still “evil” the film is able to use laughter to mask some of the more despicable acts (like another villain-themed film released around the same time) and of course, he does end up good in the end.

But what about a darker villain? What about someone without those same standards against say, killing innocent bystanders? How can we get a reader to follow along with a character when they’re well, not good? When they’d rather kick the dog rather than pet it, or maybe just flat out incinerate it, listening to it howl in pain?

How can we make a villain protagonist work?

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Starforge Preview

Hello readers! I’m out and about away from my desk right now (unless something has really gone wrong), but that doesn’t mean the posts—or the rewards—will stop! Especially when celebrating something like Colony hitting fifty reviews on Amazon.

In celebration of that fact, last weekend Colony was free for all. I hope you got a copy while you could if you hadn’t yet, but if you missed it, well … Better luck next time, I suppose.

In the meantime, those readers that have already blitzed through Colony and Jungle and then didn’t see much reward from Colony going free outside of recommending it to those they know and welcoming them to the universe, so I wanted to do something a little special.

Which is where this post comes in. This is the complete, unedited (as the book is still in editing) prologue chapter for Starforge. Yes, that’s right, the entire opening chapter.

It’s big. It’s action-packed. And it’s right here, right now.

Obviously before we get to the link, I do need to issue some warnings. If you have NOT read Colony and Jungle, be advised that this post will contain massive spoilers. Yes, I’m dragging out bold and italics for that.

Again, huge SPOILER WARNING past the jump. Starforge‘s prologue builds off of several big twists and reveals from the prior books. Once you go past that jump, all bets are off. If you have not read Colony and Jungle, be warned that you’re spoiling some big reveals that you otherwise would have discovered on your own. Again, SPOILER WARNING. If needed, bookmark this and then come back to it after reading the rest of the trilogy.

For the rest of you? Hit that jump, and enjoy your first taste of Starforge.

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Hey Netflix, I Hear You’re Looking for New Shows …

So some news slipped across my radar this morning that Netflix, determined to claw back a sudden drop of subscribers, has put $18 billion toward pursuing new content to woo audiences with. Included among these, from what I gather, is a desire for a “female Jack Ryan,” aka a female action-adventure protagonist with intrigue, action, etc etc.

Netflix, might I humbly suggest Colony and the rest of the UNSEC Space Trilogy?

It’s got exactly what you want: Annalyne Neres, the South American mercenary who is one of the three primary characters, is absolutely an action star. There’s political intrigue as the three protagonists maneuver their way through various competing factions, there’s action as negotiation gives way to frantic, dangerous violence—

Oh, and did I mention it’s Science-Fiction? In other words, the perfect thing to fill the void left among viewers now that The Expanse is over and done.

Action, intrigue, mystery, and an audience of the streaming market that’s currently looking for the “next big thing.”

Better yet, it’s complete. The final book of the trilogy is coming out later this year, so a successful first season wouldn’t need to panic and stall while some finale is figured out. No filler needed. A complete story, and the rights are available and ready.

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Being a Better Writer: Do You Need a Kickstarter?

You know, in a way I feel a bit sad that this post is going to be scheduled, and I’ll be “away” when it goes up, because this is a post that I would like to see the reader responses to. There’s no getting around the fact that with a somewhat topical subject like this, however, sooner is better, and so I don’t want to delay this installment of Being a Better Writer to a later time.

Really quick, before that, though, reminder that today is the last day to get a copy of Colony for free! Hit the books page and head on over to Amazon before midnight arrives!

Got it? Good! On with the post! I am going to preamble this a bit: I’ve never run a Kickstarter, even when I’ve had plenty of well-meaning advice from folks to do so. And even with the topical bit of news regarding the recent surge of books on Kickstarter, which we’re going to talk about … I still don’t have plans to run one.

So then, some of you may be asking, what qualifies me to talk about whether or not you need a Kickstarter? Well, not having run one is not the same as “I’ve looked into it, watched it, and seen how it operates, and made a decision based on both observed Kickstarters and conversations with those that have run successful and unsuccessful projects there.”

This is one of those rare BaBW posts that hits on writing related stuff, in this case marketing.

Now, some of you might be a little perplexed by that statement. “Marketing?” you may be saying. “Kickstarter isn’t marketing. It’s selling the book before it’s out!”

Well … sort of. But not really. And ultimately, success of failure with a Kickstarter comes down to one thing above all others: Advertising. Which is marketing.

Alright, let’s step back before we get in too deep and ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with the most basic part of this whole conversation: What is Kickstarter and why are so many in the book sphere talking about it right now?

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Colony is Free Starting Today!

The first of the UNSEC Space Trilogy, free this weekend! Grab it now!

Yes, you read that correctly! In honor of Colony being the first of my books to crack fifty reviews on Amazon, it is now free for the weekend. From today, Thursday the fifth of May, 2022, through Monday, May 9th, Colony is 100% free to download from Amazon. No strings attached.

That’s it. What more is there to say? You’ve got five days to download Colony at no cost and see why so many people have praised it over the years. Better still, with the third and final installment in the trilogy dropping this year when Starforge arrives, there’s never been a better time to start the series and set yourself up to be ready by the time it drops.

Now, if you’ve already read Colony, first of all thank-you. Second, you might be wondering what this post has for you. Never fear, next week you’ll be getting a look at a once-Patreon exclusive preview of Starforge.

But in addition to that, you can share this post! Colony is free for five whole days, so if there’s anyone in your life who enjoys Sci-Fi and is always on the lookout for a new adventure—maybe someone that was waiting to take the plunge for Colony—fire them this link! Share it on social media! Let the world know!

Those of you looking for the book and bored by all this text, just click that cover above, or this link here.

And enjoy.

The First to Fifty: Colony Makes History

Well, it finally happened. In a move this weekend that saw me updating every scheduled post for the next few weeks, Colony has become the first book of mine to hit the fifty-review/rating milestone on Amazon. For a while there it was a real question of which would be first, Colony or One Drink (my first), as both were neck and neck for a few weeks. But Colony has proven itself, and has now taken not only the lead, but broken the first major review milestone I’ve had on Amazon, cracking fifty reviews and ratings.

Which … may not seem like a lot to some of you. In an era where a ten-thousand dollar instagram campaign can drive a book to a thousand reviews seemingly overnight, fifty reviews doesn’t seem like much. But there’s one thing that Colony has going for it with its small selection that those massive advertising campaigns don’t: Colony‘s reviews are organic and all-natural!

Better yet, it’s still sitting at 4.5 stars after all these years.

And in case I didn’t have more to say about this, One Drink caught up as of this morning. That’s how close it was. Colony managed it on Saturday, One Drink just this morning. Talk about a tight race!

But a race that Colony clearly won. Which means it’s time to deliver on the tease I kept making recently about whichever title managed it getting a reward worth bragging about. And well, here it is:

Colony will be free to everyone this weekend. And it’ll be a five day weekend. Fifty reviews, five days. That means starting this Thursday, May 5th, and running through Monday, May 9th, Colony will be free to download and keep forever.

For five days.

Yeah. That’s the prize. Colony was the first to reach fifty, so it’s going to be free for almost a week. If you’ve been waiting in the wings thinking you’d pick this one up when the moment arrived … this is the moment! Starting tomorrow, you’ll have your chance!

But it shouldn’t just be you. If you know someone who would enjoy Colony and the rest of the trilogy, fire a link at ’em! Let them know now is the time to check it out!

However … that’s not all. Those of you that have read Colony and Jungle will be happy to know that next week, after the free giveaway is over, you’re going to get a very special post indeed: A preview of Starforge.

This was a Patreon-exclusive for some time, but now you’re going to get a look at it. Pre-Alpha, so unedited (Starforge editing is ongoing). But hey, it’s a preivew! It is, in fact, the entire prologue.

And it will be massively full of spoilers if you’ve not read Colony and Jungle. Just saying. I’ll have a warning on the post, just in case.

Either way, if you’re one of the reviewers that helped push Colony to fifty, thank you. Colony continues to thrive in part because of your willingness to let the world know how great it is.

Now it’s time for others to find that out as well.

Congratulations Colony for hitting the milestone!

Being a Better Writer: What is an Antagonist?

Welcome back readers, and a big welcome to the first topic from Topic List #20! Being a Better Writer sure has come a long way since 2013, when it was largely (and effectively) the equivalent of message-board posts responding to fan messages asking writing questions, hasn’t it? Maybe in August of 2023 I should do a ten-year special of some kind. Thankfully, I’ve got a year to think about it. But that does sound like fun.

Ten years of Being a Better Writer in 2023. Sands and Storms, that’s a lot of content. Of course, it didn’t start being weekly. Originally it was just a response to a message asking for writing advice. But the one response inspired more people to send in their writing questions and then before long I was getting a few messages a week, and I started making a list, and the posts started to become regular …

That was nine years ago, and things have definitely changed. The initial “boom” of writing questions died down, though I still get the occasional request through Discord these days or on on the Topic Call posts. Being a Better Writer migrated off of its origin point and onto this site, which also became the main hub for my books and other materials. At the urging of a number of fans, I finally opened a Patreon that, to this day, helps keep the site entirely advertisement free—no pop-ups or intrusive ads over the text here! Being a Better Writer has been sourced, quoted, and cited everywhere from Wikipedia to major education systems, collegiate and public.

It’s come a long way.

Sorry, just sort of got nostalgic there with the whole start of Topic List #20. Side note, readers, but this is another Being a Better Writer post prepped and scheduled in advance, as I’m gearing up for a trip in May. Which … let me check my calendar … I haven’t departed on yet, I think, but hey, I’m getting this ready to go now.

Anyway, let’s talk about today’s topic, and step away from the reminiscing. Today’s topic is one most of you will likely recognize from a few weeks ago, when we talked about villains and how to make them deliver on their premise.

Well, one thing that came up over the course of that discussion was a small segment on the difference between a villain and an antagonist. The reason for that segment being that a lot of people—even critics—tend to use both terms interchangably. It’s not at all uncommon to see a review, for instance, refer to the villain of a piece as the “antagonist” or vice-versa.

But there’s a real problem with using these two terms interchangeably: They’re not the same thing. A villain is not automatically an antagonist, nor is an antagonist automatically a villain. As stated in the villain discussion, it’s like the old logic statement: Some villains are antagonists, and some antagonists are villains, but not all villains are antagonists, and not all antagonists are villains.

Worse, using them interchangeably like this is actually kind of harmful, as it blurs the lines for those who may not realize that there’s a very clear difference between the two identities. For a comparison, imagine a car magazine reviewing a new vehicle, but clearly treating rally cars as identical to rock-crawling cars, simply because both can traverse rough unpaved roads. Yes, both can, but they’re also very different kinds of cars.

Villains and antagonists are the same way: They have similar positions in a story sometimes, and can even overlap into the same character, making a villain antagonist. But they are not the same, and not understanding that can lead to confusion both in the writing and in the explaining of the story.

Look, if you take one thing away from this post, let it be this: An antagonist is not a villain. There is no requirement that an antagonist be villainous at all. They are separate character roles that can be combined into one, but don’t have to be.

You ready to break this down in depth? Then hit the jump.

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OP-ED: Don’t Ban Things Just Because You Don’t Like Them

This post has been on my mind for a few months now. Like others, it’s being written in advance for posting. But in a way I’m glad, because I’ve already written it once and retooled it. After some consideration, I think the best way to go with this post is to be short and sweet.

There’s been a real rash in the last decade or so of folks seeking to “remove” what they don’t like from the public sphere. Various methods are being used, from twitter mobs that go after creators to try and get them removed or banned from communities or positions, to the latest incarnation, which is to use politicians and laws to block or remove things simply because one disagrees with them.

I wish I were joking. Kentucky just passed a law that, as I understand it, gives state politicians ultimate say over all public library funds and what they go toward. The implication made by the supporters of the bill is that it will allow them to examine what books are on public library shelves or requested by readers and then block all library funding until the “problematic” titles are removed. A similar bill is being pushed in Idaho that would launch an investigation into public libraries of that state to find “problematic material” and remove it from the library (likely, from what I’ve gathered, along with punishments to the library and staff for offering such “problematic” literature).

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Being a Better Writer: The Importance of Experimentation

Hello readers, and welcome back for another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! Confession time: This post was actually written early, as will be the next few week’s worth of Being a Better Writer posts, as I am going to be out of town for a few weeks in May. I’m getting a head start, in other words.

So, with little to no knowledge of the news that will be occurring at the time of post outside of “Hey, I’m planning on being away, Alpha Readers on Starforge get a blissful few weeks to rush ahead of me” there’s not too much reason to say anything other than “Let’s talk writing!”

So let’s talk writing! And the importance of experimenting. Hit that jump!

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Things I Miss from Covid

I realize that title sounds a bit strange, or maybe even upsetting. Just bear with me for a moment. There were good things about the Covid-year, by which I mean 2020.

Yes, I know that Covid-19 isn’t gone yet. It’s still sweeping through places—even my hometown—leaving pain and sadness in its wake. We’re still not through this. Not entirely.

But a lot of people are content to pretend that we are. And while there are good reasons for the pandemic to be over … there are bad ones as well.

Yesterday, I was out for a bike ride. Long-time readers know that I’m a regular bike rider. I live near a river trail that runs through a good chunk of the city I live in, and it’s a great way to get some fresh air and exercise.

But I noticed something as I was shooting along this trail. Something that took my brain back to some comments I’d made during 2020, at the height of lockdown. See, this trail takes its course past several very nice parks, each of which has playground equipment such as swings and slides.

And I noticed, with a bit of sadness, that a decent amount of this equipment was, in the early evening, unused.

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