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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Being a Better Writer: Setting Up for a Sequel

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday again, and you regulars know what that means!

Though I’ll admit this post is a little late. However, those of you familiar with the more obscure areas of US Tax law will likely understand now that I’ve invoked the existence of that system. Yes, today was the day I needed to make sure that my taxes were sent in (they weren’t quarterlies because of fishing money). Those of you who have dealt with the IRS or who do your own taxes understand.

So, that’s why the post is a little late. But better late than never!

Now, I do have one more nice bit of news before we get rolling today. Don’t worry, it’s short and sweet. Colony picked up a few new ratings this weekend (all 5-star) along with this glowing review:

That’s a lot of exclamation points! Thank you for the review, new reader, and may you enjoy the rest of my library!

Okay, with that said and done, let’s wrap up the month of February with one more Being a Better Writer post! Hit the jump, and let’s talk about sequels.

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Being a Better Writer: The Mary Sue

You know, it’s almost impressive it took this long for a direct post on this topic to come up.

I mean it! While the topic has come up before in other posts and been discussed in amounts ranging from referential to a few paragraphs, in all the years Being a Better Writer has been running, we’ve never tackled the topic in a post of its own. Somehow, it just never came up or was requested in an in-depth fashion.

But then I had a conversation that got me thinking on Mary-Sue characters once more. Specifically, a conversation that held a bit of a debate over what a Mary Sue was, with various folks offering different opinions. Most of which were quite accurate, but there were a few offered that were also a little far from what a Mary Sue was, which led to further discussion over the definition.

At which point, as some people held that a Mary Sue was just “a character they didn’t like” I checked the archives here and realized “Well dang, I’ve never actually written a post on this topic” and put it on the list, once and for all.

Which brings us to today, and the pertinent questions that come as a result of such a straightforward topic: What is a Mary Sue? Where did the term come from? How does it show up in writing. And, of course, the most important question of all for BaBW: how does can we put this knowledge to use in our writing?

Hit the jump, and let’s talk about Mary Sues.

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Being a Better Writer: Having an Online Presence

Good afternoon, readers! Welcome back on to another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got an interesting topic to discuss today, which will probably go by pretty quick (that’s okay, it’s a holiday) but before we do, it’s time for a little news. Emphasis on little, so you can read through it without getting too bogged down.

First up, Shadow of an Empire‘s print proof will be in my hands this week. Yes, you read that right. I am excited to be holding it at last. I don’t anticipate many issues between the proof and the final copy either, since Shadow of an Empire, unlike Axtara, has been out digitally for a few years already and seen a few cleanings already. With the paperback release it’s going to be checking it to make sure that the formatting is good and nothing unexpected happened. After which paperback sales can be approved!

Speaking of which, based on the poll I put up last week (Side note: the WordPress base poll tool isn’t very good, as I have to vote to see the results) has been overwhelmingly in favor of the option I wanted to go with: Expanded distribution. Which means that yes, Shadow of an Empire will be available to libraries, bookstores, and the like. However, since most of those places want their cut, it does mean the book is going to cost a bit more.

$21.99 in total, to be precise. Before some of you blanch, this is for a 600+ page trade-sized paperback (same size, in height, as Axtara). By comparison, the non-trade paperback for Dune (releasing because the movie is coming out) which is a smaller, cheaper to manufacture paperback, is 500 pages and sells for $17.99. The math does work out: This is just a big book.

Which amuses me personally, because a few friends who’ve heard about this have already dropped the comment of “But isn’t Shadow of an Empire one of your shorter books?” To which I have to say “Well, yes?” It’s more in the middle, really. But Colony and Jungle are certainly larger, plus Starforge

Anyway, that’s the update on Shadow of an Empire: The print proof will be in my hands this week, with paperback sales opening shortly thereafter.

One final question before we dive into today’s topic, though: Axtara does well as a paperback, but how would you readers feel about a hardcover release?

Right, I promised short news, so that’s it. Instead let us turn our minds to the act of writing. Well, sort of. Today’s topic is one of the rare BaBW topics that’s less on the “nuts-and-bolts” side of things and more on the side of authorial things that don’t quite involve sitting down at a keyboard to work out your latest story. That said however, today’s topic is incredibly valuable. Quite simply put, if you ignore today’s topic, you’re unlikely to ever see more than a few book sales without someone else doing it for you. It’s that critical.

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Being a Better Writer: “Alien” Aliens and the Conflict of Drive

Hello again readers from across the datanet! Well, some parts of it. Today I woke up to the frantic news announcements that Facebook and all its associated services, from Instagram to WhatsApp, are down. Completely and totally. Very likely not permanently, but as of writing this, it’s gone from the web. You can’t even access it.

You know I’m just going to say it: It’s a good break for people. I usually log on each morning to see if I have any notifications from my family, but I don’t miss not having it this morning. If it were gone for good, well that’d be a different story since I keep a bunch of photos on there and I do use it to keep up with family members since I can’t get any of them to use Discord.

But that’s all I’ll say on it. It’s down, so you’re probably not going to be linking here from there today unless things come back up. No ads on Facebook today! Which almost made me switch topics, I’ll admit, but I’ve wanted to talk about today’s Being a Better Writer topic for some time now. And having Facebook and some of the primary social media sites be down for the other topic would be slightly less than ideal, despite making me thing about it. So that post will have to wait.

So then, what about today’s post? Most of you have read the title, so where is this coming from? Why this topic? Well, hit the jump, and let’s get talking.

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Being a Better Writer: Too Much Purple in Your Prose?

Well, this post topic comes at a topical time. Or maybe I picked it because of what I’ve been reading lately. Hard to say.

Hello readers, and welcome back! I realize that intro needs a little explanation, and so you’ll get one! See, I’ve recently started reading this book. Recently as in “just a few days ago.” It was a book I won’t name (per the usual, if I’m going to use a book as a negative example of something, I don’t name it unless it’s so famous the creator won’t care or it’s really bad), but it was a loan from my sister. No idea where she acquired it, but she passed it to me with an ominous exchange of ‘I read this and I wanted to know what you think?’ followed by ‘Was it good?’ and a retort of ‘It was interesting. I want to know what you think.’

Now I’ll admit that I’m about eighty pages in and I am curious to see where the story is going, though as a YA book it’s already showing some signs of slipping into a more “standard” trope story. But it’s not terrible. But it definitely is … interesting.

One of the reasons I say this is because the book has a real love of overly purple prose. In fact, as I was reading it last night I realized there was a pattern to it: Almost anything that was going to be described wasn’t just going to be described in very flowery, over-the-top terms and language (I’ll bet I could find “eyes like cursed amethyst” somewhere in this book). No no, it was going to be described using such no less than three times. Introduced, or even meeting again a male character? Get ready for three sentences—a whole paragraph—about how his eyes are burning like simmering, shifting coals, his posture like a howling wolf with a firebrand on his tail, etc etc. You get the idea.

I actually laughed when I noticed that it really was a “rule of three” thing going on with all the prose and descriptions. Even if it’s just a sudden cut for a quick, single-word description of something, there will be three of them in a row. All equally verbose and over-the-top.

But … it does raise a question. I haven’t stopped reading the book yet, so is it too much? For that matter, what about in the books that we write? When is there too much purple in our prose?

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Being a Better Writer: How Much Drama is too Much?

Welcome back readers, to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! Written via time travel … technically. As I am still in Alaska, this post was written and scheduled in advance, so I won’t see your comments until I return. That said, thanks to the magic of technology I can still deliver Being a Better Writer to you despite being—peers ahead—currently finish off another longline set.

So, with no news, there’s little for me to do but dive right in. So I’ll start by asking the question posed in the very title: how much drama is too much?

The prompt for this question came from a story I was reading a few weeks ago, in which two characters who were getting pretty close suddenly and out of nowhere had a massive moment of shared agonizing over holding one another’s hand. And I don’t mean “It became a big deal.” I mean “It became a big deal,” to the degree that everything else that had been going on in the story stopped dead while these two characters agonized over it.

Now, I’m not saying that someone agonizing over whether or not to reach for someone’s hand is a bad thing. Or an improbable one. Or even one that doesn’t bring the world to a halt for the duo involved. But as storytellers, we not only need to consider all of those things but as well everything around that moment or event. In this case, the story had not to this point had such a moment of drama. In fact, things had been quite the opposite, with the characters being very relaxed and at ease with one another. Again, not to say that there aren’t moments of transition from ease to panic in real-life relationships, but what happened here was less a transition and more a leap off a cliff. Or maybe up it, and the audience was left at the bottom. Not only was it quite sudden and out of the character we’d seen so far, but it also brought the rest of the story to a screeching halt, everything going on hold for a long segment of panic. Pacing? It was dead by the time that sequence was halfway over.

Which got me thinking, and led to me adding this topic to the list. How much drama is too much drama?

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Being a Better Writer: Tension and Slow Pacing

Hello readers! Welcome back!

So updates! I did manage to hit my quota last Friday despite being a little sick. And while I wouldn’t put it past that segment to need a little editing, overall it was a pretty kick-butt segment of [REDACTED] battling [REDACTED].

Am I one-hundred percent yet? Well … no. This sickness wasn’t much though. Just a sore throat and headache, both of which have mostly faded into a phenomenally active nose (thank you for boxed tissues, world) as my system kicks everything out. And I am still kind of tired … But I blame that on being overly rested from the weekend and not being able to fall asleep last night until around 5 AM (either way, please excuse any typos that made it through on this post, I’m working despite a funk).

Regardless of feeling a little ill-rested, this bout of whatever I caught is mostly over. Huzzah!

To further that plus side of things, this weekend saw some good sales. If they stay constant, I just might be on that good side of the knife-edge after all!

Now, some other quick news updates before I get to this week’s Being a Better Writer post. As of right now, next week’s Being a Better Writer is planned to be a Live Q&A over on the Unusual Things Discord (The Makalay Camp). That’s right, I’ll be donning the headset (sans camera this time) and answering questions about writing live from the audience.

As to what time this event will be on Monday, January 28th, leave comments below if you’re hoping for a specific time and I’ll see what I can do. Last time holding it at 6-7 PM Mountain Time worked pretty well, but I know for some people who follow the sight that’s something like 2 AM. Does having it at 12 noon Mountain Time work better?

Also related is that today is the last topic on Topic List #17. Which means there will be a topic call as soon as the Live Q&A is over! So start thinking both about questions you want to ask live, and writing topics you want to see a whole BaBW post devoted to!

As a side note before we get started, it’s staggering to me that I’ve made it through #17 of these lists since I started keeping track of the number, and that Being a Better Writer has been going now for over six years. In fact, it’s closer to something like eight. Being a Better Writer existed before Unusual Things, which is six years old. Every Monday, save holidays, for almost eight years.

Sands and storms, that’s a lot of content.

Anyway, just thinking on it and a little stunned. How about we talk writing and clean the last topic off of Topic List #17 so #18 can start coming together? Hit the jump!

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Being a Better Writer: The Non-Gender of “They”

Welcome back, readers! Were your weekends interesting for you? In a good way? I hope so. Mine went pretty well, myself. Got a little more done on Stranded, and then watched as a truly amazing amount of book sales (by my standard) rolled in for Axtara! I’m not sure if it was the acknowledgement that you can find it on store shelves in Germany or what, but this weekend Axtara shipped quite a few copies.

Which was good to go with the bad. For a minor life update, the place I’ve been renting for the last few years is being sold. This is … less than desirable. The state I live in has a reputation when it comes to realtors that’s even above and beyond that of a normal state for being unscrupulous and dirty. So for example, the last time a landlord tried to sell a place I was renting, their relator tried to get everyone in the house evicted because they wouldn’t show it for her. That’s right: She wanted those living there to do her job for her. She got extremely upset when they wouldn’t.

Side note: This tangent got a little long. I do recommend reading through it (as it concerns not just me), but if you’re here for Being a Better Writer, jump down to the next break, then come back and finish this.

This relator also didn’t care at all for things like state laws requiring 24-hour advance notice of showings. I woke up to people in my rented house … and not just in there, but going through my stuff. The agent actually encouraged the kids of the people she’d been showing the house to start playing with my Wii console.

So yes, I have a distrust of realtors already, and today our landlord called us out of the blue and said ‘Hey, someone’s coming over today, and I’ve been told that by contract they don’t have to honor the 24-hour state notice. My hands are tied. I’m trying to get them to postpone it, but I signed that contract.’

Yeah … My distrust grows. Worse, if they’re willing to violate that part of the contract, the chance of the common practice in this state of bullying residents out to sell the unit “clean” goes way up. Our contracts are year to year, and this year extend through July. But I have a worrying suspicion that like so many other happenings in this state, our realtor will attempt to bully us out ASAP regardless of contract, either by looking for any sort of loophole that can get us evicted, or just simply by claiming that the new owner isn’t bound by any pre-existing contracts (imagine how life would be if that worked).

Worst of all, even if we manage to hold that off, such activity does not tend to enthuse new owners for the current tenants, even if the tenants aren’t the ones violating all the laws.

Sands, that’s a lot of text. Sorry to dump that on you guys. Just … bleh. If things get “dicey” in the upcoming months, this would be your forewarning as to why.

But tenant protections in the United States are awful. Well, not awful, just … not enforced very well.

Oh, and before I get a million comments saying “document everything” I learned that the last time. You can bet that if this showing happens today, I will not only be on hand but with a phone to record everything.

Also, I understand that while my current situation might suck, I’ve got it a lot better than most people in the US right now. Evictions are a historical high, housing and rental corporations are consolidating at a terrifying rate, using their new monopoly powers over whole cities and even states to send rental rates through the roof or even just hold empty buildings for the property value. I read an interview near end-2020 with a real skag-licker of a housing CEO who was giddy with how many people he was kicking out around Christmas because it was making him several hundred million dollars. This same skag also bragged that he (his company) now owned over a third of all American rental units. Meanwhile, homelessness, already climbing every year since 2016 (prior to which it had been trending downward … huh) is set to pass already historic highs. As much as nearly nine percent of the entire United States is at high risk becoming homeless in the coming year thanks to the effects of Covid-19 and the actions (read: greed) of rental companies.

So yes, I know my situation, while not great, is far from the grimness shared by almost ten percent of the United States. My rent hasn’t doubled in the last year. I still have a unit to pay rent on. My utilities weren’t cut off as a “cost saving measure.” Or any of the other horrible questionably legal junk that plagued the lives of many people in the US last year who were merely trying to have the bare basics to survive.

My point being with all of this: My situation isn’t as grim as a lot of other people’s in this country, but that’s … really setting a low bar. Would that my situation was the worst of it, with a realtor ignoring state laws to try and push a sale. But unfortunately, for a lot of people in the US, especially some of those nine percent barely hanging on, their situation is far worse.

We as a nation really need to clean up our act. Because I’m certain that when the founding fathers (yeah, invoking that) set out to found a nation, objectives like “At least ten percent of them should be homeless” and “the majority of all housing should be controlled by one or two individuals,” if found at all in their goals, were only there as “never let this sort of tyranny happen again.”

Because, you know, numbers-wise it really does look a lot like serfdom, which they wanted to get away from.


Okay, we’re done talking about that for the moment (though please, do go back and read through it later if you didn’t now, as it’s something that needs to change for the better). Now it’s time to dive into Being a Better Writer and the first posted topic from list #17!

Which … actually isn’t one requested by a reader, because I populate these lists on my own too, and this one is one of those. It’ll also be a shorter one … but no less interesting. And it actually was inspired by a few personal encounters with it.

So to begin, I’ll start with a question: If a friend and I are discussing the sex of an unborn baby, and I use “they” to refer to said baby, and my friend uses “it,” is one of us using the wrong word?

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Being a Better Writer: Selling the Vision

Today’s post is going to be more about editing. Sort of. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So first, welcome back readers! I hope you all had a good weekend! Especially with Episode 12 of Fireteam Freelance having dropped on Saturday. Was that a ride or what?

Now, I’d like to say there’s more news, but at the moment … not yet. There have been some interesting developments on my side of things, but at the moment they’re still in the formulative stage, so I’m going to hold off talking about it as of yet. There’s still time for things to go one way or the other.

Which means we’re going to dive right into today’s Being a Better Writer topic. Also, the quicker we dive in, the quicker I can get to work today on Starforge, which is WHOA. Patreon supporters know what I’m talking about.

So then, let’s talk about selling the vision.

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