Leah Bergquist reported on two of the presentations she attended at LTUE: Evil in Fiction (led by James Dashner, Clint Johnson, J. Scott Savage, Jennifer A. Nielson and Al Carlisle) and Writing Action, led by Larry Correia.
Evil in Fiction: The evil character needs to be intelligent. No one is evil just because. The more logical the character the harder it is for them to tell the difference between good and evil because they can compartmentalize and justify everything they do. Also, a good villain is someone that the reader may eventually feel sympathy for or even, to an extent, like.
It’s not the person who’s evil, it’s the event. A good person can commit an evil act in the name of goodness. Does that make it less evil? Or does the act itself make the person evil? There is always a reason. Animals/monsters kill for food, people kill for food, love, vengeance, the thrill of the hunt etc.
Everyone, both protagonist and antagonist have their own demons to fight.
Everything the hero gets must be earned. The antagonist needs to have something to take
away from the hero. The villain will ALWAYS exploit the hero’s weaknesses and friends, family,
work, anything earned is a weakness and can be used against the hero.
A writer also needs to ask his/herself if a story requires evil at all. Most stories do not
necessarily need evil, but they do need conflict and generally need an antagonist.
Know your target audience. Get a feel for where the line is that must be drawn and if you must
push against it, do so gently. If you cross the line then you may offend/lose your audience.
Manipulation and Seduction are two great tools for a villain to have in his/her tool belt of evil. A villain can get up close to the hero and draw out what darkness is already there inside of
them and use it against them.
Don’t just throw the villain in at the end of the story
It gives more of a plot twist if the villain is
there the whole time and the reader just doesn’t see/notice him/her because they’re that good
at manipulation. But looking back, the reader should be able to but two and two together.
Ask yourself if the ends justify the means. Once again, going back to the need. A killer won’t kill just because unless they have developed an addiction to the act. Some serial killers have
been known to state that God kills indiscriminately. And the more you do what God does, the
more you feel like God. But even then, there is still a need being fulfilled on the killer’s part.
How do you make a villain more realistic? Treat them like a person. Give them a name, a past,
goals, reasons etc. Make them human.
If an action sequence is bad to you, then it’s going to be bad to the reader.
The pacing of an action sequence can make or break it.
Make it big enough to be entertaining and small enough to stay interesting.
Don’t describe every little detail. During an action sequence, things should be happening so
fast that the character whose point of view the story is being told from should miss things.
Avoid making a checklist. But also avoid not describing enough. Don’t be too wordy.
Learn as much as you can about whatever it is that you’re writing about. You don’t have to be
an expert (you can seek those out). But research makes you a better writer because if you’re writing about something that you don’t know enough about, the reader’s that DO know about such things will know it and lose interest.
Learn what actually happens to the body. A person can’t be shot and just get up and keep running. Bullets do a LOT of damage. Look up Wound Ballistics (just don’t eat first).
Action sequences can convey plot. They don’t need to be separate.
A character that’s tough and used to violence will have a completely different thought process
than someone who has never been in a fight before. For instance, a hardened marine could get shot at and think, “Here we go again.” Whereas a person who has never held a gun before would panic and probably get killed. Or get someone else killed.
If something is confusing for the character it should be confusing for the reader. Ask yourself, who is the most interesting person’s point of view to tell the scene from? And tell
if from there.
A great question for Alpha Readers is, “Were you ever confused about who’s point of view the
story was from?”
Don’t be afraid to kill main characters.
Sudden, unexpected violence at the end of a conflict is a great way to shock the reader. They
think the heroes have saved the day and are home free and suddenly someone jumps out and kills a main character.
Develop people and give them a bunch of things so that you can take them away. It gives the
characters a reason to venture out and become the heroes and/or villains a reason to become
what they are to be.
Training sequences/montages can help the reader learn a lot about the character.