27 January 2014

Cartoon Villains

When I was a kid I LIVED for after school and Saturday morning cartoons.

Is anyone with me on this?

Each weekday I came home from school and settled down in front of the TV with my favorite heroes—Thundercats, He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, Rainbow Bright, Voltron and Jem just to name a few. Loved them. Back then I would sometimes actually put physical effort into running so I didn’t miss the beginning of the first show on after school.

I need to find a similar motivation today.

Anyway, I’m going to use He-Man as an example. Poor Skelator. I mean really, he’s stuck in that horrible “castle” surrounded by idiots thinking of new and inventive ways he could thwart He-Man and the Castle Grayskull lady so he could get whatever he thought was his that really wasn’t.

As a kid I totally dug it. Each episode, Skelator would hatch an evil plan. It would start out with promise, and when the commercial break came, there could be a flicker of concern for He-Man and friends.  BUT, just as soon as we returned from toy and fruit by the foot commercials, He-Man took control. Skelator and his band of not so awesome helpers would be beaten, they’d play the exact same shot of Beastman (whatever his name was) running away from the fight as He-Man stopped and looked back and forth in the exact same way he did every episode and then, poof, bad guys lose and good guys win.

Bad guys slink back to their ugly castle to lick their wounds and get yelled at while the good guys expressed thanks to those who had helped, spit out what was supposed to be a humorous line (I totally laughed every time), and gave the kids some advice before the credits rolled.

I remember one time thinking, Good thing these bad guys aren’t very bright, because He-Man and his friends don’t usually get smarter very fast.

That may have been the day I stopped enjoying my after school cartoons so much.

This kind of a villain—only there to give the good guy something to fight against each episode or step of the story—works, but not for long. And even now-a-days kid’s cartoons employ more intricate villains.

In general, if you’re writing, you should probably stay away from this type of bad guy. No one really progresses, including your good guy—because he/she doesn’t have to—which makes for a dull story.

Unless you’re just there for the plucky humor. Then you’re totally in the right place.

23 January 2014

Villains: Quirks

One of the first things I remember learning about writing villains, is that they should have some sort of quirk. A trait that us “normal, non-bad-guy” people can relate to.

A man can be the most despicable creature on the planet until he picks up a kitten and cuddles it to his neck. Or a woman who will cut all of your limbs off if she needs to, but will also buy books for kids at underprivileged schools.

Or the villain could have a taste that you share with him or her. Chocolate, for instance. Or fine wine. Or BBQ. Whatever it is, it should be simple and identifiable.

The reason behind this is, if I understand it right, that it makes them real. Evil isn’t pure. No one can be purely bad. Especially in a story, that usually makes for a dull villain. So writers will make their villains more human by giving them one of these quirks.

Naturally, since I’m sitting here staring at this blank screen, I can’t think of a single example. Seriously, coming up blank.

What about you guys? What villain has a quirk that you noticed or liked?

19 January 2014


A long time ago I wrote my first novel. It was horrible. Cliché. It lacked character development and almost any semblance of originality.

Which is hardly surprising. Especially since I started with a single idea, a generic cast of characters and no idea of how to actually write a novel.

I wrote it for NanoWrimo (50,000 words in a month—yes anyone who participates is insane) which means it’s supposed to be craptastic.

A few years later, I finished it. Ish. It was still terrible. A friend asked if she could read it, so I said yes and gave it to her.

I remember clearly her talking about my bad guy. Not the main bad guy, who was a shifty figure who hung out at the fringes of the story sending his minions in to do his bidding, but the guy who got to do all of the mean stuff.

My friend didn’t think he was the bad guy. She was like, “I love that character, because you think he’s a jerk, but he’s pretty cool.”


He was, in my mind, bad. Bad, bad, bad. Evil. Nasty. Willing to kill innocents and torture people he didn’t like. Maybe even kick puppies.

Apparently, in my maiden voyage in writing a novel, I managed to make him not only likeable, but “good.”

Which isn’t okay. He’s supposed to be making the good guys’ life difficult, at the very least.

In the ten years of writing I’ve put in since then, I’m not sure that my villains are much better. At least not in first drafts, and sometimes not in the sixth draft.

So for the next little while, I’m going to be delving into Villains. Bad guys. The ones you love the hate and the ones you hate to love.

Get your mind going, and think about the bad guys you like, hate, sympathize with and wish to destroy. We’ll talk about them all. I hope.

13 January 2014

Why Do We Love to Hate Them?

When I was a wee lass, the very Black-and-White good-guy vs. bad guy structure appealed to me. I mean, it’s pretty easy to understand that Skeletor is the bad guy and He-Man is the good guy. If any other character is associated with either of the above, then they are labeled good or bad.

Simple, right?

Yes. And my young brain really, really liked it. Because I didn’t have to think deeply about WHY Skeletor wanted Castle Grayskull or if somehow He Man and Skeletor has some complicated, heart softening past that made both of their plights “right” in the eyes of those who understood.

Didn’t care.

Wanted to see Battle Cat and the others kick some serious butt.

Alas, now I am older (just a few years), and I’ve been exposed to too many good stories in which the bad guy isn’t all THAT bad, and on some level they have a really good point. It may not make them right, but they now have a voice that I am forced to listen too.

Curse logic.

Anyway, the other day my husband and I were driving (and unless I bring up something I want to talk about I usually get some sort of math or physics lecture that kind of puts me to sleep—the dangers of having an overly intelligent spouse) and we started to talk about villains.

Disney villains in particular.

We decided that a most could have interesting and potentially story-changing back stories, while others are just bad to be bad.

Writer 1: We need a bad guy
Writer 2: What do we need them for?
Writer 1: Making a princess’s life terrible
Writer 2: (Flips through filing cabinet and pulls out a paper) Take this one. He’s just plain mean.

So we chatted, and I decided that Ursula’s story could be very interesting. I mean, what if she’d only been given the magic to suck souls? To trick people? What if she found it somewhere in the ocean while looking for her lost starfish as a kid? She could be cursed. Or, she traded her own soul to an even bigger fish (haha) and she has to take so many a month that she has to pass on to her superior or she gets dead. (Oooh, a soul-sucking pyramid scheme…I like it!)

Those are kind of silly. But what about the rest?

Fire up your brains, people. Give me a  200 word or less back story for your favorite Disney villain!

05 January 2014

To Be or Not To Be-Sappy?

This past weekend my husband and I went to see Saving Mr. Banks.  Just before we went, I jumped on Rotten Tomatoes to see what the public and the critics thought of the movie.

Granted, I’d heard good things about it from everyone I knew who had been, so this little venture was not going to rescind my decision to go.

The public loved the movie, and the critics had mixed reviews. One critic wrote this:

"Saving Mr. Banks" is a shameless wad of corporate PR, a feel-good, self-serving Disney film about the making of a Disney film.

Uh, duh. Did you note SEE the preview before you saw the movie? Maybe read the blurb? What else did this guy expect???

After I made fun of him (with help from my husband) I got to thinking…if this guy saw the previews and still said this, then he went in ready to hate the film. If he knew nothing about it going  in, then this obviously is NOT is genre.

I thought the film was a powerful, feel-good story that both made me cry and cheer. It’s not terribly easy to get both of those emotions out of me in one movie without some sort of battle going on (I’m more the guys from Sleepless in Seattle than the girls), so I applaud the makers.

You see, I don’t mind sap. Especially when a film or a book or a story of some sort is advertised as such. If I think, “This is going to be so cheesy” then I’m ready for it, and I’m there in spite of it.

Which got me thinking even more. As an author, whose first compilation of Babes in Spyland will be out in a few weeks, and whose first novel will be out in April, I want everyone to love my work. I want them to laugh at the funny parts, get frustrated when I’m mean to the characters and cry when things go horribly wrong.


Not everyone will like my books. I have life-long friends who hated my novel, and critique partners that never even read the whole thing.

What’s that old saying? You can’t please all of the people all of the time? That’s the way it is in the business of art. Some people simply won’t like what you’re selling, no matter how hard you want them too or maybe even how hard they try.

So in whatever endeavor you’re in the middle of, remember that if someone isn’t your audience, then they may not like what you’re doing. And that’s fine. Let them go find what they like while people who like what you have will find you.

Bring on the sappy. Or whatever you're going for.

02 January 2014

Old Dog, New Trick

My dad has always loved technology. We had a little video game console in our house way before anyone else did, and at one point we had the only movie camera (no sound, just images) in the neighborhood. (P.S. I swear my dad could conceal that stupid camera up his sleeve and would suddenly whip it just as you swamped the canoe.)

Anyway, with the wave of computers, and a distaste for spending money, he hasn’t really kept up recently.

My siblings and I took it upon ourselves to bring him up to speed. So we got him a tablet for Christmas.

He’s never quite got the double click mouse thing under control, so we figured a touch screen might be just the thing to calm him down.

He opened it, and eyed the box with suspicion while everyone else opened their presents. My husband had the tablet charged and ready to go, so we made my dad get it out of the box and turn it on.

For a few minutes it looked like my dad thought it may bite him. (Maybe there’s an app for that, I don’t know.) But once the boys of the family got the wireless up and going, my husband (who knows way too much about way too many things) sat down and started to inundate my dad with too much information.

In a good way.

By the time we left, he’d installed Google Night Sky (or whatever it’s called) and was looking at the stars as they are seen in China at this time of year.

A few years ago my siblings and I went in together to get my dad a toaster over—something he’d talked about getting a thousand times and never had. That was a stroke of genius on our part. The jury is up in the air about whether or not the tablet will beat out the toaster oven. Only time can tell.

The moral of the story—because there has to be one—is that if you feel like there is a part of you that you want to change, you can do it.

If my dad can become tablet savvy, then you can learn to tap dance, finish those craft projects, only yell at the kids twice a day, finish your degree, start a business, write that novel or learn to slow down.

Each day is a new start. It may not feel like it, but if you shift your focus from the hole you’re in to the way to get out, then you can change whatever it is you want to change.

And that’s my New Year’s blah, blah.

Anyone making any crazy goals? Changing anything awesome?