Guest Post. Handy hints on developing a villain over a series.

I am delighted to welcome my cyber buddy Charles Yallowitz, author of the long running fantasy series, Legends of Windemere, to talk about villains. Legends of Windemere is a seriously epic series – 9 books and counting. But as well as writing lots of excellent books Charles runs a great blog; plenty of thought provoking posts, interesting news and lots of chat in the comments. I thoroughly recommend you have a look at it, here. But do read the article first won’t you? Which reminds me… over to you Mr Yallowitz.

The Lich by Jason Pedersen

The Lich by Jason Pedersen

First, thanks to M T McGuire for allowing me to write a guest post. The question posed was about character development over the course of a series. Legends of Windemere, my fantasy adventure series, has six books out with a seventh on the way. So I get asked about this area a lot since I’m also very character driven. I always go on about the heroes, so this time I’m going to give a few tips on how to develop a villain in a long series.

  1. Give them a few scenes in each book, but don’t overuse them. Each appearance should have an impact to either the story or the villain. Appearing too often can weaken their influence over the reader and develop them too quickly. For example, I use my villains at the beginning to set up their end of the story. After that, they appear maybe every 2-3 chapters for brief scenes or confrontations. The latter is typically saved for the second or third act depending on what the outcome will be.
  2. Henchmen and secondary villains help fill out the opposing side of an adventure. These characters can be around for one or two books then be eliminated. You need to give them a reason for being with the bigger enemy, but it can be very simple. Money, bloodlust, fear, or any base wants can be used. A character like this only needs enough personality to do their job and be a threat. Not saying you can’t evolve them in a short time, but keeping it simple prevents them from growing too big. Unless that’s what you want, which means see #1.
  3. Very few villains are pure evil. Those that are have to be used sparingly and will have an issue being in a long-term series. Give your villains some longevity and depth by giving them a ‘good’ trait. It can be a delusion that they are right, a soft spot for something, or a personality trait that one typically finds in heroes. For example, the Lich in my series is an undead necrocaster and definitely a creature of darkness. Yet he demonstrates a loyalty to his master that rivals the heroes of the story. It doesn’t make him a good guy, but it does make the Lich a deeper villain.
  4. Going too evil can shorten your villain’s lifespan. In a series, the bad guys have to create multiple plans and make several attempts to kill the heroes. Each one has to be either equally or more evil than the last. Otherwise readers might think the bad guys aren’t trying any more. You still have to be careful if you have a few more books to wring out of the character. So if they do something so horrible that it can’t be topped then you will have trouble keeping them going for much longer. For example, I have a villain who starts off pretty bad with wanting to ‘break’ one of the female heroes. He was going to go for a while, but he began as a real monster. As the first few book progressed, he got worse and worse. I tried giving him a time out for a book, but it was too late. This villain had to either be removed for me to keep the story going.
  5. The heroes shouldn’t be the only ones to get new toys and abilities. Villains that run longer than one or two books should get some type of upgrade. New weapons or spells or a powerful new henchman can be introduced at the beginning of a story. After all, if the bad guy keeps losing then it’s a pretty smart bet they’ll try to upgrade themselves to, at the very least, stay on equal footing with the heroes.
  6. If you’re going to have a villain turn good then set the groundwork a book or two beforehand. The intensely loyal henchman shouldn’t have an abrupt change of heart after following orders for several adventures. It’s not realistic and comes off as the author wanting to save the character since most villains are killed by the end. Have your potential turncoats demonstrate the ability to be good just like a traitorous hero will show a sign or two of being bad. Have them doubt their path or reveal that they weren’t always a villain. Plenty of methods to make sure this isn’t a plot twist out of nowhere.
  7. Multiple villains can help flesh out the entire group because they will play off each other like the heroes. You can include scenes where these characters discuss plans or take an interest in the life of their comrades. There should always be an edge to it since these tend to be distrustful people, but they are together. Having everyone in their own corner and planning to betray the other villains can get silly.

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In search of a prince – or the ups and downs of frog kissing…

This week has been rather busy: recovery from half term, the production of the parish magazine which I now edit for my sins and a visit from McOther’s folks. As a result there hasn’t been time for much.

However, this afternoon, I got out into our garden for a spot of metal detecting. Our garden is a bit hit and miss. The first thing I found in it was a clay pipe head; early because it was small, from the period when tobacco was still expensive. The second thing was this.

IMG_2310Yep, believe it or not, that’s a bead which, upon presentation at my metal detecting club, was deemed to be Saxon. Yeh I was pretty gobsmacked and all.

So, this afternoon, I thought I’d go and have a look outside and see what I could find. One hole was left with the ‘treasure’ in situ because Harrison, our nut bar cat, wee-ed in it. Several other holes were left open so Harrison could dig vigorously in them, gnaw at roots and roll in the diggings, leaving me free to find more shite old nails treasure uninterrupted by the constant signal from the identity disk on his collar.

With a LOT of help from the cat, I finally managed to discover that our lawn appears to have been laid on a large piece of crappy 1970s carpet.

I also managed to dig up this impressive collection of total crap.

IMG_2312The nails range from modern to hand made and a couple of hundred years old. The round blob on the right is a lead thing and is… well I’m hoping it came out of a cannon because that would make it interesting to me even if it’s worth jack all and of no interest to anyone else.

So, in summary, metaphorical frogs kissed: 10. Handsome princes found: none.

Meanwhile sometime in the last two years or so, McOther had found a… um… metal thing in the garden. After a great deal of thought and brain wracking he has come to the conclusion that he probably found it while sieving the stones out of the earth for a flowerbed he made. After a few months of it lying about in his office he got round to showing it to me, just before Christmas.

“Can you show this to your metal detecting club,” he says.

“OK,” I look at it and shrug. It looks like a shite bit of faux old metal, the kind of thing that gets imported from China on pretending-to-be-medieval boxes and the like. “What is it?”

“If I knew I wouldn’t need you to ask them.”

“Fair point. Where did you get it?”

“I can’t remember.”

Then you know how it is, I was ill for the November meet, the Christmas one wasn’t really that kind of meeting, I forgot January and I finally remembered it last night.IMG_2309

“What do you reckon this is?” I ask the chairman of the club, who is pretty knowledgeable.

He perks up at once as I hand it over.

“This looks really old, where did you get it?”

“I’m not sure, McOther found it.”

“Hmm, I think it might be part of a Saxon cruciform broach. It’s a horse’s head. It’s got copper bug eyes, a stylised snout and those round things are it’s nostrils. There’s a line across his head where the browband* goes too.”

“Get away!”

“Show it to the FLO.”

* part of a horse’s bridle, brow band above the eyes, nosemband across the nose.

Shit.

“Right.”

So I join the queue for the FLO, that s, the Finds Liaison Officer which is always good because I get to see some of the amazing stuff my fellow club mates have dug up. In this case, highlight is a bronze age axe head, that another member of the club has dug up and he also has a really cool celtic coin.

“What do you think it is?” the FLO asks me when I present him with McOther’s piece of tat.

“I dunno, the Chairman reckons it could be Saxon, and a horse but I thought it was probably an arts and crafts bracket or some bit of Victorian shite.”

“Hmm… what if I told you the Chairman is right and your bit of old shite was actually over a thousand years old?”

“Fuckorama.”

Yes, so it turns out it’s a bit of a 5th Century Saxon cruciform broach and McOther found it on the surface of the soil, the way I found the bead. Yet when I get the detector out and dig, suddenly, I have a garden full of shite. Except that I know I don’t. The stuff is there and I will find it eventually. I just have to perservere… and find the cat something else to do while I’m going about it.

So how is this relevant to writing?

Well, this week, I discovered that, like the second one, the last two books of the K’Barthan Series have failed dismally to make the cut for the Wishing Shelf Awards. I’ve kind of hoped that they might squeak onto the short list. I’ve kind of hoped that with all three because the first one came third, or second, they said third at the time but they say second now… the point is I was expecting it to come nowhere.

However, try as I might, the kids who voted the first one onto the list have not enjoyed the subsequent ones enough. Or maybe there are just a lot more books around that are way better than mine, or at, a lot more of the books that are miles better than mine are being entered. Or maybe I’ve lost my mojo. Or maybe there was a t in the month and an r in the day and I needed it to be the other way around. Who knows? Whatever it is, I have been unable to repeat the feat. Maybe the current work in progress will be good enough to get onto the 2015 short list… maybe but probably not. The thing is, I’ll enter it anyway. The feedback, alone, is worth the price of entry.

You may be wondering how this ties in with finding Saxon stuff when you’re not trying, and a selection of nails, three milk bottle tops, a lead thing and the head of  pitching wedge when you try really hard. Well, I guess my detectoristic plight reflects two tenuous and slightly contradictory lessons.

First thing: don’t force it. Sometimes, if you just relax and go with the flow you’ll hit gold… or at least second/third, or a Saxon copper horse head.

Second thing: keep trying. Because just as any detectorist will tell you, to find your gold stater you will have to dig up a lot of shite. So whatever it is you’re doing, trying to dig up Saxon stuff, trying to write a book – or at least one that you don’t wish someone else had written – or trying to write a book that’s good enough to get onto an award shortlist, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time trying before you get it right. Or, as any fairy godmother will explain, if you want to find your handsome prince, you are going to have to kiss a lot of frogs.

 

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Still Eating Snail and Tortoise Dust but Learning to Like the Taste

It has occurred to me that it’s time to post something before you all think I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil or something. The truth is, life is just busy. Duncan’s funeral, a week blitzed afterwards, half term and my in laws down for the week next week, along with the deadline for the parish magazine (yes, I’m the editor) means that for the last three weeks, internet presence has been sporadic at best and the next 10 days will be the same.

So yeh, I’ve done the last thing I could do for my friend, I’ve waved until he’s out of sight round the bend in the road and turned to face the future. The world is moving inexorably on and apart from the residual sadness, which will be with me for some time, I am looking ahead and life is good. That said, after a day spent queuing to get into the Natural History Museum, queuing to see the dinosaur section, queuing to go to the lavatory afterwards etc I’m a bit all in. So inspiration is thin on the ground. Which is why we’re heading for light fluff.

Obviously, the in laws coming, and Mum in law being a household goddess – her house is an immaculate, smoothly oiled machine and I am in serious awe – I have tried to tidy up. I employ bi-weekly cleaners but it being the bi week and us being out on the wrong days to un-bi, McMini and I spent a happy Wednesday this week doing the cobwebs, the beds, dusting, hoovering through etc. The result is a very presentable house. I also got the Dyson Dustbuster and had a go at the huge mountain of cat hair on the chaise long in our hall. When I came to empty it I found something a little bit weird. And amazing. Yes, it had made this perfectly spherical, cat hair and dust ball:

IMG_2249

Yep, I know,pure cat felt.

I expect you can all see what’s coming next. Suffice it to say that since photographs were taken the next thing we knew everything had gone down hill and turned into… er hem… this.

IMG_2280

And, of course, then it was only a matter of time before it turned into this…

IMG_2255

Alright treacle? Wanna come out on the taaaan?

The worst bit is probably the fact that I’ve kept it. Mr D Bunny or is it Terence De Tumblepube is currently residing in a plant pot with some cape primroses. Because it seems like a little miracle of hoovery strangeness.

Meanwhile, the vague ideas for K’Barthan 5 are definitely crystallising into something and the Book With No Name, which I’m working on at present: the trying to write a comfortable, normal, genre specific, correct length novel – that’s coming on nicely too. Although it’s not quite … comfortable or normal, or even genre specific, even if it is correct length. Oh well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad as Mr Meatloaf says.

I am also rejigging my mailing list expect something interesting soon – or at least ‘soon’ within the parameters with which I use the word so … before next year.

I leave you with one form McMini who joined ‘construction club’ at school (ie lego in lunchbreak).

Me – Was it good?
McMini – Oh yes! It was brilliant.
Me – what did you build?
McMini – a fish and chip shop, but it was closed.
Me – Closed? Why?
McMini – There weren’t enough lego men to go round so I didn’t have enough to make any customers, just the man behind the counter, so I decided all the customers had gone and he was closing up.

So there we are. I think that just about wraps it up for this week.

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Goodbye my friend…

If I’ve been a bit absent from the internet this week it’s because I’ve had a fair bit on. An exciting meeting about a new project on Monday, I really can’t wait to get started on it. But as life often is, the high about moving onto the next stage of the project was tempered by the death of a good school friend. He was a strong and noble character and towards the end of his life, he fought with mental health issues and addiction. He withdrew from us all, fell out of contact and then, suddenly, after a long absence, he popped up on facebook. I sent a friend request at once, but then discovered he had suffered a heart attack a few days before. This was all two years ago. The heart attack left him brain damaged and partially paralysed. Oh he was all there but he couldn’t speak – I went to see him just afterwards. Slowly but surely, since then, improved. I kept in touch through his family and I really thought he was going to come back to us. Sadly it was not to be. He died of pneumonia, in his mother’s arms, at 6.35 on 13th January.

I wrote this about him, I sent it to his mum and sister and I’m publishing it here, because it’s all I can do.

Duncan Abbott. 1968 – 2015 R.I.P.

What to say about Duncan? Not so much a case of where to start as where to stop.

Duncan was one of my best mates. He was part of the family scenery for a long time before we actually met as he was in my Dad’s house, at our school and our families had been friends for generations. I would hear his name bandied about (along with others). Our paths crossed many times at school; Duncan and I were cartoonists for the school magazine and he was in my art set. He used to turn up for our art class on Saturday mornings with a full Mohican hairstyle, ready to go to Brighton for the afternoon. As someone who wanted a blue Mohican but never quite had the heart to do it to my parents, I always admired him for this.

It was after I left school, when the two of us were living in London that our friendship really blossomed. The Mohican had gone by that time, “I took it down because no-one would take my intellect seriously.” I think both of us bonded through an eccentricity, and possibly a love of cars, which could make us feel like very square pegs, and the world like an extremely round hole!

This is the internet. I don’t want to go into identifiable detail. So, these are the words that speak of Duncan, to me:

Funny: Duncan was very witty, in an engagingly irreverent way, and not afraid to prick the hide of the pompous. He made me and many others laugh. Lots. Indeed, one of my enduring memories of Duncan is the high guffaw quotient of any time we spent together.

Enthusiasm/Energy: If Duncan was into something, it was impossible not to get carried away with his enthusiasm. I remember visiting him in Sussex just after he’d bought an e-Type. As we drove down a country lane he found a straight and shouted gleefully, “Watch this!” He proceeded to floor the accelerator, guffawing madly as he did so. It was like taking off in a rocket. He was also sensible though, because when I retorted with a, “Go on then! Faster Faster!” He told me there was a bend coming up and slowed down.

Fun: Duncan was effervescent and he knew how to throw a dinner party, which he often did. Usually, after stuffing ourselves with wine and the food he and Lucy had cooked, we’d play a few rounds of the board game, ‘Risk’. Many is the time I remember playing late into the night. Usually we’d give up and go home at about 3 am. We all cheated, decimating the armies of anyone who’d been unwise enough to go to the bathroom by removing half their pieces from the board while they were gone. Nobody ever won because nobody’s bladder was strong enough to achieve world domination.

Generous: Duncan was generous with everything. I remember during my time in London, when I was about to move into a new flat and the deal fell through. I had a month with nowhere to stay. Duncan was one of the most supportive of my friends over that time, letting me store a load of my stuff in his tiny flat – and leave my car parked outside – when he had very little room for either.

Intelligent and a little rebellious: Duncan was very bright – prodigiously intelligent, in fact. I mentioned this to my Dad who said, “Dear Duncan, he was such a naughty boy. It was because he was so intelligent of course! He got bored. If you were teaching Duncan, you needed to engage him. He was one of the brightest lads I ever taught.” Tom Griffiths, our art teacher, also thought similarly.

Kind: Duncan was unfailingly kind to me. Always. I remember in art class, Griffiths saying,

“It’s no good trying to pretend you’re a hard man Abbott, not with those hands, they’re the hands of a pianist not a Hell’s Angel.” This used to make Duncan guffaw both at the time, and when recounting it afterwards. (Griffiths always referred to Duncan as a ‘hell’s angel’. Despite being an art teacher with a goth for a daughter, it seemed he didn’t really understand about punk).

Positive: Duncan had been through some pretty heavy stuff and although it affected him, deeply. One of the things that amazed me, throughout the time I knew him, was the courage and pragmatism with which he attempted to deal with it. He just put his head down and tried to get on with his life.

Sure, he could be mercurial, pig-headed and he didn’t suffer fools gladly! What’s more he could be spiky, difficult and childish (although he was never like that to me). But he was also kind, generous, lively, funny and brim full of energy and joie de vivre. He was a larger than life character and a true and loyal friend. I thought about him or (since his heart attack) prayed for him most days. He was my friend and I loved him. I will miss him.

Wherever he is and whatever he is doing now, one thing is certain: there will be laughter, and lots of it.

Life, like a never ending stream
Bears all its sons away.
They fly forgotten, as a dream,
Dies at the opening day.

Except we won’t forget you mate. Goodbye my friend. Good luck and God bless.

If any of my school friends read this and would like to know the when and where of the funeral,  feel free to leave me a comment or drop me a facebook message.

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Missed the M T #interview on Radio Suffolk? Here’s a link.

Well, the interview went quite well. I probably said about 1,000 words all told and I suspect that at least 500 of them were, ‘um.’ Apart from that it was fun. I hadn’t realised how much harder it would be to do a phone interview than it is to do one face to face.

Lesley Dolphin, the host, clearly liked the books or at least, the bits she’d read and is going to give them away over the next few weeks so, my local peps, keep listening if you’d like to try and bag a free copy courtesy of BBC Radio Suffolk!

You can find the interview here, it starts at 2:08.05 and runs for about 10 minutes.

 

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M T #interview on Radio Suffolk today.

Yes, it’s true. If you’d like to share my 15 minutes of local fame with me, I will be on the Lesley Dolphin show this afternoon at about 2.40, or thereabouts.

For information about the show and to listen on line, follow these links:

To listen live – choose the live link from  this page.

To listen afterwards – I think you have about a week from the date I’m on – click on Tuesday 13th Jan.

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MTMail: with added incentives. Are you on my mailing list?

Would you like to be? That, my lovely peps, is my question for today. What would get you signing up for MTMail?

You see, I’ve been doing some more navel gazing and the piece of fluff I’ve prepared for us to examine today is my mailing list. I intend to revamp it a bit, ie, actually do something with it. I want to offer interesting bonus things to people who join and I want to make the idea of joining my mailing list sound a bit more interesting.

It’s not just that I want to shower people with mail shots though – lordy me, even if I’m ruthlessly efficient about it my mailing list members are going to be lucky if I can organise more than about three a year. There is an ulterior motive, in that you folks have offered me support, bought my books, left me lovely comments when I was down and humoured me by laughing at my crap jokes. So I’d like to set up some kind of thing where my mailing list and blog peps who are mostly one and the same, anyway, get bonus stuff. Either things nobody else gets or stuff early… that kind of thing.

In addition, I’d like to bribe incentivise folks to join my mailing list list. Not in a Lord Vernon, I-will-murder-each-and-every-one-of-the-people-who-you-hold-dear-until-you-do-my-bidding-and-I’ll-make-you-watch, manner but in a nice way, as outlined above: a touchy-feely, let-me-give-you-gifts kind of approach.

I’ve had a think and come up with some ideas… I was just wondering… if you’re able to give me any feedback, in the comments or on the poll.

Here are some of the things I’ve been mulling over.

First up, would you like a choice between general mailings and just hearing about the books? General mailings would probably take place once a quarter if I really got my finger out and tried hard so it’s not as if I’d be raining folks with spam. Although if I mailed subscribers about interviews and things it might be more often but I doubt I could manage to make it more than once a month: tops.

Second, what kind of free things would appeal? I can give away short stories or secret blog posts and I can also give away versions of my short stories read aloud, by me – this is something that a couple of folks have requested. Unfortunately, I don’t have the budget or equipment to produce audio books properly: I have a cat, a son and I live on a main road for starters – all things that make the recording process … interesting.

Thirdly, I wondered if you’d like to read out takes. Bits that were honed and toned but didn’t make it into the books. They are un-edited; by a professional at any rate.

Finally, if you’d like to sign up to my mailing list anyway, before any bribery incentives are in place, you can sign up from this link.

 

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