Too Many Villains

This post is approximately 600 words.

In this post, you get to travel far down the rabbit hole. But instead of landing in Wonderland, you’ll land in the writer’s brain, a place as equally crazy and confusing.

rabbit hole.gif

As the title implies, I’ve got too many villains in my first book. At least, that’s the perception readers will have. If I’m careful enough – write well enough – I can prevent them from thinking that, but it’s complicated because I don’t want a simple black-and-white story.

In the mix, some win, lose, die, or are redeemed. Some characters might even be more than one of the following:

  • the antagonist of the entire series
  • the lieutenant – the character that does the bidding
  • the manipulator – the deceiver
  • the baron – the non-supernatural foil
  • the monster – in a traditional story, the dragon to be slayed
  • the foot soldiers – cannon fodder

For characters that come and go, interwoven amongst each other’s storylines within a twisty, turny story, it will be easy to lose my readers. In working through the second draft, I find I’m already there.

The book started out as a typical “go on an adventure, slay the monster, and win the treasure” type of story. That might be a fine arc, but it’s been done for centuries. I needed to contribute something new to hero’s journey. Er, villain’s journey.

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Miniature from a manuscript of Legenda Aurea, Paris 1382

As any writer should, I added my own layers of rich detail, such as backstory, vignettes, and motivations. Now that I’m working through the second draft, the inconsistencies and contradictions are more apparent. I’m not surprised this happened, considering that the book is nearly 100,000 words. Remembering every detail isn’t always possible, especially when many things spontaneously appeared on the page.

To put it more succinctly, what I had was similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure book, except I had chosen both paths for my reader, and had two versions of some characters.

monster-arc

Desktop muse provides oversight

For passages constructed of thousands of words, I can’t just sit down and re-type them by scrolling up and down through the manuscript. So I sat down and created a kind of flow chart to map out the inconsistencies, the points where a character went in two different directions.

If you look too closely, this image might contain spoilers, but we’re still a long way from the final draft (and good luck reading my sticks-n-slashes writing). And yes, the pens are strategically placed to prevent big reveals.

Example: the monster starts out rampaging across the countryside, as monsters are wont to do. Later, it shows intelligence, contradicting the mindless beast it was before. And then it’s identified as having no purpose for its destruction, followed by two different motivations. By the end, we’re closer to the savage beast that was first introduced.

That just won’t do.

Thanks to my new tool, I can put all the issues onto a single sheet of paper, which I will use as a guide to make edits. It also helped me understand that certain contradictions are fine within a character, as long as they drive the story and make sense to the reader.

Not only do I have a clearer, tighter character arc for the the monster, but I also have a better origin story and a solid ending.

Notice I didn’t say whether the ending would be happy.

–Michael

Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this from Michael!

© Michael Wallevand, September 2016

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