Posted in character

Motivating the Antagonist

Think of your favorite show, or book series. More specifically, think about the villain. Think back on every terrible thing they’ve done.

Now, ask yourself why they’ve done those things.

If your first reaction is to say because they’re evil, or because they’re terrible people, or any reason that can be boiled down to ‘just because’ stop. If you can at least guess at their motivations or reasons such as greed or revenge, then you’re good to go: you have a fully developed character for an antagonist.

Whenever you come across an antagonist in a story—your own included—they should be just as developed as any other character. This means they have a backstory, they have motivations and they have goals. Because antagonists most often show up as the villains of a piece, it’s too tempting to say they’re doing things just because they’re  bad. People don’t like doing bad things, so he or she must be doing these things just because they’re bad, right?

Wrong.

Even someone terrible enough to properly earn the title of villain has a reason for what they do. They may not have the moral high ground, but they do have motivations and reasoning to make them choose the terrible instead of the ethical.

Take a look at your own antagonist. Ask yourself the same questions about them that you would about your protagonist or any of the supporting characters. What are their long term goals? What are their short term goals?

What obstacles do they have to solve to achieve those goals?

Now take it one step further. Ask yourself why they want those things. Don’t automatically assuming their logic is twisted either—your antagonist might be trying to get in the way of your romantic couple because they feel they need to protect one or the other from what they perceive as a bad choice. Similarly, your antagonist might want to kill the king because he feels the king is abusing his power.

Don’t forget backstory is just as important your antagonist as it is with any other character. Consider what their family life was like, where they grew up, what hardships or ordeals they’ve faced.

It’s also worth noting that two of the more common tropes in antagonists is either mental instability or abusive backgrounds. While these are tragic and often difficult topics, keep in mind that they’re common tropes and potentially harmful. Think of the people you know who struggle with mental illness or who have come from traumatic childhoods. They probably don’t go around doing things to hurt people or animals on the regular, which makes using it as a reasoning for your antagonist weak and unrealistic.

What motivates your antagonist? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Exercises

Scene Unsticking Questions

It happens to the best writers. Even in the middle of a draft that’s going well and with a well-detailed outline, sometimes we get stuck on a scene. It might be that we’ve opened a huge plot hole we don’t know how to close. Or, we’ve written our characters into an impossible situation and were hoping to have a clever answer to get them out of it again that just isn’t coming.

Hopefully some of these will help. Instead of trying to push through and write your way out, take a couple of minutes and answer these questions about your current sticky scene. When you’ve answered them all, come back and see which answers spark more ideas and use those ideas to continue the current scene.

Remember! There are no limits to the answers here, even if they seem ridiculous or don’t fit your current genre conventions. You can edit or come up with a reasonable explanation for it later. Right now is just for unsticking your scene.

  • What would happen if you killed your current PoV character?
  • What clichés fit your protagonist and how can you change them?
  • How would your supporting characters react to their biggest fears appearing in the current scene?
  • Which supporting character has a reason to defect to the other side?
  • Which family member’s death would affect your protagonist the most?
  • Which character has most recently told a lie and what was it?
  • What stereotypes fit your antagonist and how can you change them?
  • What would happen if your protagonist’s mother came in on the current scene?
  • What would happen if your antagonist’s mother came into the current scene?
  • How would your antagonist react to your protagonist revealing their darkest secret?
  • What would change about the current scene if you set it in a busy mall? An abandoned house? A thick forest? An open plain?
  • What would make your Love Interest fall for the antagonist?
  • How would your current scene to change if you switched the protagonist with a supporting character?
  • What’s one threat that would make the antagonist and the protagonist work together?
  • What one thing would make the antagonist give up?

If none of these work, consider skipping ahead to the next scene. You might find hints and clues about how your stuck scene resolved as you develop the next.

 

 

Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Language

If you’ve decided to include fictional languages in your fictional world: congratulations and good luck.

Language itself is an altogether different beast than any other type of worldbuilding. The evolution of language is a little bit of a convoluted process. It’s not always logical and in some cases, it’s outright insane and seemingly impossible—English being the prime example of how very bizarre some of our language rules can be.

When it comes to creating a language, you do however have a couple of options.

You can, of course, create an entire lexicon for your language. This includes things like grammatical rules, conjugations, subject-verb agreements and yes, the dictionary of your language. While it might seem like a lot, this can be a rewarding task because you’re able to see how your characters would naturally communicate and what might be stumbling blocks for those who learn it as a secondary language.

Alternately, you can shorthand this and keep it to a few of the more common phrases or words. This makes it easier to keep track of, which in turn makes writing easier.

Either option is valid and fully dependent on what you as the creator and writer feel like tackling. The biggest question you might have is where to start.

Alphabet. I highly recommend starting with your alphabet. It can strongly inform how the language sounds, especially if you’re pulling letters in or out of a real-world language. Case in point: the z sound most English speakers are familiar with isn’t the same in Spanish. Z there tends to be softer—more of an ‘s’ than our buzzing ‘z’ sound. Think about what would happen to your language if you dropped similar sounding letters like b, p or d from its alphabet. How would those words change and sound?

Common phrases. Often starting with the common sayings, idioms or even endearments your characters might use is a good starting point.  This gives you a handful of words to work with and start forming the core rules of your language. What’s something someone might call their lover? How would someone address a respected authority figure instead of sir or ma’am? How do you say ‘I love you’? What’s a common greeting?

Grammatical Rules. Even if you’re only using your language for a few phrases or names, it can help to have grammatical rules established. This isn’t just about comma placement, this also includes things like spelling—i before e and all that. This in turn helps you establish how most words are supposed to be spelled. Be careful here though, as grammar can get tricky. English is again, the worst and best example of how complicated even simple rules can get when applied to individual words. Again, i before e unless you’re leisurely heisting eight beige sleighs from a caffeinated foreigner.

What are some of your favorite tricks for creating a new language? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in General

Music as Inspiration

Music is a universal force. No matter where you go in the world, part of the culture includes songs, instruments and the like. Which is why it should come as no surprise that music can also provide a lot of inspiration.

Music, like literature, breaks down into genres. Folk, R&B, country, classical—genres in music as extensive as genres in literature. Each one is earmarked by content and style differences. Sometimes they can bleed together in unexpected ways—again, something literature does as well. Consider your style and genre. What sort of music fits the way you write?

In many cases, lyrics can also tell a story. Whether it’s rock’n’roll or jazz, the words often tell of a situation, event or even a full-blown story. Try it with some of your favorite songs. What stories do they tell?

One way to help use music to inspire your storytelling and worldbuilding is by creating a playlist for a given story or set of stories.

Character Playlists. Think about what your characters might listen to themselves? What are their favorite songs to sing? Which ones make them dance around when they think no one is watching? Also consider which songs reflect their internal conflicts and personal feelings about a situation. What sort of lullabies would they have heard as children?

Scene Playlists. If you’re having trouble getting a scene to work properly, think about what sort of music you’d want playing in the background during the movie version. For action scenes, it can also help you by giving you something to choreograph the scene too. Listening to those songs as you’re writing can help you set the mood and tone by matching the mood you want for the scene.

Inspiration Playlists. When all else fails, think about what you’d want as the theme song for your characters, the TV-adaptation, or even what sort of music video your characters would make for the song in question.

I’m curious. What songs are on your playlists? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Exercises, worldbuilding

Building the Backstory

For most stories, we don’t get to see every moment of a character’s life. We certainly don’t get to see every moment of every single character. Often the parts of a character’s life we don’t see are referred to as backstory. That is where they came from, what their home life was like, their personal biography up to the point of the story.

Backstory is a powerful thing. It informs character actions and helps us as writers figure out how, why and what makes our characters tick. It’s also rife with other smaller stories we might not consider.

Take your main characters parents. Even if they don’t know or never met their parents, they had to come from somewhere. How did their parents meet? What made them have a child together? What were their hopes and dreams for their son or daughter? Are they proud of them or dismissive? In the case of those who grew up with their families, what did they struggle with when raising your main character? For those who were orphaned or abandoned, what made their parents do it?

Those are all questions that can be answered by looking at the backstory of the parents. Even if it’s just a brief summary, having that on hand sometimes helps when trying to help develop and flesh out your characters.

It might also help to think about other people your character would have interacted with outside of the main story. Childhood friends, teachers, extended family members, neighborhood bullies—all of these are people who might have an impact on your character before they come into the story and before your readers meet them. While they most likely won’t show up in the story, it bleeds into your writing.

The nice thing about backstory is that it’s not limited to people, especially when you’re attempting to world build. Think about particular holidays or events your character would witness during their lifetime. What makes those holidays important? How did their traditions come about? If there’s a particular event such as an annual balloon race, how did that come about? How long has it been occurring? What significance does it have for participants today?

As an exercise: Take fifteen minutes and write out a biography for your character or characters from birth up to the start of the story. Then go through that bio and highlight people and events that don’t show up in the story. Work out brief biographies and histories for each item.