Writing a Villain – a Guest Post by Amalie Howard

Amalie Howard, author of many books including Alpha GoddessThe Almost Girl, and The Fallen Prince is the queen at writing nasty, nefarious types. Today, she joins us to tell us the ins and outs of writing a really great bad guy.


As a kid, when everyone else wanted to be Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, or Princess Leia, I was the kid who wanted to be Darth Vader.

*whispers to you* . . . come to the dark side . . . 

I don’t consider myself to be a villain, but I do appreciate both sides of the battle as well as the lure of being bad. Because, let’s face it, villains can be awesome. And not only are they awesome, but they’re crucial to most stories. The villain is the antagonist that makes the role and journey of your protagonist so much more meaningful. Put in the simplest terms, they’re meant to keep your hero from reaching his (or her) goals. They’re the obstacles to the hero’s journey. The stone in his shoe. The sand in his swimsuit. The Joker to his Batman. The Voldemort to his Harry Potter. You get the picture.

That said, there are many different kinds of villains: villains who become twisted through some life-altering event or quirk of nature, villains who are simply born bad, villains who like being evil, villains who want to preserve the greater good, villains who have no choice but to be villains, and villains who are heroes in disguise.

But my favorite type of villain is hands-down the complex, misunderstood kind. The kind where the definition of villainous is mired in shades of gray, where moral nihilism starts to beg the question. What’s right? What’s wrong? Who defines goodness and/or badness? Is this villain truly a villain?

Megamind is a great example of this. He’s not inherently evil, but was pegged from the start into that role because of circumstance. In the end, he turns out to be the true hero of the story. Another example of a character often portrayed in a villainous light is Kali in East Indian mythology. She has a bad reputation for being a berserker killer goddess, but a lot of her fury comes from her deep-rooted protective instinct, much like a ferocious mother bear defending her cubs. She is considered to be the great mother goddess, capable of terrible destruction and yet also representative of powerful and nurturing female power. I like that combination of strength and ferocity (which is why I am writing about her in my next YA book, Dark Goddess, out in Spring 2017 from Sky Pony Press).

For me, writing a good villain (not an oxymoron by the way) is essential to my stories. And by “good,” I mean well-rounded, multi-dimensional, and layered. A good villain has to be as fleshed out as much as the hero. As the creator, you have to understand what drives him, what his motives are, what he wants so that these are transparent to your readers. His goals (nefarious as they may be) are just as important as the hero’s. At the end of the day, he is the surrounding pressure—the mold that helps shape your hero into the person he is meant to be. A good villain fosters urgency, creates impetus, causes challenges, incites tension. In short, this friction is what give your story its kinetic energy . . . the force that keeps it moving from page to page. One of the biggest things I talk about in my creative writing workshops is your character’s GMC or Goals, Motivation, and Conflict. Each character must have a goal they are working towards, motivation that drives them to achieve this goal, and the conflict that keeps them from getting there. The cool thing about villain/hero conflict is that their goals will usually be at opposing ends of the spectrum, which can make for very interesting tension.

In my own writing, I like to keep my readers guessing as to who the true villain is. Often, I’ll have a character who checks all of the boxes, but will turn out to be an ally. Conversely, I also enjoy writing characters who may seem wonderful on the outside but may have secret agendas. My favorite villains are the ones you don’t see coming.

Some tips on writing a good villain:

  1. Make sure your villain is complex, layered, and multidimensional. (He is a reflection of the hero so put as much work into him as you would your hero.)
  2. Give him real goals and motivation that make sense in the framework of your story.
  3. Create a believable backstory that brings value to his narrative.
  4. Avoid typical villain clichés (long speeches, disfigured, vain, jealous, angry at the world, abusive, sinister, over-dramatic, dressed in black, etc.)
  5. Surprise your reader.

Some well-done villains in literature:

  1. Alex DeLarge—A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  2. Dolores Umbridge—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix  by J.K. Rowling (In many ways, I see her as even more evil than Voldemort.)
  3. Coulter—His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
  4. Ramsay Bolton—A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin (I really, really, REALLY hated him.)
  5. Count Dracula—Dracula by Bram Stoker
  6. The White Witch—Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis

 

Howard, Amalie - Alpha Goddess

Amalie Howard is the award-winning IndieNext author of Alpha Goddess, The Riven Chronicles, the Aquarathi series, and the Cruentus Curse series. Her debut novel, Bloodspell, was an Amazon bestseller and a Seventeen Summer Read.

Her next novel with Sky Pony, Dark Goddess, is a sequel to Alpha Goddess, and will release in Spring 2017.

She currently resides with her husband and three children in Colorado.

Visit her online at www.amaliehoward.com or follow her on Twitter @amaliehoward

 

 


9781626362086-frontcover

Alpha Goddess

In Serjana Caelum’s world, gods exist. So do goddesses. Sera knows this because she is one of them. A secret long concealed by her parents, Sera is Lakshmi reborn, the human avatar of an immortal Indian goddess rumored to control all the planes of existence. Marked by the sigils of both heaven and hell, Sera’s avatar is meant to bring balance to the mortal world, but all she creates is chaos. A chaos that Azrath, the Asura Lord of Death, hopes to use to unleash hell on earth.

Torn between reconciling her past and present, Sera must figure out how to stop Azrath before the Mortal Realm is destroyed. But trust doesn’t come easy in a world fissured by lies and betrayal. Her best friend Kyle is hiding his own dark secrets, and her mysterious new neighbor, Devendra, seems to know a lot more than he’s telling. Struggling between her opposing halves and her attraction to the boys tied to each of them, Sera must become the goddess she was meant to be, or risk failing, which means sacrificing the world she was born to protect.

 

The Almost Girl

The Almost Girl

Seventeen-year-old Riven comes from a world parallel to Earth, a world that has been ravaged by a devastating android war. As a Legion General, she is the right hand of Prince Cale, the young Prince of Neospes. In her world, she’s had everything: rank, responsibility, and respect. But when Prince Cale sends her away to rescue his long-lost brother, Caden, who has been spirited to modern day Earth, Riven finds herself in uncharted territory.

Armed with the mindset of a soldier and racing against time to bring Caden home, Riven must learn how to blend in as a girl in a realm that is the opposite of all she’s ever known. Will she be able to find the strength to defy her very nature? Or will she become the monstrous soldier she was designed to be?

 

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The Fallen Prince

Riven has fought for a hard-won peace in her world, and has come to shaky terms with who and what she is—a human with cyborg DNA. Now that the rightful ruler of Neospes has been reinstated, Riven is on the hunt for her father in the Otherworld to bring him to justice for his crimes against her people.

But when she receives an unwelcome visit from two former allies, she knows that trouble is brewing once again in Neospes. The army has been decimated and there are precious few left to fight this mysterious new threat.

To muster a first line of defense, her people need help from the one person Riven loathes most—her father. But what he wants in return is her complete surrender.

And now Riven must choose: save Neospes or save herself.

 

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Writing a Sequel with Amalie Howard

What does it take to write a sequel? Amalie Howard shares her experience on writing a sequel. Check it out below! 


No one ever ever tells you that writing a sequel is hard. Like really, really hard.

First of all, I have to preface this post by saying that I loathe cliffhangers. I don’t mind small cliffhangers after all the major plot points have been resolved, you know, to whet your appetite for the next book in a series. However, I absolutely abhor those books that just end, and then you find yourself turning pages to the end, being confused, going back to re-read the last ten pages because you’re convinced you must have somehow missed the resolution, and then curling up in a corner with cushions rocking back and forth with a handful of cookies muttering to yourself about cursed cliffhangers.

So when the time came for me to write my own sequels, it was a daunting prospect. Because expectations. And those things weigh a ton. After all, with a sequel, you need to write a whole new story, roughly a hundred thousand words, with the same characters in the same world, and not repeat stuff you’ve written before. You don’t want to disappoint readers waiting breathlessly for that second book. Or worse, write a “filler book” that is meant to lead up to the last in a trilogy. That’s a total sell-out move. Fillers make me want to break things. I was lucky, I guess, because a few of my series were duologies. A relief on the one hand, and yet, so much added pressure to make that closure super satisfying.

Let’s address handling the same elements from book one to book two. Readers come back for a sequel because they want more—more of the same characters, more of the setting, more relationships, more challenges, MORE. And you, as an author, have to deliver. While making the story different. No one wants a remake. Unless it’s Star Wars. Then you can remake until the cows come home. But let’s pretend your book isn’t Star Wars, even though, inside, you hope it is. You have to work. And plan. And re-read Book One. And outline. And re-read again. And then write. A story board can help with keeping track of details. I use post-its or an excel spreadsheet, but many people like programs like Scrivener. Do what works for you.

Character growth is essential in a sequel, and that has to come from what your characters have accomplished or achieved in Book One. Unless your main character loses his or her memory (beaten to death trope), you have to work within the parameters you have built. Your readers went with you on a journey in Book One. Don’t devalue that by taking the easy route and erasing everything they’ve co-braved your hellfire for. Unless you’ve consulted with JJ Abrams and your memory loss hook is genius, brainstorm another route. Work with those brilliant, flawed characters you’ve created, and then ruthlessly throw your darlings to the wolves.

Let’s talk The Almost Girl and The Fallen Prince. In Book One, Riven was a soldier. By the end of her journey she learned to come to terms with what it meant to be human. In Book Two, I knew I had to springboard off that growth and take it a step further. To do this, I had to put her into situations that would test her mettle and push the limits of her newfound sense of self. In a similar fashion, I wanted to put Caden—the new king of Neospes and her love interest—into challenging situations of his own, forcing him to find a balance between his heart and his political strategy. My dependable hero from Book One is forced to face some serious issues. Growth has to push the character forward. Yes, there can be setbacks, but overall, everything should be moving your story to a new place.

Next, honor your rules. You’ve built an amazing world with structure and rules. Uphold those. They are still the cornerstones of your sequel. If you start breaking the rules you created down without good reason or undermining them, your readers will revolt. So change rules judiciously and with valid reasons, otherwise the world-building will start to unravel. In The Fallen Prince, I introduce a new pocket of civilization within the rules of the desert world I’ve built, however it’s an anomaly because said colony uses an extinct resource. Without giving away spoilers, I had to make the existence of this new society make sense within the established rules of the parallel universe. If Book One is set on a desert planet, you better be sure if Book Two is underwater, that they’re space explorers, or time jumpers, or something that you’ve already set up in the first book. Otherwise you risk alienating your readers.

Finally, your sequel has to make sense. If it’s not a sequential story, then it’s not a sequel. That’s a companion novel . . . which is a whole other beast. Give your readers what they are salivating for—characters they’ve connected with set in a world they love with a whole new adventure to look forward to. And write the end. You owe them that.

Here are a few pointers:

Do:

  • Write an outline
  • Brainstorm a different and fresh plot
  • Go for higher stakes
  • Flip things upside down
  • Introduce new characters
  • Deliver a great villain
  • Maintain consistency and style
  • Adhere to rules

Don’t:

  • Repeat the story you’ve already told
  • Be afraid to kill your darlings WITH VALID REASON (think George R. R. Martin)
  • Cliff hang (cliff teasers are okay)
  • Go off into left field (making it too difficult for readers to connect)
  • Make your sequel a set up for Book Three. Just don’t. Been there, done that, and it didn’t end well. Plan to write the end and make it a satisfying conclusion. Your readers will thank you.

 

Howard, Amalie - Alpha Goddess

Amalie Howard is the award-winning IndieNext author of Alpha Goddess, The Almost Girl, The Fallen Prince, the Aquarathi series, and the Cruentus Curse series. Her debut novel, Bloodspell, was an Amazon bestseller and a Seventeen Summer Read. She is currently working on Dark Goddess, the sequel to Alpha Goddess, which will release from Sky Pony Press in Spring 2017. She lives with her husband and three children in Colorado.


Amalie Howard’s Books:

The Almost Girl

The Almost Girl

Seventeen-year-old Riven comes from a world parallel to Earth, a world that has been ravaged by a devastating android war. As a Legion General, she is the right hand of Prince Cale, the young Prince of Neospes. In her world, she’s had everything: rank, responsibility, and respect. But when Prince Cale sends her away to rescue his long-lost brother, Caden, who has been spirited to modern day Earth, Riven finds herself in uncharted territory.

Armed with the mindset of a soldier and racing against time to bring Caden home, Riven must learn how to blend in as a girl in a realm that is the opposite of all she’s ever known. Will she be able to find the strength to defy her very nature? Or will she become the monstrous soldier she was designed to be?

 

 

The Fallen Prince

9781510701700-frontcoverRiven has fought for a hard-won peace in her world, and has come to shaky terms with who and what she is—a human with cyborg DNA. Now that the rightful ruler of Neospes has been reinstated, Riven is on the hunt for her father in the Otherworld to bring him to justice for his crimes against her people.

But when she receives an unwelcome visit from two former allies, she knows that trouble is brewing once again in Neospes. The army has been decimated and there are precious few left to fight this mysterious new threat.

To muster a first line of defense, her people need help from the one person Riven loathes most—her father. But what he wants in return is her complete surrender.

And now Riven must choose: save Neospes or save herself.

 

Alpha Goddess

  In Serjana Caelum’s world, gods exist. So do goddesses. Sera knows this because she is one of them. A secret long concealed by her parents, Sera is Lakshmi reborn, the human avatar of an immortal Indian goddess rumored to control all the planes of existence. Marked by the sigils of both heaven and hell, Sera’s avatar is meant to bring balance to the mortal world, but all she creates is chaos. A chaos that Azrath, the Asura Lord of Death, hopes to use to unleash hell on earth.

Torn between reconciling her past and present, Sera must figure out how to stop Azrath before the Mortal Realm is destroyed. But trust doesn’t come easy in a world fissured by lies and betrayal. Her best friend Kyle is hiding his own dark secrets, and her mysterious new neighbor, Devendra, seems to know a lot more than he’s telling. Struggling between her opposing halves and her attraction to the boys tied to each of them, Sera must become the goddess she was meant to be, or risk failing, which means sacrificing the world she was born to protect.

 

Continue Reading