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Go away and Die First Person writing!  – Writing Tips by T.S. Adrian

Go away and Die First Person writing! – Writing Tips by T.S. Adrian

Go away and Die First Person writing!

First Person writing?

Imagine for a moment you are listening to a really interesting story. In fact, let’s be specific. You are listening to Rob Roy MacGregor tell his story. After years of dealing with the Marquess of Montrose, “Robert the Red” borrows 1000 pounds, which goes missing. When his lands are seized by the authorities, his wife and children evicted, and his house burned, Rob Roy leads a rebellion against the Scottish nobles that ends in his surrender.

The is one of those rare times in history where what happens actually makes a great story, one that has inspired plays, songs, and two movies (one with Liam Neeson as Rob Roy—how cool is that!) There are a lot of great characters in this story: Rob Roy himself, his wife, the chief herder who might have stolen the money, James Graham, 1st Duke of Montrose, and the men who fought for either side.

On the surface, this story seems ideal for a First Person Narrative. “I am Rob Roy MacGregor, and this is what happened to me.” First Person is also easy on the writer. No need to sweat all that Deep POV stuff; it doesn’t get any deeper than First Person! Only one character voice to keep in mind.

Then why not First Person writing?

But Dear God, do you lose so much! You get none of the anger from James Graham at Roy’s “theft” and uprising. You get none of the helplessness of Roy’s wife watching her home burn and their livelihood taken. The 1995 film with Liam Neeson had a fictional character that stands as one of the top five greatest villains I have ever seen, Archibald Cunningham masterfully portrayed by Tim Roth. When Archibald’s young mistress tells him she is pregnant by him, he replies “Well, he won’t be the first bastard born in Scotland.”

If the events of that 1995 film were made into a book that was written in First Person, we would never have that scene, unless Rob Roy was in the room hiding behind a curtain when it happened. Some authors attempt to escape this limitation by writing a First Person book from several persons. That’s even worse! Why? Because readers are trained to hear all First Person narratives in the same voice — their voice. Conan saying “I then split his head to the teeth with my sword” sounds exactly like Albert Einstein saying, “And that’s when I discovered the theory of relativity” because it’s your voice in your head saying those words! But when you read, in the Third person:

Conan broke the spells, snatched his sword from the throne, and split the dark wizard’s skull to the teeth.

That’s not Conan telling the story. That’s the narrator’s words in your voice. Add a little brain splatter, a grunt of satisfaction from Conan, and you’re right there in the room with the mighty barbarian king, safe and invisible, enjoying his revenge as much as he did.

Workarounds

There are writers who are aware of the limitations of First Person and try to get around them. They will even surprise you by killing the character off in First Person (“And the room grew dark as my intestines filled my bloody hands”)—no, No, NO. It never works. Readers are too trained to read First Person as if the person were standing in the room and telling his story. How weird would it be for the man telling you what happened to him last week ending with, “And then I died.” You’d be like, “Ah, dude, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but you’re not dead.” It’s equally weird for a second or third person to push the one telling you his story aside and say, “And then this is what happened to me! There I was…”

Think of the greatest stories you know: The Last Supper, Monroe and Livingston telling President Jefferson about the Louisiana Purchase, The Battle of Midway—heck, even the birth of your first child—think of all those stories and tell me any of them would be better in a First Person narrative. Such amazing events demand the contributions of all characters to fully bring out their power. I don’t like First Person writing, and you should stop using it! When you tell your story, tell it from all angles. Don’t be lazy!

Write on!

Sorrow and Rage United

 

 

If you want to see how I translate this into my work,  Download my free short story here!


The Perfect Villain : How to Write It? – Writing Tips by T.S. Adrian

The Perfect Villain : How to Write It? – Writing Tips by T.S. Adrian

  1. The Perfect Villain : How to Write It?

The Clichés of The Perfect Villain

One of the most amusing things I’ve ever read is “If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord.” It’s a list of clichés from TV and film that we, the gullible and passive public, have been conditioned to accept when we see the antagonist. Here are a few of my favorites:

The artifact which is the source of my power will not be kept on the Mountain of Despair beyond the River of Fire guarded by the Dragons of Eternity. It will be in my safe-deposit box.

When I employ people as advisors, I will occasionally listen to their advice.

I will not imprison members of the same party in the same cell block, let alone the same cell. If they are important prisoners, I will keep the only key to the cell door on my person instead of handing out copies to every bottom-rung guard in the prison.

If my advisors ask “Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme?”, I will not proceed until I have a response that satisfies them.

If an advisor says to me “My liege, he is but one man. What can one man possibly do?”, I will reply “This” and kill the advisor.

There are many more. Google it if you wish to read them all.

What is a Credible Perfect Villain?

When writing a villain, the value in not falling into a cliché trap cannot be understated. If your villain looks silly in the eyes of your reader, or his actions create a plot hole you can drive the Death Star through, you’ve lost. But an intelligent villain is but part of the equation.

Motivation is far more vital.

Why does your antagonist do what he (or she) does? What drives them? If your only answer is ‘power and wealth’, you need to do better. Why? Because most top villains are already powerful and wealthy, thus using more of the same as motivation is dull in this day and age. Readers today demand more.

I am going to commit blasphemy and criticize Tolkien. (Please understand, I don’t do this lightly. I owe Tolkien everything. He took fantasy out of fairy tales and Greek/Norse mythology and gave them life.) But, let’s face it, his villains sucked. (Except Gollum, who was awesome.) Sauron was an eye on a tower and Saruman was wizard who switched sides. What was their motivation? To simply rule the world? They were already powerful and timeless beings. Why did they want to rule the world? Let’s say Sauron got his ring back and won. He kills all humans and elves and now he rules a planet of…orcs? Yuck. Same for Saruman. Why try and help a slumbering god that will never share his power with you? What was his end game?

One of the Greatest Villain

Now, let’s compare that to arguably one of greatest villains ever written. Darth Vader. Forget the whole Anakin back story. Let’s just take him as he was in Episode 4 and 5. Vader was a loyal servant of the Empire who wanted to one day be emperor himself, but wouldn’t you agree there was always more to him? He was cold, calculating and menacing. He obviously felt nothing when Alderaan was destroyed. Why? Because that planet was one of thousands. Destroy one, you keep intergalactic civil war from happening. You maintain order. That, dear reader, is motivation. Kill a few billion to save hundreds of trillions from death and chaos.

The Emperor, on the other hand, is a punchline by today’s standards and the source of most of the items on the Evil Overlord list. Put all your eggs in one super-weapon basket. Invite the hero into your inner sanctum. Maniacal laughter. Employing legions of terror in matching uniforms that can shoot for shit. The list goes on. (Although, to be fair, I’d like to slap Luke upside the head for throwing his lightsaber away. I hope Ghost Yoda did that for me. But I digress.)

Back to Darth Vader. He is the hero of his own story. He believes he is making the galaxy a better place, for everyone. Can you say the same for Sauron? Not really. He was mostly a force of nature that just existed, from a time when readers accepted the two-dimensional villain. We never got to know Sauron and we weren’t really afraid of him. If Darth Vader, however, walks onto your ship, you better be wearing your brown trousers.

My Perfect Villain : Demos Azari

Let’s take a glance at my antagonist, Demos Azari. Look at this scene in The Penance of Pride when Aaron asks:

“Why? Why are you involved with these evil men?”

“Let me show you something.” Demos rose and walked over to the canvas Aaron had noticed before. “I painted this from the window in the tower above. What do you think?”

Aaron stepped closer and examined the worn artwork. It depicted the western half of Anderholm, but had several odd omissions. He pointed at places in the paining. “Where is the inner wall and observatory? And the university bell tower should be here. The forest line is all wrong.”

Demos stepped behind the easel and faced him. “That’s because I painted this a hundred and ninety years ago.”

Aaron looked at the painting again.

“Yes, that’s right. In nearly two centuries all that’s changed in Anderholm are a few buildings and a wall.”

“And what has that to do—”

Demos clenched in fist in front of Aaron’s face. “Open your eyes, historian. Humanity has stagnated. Not just in Anderholm, but everywhere. I challenge you to name one significant advance man has put forth in the last hundred years. Two hundred, even.”

Aaron searched his memories. There had been some advances in agriculture. Trade had expanded and become more efficient and profitable, but these were hardly significant. He shook his head.

Demos nodded. “Exactly. People cling to lies, working tirelessly to please false gods and waiting for death so they can frolic in the fields of Eriensym. The old ways have prevented men from seizing their true destiny, their true potential. The Innocenti alone have the strength to lead them to that truth.”

See what I mean?

The End justifies the Means for a Villain

Demos is the epitome of ‘the end justifies the means.’ He stabs a loyal apprentice in the belly and slits the throat of a young woman without hesitation, not because he enjoys killing, but because their deaths were necessary to achieve the goal of bringing humanity out of its stagnation. He gives no impression that he wants to rule. In fact, just the opposite; he wants to be the voice behind the throne.

When you write your villains, they must have motivation. You don’t need to psychoanalyze them or show their weaknesses—they don’t need to cry for the lost mother they could never save, or even be conflicted about their goals—but your reader must think, “If I was this person, would I do anything differently?” If the answer is “probably not” you’re well on your way to writing a great villain.

But still, please don’t have your villain employ a device with a digital countdown. If such a device is absolutely unavoidable, have him set it to activate when the counter reaches 117 and the hero is just putting his plan into operation. Also, your villain should never turn into a snake. It never helps.

Write On!

 

Sorrow and Rage United

 

 

If you want to see how I translate this into my work,  Download my free short story here!


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