Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"What would it take to make you love me?" - villainous motivation

I am shamelessly stealing an idea for this blog from a writer I admire. And even if I didn't (which I do), she stole from me first! (just kidding, Kathryn)

Anyway, over at the Kill Zone, the discussion sparked by Kathryn Lilley deals with truly evil villains and how to write them. And as several people point out in the comments, there's the old saying that the villain is the hero of his or her own journey.

That's great, but it isn't nuts-and-bolts enough for some people.

Which got me thinking about my own antagonists. I always approached the antagonist's motivation by asking myself, "what would it take to make me do this?"

As far as killing, that's easy. Mess with my family and you'll be looking over your shoulder the rest of your life, 'cause somehow some way, I'm coming for ya.

But that doesn't cover the REALLY bad guys. The ones who enjoy watching people suffer. I mean come on, I can't stand to watch an animal in pain without feeling for it...and I'm talking about a buzzard or an alligator, nevermind the cute ones like dogs and the occasional cat. So how do I get inside the head of a person who for example, finds sexual release in the death-throes of a human being, or the person who can only quiet their own inner demons by forcing someone else to scream until they choke on their own blood? Those people are sick, and I'm sorry, but I can't think of anything that could ever "make me do that."

So where do you go now, as a writer?

Well, I found something that makes sense to me, and has worked pretty well so far. Don't think about what it would take to make you do that, because a lot of the time the answer will be, "nothing on this earth."

Instead, think what might allow you to love that person.

Yep. What could possibly have happened to them, or what 'other side' of them could be there that could make you love that person, either in a spousal way or at least a familial, cousin-ish way?

Because that will make them human, and not JUST a monster. The characters who do the kinds of things I mentioned above are monsters, make no mistake. Justify it however they might, as much a hero as they may believe themselves, they are monsters. But what makes them human will make them conceivable and engaging in your fiction. I firmly believe that, pre-pubbed though I may be. And it has worked for me so far.

The example I gave at Kill Zone, and the best one I can think of here, is the backstory Thomas Harris gave for Francis Dollarhyde in RED DRAGON. When he, as an adult, sat down to pee 'like a good boy' because that's what his grandmother had taught him and because of the way she had tortured/treated him, it made sense. He was still a cruel moster, but he was also a human one.

Oh, and can you guess which of these is the one mentioned in the book, vs. which one is shown in the film?

One is the The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, the other is The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun.

I always wondered if Harris had switched them in his mind, if the copyeditor had put in the wrong title (because they are so ridiculously similar), or if the Hollywood people had gotten it mixed up.

So what about you guys? What examples do you have of reasons to love a character who is, in all other respects, a monster?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rescue of the Week - Ella ADOPTED

Sorry I missed a week, but we had the contest going on and I wanted it to stay at the top so everyone could see it as they came over.
That said, we need to get back to the business of finding forever homes for these pets. So, meet Ella.
Ella has been at the shelter for a few weeks now, and is absolutely adorable. She's an energetic puppy, but she is as sweet and loving as they come. Stop by and see if she's your kind of companion!
****EDIT: Ella has found a Forever Home!!****

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AFRAID to write a Super Short

J.A. Konrath writes the Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels mysteries, as well as a phenomenally helpful blog for aspiring writers. He has also dabbled in the horror field, and has published the horror novel AFRAID under the name Jack Kilborn. To promote AFRAID, Joe is doing an exhausting tour all across the world...via the internet. As part of his whirlwind blog tour, he is stopping by The Pen-ferno today with a little challenge. And so, here's Joe:


I'm currently blog touring, flogging the release of my new horror novel, AFRAID. It's being released on March 31, and I wrote it under the name Jack Kilborn. Please run out and buy fifteen copies.
During all of this guest blogging, I've written well over fifteen thousand words, and I'm close to running out.

So let's try a little writing experiment.Write an entire story in 20 words or less.

It's doable. Hemingway did it with his famous super short:
"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Now, I'm not Hemingway. Which I'm happy about, because he's dead. But I admire his ability to tell an entire story in just a few words.

Here are two of mine:
"The adrenalin really kicked in when Carter realized he forgot to pack his chute."

And one for the Jack Kilborn crowd, with more of a horror slant."Is my hair okay? I can never tell. Is that why you won't invite me in for a bite?"

Now it's your turn. You have 20 words. Use them well.


Joe and I will both choose a winner (he gets first pick, it being his challenge and such). The first prize winner will get a copy of AFRAID, signed by Joe himself. The second prize winner will get a copy of Joe's first Jack Daniels mystery, WHISKEY SOUR.

***EDIT: The deadline has passed.

The winners are jane, candid and lettera22.

You all did fantastic, and this was great fun! Thanks again to all for stopping by The Pen-ferno!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rescue of the Week - Willa ADOPTED!

Okay, so I let my wife pick this week's rescue. She initially chose a sweet, gorgeous mix puppy named Tyler. Well, let's be honest, she initially picked him and was trying to figure a way to convince me we had room and money for him. Then we got home later that day and found he'd been adopted that day.

So she chose her second favorite from this latest visit...Willa. Willa is sweet and wonderful, and will make someone very, very happy.

***EDIT: Willa has gone home!! I hope this one is forever!!***

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"Good people...I missed my introduction!"

We've all heard from agents, other writers, even readers: You have to grab their attention right off the bat. As Miss Snark used to be fond of saying, "Set someone's hair on fire."

Well, I'm going through my WIP, and I can't even get a spark. Not a cinder. Nothin'.

So, I'm looking for inspiration and thought some of you might like the same. I'm going back through those first few lines of some of my favorites (not the prologue, because several agents say those are cheats...so chapter 1 it is). Here are some I always liked, in no particular order:

1) "I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one. Or at least as close as we're going to get."
"That's what you said about the brother."

--Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game

2) When Edward Carney said good-bye to his wife, Percey, he never thought it would be the last time he'd see her.

--Jeffery Deaver, The Coffin Dancer

3) The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

--Stephen King, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger

4) The Bar at the Ritz-Carlton looks out on the Public Gardens and requires a tie. I've looked out on the Public Gardens from other vantage points before, without a tie, and never felt at a loss, but maybe the Ritz knows something I don't.

--Dennis Lehane, A Drink Before the War

5) Harry cut through the morning rush-hour crowd like a shark fin through water. I was following from twenty meters back on the opposite side of the street, sweating with everyone else in the unseasonable October Tokyo heat, and I couldn't help admiring how well the kid had learned what I'd taught him.

--Barry Eisler, Rain Fall

Okay, now it's your turn. Share some of your favorite intros, whether they are yours or someone else's. And don't forget to tell us where it's from...

y'know, in case it catches our attention, like it's supposed to...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rescue of the Week - Smudge ADOPTED

Well, being a dog lover and all, I think I've been neglecting those little buggers I'm allergic to. But they still deserve a new home, as many of them have had it just as rough. So if you are looking for an adorable little feline, here's a beautiful, shy girl named Smudge!