Category Archives: villains

Writing–ready to go


My third Fallen Angels novel, BLOOD LUST, will be online soon. Michael Prete at is designing another cover for me, but I used this image to help me create Feral. Interesting villains make for interesting books, and I found Feral particularly intriguing. She was just devious and crazy enough to push a lot of Enoch’s buttons. In this book, Feral comes to Enoch’s home city–Three Rivers–to open a vampire nightclub, but she follows all of the rules “good” vampires abide by. Enoch, a fallen angel, respects rules, but discovers those rules leave plenty of holes for serious problems. Feral listens to classical music, and Enoch decides “She must fancy herself as cultured, as if listening to Mozart lifted her to a higher rank. That would be like sprinkling diamond dust across a cesspool. It didn’t change the disgusting mess underneath.” I enjoyed creating Feral.

In this book, I wanted to focus some attention on Voronika. Enoch has chosen a vampire as his mate. Voronika hates what she is. She sometimes comes off as cold and self-centered, but when her mortal friend, Maggie, tells her she’s pregnant, Voronika struggles to be happy for her. Vampires can’t procreate. She’ll never have a child, and she tries not to feel jealous.

My last goal, in this book, was to write an urban fantasy that didn’t involve one battle leading to the next. I like battles, but I wanted this book to have different conflicts and tension. I got mixed reviews from my critique partners on that, so I bumped the stakes higher and was happy with my characters and story line.

For my next urban fantasy–the third book in the Wolf’s Bane series–I’ve typed out 28 plot points, and the story calls for enough battles to make up for my cat-and-mouse games in BLOOD LUST.

I’m making this blog post shorter than most. My grandson’s staying with us over Thanksgiving holiday before he heads back to college, so I’ve been cooking and playing more than usual. I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving. And happy writing!

P.S. I found a new blog post about plotting that I thought was especially good. Thought I’d share:

Story Structure for Dummies

The 10 Commandments of Writing

A friend of mine–a while ago–asked me for writing advice.  She’d fiddled with writing, but had never done anything serious.  She wasn’t quite in the mood for full writer throttle, so I wanted to do something fun for her.  This is what I came up with–and we all know it’s scratching the surface.

I.  Thou shalt not start “At the Beginning.”  Okay, a little play on words, but it’s true.  A novel starts with a hook.  Not with back story.  Back story is for flashbacks, here and there, later in the plot.  The hook is what pulls readers into the story–the event that plunges the character into the event that turns his life upside down, topsy turvy.  It introduces the book’s big question and why the protagonist has to take it on.  If he doesn’t, he’ll never restore order to his life.  If he does, he’ll be a changed person.  His choice.  And usually, he avoids dealing with it as long as he can—or until the first fourth of the book is written.  The hook pulls the reader in and the first fourth of the book provides the set-up for the story.  (Les Edgerton has a great book on the topic:

II.  Thou shalt plot Thy book with no holes or soggy middles.  Okay, this admittedly, takes some skill and balance.  You don’t want your plot to move too fast or too slow.  It’s all about conflict.  Plot is the result of cause and effect.  The protagonist wants this…. needs that….and decides this idea will solve his problem….   Except it doesn’t.  No, whatever he tries, makes it worse.   For a novel, I’ve never been able to come up with enough to fill the vast, yawning middle of a book without subplots.  Every plot is character driven.  So are subplots.  If you come up with strong, main characters whose goals/problems mirror the protagonist’s, you can weave in and out of the different scenes like a juggler who keeps all of his balls in the air.  Victory Crayne says, “Conflict is ‘The mental or moral struggle caused by incompatible desires and aims.’  It is the unsolved problems that form the chain of promises that keeps the reader interested.’–Ben Bova.  Les Edgerton, by the way, has a great blog post on plotting, too:    And:  Actually, his entire blog is worth reading.

III.  Thy pacing shall keep readers turning the pages.  Every scene in every novel has to have tension and purpose.  If a scene doesn’t advance the story in some way, it shouldn’t be there.  Something has to be at stake in EVERY scene.  And repetition–of any kind–KILLS tension.

IV.  Thy writing shall have emotional impact.  If the protagonist doesn’t react–reel with horror, laugh with joy, worry and pace with frustration–neither will the reader.  The reader lives these events through the characters.  He wants to EXPERIENCE these events through the characters.  The writer can use internal dialogue or visceral responses to react, but the reader wants to feel what the character feels.  And actions sometimes speak louder than words.  No one wants to read about a protagonist who only reacts.  We want the protagonist to dig into the problem, make plans, suffer when they fail, and pick himself up and try again.  The reader wants a happy ending to be earned, not given to the protagonist.  Or, if the protagonist tries and fails, we want to suffer the pain of defeat along with him.

V.  Thou shalt create interesting, memorable characters.  Readers want their characters to feel real–like living, breathing people.  They want to know what the character wants and why.  What will he do to get it?  He has to have a name that fits his age and personality.  He has to have Goal, Motivation, Conflict.  If different characters have different goals and motivations, that creates conflict.  Every novel needs different type of characters: the protagonist, maybe a mentor, a romantic interest, a friend or reflector, a villain and hopefully an antagonist–different from a villain, but someone who keeps getting in the protagonist’s way, and maybe an opponent, someone who’s competing with the protagonist.  Dialogue, dress, and actions have to be consistent with who the character is.  The characters drive the story.  I’m plot oriented, but no writer can make a character walk through a story and do what he’s supposed to for the plot without making the character a cardboard stick figure who’s not interesting.

VI.  Thou shalt use dialogue to advance the plot, not to fill space.  Dialogue can reveal character, create tension, and foreshadow coming events.  Be careful of tags.  “He said,” “she said,” are fine, but action tags work even better.  Fancy tags are rarely needed–“he proclaimed,” “he insisted.”  Dialogue should fit each character, and it should “feel” real.  It’s not real–not even close–but it can FEEL real if the writer avoids flowery dialogue.  People sometimes use broken sentences.  They usually don’t go on and on.  When they do, that says something about a character.  Les Edgerton has a blog post on dialogue, too, that’s pretty dang good:

VII.  Thou shalt choose Thy setting well.  Settings are the backdrops for stories.  Some stories work better in big cities and some work better in small towns or in seclusion.  The setting needs to fit the tone of the story.  If a small town is hiding a serial killer, the town may appear innocent and inviting, but the writer gives clues that evil lurks under its surface.  Settings need to fleshed out.  They’re the foundation that helps hold the story together.   It’s the world the reader’s going to live in from page one to the the last word of the novel.  The reader needs to see the setting, to smell its scents, to know its people.

VIII.  Choose Thy POV carefully.  The character whom the reader follows should be the one who has the most at stake in the scene or story.  First person POV is more immediate.  Everything’s filtered through that character’s eyes and mind.  Third person limited creates more distance, but with internal dialogue can share insights, too, and the writer doesn’t have to try to avoid the word “I.” Multiple POV can create more tension, because the protagonist doesn’t always know what other characters are doing.

IX.  Thy voice and tone shalt suit Thy story.  Voice is a nebulous thing that’s individual to each author.  It reflects our attitudes and our take on the world.  But tone should be individual to each story.  Tone sets the mood.  If the story is humorous, every single word the author chooses should be light or lend itself to funny.  If the story’s dark, every word choice should be forbidding or brooding.   For a scary setting, the author wouldn’t describe a forest with birds chirping and squirrels scampering.  Instead, the trees’ branches should look like gnarled fingers, twisting to ensnare someone or to snag them.  It’s all about word choice.

X.  Thou shalt dedicate Thyself to good, strong writing.  A writer has to master the basics.  Sentence lengths should vary.  Word choice should be specific, not generic.  He should use active verbs, not passive.  Adjectives and adverbs should be used sparingly, opting for strong verbs and nouns instead.  Spelling and grammar should be right.  Wording should be original and unique.

We all know that keeping every commandment is hard.  So is good writing.  And I’ve probably left out a point or two, but this is a start.  The fun’s in the striving.  Enjoy!

Do you ever feel like Eeyore?

When I was young and naive, I always thought that doing your best and aiming for what’s right guaranteed success.  Not so.  It wasn’t until I started teaching that I discovered that sometimes your best isn’t enough.  You can’t stuff a funnel into a kid’s head and pour information into his little brain–even if he doesn’t want it.  I learned that if a kid doesn’t want to learn or want to succeed, you can’t make him.  And like my protagonist Enoch, in Fallen Angels, I learned that things aren’t always black and white, and that there are many shades of gray.  (Sorry, no play on the new bestseller.  There are probably a lot more shades than fifty).

Anyway, Enoch’s biggest problem is that he’s friends with Caleb.  And in essence, Caleb should be the novel’s villain.  He’s what’s blocking Enoch from achieving his goal.  But talk about opposites attracting.  Enoch loves the Light, and he loves Home.  Caleb finds it restrictive and boring, so when Caleb joins up with Lucifer to overthrow the One, Enoch tackles him and pins him down until Lucifer and his band of angels are thrown into the pit.  Enoch thinks he’s won a serious moral victory and saved his friend.  Caleb doesn’t agree…and says so…and gets himself thrown to Earth, banned from the Light.

That’s when Enoch’s problems really begin, because Caleb loves living on Earth.  He loves his freedom.  He doesn’t have the Light, but he discovers that human blood works just as well–gives him the energy he needs and craves.  Of course, his bite infects mortals with his immortality, so that they become vampires, but what of it?

I don’t know about other people, but I have friends who don’t hold the same opinions I do, friends who look at the world and life from a completely different filter than I see, but that’s part of why I love them.   Enoch and Caleb are like that.  So Enoch is sent to Earth to clean up after Caleb, and he can’t return Home until he brings a willing Caleb with him….

You know the old saying, “Until hell freezes over?”  Caleb never wants to leave Earth.  That means that no matter what Enoch does, no matter how many bad vampires he hunts and slays, he’s still stuck here.  And like Eeyore, he’s not happy about it.  But no matter how much he resents Caleb, he still doesn’t want him to be eternally punished.  So the gray areas just multiply.  When he finds GOOD vampires, the gray gets even grayer.  He likes them.  He starts to work with them.  Nothing is as simple as he hoped  it would be.  Until he meets a female vampire that he’d do anything to protect, and then gray looks crystal clear because all of his moral boundaries begin to blur.  He’ll never purposely do something wrong, but there are lots more options that look acceptable to him day by day.

Enoch, like Eeyore, resonates with me because–for me–even when I try, it’s hard to be happy with myself, it’s hard to find the right path.  It’s easy to feel guilty about the good I can’t get around to.  It’s easy to see my shortcomings.  Enoch never feels like he does enough.  A few critics have said that readers don’t have to worry about him in a battle, that he’ll always survive.  But I’m not worried about his safety.  I’m more drawn to his inner struggle.

Adversaries Aren’t Necessarily Villains

Every novel starts with a protagonist and a problem.  It can’t be just any, old problem either.  It has to be life changing, something the main character wants so much that he’ll spend the entire novel trying to get it.  In romance, it’s boy meets girl.  He wants her.  She doesn’t want him.  Or she does want him, but life gets in the way, and they have to work through all sorts of misadventures and misunderstandings to be together.  In mysteries, there’s some kind of crime that needs to be solved.  In fantasies, there’s a quest or a battle between good and evil.

In many novels, the protagonist has to face and defeat a villain.  Villains take all shapes and sizes.  They can be vampires and fae gone awry, as in Patricia Briggs’ novels.  They can be nice, elderly ladies who offer you tea, as in Agatha Christie’s mysteries.  Or they can be brilliant, memorable monsters like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of The Lambs.  Villains put a face on the hero’s problem.  But villains aren’t always enough.  Adversaries add depth and texture to a novel.  The fun thing about adversaries is that they don’t have to be “bad.”  They just have to get in the hero’s way, to be a thorn in his side, and to trip him up while he tries to achieve his goal.

Sometimes, adversaries can be as memorable as villains.  In Silence of the Lambs, Dr. Frederick Chilton creeped me out more than Lecter did.  I despised his smarmy smugness, his  cowardly taunting.  But an adversary could be a good guy (or girl)–like the New Orleans female cop who keeps vampire hunter, Jane Yellowrock, on a tight leash in Faith Hunter’s series.  Adversaries and heroes butt heads, and sometimes it’s because two good guys both believe they’re right.  Or, in a romance, it can be because one of the protagonist’s best friends is attracted to the same person the protagonist’s fallen for.  Weather can even serve as an adversary in a plot.  Jack London used storms or blizzards to great effect in his novels.

Lots of things can create tension in story lines.  Heroes have to jump many hurdles before they reach a satisfying ending.  Great villains can crank up the conflict, but so can great adversaries.  How the hero responds is what makes us turn the pages.

###  Thought I’d list a favorite blog post of mine (and I hope it works) that states really well how a hero handles conflict.  (If this doesn’t open, Les Edgerton’s blog, in general, gives great writing advice.)

Worthy Villains

Every writer knows that a strong villain makes for a strong story.  The higher stakes, the faster the pages turn.  There are the obvious, fictitious, bad guys–like the evil stepmothers in Snow White and Cinderella, the enticing Hannibal Lecter, and the over-the-top Cruella de Vil, who’ll kill cute puppies to have a one-of-a-kind, fur coat.  But no villain declares his motives as clearly as Shakespeare’s Richard the III, who declares in his opening soliloquy “…And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain And hate the idle pleasures of these days.”  And prove himself he does (at least in the play).

I believe that one of the reasons Harry Potter was such a success is that Voldemort was such an excellent villain.  He was twisted and powerful…and fascinating.  In lots of myths and fantasies, the battle comes down to good versus evil.  Look at Lord of the Rings and the Dark Lord Sauron, who commanded the Orcs.  Here’s a link to 50 of the best villains in literature:  They come in all shapes and sizes.  Some of your favorites might or might not have made the cut.  But sometimes, villains can be more subtle.  Moriarity plays mind games with Sherlock Holmes, and the villain smiles and welcomes us in many an Agatha Christie mystery.  Annie Wilkes is an author’s biggest fan in Stephen Kings’ Misery.

In my novel Fallen Angels, I tried for a few kinds of villains–the serial killer who preys on women; Vlad, the favored, spoiled vampire who constantly breaks the rules; and the hero’s best friend, who’s also his most dangerous adversary.  But all the while, as Caleb creates and sanctions vampires, he stays committed to thinking of Enoch as a “brother.”  It’s a complicated relationship, and hopefully, Caleb makes for a complicated villain.  But whatever your taste in bad guys, a good book depends on them.  Which would you call your favorite?