One Hundred Days of Blogging – Day 42

I’m starting my morning off by enjoying a bowl of cereal while I read through the Spam comments that Phil’s Misadventures in Fiction has accrued recently. It’s oddly entertaining, although the spammers certainly do have nice things to say about my posts. Even if some of those kind words don’t really make a lot of sense from a grammatical standpoint.

Speaking of kind words: the professor I sent Joshua Harkin and the Wicked Nightmare King off to got back to me with his critique today. It’s not something I feel should be shared in its entirety on here, but I do have to say seeing the phrases “I thoroughly enjoyed it” and “you have great characters” really put a stupid grin on my face.

Meowiarty is hanging out with me while I type this, as he sat at my bedroom door and meowed until I let him in. He may be a touch spoiled, I’m willing to concede, but he behaves like a dog enough and I miss having dogs around…so by that reasoning it should be okay that he’s in here. Probably. I’ll remind myself of that when I’m cleaning cat hair out of my PC’s tower.

Naturally, today’s post will involve 42 in a way. Hopefully not too predictable a way, but we’ll see. Continue reading

One Hundred Days of Blogging – Day Ten

Today was a frustrating day, with much potential wasted thanks to a lingering writing funk. The writing funk made a peculiar transition to a different issue, in which I had three short stories fighting for my attention at once. I’ve had this happen before, but I could never quite sort it out on my own. I either let it sort itself out, or I just went without writing for a while.

Forgive the moment of fanboying, but I instead took this opportunity to tweet C. Robert Cargill (best-selling author of Dreams and Shadows and Queen of the Dark Things) and ask him for advice. He’s an author, so I figured 1) he would have some pretty solid wisdom he could impart, and 2) he wouldn’t respond because best-selling authors have more important things to do. And then he responded, and I melted into a shrieking jelly-like blob of star-struck dumbness.

He suggested I write the story most ready to be worked on, and let the other two wait. This story, a mini-series just for this project, happened while I was taking a short drive earlier to try clearing my head a little. It was a lot of fun to write, and I hope it proves fun to read as it was a little out of my comfort zone (the humor is more subdued compared to the fantasy aspects of this piece). It’s only the beginning so far, but I promise there will be more before long. Continue reading

An unusually sentimental post

Or “Sometimes my little, frozen black heart does things that require being broadcast, especially since I write about ending the world a whole lot”.

A writer, I think, can only be as good as their support system. Like any other art-form, it’s a grueling, time-consuming labor of love, and there are days when I, like many, many others, would be all right with saying “Fuck it, I’m done,” (special apologies to my mother, grandmother, and any other relatives who maintain the belief I don’t use that word and its various conjugations) and closing up the proverbial shop for good. Staring at a blank document, an idea in my mind, and being unable to produce anything of substance is extremely stressful.

Thank god for my iPod in those situations, or I’d probably have gone mad by now. Continue reading

The horror of meeting your heroes

Or “This is a second post in less than a day because I feel guilty for putting these posts off”.

My last post may have been a little self-indulgent, and I’m okay with that. Now back to things to do with writing. I have my fair share of people I consider heroes. I’m not just talking celebrities, by the way, though there will be a fair few of those mentioned here (hence the title). The people who have succeeded in accomplishing things I fear I could only manage in my wildest dreams. Their works and success are driving factors in my own writing, as I want to eventually reach an audience through publication. I’m not saying, by any means, I think I’ll ever reach such tremendous audiences as, say, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Moore, Terry Pratchett, or Douglas Adams (to name only a few).

However, as much as I love to read their works and enjoy them as these sorts of pillars of an art I hold in the highest regards, I think I would probably have a severe mental breakdown of sorts if I ever met one of them. It’s a very weird concept to me, and a very real fear with my occasional trips to conventions (far less now than when I was younger).

Meeting my heroes is terrifying to me because these are people who have done these amazing, fantastic things, and so I can’t help but feel like a mote of dust by comparison. I acknowledge, and accept, that this is a completely ridiculous line of thinking, and it’s worse because it’s not limited to the heroes I have who I’ve never met. People like Onezumi and Harknell, the founders of Interventioncon and personal heroes of mine, are easy to talk to and wonderful overall. I still get a bit anxious around them. Ridiculous! But it’s one of those things where it’s a matter of wanting to not look like such a failure by comparison, where these people are absolute rock stars of what they do.

And then there’s the fear of building them up so much only to be disappointed with what I meet. I realize that may be a bit shocking, especially after the last paragraph. This bit applies to the heroes I’ve not met as opposed to the ones I know. I can honestly say I would probably weep if I met Neil Gaiman (or Terry Pratchett or Christopher Moore). These are people whose books have treasured spots in my library and have made me want to become a better writer. I want to create amazing worlds, filled with all sorts of diverse and terrific characters, and it’s because of these authors. However, there’s always the small problem that the work doesn’t equal the person and so I could very well be setting myself up for disappointment.

Let me end with a couple questions: how do you, dear readers, feel about meeting your heroes? Who do you idolize, and why? How quickly would you melt into a puddle of fanatical goo if you met one of those heroes?

Celebrating E3 by dwelling on dream jobs

Or “This is the first year I’m not particularly excited about E3, and I’m not sure how I feel about that so here’s some semi-related, but mostly not related, shit instead.”

Quick preface here. I’m not writing about E3. What I’m seeing on Twitter, which is a little limited, tells me it’s a lot of the old reworked into quasi-new things, or just out-and-out remakes. Also, I’ve got no business blogging about video game current events here, so I’m going to just blog about old news relating to video games instead. I’m made of bullshit and hypocrisy tonight.

As long as I can remember, which isn’t always a tremendous deal, I’ve loved video games. Before I became so enamored with writing, they went quite nicely with my love of reading and generally being a hermit. The sort of escapism they offered, the way I could save the day despite otherwise unbeatable odds, was, and remains, something I will always enjoy.

Going along with this, I’ve got a small couple confessions. Back before I wanted to be a writer, but after I’d decided I couldn’t quite figure out how to make it as a mad scientist (and anyone who knew me for a good few years of my childhood can attest to my wanting to be a mad scientist), I wanted to become an actor. A voice actor, in fact, who worked on video games. I didn’t want to be the hero, though. Being the voice of saving the day and rescuing princesses from dragons or warlocks or whatever sinister forces had appeared from the shadows. Continue reading

A villain’s journey is a hero’s story

Or “Oh, yeah, I totally went there” and “Yes, this is totally another love-letter to villains that I’m completely unashamed of writing”, as well as “Yes, I am referencing Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’, and I’m glad you noticed”.  I need to dial down the subtitles.  Yeesh.

Let me pose an idea that has probably been presented many times before, but not quite yet in my verbose and almost cartoonishly-exaggerated prose-style.  The villain of many stories is, in their own way, going through their own variation of the hero’s journey.  The variation, and to what degree the villain’s journey is a reversal of the hero’s journey will depend upon the story, and each individual writer’s approach to how they treat (or abuse) their characters.  However, and it pains me to write this, I would argue that the hero’s journey and the villain’s journey are no more or less boring than one another.  The determining factor of which one is more or less compelling is how well-written the characters are.  By this logic, I pose that is is totally possible to have a hero on a compelling, interesting, and emotional of a quest for whatever (redemption, acceptance, to save the world, or any of the other standard or not-so-standard possibilities) opposite an equally compelling, interesting, and emotionally involved villain’s quest to prove those who doubted them wrong, to fulfill their ambitions, or, again, whatever other standard or not-so-standard plot-based rails upon which the character (or character’s) journey will travel.

The villain is the hero of his or her own story.  They have their own dreams and aspirations, even though a lot of those dreams and aspirations happen to involve grabs for world domination or lots of people dying and what have you (although not always, of course).  The morally righteous and the morally questionable are both just as guilty of following their hearts to carve out their own little place in the universe.  The villain just happens to be doing so in a way that has much stronger backlash than the hero.

Yes, it is important to consider that there are villains who are so powerful and impressive in terms of their backstory and their traits that they can eclipse a story’s hero (and I would like to offer a nod to every Loki/Tom Hiddleston fan who would probably agree with this point).  There are times when an amazing hero overcomes such great odds that it makes the villain seem like a crucial, but still boring, set piece in the overall scheme of things.  It’s also important to consider that there are heroes who will be written as generically and blandly as possible, giving readers only the sinister machinations of the devious do-wronger to keep them going through the story in the same way there are villains that are so typically I-want-to-do-bad-because-I-want-to-do-bad boring that the hero is the only redeeming quality the writing has to offer.

The key part to have an amazing story, complete with both noble and morally dubious characters, is to find the balance between the hero’s journey and the villain’s mirroring of that journey in some way.  I am, by the way, so far from finding this balance, I fear, I can hardly see it on the horizon, but it is something all fiction writers should strive for.  To not only have the hero overcome great difficulties, fall to their lowest low, and leave the whole experience transformed by it, but a villain who deals with their own inner demons (sometimes maybe even in a very literal fashion), is faced by great odds, and ultimately leaves the experience changed (even if that change is dying, as that still constitutes a transformation, albeit a very permanent one in most cases).  And yes, there are, and should be, stories that feature the hero ultimately facing the villain, losing, and coming out of it better (as well as the villain not, you know, dying in a spectacular fashion).   Ultimately, yes, there will be some very boring heroes and some just-as-boring villains, and biases will color the way readers look at these types of characters, but I find it hard to accept that one journey is any more or less interesting than another.

Note: I feel like I’m forgetting bits because I started drafting this in my mind while I was still at work, and it’s been a few hours and distractions since that point, so this post didn’t quite receive its deserved, proper treatment.

Creating monsters is my favorite thing to do

Or “This is totally a love letter to writing strong, love-to-hate-and-hate-to-love villains.”

I love me some well-crafted villains.  That’s not exactly news to most people.  There’s a certain appeal to bad guys that heroes can’t capture, and for obvious reasons.  Sure, the hero saves the day, usually by dramatically untying the dude or damsel in distress, foiling the villain’s plan, and defeating/imprisoning/killing off the bad guy in question.  And yes, there’s definitely something enjoyable about writing the hero, flaws and all.  My heart, however, will always have a special soft-spot for creating the villains.  You may find yourself asking “Why’s that, Phil?”

Honestly?  Because we’ve all got a bit of a dark side; that little monster in the back of your head, hiding right behind your conscience and whispering things you’re sure couldn’t have been your own thoughts.  Villains provide the backwards version of our own moral compasses.  That’s not to say all villains are purely evil, and I’ll get to that shortly, but oftentimes they are modeled after a writer’s own view of what is wrong.  You won’t find any heroes tying people to railroad tracks or dangling them above shark tanks.  They’re the thieves, the marauders, the evil grand viziers (or, really, just grand viziers, because that titles seems to belong exclusively to sinister folks intent on taking over the government), the terrorists, and so on and so forth.

There’s so much fun potential for depth and moral gray areas with villainous characters, though.  Can they have redeeming qualities?  Yes.  Why not make them just a teensy bit likeable, too.  Or what if there’s some sad backstory on how they became the nefarious overlord or overlady they are in your story?  Writing villains, at least for me, is the creative equivalent of finding myself on a private beach with a bunch of construction equipment and endless hours to build the most epic, giant sandcastles ever.  That comparison sounded so much cooler in my head.  The best villains are the ones the reader will sympathize with.  The ones who will make readers think “Wow, what an asshole,” but still also cause the reader to want to wrap them in a shock blanket, offer them a mug of hot chocolate, and assure that everything will be okay (just as soon as they put down the remote to their Doomsday Device).  The most fun comes from finding the perfect blend of whatever brand of evil a villain should be and redeeming qualities.  My ideal villain needs to be just evil enough, but have a strong enough pull on a reader’s heartstrings to leave them thinking “Oh, man, did I really just hope this nutcase succeeds over the hero?”

Now you might be saying “Phil, I think you might be a little twisted.”  Maybe you’re right, convenient character helping me transition between talking points.  I would argue, however, that everyone is a little twisted by other people’s standards.  Everyone has at least one or two behaviors or traits that can, and probably would, make another person’s skin crawl.  The fun in writing a good villain is taking a trait like that, mixing it up with other things such as a dash of charisma or a hint of homicidal tendencies, wrapping it in a bow, and then letting it run havoc all over an otherwise perfectly peaceful fictional world.

Villains stir things up.  They screw with the status quo, help get heroes to the moral of the story, and, quite frankly, usually look pretty awesome in the process.  This post was brought to you by me writing a particularly “holy crap, did I just think that” line for a villain in Joshua’s Nightmares.  What are your favorite bits about writing bad guys?  And yes, killing them off in magnificently creative ways is an option.