The Thursday Villain – The Invading Species

So nefarious, even its post invaded a day for other villains! In reality, this post was pushed back a day in favor of mourning the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett. If my heart doesn’t seem like it’s in this post (or the subsequent one that was meant for today), there’s the reason why. Alternatively, I feel like if Sir Terry could push through his Embuggerance and continue writing, it would be downright insulting to falter from just being sad. Easily an over-simplification of things, but I need some motivation to help kick me into not being a lump.

Invading species-types of villains are fun, if only because there’s so much variety to them. There’s aliens, sure, but there are also demons, monsters from other dimensions, hyper-evolved diseases, giant bugs (or arachnids), and so on and so on. Even humans qualify, as it’s not always about invading, and subsequently wrecking, Earth. Regardless of the location, the invading species usually has goals of domination and eradication in mind, though enslaving the native population also seems to work at times. It really depends where said invaders fall on a certain spectrum involving homicidal rage and sadism. Continue reading

One Hundred Days of Blogging – Day Eleven

Today’s post is certainly cutting it close to the deadline, but I’m mostly okay with that. Probably. Maybe freaking out a little. However, this late posting is partially thanks to going out for ice cream and watching unexpected fireworks, and suddenly I have an unexpected lead-in to the topic I’d wanted to write about.

The Universe works in mysterious ways, while I speak this rhyme of clichés? Yeah. Let’s go ahead and wipe that last sentence from our collective memory. No looking back. Don’t you dare, damn it. 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

A necessary bit of the heebly-jeeblies

Or “I don’t care if you think that’s not how it’s spelled, Chrome; I’m calling them the heebly-jeeblies” and “It’s open-window weather, which means it’s time to think creepy thoughts and deprive myself of sleep.” This post was brought to you in part by me posting a picture of Horrifying Houseguest (also known as Shadowlurker) on Facebook. Take a moment and Google it.

There’s a small, twisted part of my brain that is actually pretty okay with being scared. Plenty of things scare me, and I’d be willing to guess if you’re a living, breathing person, reading this post, there are plenty of things you are scared of as well. I’m not talking fear of rejection or how any college graduate is (reasonably) scared out of their minds about student loan debt. I’m talking about the things that occupy the space just in the corner of your vision, lacking clarity but still holding enough form to unsettle. The serial killers who may or may not be lurking in your basement this very moment, waiting until the lights are out so they can make their move. The creepy creatures who you might catch glimpses of just as you drift off to sleep.

You get the idea. Everyone’s afraid of something different, too, which is truly interesting. In terms of pants-wetting, high-pitched-shrieking terror, few things creep me out as effectively as distorted human faces and forms. I’ve got a rudimentary understanding of the psychology behind it; how something familiar, twisted, is a reasonable trigger for fear. It’s how horror movies manage to scare the bejeezus out of me when nasty specters with blacked out eyes and elongated mouths fly out of nowhere (jump scares are to horror as puns are to humor, as far as I’m concerned). Even though I can rationalize and dissect what about those things creeps me out, they still (almost) always manage to get my heart racing. It’s why much of what is featured in creepypasta stories (why, yes, I have read various creepypasta stories, and feel no shame in admitting it; some of them are pretty damn scary) manages to creep me out so much.

In any event, it’s been a fun night of thinking about scary stories, and the creepy things that inhabit them, and so I figured I’d write a post. Naturally, I must pose this question: what scares you? Name some of the things that really get your hair standing up on end, make your heart beat a little faster, and are cause to run to turn the lights on the moment you enter a room. Maybe sharing some of your favorite things that go bump in the night will discourage them from visiting? Or maybe it’ll just draw them a little bit closer.

Oh, and remember: it’s silly to be afraid of the dark, but perfectly reasonable to be afraid of what the darkness may conceal.

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.

Another Tale of Unremarkable Horror

Jacob stomped along, crushing every leaf he could underfoot.  The night, admittedly, had not gone as he had hoped.  After Marcus had left the movie without them, Jacob offered to walk Julie home.

“Don’t want any monsters getting you,” he had said to her with a wink.  Only once he got to her front door did he find out the eye-roll that had accompanied her thanks was more sincere than he’d wanted to believe.  After a fair bit of insisting on hanging out a little, Julie had responded with equal persistence that Jacob spend some quality time away from her instead.  With nothing to hold over Marcus’ head next time he saw the little dweeb, Jacob had what few beers were left in the fridge and a multi-pack of what he referred to as the Z-List of zombie movies; they were so bad they were almost good, but only with enough booze.

That’s when he first noticed it.  That creeping sensation he was being watched, like someone was right behind him.  He had seen zillions of scary movies, and knew there’s always something spooky lurking right behind the good guy at the least convenient moment.

“Try scaring this, bitch,” Jacob said.  He spun around, and delivered a punch to the air that had just been behind him.  Across the road, a group of small children gasped and some parents gave him disapproving looks.

“Whatever,” Jacob said to no one in particular.  He turned around, kicked over a decorative bag of leaves that looked like a giant vampire head, and continued home.  As he walked down the narrow, dimly lit alleyway leading up to the back entrance of his apartment building, the hair on the back of his neck started to stand on end.  He felt the unmistakable warmth of someone’s breath.  It must be Marcus, Jacob thought, trying to get back at him.  Jacob kept pace, not breaking stride as he removed the keys to the apartment building from his pocket, opened the door, and made his way up the stairs.  He spun around, hands balled into fists, outside his apartment door.

“You really think you could scare me, Wimpus?” Jacob said.  The creature stood a good foot taller than Jacob, three mouths full of sharp, jagged teeth dripping saliva on the dirty carpet.

“What about eating you?” it said.  “That’s certainly not a possibility we’d want to rule out.”