When I Meet the Bad Guy

Some time ago I read a draft of a story written in the point of view of the villain. Let me say upfront that I was entirely judging this character to be in the wrong, and I wanted to explore the character’s actions. I wanted to consider the story from her perspective.

The author began with an objective voice. It was great…for the first few paragraphs. Then something happened and my interest waned. I closed the book. Later, I asked myself, “Where did that story go wrong? It started out promising!”

It doesn’t matter which character’s eyes I’m seeing the story through; for a bad guy to be, well, good, I need some questions answered.

1. When I meet Cruel Bob, I will ask him,

“What’s Your Last Name?”

There’s a scene in the movie Galaxy Quest where the guy, named Guy, knows he’s going to die because he has no last name. He panics because he has no hobbies, no love interest, no back story, nothing. He knows he’ll be the first to go. As Captain James Hook would say, this is “bad form” for any villain who is going to be around for a while.

Leroux’s Phantom was given great context, both in the revelation of his past and in his residence under the Opera House. [Scan of still of Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
Cruel Bob’s a cardboard character (aka, the two-dimensional chump) who needs context, or he won’t matter to me. I want to know his temperament, his tendencies, his surroundings–anything that will help me understand who he is right when I meet him. I want to relate to him, if only to roundly hate him.

Even a drunken, violent character has his times when I can see the struggling person inside. The manipulative liar has his weak moments, when I see his doubts creep in. He’s still the bad guy, but a bad guy with a human element.

2. I will ask that devious Madame Vitriol,

“What’s Your Problem?”

In real life, it would be much easier if people would go around with “bad guy” and “good guy” signs, but in reality everyone chooses what he/she will be. They have a past and a reason for doing what they do. It’s often the motivation from their past that helped create their present path. We all have a motive. What is the catalyst for your baddie’s behavior?

The scene where Willoughby cuts off a lock of Marianne’s hair. John Willoughby was by nature a man moved by the moment, and by nurture he could afford to live recklessly. [By Hugh Thomson. (A scan from the book Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
For a writer, motives become characters in themselves. A trickster can make a bad motive look like it’s good, and, sometimes, even a character with a good motive can behave in a bad way. So, tell me about those interesting events early on in Madame’s life that changed her. This helps me to better understand her and want to keep reading.

3. Then I will ask Mr. Eville von Furioso,

“Do You Come With Commentary?”

There are characters who are clearly wrong in what they do and think, but an author who uses the narrative to harp on this is really doing the reader a disservice. The story I mentioned at the beginning of the post is a good example. The author didn’t keep the objectivism. The emotion welled up before my eyes as the lines progressed. At first, the character waited patiently, set things in order, considered the merits of her work, etc. Then the phrases and words changed. Her ‘lip curled in disgust,’ she ‘ordered,’ and she ‘demanded.’ The author’s perspective took over the story.

I don’t want to be told your baddie is cruel, manipulative, delusional, misguided, or fiendish. This isn’t persuading me, it’s hitting me over the head with a thick Board of Obvious. What if each book drew a bright highlighter through the bad guy’s every action by using adjectives with negative connotations? What if each encounter with that character was weighted down with biased phrases? A good story should give me the pieces to help me draw that conclusion for myself.

In life I have to exercise my critical thinking skills to protect myself because the world has some people who are not nice living in it. Those who have the greatest influence on the way I think are the ones I’ve come to know personally. When I meet a real, living mean person, who is sometimes warmly sympathetic and sometimes cold and heartless, I have to learn to see past emotions and realize when that person is doing something wrong.

The book characters who mimic real-life people are the ones with whom I become emotionally attached. Mr. von F can’t resonate if he comes with the author’s complimentary “view my character this way” specs. I won’t remember him. So, please, leave the Board of Obvious at home and help me work my way through Eville’s schemes organically.

Being a fan of the character-based novel, I’m looking for a good bad guy. He/She must have (1) Context, (2) Motive, and (3) No Complimentary Commentary. I’m not saying the world would be a better place if authors did this, but I can think of a few books that would be better books.

Rilla Saves Space

I think I should wear a cape while finding places to put things in our new house. It takes super powers to organize all this stuff! Granted, I’m no neat freak. On a scale of one to five—five being “slob”—I think I’m about a 4½. I’m okay with that. Not that I want to document my mess for anyone who happens to click on my blog post…

We have smaller closets, so I’m attempting to maximize closet space. I was very spoiled in our last house because I had a closet to myself. (You might remember, I liked to hide out in there to write.) Now that I’m sharing a closet with Realm, I refuse to give up having my dresser in my closet. Keeping my clothes in one location truly saves time. Unfortunately, there was no place to put my shoes.

Until… (Ta da! Ta da!)

I try to be sensible about my shoes…except for the ones with the mismatched shoelaces. Those were free.

I found this little shoe rack at Walmart. (Dear Walmart, You can always send me $15 for this plug. Your cheerful little consumer, Rilla Zerbert.)

In the bathroom I wanted to set out towels and toiletries for guests.

20140129bI bought the little white shadow box bathroom scene for 99 cents at the thrift store, along with the little pink tray holding the hand towels and wash cloths for $1.59.

20140129aI found the two-section shelf at another thrift store for $5.

Notice the magazines in the bottom section. You can tell from the lifted toilet seat that a male uses this bathroom. A couple of years ago, I learned a fascinating tip from Sheila Butt, a Christian mom of three Christian men and currently a TN State Representative. Here it is:

If you want your son to read something, put it in the bathroom.

Wisdom from a pro. That’s the reason for the stack of Discovery magazines from Apologetics Press in our bathroom. If you don’t think it works, try it. I cannot count the times my son has told me an interesting scientific fact and stated, “I read it in Discovery.”

Now to the guest bedroom closet, where I store items for welcome baskets to give to new members of our congregation. There are ladies who help me by donating gifts, so I needed a place for all these goodies. This is what I came up with:

100_1251I found the blue and green containers at the dollar store. I already had the shoe rack, which was too bulky to work in my closet. There is space behind the shoe rack to keep the rolls of cellophane for the baskets. I omitted a row to get to the rolls easily. I’m so motivated to see these containers empty!!

All this space-saving means I can sit down amidst my usual piles of stuff and write without the frustration of a dozen waiting boxes staring me down. Waiting boxes do stare. I saw one out of the corner of my eye while writing a poignant death scene the other day. And it shut its eyes in a flash when I looked up to catch it.

Next, I’m thinking craft center and a board game center. (Board games don’t get played if you can’t see them.) I just need to get a round tuit. 🙂

Here’s the Catch…

You guys know I love to cook. My daughter likes to cook with me. So, when a program came up to learn more about cooking for the girls in our church, I thought she would love it. Her twin sister wasn’t so enthused.20130604b20130604d

One of the criteria in the program was to gather 100 recipes for a personal cookbook by asking members of the congregation to contribute. Here’s the funny thing: My not-really-into-cooking daughter excelled at this. Her apron-donning sister, on the other hand, hardly collected any. Why? It was all about talking to folks. She said it was too embarrassing and hard to go up to people and ask for recipes. She’s good at cooking, but that wasn’t what she needed to succeed in the program.

This is so much like the writer’s dilemma! Joshua A. Sipper discusses the things a writer has to do to in his post, Life of a Non-Salesman, and gives some great tips to help a writer get his/her work out there. The bottom line: It takes more to excel as a writer than writing the story. Hey, we all know this! Unfortunately, that doesn’t prompt me to leap out there and take risks. Rather, I’m like my daughter, stepping back and shaking my head.

“You’re ruining the joy!” I wanted to say to the cooking program creators. “Why can’t you just let her cook?” But that wasn’t the sole purpose of the program, and we had to reevaluate.

It’s the same with writing. Every time I get to the point where my craft requires me to do something I absolutely hate, I have to remind myself, “Why I am doing this? What will I get out of this? Is it worth the end result?”

The answer is it’s worth it because it means more opportunities to write, which is all I want to do!

7 Rules of Eticake is Here!

“When you’re down and out; when you’re on the street.”* Okay, I’m not on the street, but I’ve been down and out for a couple of weeks. This week is looking up. It doesn’t hurt that the project I told you about waaaay back in June surfaced. Something like this just makes a writer happy, happy, happy. You know?

The Project: I was hired to write a video script in April advertising Cake Theater.

The Actors: Youtube comedy team, Blimey Cow.

The Perimeters: The script needed to speak to cake decorators, be humorous, and subtly promote the Cake Theater website. And, of course, it needed to fit Blimey Cow’s style.

The Research: I read a myriad of cake decorator rants, exploring the documented dos and don’ts, wills and won’ts. (There are actually a good many of these online.) Then I picked the brains of local cake decorators for insight. Honestly, the stuff these cake decorators go through is insane!

So, for your viewing pleasure…(insert drum roll here)

without further ado…

or further adon’t (wow, that was bad)…

Cake Theater’s 7 Rules of Eticake!

So, what did I learn from this project?

1. Appreciate the person who makes the cakes. Seriously, if you think that video was exaggerating about customers’ requests, you’d be surprised.

2. Unless you have some knowledge of cake-decorating, this video really doesn’t relate outside of the cake-making sphere. Like, what is the pink hands comment all about, right? Well, red frosting dye can stain hands for an average of three days. And, for some reason, everybody wants some form of red decoration on their cake, regardless of toxic dye issues and allergies. Red is just a great color for cake.

And 3. If you think Jordan is a little intense and his eyebrows have a tendency to cause a bad case of seasickness, I know. I watched many of his videos to get a feel for how to write the script, so… I know.

*Lyrics to Bridge Over Troubled Water

I Wrote the Handbook

I’ve been doing some odd-job writing lately, like a handbook for our homeschooling co-op. I jumped at the chance to write it. The looks I received made me wonder if I had fuzzy antennae on my head. I did, so I took them off. Still, it occurred to me that writing a mission statement, requirements, and policies aren’t something most people like to do. So, I asked myself the question, “Why did I want to write this handbook?”

The diplomatic answer? I like details and structure. I was a receptionist for an architect/engineering firm when I was 19. It was okay, but I wanted to do more than answer the phone and greet people. So, they let me type up specs. I loved typing up the specs! Requirements down to 1/64 of an inch? How wonderful!

Finger pointing
Finger pointing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The real answer? I’m bossy, and writing a handbook is being bossy on paper. Have you ever read a student or an employee handbook and wondered about the writers of that handbook? Mostly, I’ve just wondered how they missed those typos. Now that I’m in the writer’s seat, I wonder if they rub their hands together and laugh maniacally while they work. I do. Mwahahahaha!

On the down side, guess who gets blamed when the handbook doesn’t fit the situation? 😦 Ah, the pitfalls of dictating policy. *sigh*

Help! I’m a Wordophile! and Other Confessions

Part 6 of The Fan Fiction Experiment

He is going to write a very learned book. Only everybody will be dead before it can be half finished.

The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope

You may think that fanfic writers—especially the serial chapter sort—are a wordy bunch. Maybe…and maybe not. One thing I know: Fanfiction writers are challenged to hold a reader’s attention. Fanfiction has a fickle audience. You have to keep your readers intrigued without resorting to posting one explosive scene after another.  Here are some ways I’ve learned to do that:

English: Hand I'm bored Español: Mano I'm bored
English: Hand I’m bored (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Be Segue Savvy
Writers can’t wait to write the scenes that build the conflict, but the story between these scenes deserves just as much love and attention. Writers—this includes the traditionally published ones—make the mistake of losing story momentum, along with their readers’ interest, by neglecting the between-scene transitions. It’s easy to become too intent on getting to the next big plot highlight instead of keeping the plot toasty all the way through. If you’re depending on these major scenes in your story to persuade the reader to keep reading, you are not writing a story; you’re writing an outline. You, as a reader, know this when you read it. And fanfic readers don’t hang around for, “Wait! You haven’t gotten to the good part yet!” A fanfic writer learns to give the story drawing power amidst the valleys, or risks losing his/her audience.

Don’t Drown in the Details
There’s a tendency in the born writer to dwell on things that have no bearing on the plot. I can’t help writing them, but at least I can see them for what they really are and remove them. I have this little file where I dump—I mean, keep—those lovely jewels. I pretend I will come back, promising to find the right place for them. That rarely happens, but it helps soothe my ego, which loathes deleting anything that might be somewhat witty.

For the fanfic writer, the back story and research are compiled for you by the original author. This is the ideal way to begin. You will know immediately whether dwelling on tangents will be your nemesis when you start writing long passages describing the contents of Bella’s backpack, rather than explaining how Jacob clandestinely returns the backpack to her after their midnight motorcycle ride in one of your “Lost Scenes from Eclipse” chapters.

English: Willamette University College of Law ...
English: Willamette University College of Law Long Law Library. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Resist the Urge to Research
As a research slave, I can attest that it does not aid a writer’s sanity to do any research when writing the first draft. With fanfiction you have a short window in which to update your story once it begins. Pausing to spend a month studying up on Viking water crafts to make your warship a little more realistic for that How to Train Your Dragon fanfic is probably a bad idea. It is better to do any research before, to inspire your pen, and wait at least until that first draft is written before going back through to fill in the blanks and rework the misconceptions. Just let it go while you are in the midst of writing. It’s a terrible time hog, and one of these days I’m going to heed my own advice. 😛

Writer’s ADD is planned for Friday.

(Disclaimer: My opinions were not sufficiently researched while writing this post. My research has never, ever been sufficient, only copious.)

Blogs I Love Because of Who I Am

This is my last Monday post about the blogs I love on WordPress. (Did you catch on to my master plan there?) These last few are pretty special because they are not about what I necessarily have a knack for or what I enjoy but can’t do. They have to do with how I tick.

I’m a Wife and a Mom. Yes, those words need to be capitalized. Wife-wise, getting married was the easy part. I don’t know why weddings get all the attention. It’s that first year that needs a coordinator, lots of cake, and sincere promises and pacts. Just simple things, like how to fold the towels and if the toothpaste should be rolled from the bottom or squeezed in the middle, become issues that get all blown out of proportion. Oh, and don’t get me started on which way the toilet paper roll goes on! (He won that one, by the way.)

And then we had kids.

Aloe vera plant
Aloe vera plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was concerned about what kind of mother I would be. In my second year of married life, I tried caring for an Aloe Vera plant. I brought it home, talked sweetly to it, and named it Ernie. I was sure we were good friends, and then Ernie died two weeks later. Many plants have perished under my care since then, but I don’t remember them. They didn’t have names. It’s okay to mess up like that with a plant but not with a pet. So I don’t have pets. Maybe you can understand why I hesitated about having a child that would be dependent on me for nourishment and attention and…for everything! And then I had a baby boy and realized he would never, ever, ever let me forget him.

Wives and Moms need lots of encouragement and support. They are the oil that keeps the gears turning. They perform daily–hour by hour, minute by minute, breath by shuddering breath–the tasks that no one notices most of the time. That’s why I need Wife and Mommy blogs. They comfort me and sometimes make me laugh at myself.

Mrs. & the Misc. is a blog put together by four wives with interests in all sorts of things, like crafts, food, clothing, and, lately, fitness. It has a homey atmosphere. On Valentines Day, Mrs. Kristin Fincher posted a cute little trick for fruit kabobs, complete with pictures of her yummy shade of nail polish. These women also plug their businesses, like Mrs. Susanna Christensen’s lovemeapparel post, Drumroll please. (Isn’t her model absolutely adorable? Yes. Yes, he is.)

Last month I started following Smartter Each Day because I thought the name of the blog had a cheesy appeal. (Jessica’s last name is Smartt. Heh, heh.) Since then, a few posts have caught my attention. One last week was all about a simple budget she uses. I intend to try two tips she mentioned. First, I’m going to tally miscellaneous expenses on a weekly basis, instead of doing that monthly…or never. I’m not telling you the other suggestion I’m going to try. You’ll have to read the post. 🙂

The Cross at Grant Park
The Cross at Grant Park (Photo credit: MaryTClark)

At my core, I’m a Christian. Honestly, I find it incredibly challenging to blog my thoughts on spiritual matters. Just the name “Christian” means different things to different people. Writing a few lines in a blog post gives me little room to consider the perspective of my reader. It’s very frustrating, but I still talk about what God says and how He blesses me. I say it in the best way I know how. So, when I see bloggers communicating their beliefs in God, I admire their courage and openness. I want to read what they write.

At first, I placed Robintessier on my list of writer blogs from last Thursday, because she’s definitely a wonderful writer. Robin has frustrations in her life, and in every one of her thorns, it seems, she finds vibrant, blooming roses of wisdom. I have a sneaking suspicion she’s an optimist that just needs time to take in a trying situation to see something beautiful. One of my favorite posts of hers is My Sisters’ Feet, and What in the Name of God? got me thinking about what comes out of my mouth. I also have to mention her poem, Spam Fan I Am (Not), just because it’s a funny piece written in Seuss-style.

R16:16 is a blog for all sorts of Christian resources from the churches of Christ. There’s a post about a free, introductory issue of iLuminate, a new Ezine for Christian Teens. There are also posts for free Sunday school materials, like lessons and lapbooks. Hey, you can’t beat free.

Lastly, I’m a lurker reader of Dragonflies and Hummingbirds. Recently, Jennifer wrote about God being with her and her husband during his surgery. Her words were brimming with gratitude.

I don’t know any of these bloggers personally. I’ve just met them through their blogs on WordPress. You never know who is reading and getting something out of your message! I hope you guys have a great Monday!


Inner Edie Gives Her Opinion

RillaWriter: Good morning, Inner Edie!

Inner Editor: It’s only good if you tell me you’re not going to keep posting every workday this week.

RWriter: Then… Morning, Edie!

Inner Ed: That’s what I thought. Here’s the thing: I’ve already caught some really stupid mistakes since you’ve started this. One of them was using “new” instead of “knew.” Should this surprise me, Rilla? It does not.

RWriter: Well, isn’t that exciting!

Inner Ed: You’re not listening to me.

RWriter: You’re right, I’m not. Know why? Because this exercise is all about helping my Inner Editor take a backseat for a bit.


No hard feelings, right?

(crickets chirp)


Inner Ed: Just remember this when the blog blows up in your face.

RWriter: When it does, you can purse your lips and say “I told you so” all you want.

Inner Ed: Oh, I will. And, by the way, I didn’t appreciate the post where you told the Blogosphere I misspell ‘copyright.’ That was between you and me.

RWriter: Sorry for admitting you’re not perfect.

Inner Ed: And you did a terrible impression of Gollum. It should be something like, “He wouldn’tses, Preciousss.”

RWriter: That looks stupid.

Inner Ed: And writing about Brain Teaser month doesn’t?

RWriter: I’m free-penning January, Edie. It’s meant to loosen up my literary tongue. I’m liberating my creative voice and freeing the artist—

Inner Ed: Yeah right. You hate it.

RWriter: Okay, so it would kill me if I tried to keep it up—

Inner Ed: And your blog readers would disown you…

RWriter: Maybe, but right now I think it’s kinda fun!

Inner Ed: You would. (sighs) Fine. You get this month, and I take next month—deal?

RWriter: We’ll see…

Inner Ed: I don’t believe you.

RWriter: How ‘bout I promise not to post more than twice a week in February?

Inner Ed: That’s a little better. What are we posting in February?

RWriter: You’ll see.

Inner Ed: Oh no.

Desperate Times Call For Christmas Card Envelopes

I’m still living in panic-strewn chaos. I’m not saying that’s bad, I’m just saying it’s not the ideal. I should couch that by making it clear nothing is essentially wrong. Just the usual changes and growing—and I’m sooo not good at all that change stuff. (I know I’m not alone in this, ye Facebook users who have fought thy way through the many FB improvements in time past.)

I look around me every once in a while and take stock of my many blessings: people I love in my life, the stuff they like to do, the stuff I like to do, the stuff we acquire to do all that stuff, and the other stuff I use to clean and organize all that stuff that has to be stored somewhere—often in my bedroom, where I scare myself silly at two in the morning because I wake up to something tumbling and forget about the ladder with a suit that needs fixing hanging on it and go into paroxysms of fear at the seemingly tall figure standing next to my bed.

Serious tangential run-on, there.

But it gets me to my point, I think, which is: My writing habits are getting really, really strange with all this craziness. For one, I am writing story ideas and details on envelopes. Not just any envelopes, but Christmas card envelopes. I’m using the Christmas greeting cards to write thoughts from my morning Bible study, so I have all these sparkling, white envelopes—because, I’ll confess, I have boxes of Christmas cards I’ve collected over the years with the notion that I’m actually going to send out Christmas cards to people I haven’t seen in forever. You know, so they can say, “Hey, did you know Rilla is still moving and breathing on the planet? It’s true; I have the Christmas card to prove it.” Well, after four-ish years of Facebooking “Merry Christmas,” I don’t see the point in this festive rite of the season; and now I have all these blank cards and envelopes, see?

It also needs to be stated that I’m writing on these envelopes in my closet. Yes, I’m holed up in my closet, where I keep a pen and a bottle of water… and a box of crackers. I think I could live rather cheerily in my closet for a bit. Just yesterday I moved my laptop in there—which, I think, is really progress because I might stop writing on envelopes and use the laptop instead.

So, how is this new routine working for me? Surprisingly well, except I completely quit working on the sequel to Dragonfly Prince. It’s marinating in my brain, but I haven’t been able to touch it in weeks because Dragonfly Prince has undergone a transformation. The last chapters have been replaced with totally new scenes and a totally new ending. I don’t know who did that. Alright, it had to be me; but what a presumptuous creature I am, despoiling my own story! Of course, the sequel gets the backlash and must reconfigure itself with a little help from me.

I’ve also gone back to one very wonderful tale that I let dangle while Dragonfly Prince Part Deux was getting the limelight. It’s a love story set in the Middle Ages. (I actually have three Middle Ages stories. I’m a medieval times junkie.)

There was another story I revisited that I think I should burn, but enough about that.

You may consider this my desperate attempt to update my blog, but I’d rather you didn’t. I’d rather you think to yourself, “Wow, what a great way to recycle all those annoying xmas cards!” Hey, it’s creative. Let’s just leave it at that.

My Inner Editor and Me

I’ve been thinking about posting. That’s about it. I’ve jotted down a few things, but they haven’t moved out of the idea file. You know, I have lines like “my worst vocabulary mistakes” and “theory about characterization development – robotics.” I know what I want to write, but I have a priority list with 15 lines, and “blog goals” is number 16. I’d love to knock something out of a slot and move the blog up. Actually, I’d like to be getting items #13 thru #15 done.

I feel like I’m in total chaos. School started at the beginning of August. I think I told you, I home educate. I’m ready to clone myself, only I prefer someone with less of a Type A personality. Come to think of it, if I cloned myself, I’d hate me. I’m way too demanding.

Writing my book is in my top 15. I give myself thirty minutes to work on a scene from the sequel and thirty minutes to work on revisions to Dragonfly Prince. I’ve read Baty’s NaNoWriMo book, where it suggests ignoring your inner editor. In this hectic time, I need to do that and just write. The best I’ve been able to do is argue with my inner editor.

Inner Editor: This is terrible. What do you think this is accomplishing?

RillaWriter: I’m writing. Just let me write.

Inner Ed: It’s not writing. It’s a waste of a good thirty minutes.

RWriter: It’s not a waste. I’m going to go back once the first draft is finished. I’m going to totally rework it.

Inner Ed: Rework what? You have nothing here. The dialogue, the description…they are stunted and unnatural. There is nothing here to salvage.

RWriter: Look, this is my first time doing this. Humor me, alright? Look at it as an experiment. You love experiments! Let’s see what we’ll get out of this.

Inner Ed: And a month or two down the road, you’re going to see I’m right.

RWriter: Then shut-up and let me learn the lesson already!

We are not happy with each other, my inner editor and me. So I know a clone is out of the question.