the Great Satan, Part 2


Last week was the start of BBU week here at Faith’s post day! BBU = Big Bad Uglies = the antagonist.

I talked about some of the many differences between the BBU’s of mysteries and the BBUs of thrillers—and yes, many of the same differences can be said to apply to other genres. Romance genre, not to include romantic suspense, for instance, often has a BBU, and he usually tends to the simplistic bad guy, the BBU with one motive for his evil and not a lot of character development. As in: “I want the castle and lands and will kill your intended to get them!” Or: “Yes, I am the one who murdered your father, the King! But he wasn’t really the king, he was an imposter. I am king! We were switched at birth!” Or: “I must have an heir and I have chosen you for the vessel. Mwahahahahaha.”

The plot in romantic suspense is more layered, similar to thrillers, though it’s usually pretty easy to pick apart by an astute reader. Romantic suspense tends more toward the thriller BBU—a lot more development, though seldom is he quite as layered or as developed as in thrillers. After all, the reader wants a little excitement with his cup of romance, not the other way around.

SiFi, from space opera to first contact stories like the TV series V, tends to fit into one of the mystery categories. It may be the more simplistic BBUs like in the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold or the BBUs attacking the Earth in Independence Day, or they can be the more multilayered BBUs of Lost, with its concomitant multilayered (can we say 5 dimensional?) plotting. We can start the argument about Lost later. What argument? The: Lost is not SiFi! Yes, it is! No, it isn’t! Yes, it is! … That argument.

Fantasy has its own BBU possibilities, taking us into new realms, with new species, and new potential for conflict. (Conflict is what makes a book work. We read for character, but if the character doesn’t have conflict (s) to resolve, it’s not a story). Let’s look at traditional fantasy, which can cover swords and sorcery, epic (though we’ll cover it separately), coming of age fantasy, (the, “Look ma! I can do magic! Oops. What’s THAT? Oh, crap! RUN!” books like the first Harry Potter), etc.

If we look at the traditional fantasy BBUs in terms of the original four questions we get:

 What makes them work? Fantasy BBUs can literally be big bad uglies—the troll under the bridge, the evil knight, the wicked witch of the west with a cauldron, huge hairy moles, bad attitude, and flying monkeys. (I’m not tossing aspersions on Wicca or goddess worshippers, or others. Some of them are friends, and none of them have hairy moles so far as I know. {If so, then I hope they will consult a medical professional.} I am referring to the practitioners of black arts and human sacrifice. None of them are friends!) Fantasy BBUs can have fantastical weapons, powers, gifts and unlimited motivation. This can either work for the writer and the story or make it fall flat. Anne McCaffrey is one of the best ever at creating a BBU for the traditional fantasy, and has covered the gamut of conflict types. Her BBUs might be the fire that falls on Pern or the multiple simplistic BBUs of The Crystal Singer, from the crystal itself to the dangerous humans. But always, McCaffrey’s BBUs had specific, dependable characteristics, even if they did evolve through the course of a series. The closest thing I ever wrote to a traditional fantasy was the Thorn St. Croix, Rogue Mage series. This books were a crossover between traditional fantasy and urban fantasy. In the Rogue Mage series, the biggest BBUs were—literally—the dragons of the Revelation. Not the devil (it wasn’t a series to promote religion) but the monsters and the backstories of the monsters were stolen (Plagiarized? Fanfic? Ouch!) from the Bible, the Apocryphal writings, and other sources, to include the BBUs of many old religions, cultures, and histories. My dragons, dragonets, and Major and Minor Darkness BBUs were straight out of several religions, but with twists from both older and modern fantasy work, including vampires (daywalkers in the series). This was a huge change from my mystery / thriller BBUs. It was the mixture of the old and the new—and the hints that the beings usually associated with evil might have motivations that humans needed to know about—that made the BBUs work. So, for traditional fantasy to work, the BBUs need motivation or dependable (evolving is okay as long as the reader knows it might happen) characteristics. When the BBU is a sentient being, the writer should make clear that the BBU has a (several?) motivations, even if the reader doesn’t know it right up front.

  1. How do we keep them from becoming formulaic? (The pseudo-Satan.) It is the motivation that is necessary—and often missing from traditional fantasy—to keep the BBU fresh and believable. Why does the evil overlord want to lay waste to the land? Why does he want to kill all the inhabitants? What parts about a dark and lifeless and gloomy world where only the rats and buzzards are happy could possibly make him happy? If he wanted a lifeless habitat, why not just take over the moon? Mars? His motivations for his evil deeds matter. They make the BBU work in a genre of fiction that often forgets he needs this motivation. Older fantasy BBUs were seldom described in terms of motivation, but that won’t work as well in today’s market. Today’s reader is market savvy. This is why the human-like BBU / antagonist is so successful. He is an equal to the MC. They want the same thing, they fight an equal battle with equal weapons. But this takes us into UF territory, so I’ll stop here.
  2. What mistakes do we writers make that allow them to become formulaic? I think there are several common mistakes. We copy bits and parts from other BBUs, parts that make them identifiable, closely associated with existing work. Or we make the BBU so foreign to our culture that he is either silly (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes comes to mind, though that was SiFi) or incomprehensible. Or we don’t describe him well enough for the reader to picture him. (The big dark cloud is on the horizon! Run for your lives!) Or, most important, we forget that the well defined BBU must have weaknesses and strengths, just like the MC. He needs to grow through problems, find new strengths, and evolve. Even in the Pern books, Anne McCaffrey gave the fire fall BBU an elliptic orbit, so it was dependably undependable. Today’s traditional BBU must fit into the story like any other character. It helps for the BBU to be on a timetable, one that makes sense to the reader, just like the thriller BBU. A short time frame means the MC must act now or fail utterly. In the Pern books, the world, the crops, the people, everything, will destroyed unless the humans and the dragons unite and fight together. It is man against nature and man against man. Unless the conflict is man against nature, the BBU needs motivation. Even if the BBU is a dragon, he must want something. How did I do this? In the Rogue Mage books, the Major Darkness, a Dragon, wanted power over the other Powers of Darkness and he hoped to achieve this by freeing his boss—one of the biggest BBUs—with the dark arts and spilled blood of humans. He also wanted re-entrance to … well, a heaven-like place … and access to the greatest power there, a power he and his boss had tried to take once and failed. My agent referred to the three (so far) novels as the X-men meets a non-religious Left Behind series. A Sharon Shinn meets Anne McCaffrey meets Touched by an Angel meets LOTR. With this series, I was trying to balance on the blade of a sword in terms of not forcing any religion down people’s throats, creating non-formulaic BBUs, harmonizing with fantasy and urban fantasy, and taking post-apocalyptic fantasy to another level. I wanted something that *no one* had ever done. It sounds like reaching for the stars, but that’s what I strove for. A level of uniqueness—with an identifiable element that makes the BBU feel culturally familiar—is what (in my opinion) we should all do for our traditional fantasy novels.
  3. And how do we as readers contribute to the success or failure of the BBU? That suspension of belief required by the simple mystery has its place here too. Maybe more so! We have to believe in (or want to believe in) magic, other-worldly power, cosmic war, the bigger-than-life battle between good and evil. And we have to believe that right—at least in fiction—wins in the end, when we know it doesn’t always. We have to be willing to root for the underdog, the character often lacking in training, ability, and power. And we have to believe he can win.

 If you are writing traditional fantasy or SiFi (or even romantic suspense), try to describe your bad guy in one short paragraph, and his motivation in a second short para. If an agent wants to know, you’ll have it ready to hand!

Next week, Epic Fantasy and the Recurring Nemesis. Unless the shots to the elbow for tendonitis prove too painful for me to type. (I am dreading it!)


26 comments to the Great Satan, Part 2

  • kmcelhinny


    First off, good luck with the shots. They sound painful! I hope it goes off smoothly and with as little hurt as possible. Secondly, good wishes for the sale of your impending novel!

    Finally (but not short) I think this was awesome to break these BBU’s down. As I missed last weeks, I went back and perused last weeks post as well just to be caught up. 😀 I admit that while my BBU is a complex character of many levels I never sat back to think that there was some common threads in the world of Dark Fantasy and other genres, but now that you’ve laid it out it’s given me some grander things to think about. My BBU has not a time line, but your comment about that has started my wheels cranking… I’m not sure what it means (for me or my BBU) but who knows what will come? 😀

    I’ve always enjoyed writing baddies much more than any other character because I felt that I could strip away all things, figure out their layers and still find a human inside. While they aren’t completely black hearted, they’ve allowed the darker parts to take over from past hurt. They don’t care anymore and their kindness’s are forgone for selfish need or instant gratification. Never better in RL, but fun to live out in nonetheless.

    Another thing I enjoy is that from the conception they seem just pure evil, but as I write, or as the character unfolds the real reason, deeper layers, come in to make them a little more human or real(I haven’t written monsters just yet). Always fabulous.

    Thanks for another great blog!

  • First, let me second the best of luck with the shots.

    As for the post — I’m enjoying this new BBU series of posts and look forward to the rest of them. In my own WIP, the BBU is sort of like a Lord Voldemort in that he is spoken of but not seen at first. In fact, the BBU only shows up at the halfway point and at the climactic conclusion. So, creating a full character is difficult since the BBU has limited scenes. So far I’ve been filling out the character through other people’s conversations and memories but I fear this won’t be enough. Compounding the problem — the POV is 3rd person specific (that of the heroine) so I can’t really break into a scene from the BBU’s POV. My strategy, therefore, is to create one image of the BBU through the methods above and then when the reader actually meets the BBU, I present a slightly different character. The idea, if it works, is to form a full character by seeing both the myth surrounding the BBU and the reality.

  • Thanks, KmCelHinny.
    The idea of letting the darker parts take over from past hurts is fabulous! Characters who start out good or neutral and then slide to the dark side due to anger / hurt make wonderful BBUs. In real life (with the exception of gang violence and terrorism violence which have their own pathology) that is a big part of people with violent lifestyles, and I can see it clearly in BBUs.

    Finding motivation for monster/evil/BBUs was hard at first, but I kept asking myself, “What do they want? What do they *want*?!?” And then, like you say with your BBU, things begin to fall into place, and motivation and timeline began to emerge from the actions of the characters themselves.

    Creativity doesn’t have a linear timeline. Sometimes one part of a plot or conflict or character will come out first then others.

  • Stuart, thank you. I’ve had a similar shot into the elbow joint before (not fun) but this time the problem is more widespread. And though I’ve collected blood with needles for my entire lab career, I’m terrified of the sharp end of them. (Can you say *wimp*?)

    You said:
    >>I’ve been filling out the character through other people’s conversations and memories but I fear this won’t be enough.

    I haven’t written a lot of short stories but I know that none of the characters can possibly have as well developed a persona as in novels. I’d think the dialogue method would be especially effective / sufficient for the BBU in them, but you are the expert there! Are you writing this as a longer piece? Your novel? I have no doubt you’ll make it work!

    I used a similar techinque with the first of the Rogue Mage books. None of the townspeople had ever seen, first hand, the biggest of the BBUs. There were verbal accounts and old digital footage shown on TV but no actual face-to-face contact or battle, which is like learning to fight a war playing video games. But it gave the characters and the readers an idea what the MC’s were up against.

    For our readers, let me step into the AKA’s shoes: In mysteries and thrillers, especially police procedurals, the dialogue technique / device is used both for backstory info and for description of the bad guy. “Would you describe the perp, please?”

    In medical tales, I’ve seen stories where the opening is the debriefing of the medical staff following a sentinel event, and a doctor talks about what happened before the action on the page. It’s dialogue backstory, with description of the BBU, which leads to the conflict and the real opening in a flashback. (Flashback openings are not my personal favorite, but they can be effective. It adds … ahem … mystery.)

    Back into Faith’s shoes: As long as I, the writer, knows the motivation, description, and timeline, then the reader can be fed that info a little at a time. However, if the BBU isn’t real to me, it will never be real to the reader.

  • Again, Faith, very useful and provocative. Lately I’ve become preoccupied with the scale of the conflict as being crucial to the motives of my villains, and I think I’ve run into a paradox. It seems to me that the smaller the conflict, the more likely it is to be driven by character. The huge conflicts get away from this because they grow out of other imperatives: economic, political, ideological etc. This is really tough to write in a novel because that medium has historically grown out of character and is not well suited to the depiction of the massive social forces which plunge nations into war. We can point the finger at Hitler, but he was really only a catalyst, the trigger for an explosion growing out of bigger, more complex forces which had taken root over the previous decades. This, I think, is what Tolkien is doing with Sauron: he’s rendering a huge BAD in character terms–as fits his medium–and substituting morality for economics and politics. As you say, the result can feel oddly motiveless in pyschological terms and a bit too obviously Satanic. More so now that we’ve seen this solution used several times (often by lesser writers). But writing good v. evil books on this scale is incredibly hard if the motivations of the villains are to be plausible, partly because I don’t think they can simply be about character. Unless we are prepared to really suspend our disbelief–reducing the forces of evil to their figureheads–I honestly don’t know how to pull this off compellingly. This, I suspect, is why I try not to let my stories get too big. I don’t know how to tell those stories in ways which would be both satisfying and plausible. None of this counters anything you say here, of course, Faith. I’m just wondering aloud at what point character isn’t enough to explain the big stuff. What do you think?

  • Faith — Thanks for your input. The WIP is a novel so I do have more room to work things out.

    AJ — One thing you can do is put the weight of crucial choices onto the shoulders of the BBU (or the hero for that matter). Yes, the political/economic forces may be huge, but whether to go to war or not, whether to go left instead of right, etc, these often come down to one person. Since you brought up WWII, Eisenhower was faced with the choice of attacking or postponing for weeks D-Day. His generals argued on both sides, and it was his personal character that came through on the decision. In a novel, that kind of gut-wrenching choice and how the character handles it would create a real person in the midst of an epic scale war. Of course, Eisenhower was the good guy, but I think the same can hold true for a BBU. (BTW, I just got the Tennant Hamlet and I’m watching it tonight!:) )

  • Good point, Stuart. Those are wonderfully dramatic moments. The HOW, WHEN and WHAT questions about war can certainly be handled by character focus. It’s the WHY question I always struggle with.

    Enjoy Hamlet!

  • >>This, I suspect, is why I try not to let my stories get too big. I don’t know how to tell those stories in ways which would be both satisfying and plausible.

    AJ, I totally agree. When nations are in conflict it takes very little for a BBU to emerge and take over, a la Hitler. And I agree it’s nearly impossible to provide clear motive in such cases. One has to show the broader political arena as well as how the BBU uses it to acheive his own ends. In WWII, the little thoughts, needs, hates, desires (motives) of one man (not counting the Japanese) drove a world to war.

    It’s difficult (I’ve never done it) to expose the driving forces of the big picture (nations) by showing the motives of the lesser characters. It can be done the way some writers (on this site, even) have handled it, by breaking up the conflict into mini-stories provided by the use of multiple third person POVs and small visions and vignettes of the conflict that expose the larger conflict in broader terms.

    War, however, like any conflict, can be said to be essentially without logic, and based on emotions. Take the killing of Archduke Ferdinand at the start of WWI. Why would the killing of one person thrust the whole world into conflict? Only because the whole world was precariously balanced politically at the edge of turmoil anyway, and emotions drove actions that took everyone over the edge. If I’m writing a book with WWI as setting, my world-building setup has to spot on for each character *and* very broad. I have to find the lynchpins that, when pulled, set off the multiple conflicts.

  • Stuart, AJ, sorry I just back to this. I have a stepfather in the hospital and I had to go baby-sit the toddler nephew so that my mom could go … Hmmm. TMI. I had to run out. 🙂

    First, though I’ve outgrown argument for the sake of argument, I love a good spirited exchange of ideas, and you guys are certainly giving that! (Rubs hands together with delight.)

    AJ said >>Those are wonderfully dramatic moments. The HOW, WHEN and WHAT questions about war can certainly be handled by character focus. It’s the WHY question I always struggle with.

    Don’t you think that the *why* of war (in a novel, much less so than in a short) and in RL is multilayered? On top there is the political, economical reason: “The nation of Oceania has access to the ports, and is charging us an arm and a leg to ship our goods. We’ll conquer them have access to the ocean.” Or, “Our water supply has run out. We’ll conquer Mountainesia and will have access to the water of the mountains for our crops.” But a catalyst is required that is emotional — the death of the Archduke for instance. The why of the catalyst is different from the why of the underlying social and economical reasons for war, in both fiction and RL. So that we as writers have to understand the underlying “logic” of the reasons in our novels as well as the emotional overtones to paint the bigger picture of a leader-character’s motivation. Not so much with a less powerful character. The scullery maid might accidentally spill hot water on the heir’s lap for pique, but a leader will seldom go to war for something small.
    Sooo … (thinking) We writers need to find a way to show both the “logic” and the emotion for war. I’ve seen it done with a character reading newspapers, but admit I never was comfortable with that device.

    I am quite sure that it is me, but the underlying political reasons for the actions of the biggest BBU in LOTR never made sense and this was always a big hole in my enjoyment of the novels. It was probably there, but I missed it. If that is the case then we can dance round the writer’s responsibilities versus the reader’s responsibility until the sun sets and not have a good conclusion, except that writers need to write on multiple levels to succeed in a commercial market and LOTR did certainly succeed!

    The way to get that across to the reader — there’s the difficulty.

  • In thinking about the BBU in LOTR, isn’t it possible to have a character who is simply evil. Who simply delights in doing bad things? Not because she had a bad childhood, or because he has suffered, but simply because he believes in being evil. There are characters who believe in being good, who are convinced that “doing the right thing” is necessary *just* because it is the right thing. That being said, what little of the Silmarillion I’ve read gave some explanation of the “why” behind the Lord of Sauron’s evilness. It was a sort of innate thing, I think. (Wow, the BBU had an even bigger BBU behind it!)

    I love the post, and agree that a BBU needs motivation, but I’ve found that motivation for people doing bad things isn’t hard to find. Money, power, selfishness. Those are the motives in my BBUs. I do have one who *believes* he’s doing the right thing. It’s misguided and wrong, but that certainty of rightness makes him much harder to dissuade. The BBUs I’m working with now, well, one wants her demonic powers BACK so she can get back into the world and play, and the other is a selfish bastard who wanted eternal youth, lots of money, and a good time, and is a bit of a sadist.

  • Faith,
    I don’t think we’re really disagreeing here, but I think that emotional causes for wars are usually the tip of the iceberg, no? I agree that the assassination of the archduke setting off WWI is a great example of the emotional thrust required to instigate an incredibly muddled conflict tied to all kinds of things (esp. economics), but I’m not sure that’s a representative example. What was the emotional start of WWII? For the US it was Pearl Harbor, but Britain didn’t have a Pearl Harbor and had already been at war for over 2 years and, economically, so was the US. Was there an emotional cause behind the initial Nazi Blitzkrieg? I can’t think of a single event which precipitated the war. There are ways we can look at war from the perspective of character but I don’t think we can finally explain it in those terms. The major attempt to do so is probably something like War and Peace, but even that is more about social background than it is the grand sweep of history which propels the war. I guess I think (and here I’m showing my Marxist critical roots) that most wars are finally about economics and ideology, and I don’t think novels are well suited to portraying those huge forces which, I suspect, cause character, rather than the other way round. We can see the effect of economics–in Dickens, say–but it’s always a background, albeit one which shapes narrative and character. I think (THINK) that for me–and this is beyond the scope of our conversation about writing per se–that the idea that individuals create war is largely an illusion. I just don’t believe in that kind of autonymy. Individuals step up (to lead, to fight, even to initiate) but they do so propelled by forces so large they can’t easily be represented in fiction without over-burdening it. Again, I’m thinking aloud here, so don’t quote me on any of this. 🙂

  • AJ — I agree we were not disagreeing. (scratches head on that one.) I just said what I did for the sake of argument, (laughing) and to point out that spirited discussion is a good thing. I’ve been running around so much today with various family medical problems I’ve had to jump in here between my RL situations, so I probably wasn’t coherent. In fact I may not be coherent even now. Assuming I am ever coherent. Hmmm. I should stop now…

    I agree that the *single event* for Europe’s WWII is impossible to pin down, and that is why I typically point to Hitler. He gathered up all the social and political and economic justifications and wrapped them around his own motivations, injected his personal charisma, and set to work re-creating the world into an image that he wanted. It wasn’t evil-for-the-sake-of-evil. It was evil with a purpose, a reasoning, and backstory, both historically and psychologically. But was it emotion that pushed him over the edge or ideology?

    Yes, I know I’m getting WAY off track here. Back to subject:

    Which brings us to Emily’s point about evil for the sake of evil. Writers have done it forever — making antagonist BBU characters who do evil without motive. My point is that the astute fiction reader wants to know *why*, and evil-for-the-sake-of-evil is lazy writing. Does it seemingly exist in RL? Yes. Have I done the lazy writing thing? Yes. The BBUs in the AKA’s last Rhea Lynch MD novel were serial killers. I showed very little about the backgrounds or motivations of the BBUs that led them to kill. I’ve thought often about that and know that now (I’m a better writer, I hope) I’d make their worldview and their motivations (wants and needs)clear in the second act of the book. Not sure how. The *how* is the writer’s job during the creation of the book. And it’s hard to do, which is why EFTSOE is used so often.

    My big comment about BBUs is that they have to want something. And that want has to be driven by something. And we haev to tell the reader what both of those are.

  • Sarah

    Thank you for the discussion guys, it’s very helpful.

    I’m running up against the lazy author issue (me) in my WIP. At bottom my BBU is just a petty jerk. He’s bad because he chooses to care more about himself and his power/ego than anything else and so he’s blown up a series of minor sibling grievances into a sense of massive grievance. It’s an “Everybody wants to rule the world” sort of situation, except that the “world” he wants to rule is just his own little corner of Buffalo NY. And he’ll kill his own sister and unleash a new Ice Age to do it.

    When I put it that way he sounds rather interesting, at least to me. But on the page I find him very flat. His motives seem obscure and insufficient for what he’s doing. He’s not insane – I’m not using that cop out. In real life people will do idiotically destructive things over an exaggerated sense of offended rights. But I’m having a very difficult time making that work on the page in an emotionally satisfying, cohesive way.

  • Sarah, that is exactly what I am talking about! The BBU has to make sense to the reader on an emotional plane and, if possible, on a reasonable (logical) plane within the confines of the conflict you have set up.

    You have described a selfish bastard as BBU. Selfish bastards only make sense to themselves, but they work in family sagas, especially as you track back to the seminal event or originating events, which is what you need to do – give the backstory in small chunks so the reader accepts the development of the child-to-selfish-bastard character.

    Selfish bastards don’t work so well in bigger-than-life scenarios.

    It sounds as if you are writing a family saga that goes wildly out of control (assuming that the ice age comment was for real and applied to the plot.) If the premeditated murder and the ice age comment *were* real, then your bigger-than-life scenario needs motivations and thinking that are bigger than life too. Your BBU has to have the skills to pull off the ice age, the will to do so, *and* the motivation.

  • I have to admit that my favorite type of big bad these days (in my own writing) is one who is a reflection in some way of my main character. Often they are very similar — in terms or background, abilities, motivations, even appearance (I’m thinking of Winds of the Forelands here). But my bad guy is usually twisted in some way. Dark, bitter, or driven by something that forced him/her off the straight and narrow. And my bad guy is usually more powerful than my main character. He has the advantage, and it’s only through cunning and a willingness to rely on others that my main character can prevail. This isn’t a formula I adopted consciously; rather it’s a trend I’m noticing in my work. And I kind of like it. It keeps my bad guys human; it keeps my characters in shades of gray rather than black and white.

  • Faith, good answer, esp. re evil for evil’s sake. David’s comment about favorite villains to write reminds me that in my last thriller (What Time Devours) I had a number of friends and colleagues express surprise that the villain of teh book was the one whose opinions (on Shakespeare, academia etc.) were closest to my own! Which sort of proves your point, Faith. You need to know your BBU. Intimately, if possible 🙂

  • Sarah

    Yes! This helps. I’ve been thinking I need backstory – I’m just worried that flashbacks will slow the action too much. I think I just need to grit my teeth and write those scenes. (And then rewrite and rewrite them so they’re well distributed.)

    The ice age comment was real. My BBU and his sister (my MC) are ordinary blue collar people in Buffalo NY, but they’re also berserkers and the inheritors of a magic sword. My MC stole the sword from her brother after their father died without making clear who got it. They’ve essential made opposite life choices. Harvey (MC) wants to bury her berserker self with the sword and be an ordinary mom. Heidrek (BBU) wants to be king, even if that’s just king of a little band of semi-lunatic berserkers who spend their days drinking and their nights fighting frost demons. He’s made a pact with the winter dragon to give him the power he needs to hurt Harvey, but he’s unleashed the Winter in the process.

  • David, I’ve seen *hints* of that, created unconsciously in my own work from time to time — the BBU mirror opposite twin of the MC. It is satisfying creatively to get that circular, almost mathematical feel of completeness. And it reminds of Clark Kent and Lex Luthor. Similar backgrounds, but Lex’s jealously, his choice to using people and events to get what he wants versus Clark’s helping others, and working to get what *they* want. As broad as the character were painted, there was a mirror twin-ness about them early on.

  • AJ. What Time Devours is now on my TBR list. I thinks it’s great that you made the BBU so much like yourself. That sense of comfort with the BBU likely made him quite likeable on lots of levels. Which gives the reader (ok, I mean me) that extra sense of twisted pleasure in the reading.

    This takes us back to the Hitler thoughts. He *must* have been a pretty nice-seeming guy at the start. However could have a warped an entire nation otherwise? People had to like him, believe in him, revere him, for him to be abel to exploit the deepseated darkness within them and lead them to … well to the dark side. To pose/create/form a BBU after Hitler would be an interesting project.

  • Sarah, there is a rule of thumb that flashbacks start in the second third of the book. This is so the pace of the book isn’t slowed, and so the reader can get to know the characters well, and not be thrown off course by the drop into the past. But I think in this case, you need to start with an anger/action scene, current time, to expose the conflict/sence of danger, and then go pretty quickly (like after the fist 50 pages, after the reader knows the characters on the current day level) into a short flashback. It sounds like you can’t wait until the second third of the book. That said, I’d keep the flashbacks very short, intensly emotional and/or action packed.

  • Sarah

    Faith – thank you so much! I love how you give direct pragmatic advice – I look at it and think “I can do that.” Most college writing classes I’ve taken have been so vague and mystical that I never knew if was doing what I had been told to do or not. Thank you!

  • Sarah, you are quite welcome. On the “50 things to do before I die* list (most of which I’ve now done, which is scary in itself) is to teach a 2 week long intensive writing course / workshop. This list (MW) keeps that desire / goal pretty well in hand.

  • My debut’s bbu is motivated by revenge. He was a bad guy to begin with, but hero and villain got involved in a big conflict in the past and hero ended up killing his family. I tend to like the grayer areas of villainy, where the reader can sympathize, at least on some level, with what is motivating the bbu. The follow up is going to be a different twist where the villain isn’t bad at all, but is doing bad things and the heroine gets caught up in it.

  • Faith,

    I hope the shots went well. I’ve had to take daily injections for the last four-plus years, and even though I’m used to it on one level, it still hurts every time. Well, there’s always Dragon dictation software.

    As I’ve said before, my WIP is first-person, present tense, so I have to show how the BBU is evil through concrete evidence (what he, the king, is doing to the country), and the stories of others (those who already know how bad he is). His motivation has evolved over the course of my writing it – first it was just “intelligent younger brother believes he deserves to be king over his slightly-less-intelligent, chest-thumping, warmongering older brother, so he kills him and blames the murder on someone else”. So I added in how his brother had dictated a few things about his life, such as marriage to another instead of the one he wants and loves, just to sour him further.

    Then it occured to me that he’d do well as a charismatic leader who the people can like, especially in the face of a tragedy (which is, in the eyes of the people, the murders of his brother and his niece). Why would the people want change if there’s nothing wrong in the country? Add to that the fact that the niece, my MC, doesn’t really want to be the queen and would rather let the people continue to think she’s dead so she can pursue her quiet life as a healer. So not only must I show the progression of her reasoning as she changes her mind, but also how the cracks in the BBU’s moderately-peaceful kingdom (and his sanity) appear as the MC approaches her majority, all because he *knows* she’s still alive.

    And, wow, this was me mostly thinking out loud, but I just realized that maybe I don’t have to worry about his credibility as much as I thought. I hope. 🙂

  • Oh, and of course – great set of posts, and thanks for getting me thinking about this.

  • JND, I like the grayer areas of villany too. Harder to write, but much more satisfying. I think your motivation (accidental family death) works very well!

    You are welcome, Moira. And I agree — you seem to have it all well laid out! I like the idea of the *country in trouble, charasmatic leader takes over* idea. It is sorta what happened in Germany, Pre WWII. And if the older brother was a warmongerer, then of course the people would welcome the voice of reason. I like it a lot! There is a lot of room to play in that twisted conflict and twisted BBU persona.