The Self-Entitled Villain

brainstorm_character_bAs I’ve been writing chapter 16, I’ve realized I don’t know Alonza as well as I think I do. As an author, I expect to know most of the important things about my characters. But Alonza’s personality is so close and yet so estranged from my own, that it’s easy to overlook his motivations. Through diagramming a brainstorming web, and listing off what Alonza wants from Bre, I realized that Alonza’s flaws are mostly entitlement and self-importance. He places his own worth above that of others, and fails to see why other people shouldn’t do the same. Why they shouldn’t give themselves over to his whims. Why they shouldn’t subject themselves to him. Therefore he feels justified in using nefarious means to get whatever he wants—because, of course, he deserves it, simply because he is who he is, and everyone should recognize that.

entitlementUnfortunately, because entitlement and self-importance run so rampant throughout our culture (in real life), they have become almost norm of treating other people. Meaning, Alonza’s villainy doesn’t stand out as obviously as I assumed it would. This is actually quite sad, as a statement about our culture.

So, my challenge in writing chapter 16 is to make Lord Alonza stand out, as a villain easily distinguishable from the other nobles, from Pandora, from the temple, and from Rome.

You may be surprised that I just included Rome in that list. So was I, when my scene between Alonza and Bre in private turned out to look like a Rome-gone-wrong.

Through this, I discovered that the line between Rome’s self-confidence (in his abilities, and in his place in the food chain) and Lord Alonza’s arrogance (born of his self-entitlement) is very thin. The difference, in case you were wondering, is that Rome has a conscimaster-servant_dummiesence. In other words, if he hurts someone (like Bre, or the “wheat girl”), he feels it. There is something in him that condemns the action, even if he tries to convince himself it was necessary or that it’s just “what he does.” Alonza, on the other hand, would not interpret what he feels when he hurts someone as “condemning.” In fact, he would interpret the internal pressure as pushing him to continue, like he’s going to feel that twinge inside until he experiences the pleasure of finally getting what he wants.

An article I recently read said that one way to make a villain more villainous is actually to not only make the villain more relatable (so readers can understand and almost sympathize with why they’re doing wrong), but also to make the villain the flipside of the hero. To make them like the hero, if the hero had had a different experience, or gone a different route. I’ve read this about minor characters (in general) too.

sketch by Shady95

[sketch by Shady95]

A reader of my story once told me that I should never write something I don’t feel comfortable with. That may sound straightforward, to your ears. But what makes a villain truly villainous? Is it not the heinous crimes they commit? Don’t authors showcase the evil misdeeds of their villains—things they don’t agree with—in order to make a point? Doesn’t the protagonist have to defeat said villain to make a point about the evilness of their deeds? Therefore shouldn’t the misdeeds, and the villain themself, make readers (and author) uncomfortable?

That’s where I get hung up. I can’t stop every time I get uncomfortable writing a villain, can I? And yet, I don’t get uncomfortable very often while writing (unless I think someone is reading [or trying to read] over my shoulder as I’m writing).

The more villainous I try to make Alonza, the more uncomfortable it makes me. But if I’m honest with myself, part of that discomfort comes from Alonza not doing what he’s supposed to—or other characters not responding to him how they’re supposed to. I have a story track in my head, which is great…but my characters have taken on lives of their own. Just like real people, my characters’ responses to news or provocation depend largely upon the right wording, the right tone and volume of voice, the right accompanying gestures or body language, and the right timing.

For instance, if Rome calls Bre a “good bitch” in a seductively affectionate tone, Bre’s probably going to realize that’s not meant as the traditional insult. Whereas a more hotheaded, reactionary character like Kitiora might throw a fit, pull away, and even slap him.

If Alonza drags Bre into his personal chambers and does things that ride the line between cruelty and the promise of pleasure, she’s definitely not going to enjoy it. Because no matter what, her heart is already set on Rome. BUT, if she is given something that tampers with her normal rational state…she might be more receptive (despite her will), and he will look like less of a villain. Even though taking away her ability to contest him is definitely villainous.

See my dilemma?

Chapter 15 Finally Posted!

Chapter 15 is finally posted!!!! Hooray!!! 🎉 It’s called “The Scars that Bind Us.” The title is derived from one of the secrets Labriella has been keeping from Rome, the proof of which she wears on her back. You knew the whipping was going to be bad, and twice as bad because it’s done by someone Labriella knows and loves. What Rome doesn’t realize is that it’s not Labriella’s first picnic (so to speak). Being whipped again dredges up all kinds of awful memories for Labriella—the knowledge of which could easily compound Rome’s guilt over fulfilling what he already considers to be a nightmare. The tavern prostitute warned Labriella that she would have a hard time keeping anything from Rome, especially if they were to get intimate. Now it’s time to face the past, and determine whether they can ever truly move forward.

Can Bre ever be more to Rome than a broken servant?
In fulfilling Bre’s request, has Rome lost her affection forever?

Already, several of you (my dear readers) have reviewed! How happy that makes me!

And wow, so far all the feedback has been positive!

I apologize for making you worry that I might have scrapped the story and launched headlong into revisions. I know I have done that in the past. I’m actually trying very hard not to do that right now. I’ve got all kinds of revision ideas, to be sure. But I’ve figured out it’s so much easier to work on things like plot structure and detail consistency/importance when the story is already written (probably because I have to write “by the seat of my pants,” since outlines are more of a suggestive launchpad than representative of the actual life of my writing). So I’m trying to get as far along in the story as I can, before I revise again. I figure if I have a clearer picture of where I’m going now than I did when I was writing volume 1, then I’ll have an even clearer picture of what needs to happen (past and future) when I’m in volume 3, etc. Then I’ll be able to consolidate, and emphasize the important stuff.

But let me be clear: The story continues to defy my storyboarding expectations. It twists and turns anew, because it has a life of its own. It grows like wildfire. So instead of trying to pen it in (don’t mind the pun), I just try to herd it in a general direction. And, as this happens, the characters deepen and create their own quirks and eccentricities, and develop their own internal conflicts of interest. After the “herding” phase, I will try to insert little things here and there to make sure there is a plot. But for now, I’m going to try to just keep on writing. I realize that every time I take a workshop, or read a book or blog about writing technique, my writing changes. (Which is for the better, but develops style, character, and narration inconsistencies with previous versions.) When I write a new chapter, I have to be careful to stick with the story that’s already written, not the one I’ve altered in my head.

I’m glad everyone (so far) seems to feel that in chapter 15 Rome and Labriella have made actual relational progress. I messaged with Tsunayum about how difficult this is to accomplish, realistically, without fabricating circumstances and rushing “wishful thinking” changes in character. Rome, in particular, is difficult to handle, because he can’t appear or sound soft when he’s actually feeling soft-hearted; it would be out of character for him. Likewise, Labriella is prone to internalize all her insecurities, and deem her own issues of self-worth too insignificant to be worth mentioning. It’s a tenuous balancing act to have the two characters push and pull their hidden sides out of one another, to promote interpersonal change, without being too radically unrealistic in reaction and in methodology.

Before publishing, I hope to move this sort of event up sooner, to happen earlier in the story. But we’ll see.

Thanks for all your support! I will be re-launching into writing chapter 16. It will be Party Day 5—the day after the token of favor, the whipping, and the healing and limeyness. The event of the day will be a sort of Hide-and-Go-Seek/Sardines, to the effect of “You keep (for the day) what you catch.” Expect some unexpected twists. ;)

Delays, Character Growth, & Reviews

If you read my post a month ago, and/or if you’ve been checking my FictionPress profile, you know that the long delay on posting chapter 15 has to do with getting caught between job training and deleted story files.

Despite giving in and buying iSkySoft Data Recovery software, which was advertised as being able to retrieve overwritten files (even from OS X Yosemite), my original chapter 15 story file (which was not sent to the trash can when overwritten) was nowhere to be found, leaving me to reassemble the beginning of chapter 15 from my handwritten rough draft. Unfortunately, piecing together the multiple versions of that rough draft into the previous “perfect” progression proved impossible. So I had to reconstruct the entire beginning from scratch (not from memory). Due to frustrated brain meltdowns, during which I quite literally pulled some of my hair out, I had to space out my sessions working on this cumbersome project, which drastically slowed my update time frame (to virtually nonexistent).

However, I did not give up. And Scrivener’s “split,” “merge,” “duplicate,” viewing together in-line, and sidenotes features have been a great asset. Now I can finally say (with a reasonable amount of pride) that the beginning of chapter 15 is finished. I have also swept through the bulk of chapter 15 numerous times to do minor edits, to move a few things around and change a few tones, etc. And now, finally, I am back to the end of chapter 15.

Despite the frustrating length of time it is taking me to construct and fine-tune chapter 15, I don’t regret taking my time. Nor do I think any of the chapter’s reworkings were unnecessary. (Except maybe the overwritten beginning—which you can thank a friend of mine for me not giving up on it altogether. The chapter almost ended up without any beginning framework/context, just for the sake of being done).

The reason why it’s taking me so long (besides the setback already mentioned) is because the character growth in chapter 15 is so exponential and so significant to the story that it has to be perfect. It’s a pivot point in Rome and Labriella’s relationship, where a lot of simmering internal issues are brought to a boil through external circumstances. How Rome and Bre respond to each other, within chapter 15’s context, determines how they relate to each other for the rest of the book, and the rest of the story. And the big, long scene that makes up the body of the chapter cannot be broken up. The word count right now is at about 11k. If I go with the ending I’ve already written most of, I’ll end at closer to 14k. But (as much as I like that scene) I’ll probably end up saving that scene for later, meaning I’ve still got a thousand words or so left to write.

Even with my 3-month absence, I still appear to be picking up new followers on FictionPress. O_o I am surprised, yet flattered. I guess some of that is probably because story-hungry readers are now on summer vacation. I remember those days, when summer meant vacation…*Sigh*

Anyway, to those new readers, I say welcome! Glad to see my story has hooked you in ;)

I have been responding to FictionPress member reviews via private message, usually within a few days. I’m sorry, guest reviewers, that I cannot respond to you in this way, so you’ve had to wait much longer with no response. Please know that I have seen your reviews, and continue to skim back over them as I write (I’m not ignoring you). I see your outcries about rules among nobles—namely, about a noble’s “right” to discipline another noble’s servant—and explaining that issue is part of why it was so important for me to rewrite the lost sections of chapter 15.

I have written Tsunayum privately, but I would like to say to my other readers that I am sorry if you (like Tsunayum) felt betrayed by Rome’s allusion to future circumstances involving Pandora and a bed, in the opening lines of chapter 1 (in book 2). The intention was foreshadowing, but maybe it was a bit much to open the story with, since you are given no context for Rome’s unhappy overview of the events he will (eventually) relay to you. I cannot, however, make any promises about this event being omitted from the actual storyline, because it marks another planned pivot point in the story.

I may post an excerpt from chapter 15 here to help hold you over, if finishing the chapter takes more than a couple days.

Cruel Beauty: Pure Love or Wicked Love?

Cruel BeautyCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Summary:
Nyx is trained from childhood to take down her future husband, the Demon Lord of Bargains, who holds the kingdom of Arcadia captive and offered the bargain that stole her mother’s life. Knowing the mission will cost her own life, she grows to resent the people around her, who are allowed to be happy. Nyx faces her fate squarely, but neither her husband, nor his servant, nor the house they live in are what they appear to be. She starts to fall for her husband’s tranquil servant, a shadow who desires to help her but is unable to lend much assistance. The lines between hate and love blur as Nyx realizes that the resentment and selfishness in her own heart are not so different from the quick-witted wickedness of her doomed husband, and that he may be the only person who does not ask anything of her. In the end, the fate of the world rests upon the choice of embracing pure love or wicked love, who to betray, and whether once-in-a-lifetime love is worth sacrificing the rest of the world.

This is a paranormal/occult Beauty and the Beast novel, set in Greco-Roman times, in the kingdom of Arcadia. Multiple Greek gods and myths are referenced throughout the book, as the belief system of the majority of the characters.

My Thoughts:
The book started off pretty redundant and slow, with the recurring theme of Nyx’s hurt from her father’s inaffection, disgust toward her aunt’s affair, and internal battle against hating her sister Astraia (who was not chosen to wed the Gentle Lord because of her resemblance to their dead mother) and hating her mother (whose death began Nyx’s life of revenge). I felt like I really didn’t need these themes hammered home as many times as they were within the first couple chapters.

Once I figured out that this story was not about an epic take-down, but about solving riddles, I was able to sit back and enjoy it. The fact of the matter is, nobody really knows that much about the Gentle Lord, a.k.a. the Demon Lord. And certainly nobody but his wives and the doomed people he’s bargained with know much of anything about his house. The only person who seems to know stuff is Shade, who is bound not to tell, and the Kindly Ones (who aren’t so kind, and aren’t so available). Everybody else is trying to figure stuff out. Once you see the story as one big puzzle, it makes a heck of a lot more sense.

What really threw me was that Nyx’s original tactic for taking down the Gentle Lord’s house (with him, and probably herself, inside it) was almost irrelevant. She needed to find the rooms, yes. And they had massive significance. But it felt like there was virtually no point to all that world-building about Hermetic sigils and workings, except to give context for her father’s position. I think Nyx only used a sigil once in the entire book (turning off her bedroom lamp once to show how it works doesn’t count). And her “virgin knife” never made an emphatic comeback. Not to mention, throwing away her only true trump card—her virginity—didn’t make that big of a splash. Not only was it not played up after all those nervous warning bells in the beginning, but it didn’t make any difference to the outcome. She drops her dress, and then *bam* next scene. I thought, Wow, that could have happened a lot sooner, with virtually no ripples.

It was about halfway through the book that my mind started doing gymnastics, attempting to guess the answers to all the riddles and how they all tie together. It got super fun from there, though not a lot more emotional until nearer to the end. I won’t tell you the ending, but I will tell you that it’s worth getting to. And, DON’T SKIP AHEAD!!! Seriously, you’ll be soooo confused, because at one point the chronology becomes super important. If you read the book in order, you’re already getting pieces from all different parts of the chronology, so skippers beware. I didn’t skip, but if you do, you’ll just jumble the brain-bending ending.

If you’re intrigued by the book’s cover blurb about an unconventional Belle and a not-so-charming lord, this is definitely the book for you. If, however, you are waiting to see that there’s a lovely Prince Charming beneath that gruff, scarred male exterior…go find another book. Part of this book’s charm is that it doesn’t conform to that old-school/Disney pop-culture transformation; it’s more realistic.

I really enjoyed this book, as a story full of puzzles and riddles and mysteries and unconventional romance. The heroine is smart (but not too smart), and doesn’t give up easily, and she doesn’t change all that radically. This book is very much about loving people as they are, and loving within your capacity to love.

So, don’t read this book for the assassination action. Read this book to get to know Ignifex and Shade, the two juxtaposed, troubled men that Nyx is not sure she can save.

In all honesty, I would have liked some more details in the narration—more narrative coddling and in-depth, in-their-head emotional action. I felt a bit distanced from the characters, like I was watching the story unfold rather than feeling my heart race when I looked at one guy or the other, or almost drowned in a supernatural pool, etc. But I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint exactly how this should have been incorporated, because I feel like all of the characters were intentionally distant; they all had secrets. And the secrets were what made the book interesting.

View all my reviews

Overwriting, Time Machine, & Scrivener, oh my

You don’t want to know what just happened.

But I’m going to tell you anyway.

Instead of replacing an old story file with a new one, I accidentally replaced the new file with the old one.
And because that’s considered an overwrite, I can’t get the new one back.

Well, I might be able to get the new one back, if I pay $80-90 for the software that might be able to retrieve it for me. Maybe. As in, it might not even be able to find the correct file at all. Because apparently overwritten files in Yosemite are not sent to the trash can. And the trial version of the recovery software failed to show me a preview of almost all of the documents it might be able to recover.


No, I’m not panicking. Not yet, anyway. Because I’ve still got the extraneous documents that I used to upload to FictionPress on a chapter-by-chapter basis. And you shouldn’t panic yet either, because I hand-wrote a solid beginning to chapter 15 (and remember which version of that I settled on), and I have all the versions of the major scene[s] (which I’ve been playing with and fine-tuning) saved in their own separate documents, for easier access and for the sake of my sanity.

So, all is not lost. But all is definitely a pain in the rear.

Which means, in my opinion, it’s not worth spending $90 to recover a single file, when I can start using Time Machine. Theoretically. Once I reformat my hard drive. (Ick. Thought I avoided that phase.)

In better news,

Not only is my laptop (and therefore my story files) now physically protected, I also have acquired a computer program that is going to make this whole my-documents-are-scattered-everywhere life much simpler. If you’ve read any writers’ blogs, or attended any online writing workshops, chances are that at some point you’ve heard someone mention Scrivener. If you’re like me—a.k.a. a newbie—then you probably had/have no idea what that is.

Let’s just say that if I were a professor teaching creative writing classes of any kind—be they poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, essaying, short story-writing, or novel writing—I would require my students to purchase this software.

I mean, let’s be real: Most college (or college-prep) teachers require their students to purchase books that have an online or electronic component. Students purchase a $100-200 textbook they’ll probably rarely use thereafter, which goes hand-in-hand with required software that they’ll only have access to for a semester (or a year, tops). For $45, they could be purchasing a program that they will continue to use indefinitely, if they are serious about writing. And it’s not textbook-y; real authors use it like students use Microsoft Word (which, unlike Scrivener, makes you pay for the next version).

That being said, I recently purchased Scrivener. Or rather, someone purchased it for me recently, as a gift. The download came complete with a tutorial typed out within the program itself, so you can try out all the functions in the same window as the manual. It also refers you to simple how-to YouTube videos, created by the creator of Scrivener.

All the Mac users right now are asking, “What’s the catch? What do I get to struggle with that PC users don’t?”

Nothing. The software was originally developed for Macs. For once, Windows gets to be the secondary system for a word processor.

But yes, it is available for Windows too. :)

So, what’s so special about this Scrivener program, anyway? I already have a word processing program. Why would I pay for another?

It’s all about the kind of writing you’re doing, and what your writing process is like. The reality is that most writers have their work in more than one format, which means it’s in more than one place–whether on their computer, spread between electronic gadgets (which may or may not be compatible with one another), or “old school” (in notebooks, and/or on white boards, sketch pads, index cards, and post-it notes). In other words, between research and plotting and sporadic ideas, visual inspirations, and writing and revisions, the writer’s life is a mess.

“Where did that post-it-note go?”

“I have no idea what order these index cards were supposed to go in!”

“I want this scene here! …No, here! …No, I only want this chunk. Wait, I need it to go back to the way it was!”

“Great; now I have 8 separate Word documents for this one scene. And that’s not counting Notepad/TextEdit over here…”

“I have this idea, but I don’t want to draft it out yet…It’s only one line!”

Like I said: a mess.

The purpose of Scrivener, simply-put, is to keep the mess in one place. And maybe to stop battling the word processing glitches for extremely long documents.

But it also formats your manuscripts for you. When the program first starts up, instead of selecting whether you want to write a letter, a paper, or a brochure, you select whether you’re writing fiction, non-fiction, scriptwriting, or poetry/lyrics. Then you pick from the sub-categories.

After that point, you can import documents, PDFs, pictures, and music files from your computer, compile documents, separate documents, and view different files side by side (including research next to writing) while you’re figuring things out. You can even create a split version of your manuscript, for revisions. And each document you start or import gets its own notecard, in the Corkboard view, where you can write a title and summary for that scene. You can then more those scenes around, until you find the right order to plot them in. You can also create character profile pages, to keep track of all those unique character quirks as you write them.

I’m super new to Scrivener, so I’m still figuring things out. I imagine I’ll still be tapping out ideas and notes into my phone, when I’m away from my computer. For trading notes between computer and phone, in-format, I hear OneNote is the way to go, but I haven’t tried that one out yet. But for trying to tie everything together into my writing, I’m looking forward to transitioning into Scrivener as my main app for writing.

If you’re interested in Scrivener, there’s a free trial available on the Literature and Latte site (among others), or (for Mac users) you can download the licensed software through the App Store.

Realigning with Characters’ Feelings

I’ve been trying to jump back into writing my story, and in so doing, I’ve had to come back to a method that I’ve employed time and time again. I thought maybe, for the sake of other writers who are in the same sort of situation, I should share some advice:

If you think you can jump back into your story after a length of absence, and pick it up right where you left off, don’t. You may be able to. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that you think you remember all that your characters have been through, but you don’t. You remember the facts, the events, the flat progression.

You don’t remember your characters’ feelings.

If you’re like me, the last thing you want to do is go back and reread all of your work thus far to give yourself a clue. It’s too time-consuming. You’ll be tempted to go back and do revisions instead of writing new material. Your writing style has changed since then, and you can’t match it.

My solution?

Take a piece of paper and a pen, and start jotting down the key points of what your characters have been through recently, in chronological order. If you’re totally clueless, you could try starting at the beginning. But if you were in the middle of writing a building-block scene or a significant event, start with the beginning of that event. For instance, I left off 4-5 days into a weeklong party in my story—a party which will have a rather drastic culmination. So I glanced over my chapter titles, and skim-scrolled down my story document from the first party chapter, and began writing bullet points of emotion-driving moments that stuck out as changes from the characters’ previous thoughts or actions.

In other words, I’m tracking character development through the most recent progression of events.

You don’t have to write down things like “he was angry” or “she was jealous,” but your bullet points should bring such things to mind when you see them. Like, “she saw him kissing another girl” brings to mind a bunch of emotions the character should be feeling (i.e. jealousy, loss, a sense of urgency to fix it, etc.).

The purpose of the bullet points is to bring your own emotional scale into line with that of your characters. You felt with them once. You need to feel with them again. If you saw your love interest kissing a girl who was a complete stranger at a party, you would feel ___. If someone offered a pleasant distraction from your girlfriend making out with another guy, you would be ___ if she condemned you for accepting it.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

It’s not enough to jump back into the plotline events. You have to realign yourself so you can breathe in sync with your characters. Only then can you feel out what needs to happen next to move things along.

Hope that helps you as much as it helped me.

Little Bits Everywhere

I feel like little bits of me are spread everywhere at once. I’ve been training at a new job for the past couple weeks, and the influx of diverse information has had my head reeling and troubleshooting and scrambling to catch up even in my off-hours. I come home in Go Mode, but within half an hour I’m flopping around like a dying fish. Normally I go to one particular place to write, but when I get home from my new job the last thing I want to do is leave home again. It has made submerging into a writing mentality very difficult.

On the flip side, I believe that some of the things I am learning at my new job will prove helpful when I finally market my story. For instance, “trade cloth” and “trade cover.” Who knew there were so many words for “hardcover,” or that every paperback format has its own name and durability factor?

I haven’t been reading much fiction, either. A few pages here and there, maybe, but no immersion. However, I just picked up a copy of Cruel Beauty, a Young Adult novel by Rosamund Hodge, which I am excited to add to the Beauty and the Beast section of my personal library. I’m hoping it’ll get me back into my ravenous speed-reading habits. After all, they say a writer should always be reading (and by that, I’m pretty sure they don’t mean reading handbooks, policies, printouts, and product specs). Because of the positive feedback I have received about the reviews I posted here, I do plan to review this book after I finish it. Hopefully this and any future reviews will help other niche readers like me find the kinds of books they’re looking for.

I subscribed to a workshop for last week—Starting Your Story in the Right Place, taught by Kristan Higgins, offered through RWA University—but I was unable to keep up with it through the job training frenzy. I ended up just saving the lecture documents; I still haven’t had a chance to leaf through any of them yet, except Day 1. Very unlike me, since I’m always an active participant, eager to learn. But this time life got too crazy.

I’m wavering right now between cracking open my new book (which I will probably devour within a day or two) and working on my story. Reading could help me get back into a better story mindset. But the amount of time that has elapsed since my last chapter update is quite alarming.

I did manage to work on chapter 15 one or two days in the last week. It’s been slow going, not only because of starting a new job, but because I clearly underestimated the amount of work it would take to meld three semi-complete versions of a scene into one. Mostly, I underestimated how much of a problem it would be to choose between one or two settings. I wrote way more sensory detail pertaining to the settings than I initially gave myself credit for. Marble versus wood, standing versus bending, public versus private, an echoey corridor versus an enclosed room (acoustics)…What happened in the ballroom, versus the hallways, versus the bedroom… Yeah, it’s an editing mess. And emotionally for the characters, it’s even more complicated. There have to be so many layers on these scenes. Memories, secrets. Fear and pain mixed with hope and desire. A reckoning/mini-resolution of some kind.

So, more work ahead.