ProAm Tip #16

Believable villains.

Look… it’s easy to make a moustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash villain. Look at basically any movie or tv show. Look at 99% of them. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

*ahem*

Here’s the skinny on villains: they’re a foil for your protagonist(s). Literally. Think of a book as a sword fight. Well, fencing match, if we’re going to follow the ‘foil’ metaphor through.
Evert time your protagonist swings, the villain parries. Clang! That clang is the actual conflict. Maybe it’s a battle. (“We MUST get through the gate to win! Oh no! They stopped us!”) Maybe it’s a boardroom surprise. (“We want That Guy to run our company!”) Maybe it’s just straight-up cock-blocking. (“Girl, you know I love poetry, too. I wrote a poem-” *sudden Kool-Aid-Man-like burst into scene*  ‘Hey! I’m published, unlike loser over there! Come talk to me because I’m all sensitive and shit, plus successful, and look at this wavy hair!’)

That’s a foil. And it’s pretty much standard. You have character A with goal A. Character B stops them, or tries to. Character B is underhanded, dirty-dealing, and generally Snidely Whiplash.

Except that’s boring.

You want to write a believable villain. Someone people relate to. Someone plausible. Someone people may not like, but at least respect, or understand. They may not root for them, but they get where they’re coming from.

Many writers fall under the ‘I need a reason to move Character A in Direction A but something has to stop them- oh, look. A villain. And… done!’ school. This is a mistake.

Believable villains are heroes in an anti-story. They’re the main character in a bleak mirror of your work. They’re not just against your main character, they’re actually against the story you want to tell. They don’t WANT your ending to happen. They don’t WANT your book to be the book you want to write.

Your villain isn’t fighting the main character. Your villain should be fighting YOU. The writer.

You want a believable villain? Make them have a real goal. Not just Evil for the sake of EvilTM.

Bond Villains want to rule the world. No idea WHY. They’re already in charge of multi-billion-dollar corporations, or conglomerate industries, or full-sized countries with armies and GNPs and budgets and stuff. WHY Bond villains want to rule the world is beyond me. They already DO.

The most believable movie villain in the last 10 years was Heath Ledger’s Joker. That dude didn’t want ANYTHING. He just wanted to stir shit up, have some fun, and cause a ruckus. He didn’t care about money (Set a pile on fire) and he didn’t care about being in charge (his gang was five people. With room for ONE more. And he made guys fight to the death to get in it.) and he didn’t even want to escape. (NO escape plan. in fact, I think he wanted to die WITH Batman.)

But you bought him because he was into it. Bane, on the other hand (Third movie spoilers) had a convoluted plan to steal a bunch of money and take over a city…. and there was a nuke, and it wasn’t Bane, but Talia Al Ghul… who ran a huge, shadowy criminal empire, but wanted to make an enemy of America by stealing a city, or punishing Bruce Wayne… or, I dunno.

Honestly, what the HELL was their goal?

That’s the difference between believable and Snidely Whiplash-like Evil for the sake of EvilTM.

You want to write a good villain? Write a good anti-hero. Make them plausible. Give them a goal. Give them a PLAN. Make them shoot for something they DON’T already have. Something they can’t buy. Something they can’t earn. Something that they have to TAKE.

Something they have to TAKE from your main character. Don’t EVER make a bad guy who’s just a bad guy. You need a bad guy who NEEDS something. Give them goals. Setbacks. Relationships. Struggles.

Hey… it kinda sounds like, if you want a good villain, you need to make one kind of like you make a good hero… doesn’t it? That’s weird. I mean, it’s not that simple, right?

Except it totally is.

You want good conflict, good story, and a good book? Make your villain at LEAST as interesting as your main character. Put in as much time on your villain as you do your main character. Research. Family. Goals. Learn them. Understand them. Make sure you know them every bit as well as your hero. THEN you’ve got something interesting on y0our hands.

There’s no such thing as good or bad books, I think. There’s interesting and boring. A poorly-written book about a fascinating character (Christian Grey is a great character study of an abused person coping. That books ain’t about S&M, doms and subs, and kinky sex. It’s a sex-crime survival story. I promise.) is as good as a masterpiece with a boring one (Catcher In The Rye is a brilliant study of conforming and society wrapped around the dumbest, most bland character ever written. Holden Caulfield’s most interesting trait is his fucking NAME for God’s sake.)

THAT is the secret to believable villains, good stories, and good books. Remember, no one is a villain in their own eyes. They’re the hero of their own story, and your main character is their villain. You write the villain like a hero, make them both fascinating, and they work it all out themselves.

Promise.

ProAm Tip #15

Always be writing.

I’ve said it before. But unless you have product, the editing, marketing, and sales just won’t happen. I don’t care how flawed it is: finish it. I don’t care how rough it is: finish it. I don’t care how you deus ex’ed the ending: FINISH IT.

You wanna push words? You gotta push words. Simple as that. Some people write 200 words a day. Some people write 500. Some, 2000. Stephen King shoots for five pages a day, according to On Writing, his memoir. But… is that single spaced? Double spaced?

I have to write a pair of essays for my entrance into the University of Texas in the next two weeks, so I can get my 4-year in English (I just got my Associates three weeks ago!). They have to be about 500-1500 words each. This isn’t new. I just finished a class in communications in which I had to write a 500-word essay each week on the new chapter in the book. And my reaction tot he UT essay was the same as my reaction when I found out about the weekly essay length:

“500 words? A week?? That’s adorable!”

Folks, I personally churn anywhere from 200 to 8000 words a DAY when I’m firing on all cylinders. But that’s me. Even if I only wrote 200 a day, that’s still 1400 words a week, assuming (As I do) that you write each day.

I am NOT bragging (although I can; because I can back it up) and I’m not look-at-meing either. (Yeah, I said it. I’m a writer. Othef ther perks is making up words and stuff. If it worked for Shakespeare, it works for us. This is an all-inclusive club, and if you write, you’re a member. And membership has (few, but tangible) priveledges. What i’m saying is, even if you only take one step a day, at the end of the year you’ll have walked 365 steps.

Okay, that doesn’t sound like a lot. I guess the point is, shit adds up. (I’m not awesome at inspirational metaphors.)

Whatever your goal, write something every day. It adds up, no matter how big or small. Ray Bradbury touched on this in a speech once. He said (I’m paraphrasing here) if you commit to writing one little short story a week, why, at the end of the year, you’ll have 52 short stories. And it’s impossible to write 52 bad ones. it can’t be done.

I doubt that it’s impossible to write 52 BAD stories. But 52 stories (depending on length) is like, three, maybe four books’ worth of stories. And you’ll have started a great habit.

But you gotta finish them. That’s the key. Don’t flit from project to project like some demented butterfly. Pick one, hammer it out, and get it done. And when you’re done, let it sit for a while. A couple weeks. A month. Let it fester, and grow, and change. When you go back, first READ IT. Don’t edit. READ.

Out loud, if you can. Do voices. Make character inflections. But read it out loud. I bet you’ll find stuff you never realized you wrote. After you read it out loud, put it away for a minimum of one week. THEN begin editing. Let it grow in your mind.

Move on to the next project while you’re letting your fields lie fallow. Because that’s what you’re doing.

For those who aren’t farmers, or gardeners, or have never heard the term, lying fallow is what you do when you have several crops. You rotate your growing spaces. You move crops from field to field. Never grow the same thing twice int he same space. That way, you don’t deplete the soil, you don’t burn out the nutrients. You let the soil enrich naturally.
Those fields are your stories. You let them lie fallow so they can enrich and replenish, and grow stronger when you DO go back to plant.

But here’s the key for me: always finish ONE thing before starting a new one. I know, I know. Your brain itches. Your fingers want to run off and do the new shiny.

This is where the discipline comes in. You NEED to finish. And running off and starting a new project while you’re int he middle of one already is like planting corn in a field half-sown with peas. It’s gonna be harder to do both, keep them separate, and do them WELL.

To sum up: write every day. FINISH YOUR CURRENT PROJECT. Let them sleep for a while.

Your writing will be better for it. Your brain will construct new pathways, allowing each project to have its own little niche. And you’ll soon have product to push.

And remember: as if writing wasn’t hard enough,  as if FINISHING wasn’t hard enough, as if this whole thing wasn’t hard enough… this is the EASY part, folks. =)

The editing, marketing, and selling is WAY more demanding and finicky than telling the stories. You’re not gonna enjoy all of it. Especially not as much as telloing a great story. But you WILL get through it.

WE will get through it.

Stay tuned, stay hopeful, stay writing.

Pax.

2017. Ugh.

First off, 2016 can bite my shiny metal ass. And it couldn’t even go out quietly. Had to grab one last one at the end, didn’t it? Father Mulcahey from MASH died on the very last day of the year. (I’m sure thousands of other people did, too, but he’s the one I knew more or less personally.)

Well, it was a tumultuous year. I don’t need to tell you; if you’re reading this, you know. If you weren’t born yet, you aren’t reading this. (I dunno… maybe the next evolutionary step instead of no appendix is that kids are now born with built-in wifi.)

I wrote and released a couple books last year. I wrote a couple more. I’m looking at a release in 2017 of… I’ll go ahead and say 8 new books, as well as re-editing and re-releasing all 12 of the ones’ I’ve already done, with better line editing and nicer covers. So, that’s gonna happen.

I’ll be releasing more ProAm tips this year, telling you my opinions (at length) on the craft. And other things might happen. I’m crazy. I’ll do it.

In case you can’t get enough, here’s some ways to keep in touch.

I have a twitter feed in which I assault the world with my ramblings. @asgallagher2011

I have a facebook page you can ‘like’ if you want to keep abreast of my blog. This one, mainly, but also other stuff. ASGallagher

I have an Amazon author page on which you can find all my published writings. Asgallagher’s author page.

 

 

Relaunch and stuff

My crime thriller Pros is being relaunched with a new cover and some thorough editing! Get your free copy from here and sign up for my mailing list at the same time! I’ll keep you up-to-date on all the nonsense I get up to.

Also, you can find me on all the cool social media crap here:
Twitter: @asgallagher2011

Amazon: www.amazon.com/author/aaronsgallagher

Facebook author page: www.facebook.com/aaronsgallagher

Reach out and touch an indie author! Keep it above the waist, please.

 

ProAm Tip #14

So you want to be an indie author, eh? You poor, poor bastard.

Still here? Okay. Bad news, buttercup: there’s more to life as an indie author than writing. I know, I know. Settle down. Settle d- hey!

Settle down.

It’s not as bad as all that. I promise. There’s people out there in the same boat as you. Also people out there in worse boats. And superyachts. And… uh… I dunno… islands on the backs of turtles. Sorry. the nautical metaphor got away from me. Anyhow, there’s a solution to doing all the other stuff:

You sponge off people who’ve already done it.

You heard me.

Like the fine folks over at 20booksTo50k, find ’em on facebook.
They saved my bacon.

Find peers. Learn from example. Listen. REALLY listen. Like, a lot. And remember to be humble when they give you advice you don’t want because, in your hubros, you think being an artist means you’re just a little bit more right about your stuff than then are.

You’re almost always not.

Important tip: if a criticism, or an editor, or a beta reader pisses you off, I’ll lay 10 to 1 they’re RIGHT.

Once you absorb that nugget, you’re on your way to being a better student of the stuff you don’t know- and the stuff you DO. Experience, practice, and listening skills, baby, just like in school.

And here’s the secret to not pissing off the people who try to help you. This is key, so pay attention. Ready?

Be THEM.

They took time out of their own busy shit to help you. So the next time a newbie pops up and asks a question you know the answer to, jump on that fucker. Get involved. Be helpful. Offer to critique. You don’t have TIME for this- you’re a writer, for God’s sake. You need to work on your own stuff.

Too bad.

You wanted help. They helped. And they love the appreciation they SEE when you help others.

Someone helped them, most likely. Or even better, they pioneered a path and helped others find it. Whatever. The point is, they weren’t stingy with their knowledge. It’s not for YOU to be, either.

That’s how you KEEP colleagues and peers and betas and followers and readers.

One of my favorite actors (and indie authors, by the way) coined a phrase that expresses everything I’ve just said, only far more succinctly.
*ahem*

“Don’t be a dick. ”

-Wil Wheaton

A long, long time ago, on a blog post very very close…

I’ve been in school. Then I was in New York.

But, there’s news:

In anticipation of the three books I have coming out (hopefully) in September, I’m offering all my current books free for five days starting tomorrow and running until August first.

If you’ve been meaning to grab my stuff, now would be a perfect time.

Everything is on my Amazon page, or just search me: Aaron S Gallagher, on Amazon.

I hope you enjoy them, and think about leaving a review.

My Amazon page

 

ProAm tip #13

People ask me all the time (no they don’t) how they can make their writing better. Because I’m a master of my craft (please) and I’m wildly successful (I have published work, I wouldn’t call it wildly successful) I’m constantly bombarded for advice (never, that’s how often. Never.) on making writing better.

So here’s the secret, and maybe everyone will leave me alone (please ask me questions… I’m so lonely):

Read it out loud.

It’s that simple (no, really, it is. I promise). Read it out loud. You want better dialogue? Read it out loud. Want to know if a passage flows? Read it out loud.

Humans know what other humans sound like. We listen to people constantly (as long as you’re able to listen, that is) and we’re bombarded by a multitude of different speech patterns, education levels, and backgrounds. You want to write convincing inner-city black youth dialogue? Go find some, listen tot hem, and then come back and write it. Then READ IT OUT LOUD.

You want to do English? Go find some. Scottish? Go find some. Irish? Go… you get the point.

Then, you write it down, approximating the way you think it should look ont he page (see ProAm Tip #11 for when and how much visual dialect to use) and then…

can you guess?

Read it out loud.

I read everything I write out loud, for two reasons:

  1. It helps me get the speech patterns and language of various characters down pat and;
  2. it helps me find spelling and grammar errors I wouldn’t normally pick up because our eyes routinely lie to us like terrified two-year-olds sneaking cookies.
  3. I like the sound of my own voice (Okay, three reasons)
  4. I’m the only one who knows what I’m shooting for (Okay, four…)

You’re the one who invented these people. You’re the one who knows how much schooling they’ve had, and how extensive their vocabulary is, and whether they swear like sailors (Why don’t you go play hide and go fuck yourself?) or like kindergarten teachers (Oh, fudge, i scorched my muffins… and my hand. And I cut off the tip of a finger. Phooey.) or if they just make shit up (Oh, mother… monkey-mistresses!) or whatever.

When you read it out loud, you’ll find yourself acting it out. You won’t be able to help it. We’re natural actors, all of us, to one degree or another, especially when it comes to our own work. You KNOW these characters. You know these situations. You know what you intended, and when you read it out loud, you’ll see if you’re getting it right.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Tune in next time when I try to exorcise the demon in my head that keeps heckling me (Fat chance, weirdo!)

*sigh*