Plotting (and scheming): the bad guyPosted: March 23, 2015 Filed under: On writing | Tags: villains, writing 2 Comments
I’m halfway through drafting a historical fantasy inspired by Ancient Greece. I’ve had this idea in my head for two years — since before I wrote either Lucid Dreaming or Melpomene’s Daughter — and I’d dedicated a lot of daydreaming hours to it. I mean a lot. So I knew the story pretty well.
Or at least, I thought I did until this week, when I had a bit of a crisis.
I’ve done all the setup. My plot notes got me to where I’m at, and they just sort of … stopped. It was basically:
- the characters do something cool
- there’s a big battle with the bad guy
- the end
IT WAS A PLOTTER’S NIGHTMARE.
I lamented this to a friend of mine. Peter is my alpha reader. He doesn’t provide advice on the “girly bits”. (I think they make him roll his eyes.) But what he does do is tell me when he thinks the villains aren’t being villainous enough, or when they don’t seem to have considered an obvious flaw in their bad guy plan.
When I was struggling with the length of Lucid Dreaming — it was on track to being around twenty thousand words too short — Peter was the one who said, “Well, if I were that bad guy in that situation, this is what I would do.” (So when that book comes out later this year, you know who to blame for one of the plot twists. Just btw.)
So if I’d have thought about it, I’d have realised what his answer would be to my whinge: take it back to the bad guy. What’s his story? What is he trying to do while the characters are trying to foil him? I hadn’t really considered it, because the bad guy in this story is a bound demon. He’s sort of … static. It’s not like he can wander around. But, even bound, he is driving some of the plot. I just had to figure out how. And what.
I sat down on Friday and wrote out the backstory from the demon’s point of view. I brainstormed what the implications were as a result of that, and then detailed what he wanted to happen next. Of course, I already knew a lot of this, but writing seven pages of notes really clarified things for me.
As a result of all this villainous brainstorming, I came up with a new and exciting plot twist, and figured out what the “something cool” is that the characters need to do. I’ve got a road map. Of course, I still have to write it out and, characters being characters, we’ll no doubt take some detours. But at least I know roughly what the journey will be.
There’s nothing more frustrating to me as a reader than a book where the main characters have no agency, where they spend all their time being reactive. Maybe as a result of that, I’d gone too far the other way with this story; I knew I wanted my characters to be driving the plot, but I’d forgotten about the inevitable pushback that should come from the bad guy driving his own plot in the other direction.
Because although my good guys might not agree, it’s no fun when the bad guys are a total pushover. Amirite?
Some of the best books I find are the ones where the good guys are always on the back foot, with the bad guy a jump ahead of them standing on his little plinth snickering to himself over how stupid they are that they can’t see what he’s scheming. Whether they finally triumph over the evil or not really isn’t the end point for me, it’s the fun of the snark from the big bad’s point of view; I think that’s what made Buffy so much damn fun to watch!
I agree! I think the trick is to find a balance between characters who are proactively trying to resolve the problem and baddies who are proactively trying to do … whatever dastardly thing they’re doing. It matters less what the power dynamic is between them, so long as neither side is passive.