My A-Z Blogging theme is to cover 26 touch-me-not categories of fiction writing. These are frequently the trouble spots which can be useful components of the story if handled properly, but when rushed through, can cause all kinds of trouble. While the genre is fantasy, the tips can apply to anything, from romance to literary fiction.
While exploring the ruins of an old castle, Mordekai and his sister Monique accidentally destroy an old tower only to find themselves in a different place, or time, entirely. Then a giant goat crashes through the wall and carries Mordekai off, leaving Monique with the unpredictable Princess Mural. They begin their journey to a nearby abbey while Mordekai is taken to the villains’ fortress. Once the women reach the abbey, they are welcomed and given a place to stay while Mordekai is cast into the dungeon to await the arrival of Mural’s uncle after he mysteriously survives a crossbow bolt…at the cost of his companion’s life.
Despite how tired Monique was, she wouldn’t let herself climb into the bed she was sharing with Mural without confronting the princess. “What are we going to do about Mordekai?”
“At the moment, we can but pray and gather our strength for the morrow.”
“Yes, but…” She quickly averted her gaze as the young woman began removing garments. Apparently, privacy hasn’t been invented yet. “Who’s after you? Who has him?”
“And what is he? A fire-breathing monster?”
Mural actually had the audacity to laugh. “No, though he does breath forth threats as lethal as fire. He is but a man.”
“But he has an army of goats, and he knows much magic.”
Monique frowned and folded her arms, risking a glance over her shoulder at Mural. Good. She’d climbed under the furs, and Monique wasn’t about to find out what classified for a nightgown. “So what kept him from killing you?”
Green-blue eyes turned to look at her, plenty alert despite the sleepiness of their possessor. “Providence. He longs to rule this land, but he has not the gift for it. While I have been asleep, he has held great sway over the people, no doubt, but there are many that would oppose him. We go to seek them tomorrow.”
“Early enough. Get some sleep, Monique.”
She frowned but began the task of taking off her boots. Her camera was resting in its bag along one of the stone walls, not far from a table with religious things–this had been the abbot’s room before he’d vacated it for them. She couldn’t help but wonder what kind of help they’d find the next day. If her uncle’s so informed in magic… “How did he put you to sleep?”
“A chalice. ‘Tis…like a goblet or drinking horn.”
“So why didn’t he poison you? He killed your father, didn’t he?”
“He had him killed, yes, and many of my family, but Brisbane guarded me from anything lethal.” Mural’s face softened, and she looked far too young to be running around a kingdom–even one of her own–trying to recruit allies. “His loyalty saved my life, for he studied up on all the poisons and kept me from them. But he had no knowledge of the sleeping potion. You see, powered by the notion of the potion, my uncle was able to prepare the chalice that kept me from interfering with his plans. ‘Tis why I sent Brisbane with your brother. He shall keep him safe. His worth is more than a thousand men.”
There comes a time in your story when you have to define the opposition. Your characters can be on the run from enemies for a while without indicating who they are and why they’re after them, but eventually, you need to give some details about what they’re up against. Defining your villains–who they are, what they want, and what means they’ll use to achieve it–can help build suspense.
But you can’t just throw them out there as scary, powerful, and ambitious. They need to have desires–good and bad–and they need to have weaknesses. There must be something they cannot do, or they’d already have overrun the good guys and taken over the world by now, so discovering what has limited them in the past, and how they’ve circumvented it before, can help us anticipate what the villains might do this time, bracing us for what’s to come (in this case, knowing that Brisbane was the only reason her uncle failed indicates that Mordekai could be in serious trouble, as Brisbane has already died to save Mordekai’s life).
So unless you’re writing a melodrama or farce or some sort of story where the villain doesn’t have to be believable, you should probably spend twice as much time figuring out his or her backstory as you did for the hero. You need to know how she became this way–why she chose wickedness and nastiness instead of good–or what has prevented him from achieving his ultimate goal. You need to know what he still cares about, if anything, and how strong he is. You need to be armed with these details to make your opposition realistic and your conflict genuinely tense–because a faceless evil is less fearsome than one that lives, eats, and breathes.
Until the next letter,
Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren
Photo courtesy of gratisography