Being the Bad Guy

Did I turn off the stove?

Did I turn off the stove?

Have you ever met the antichrist? A real asshole? Someone that you wanted to punch because that would feel so good?

One of the tenets of having a great protagonist, a fantastic hero, the chosen one must also have a great antagonist, an antichrist, a real bad boy, or girl.

I get newsletters from different writing sites, and one of them caught my attention. They wrote about the movie Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks. I hadn’t seen the movie, but the letter stated the bad guys made some stupid mistakes that allowed them to be easily defeated, which minimized the accomplishments of the hero. Despite the movie being based on real life events, the letter had a good point.

Oops I missed

Oops I missed

One of the greatest things about Star Wars is Darth Vader. As a kid, that guy was scary. He had ultimate control over the Force, could choke someone out without even touching him, and was a skilled swordsman with a lightsaber, the coolest sword in the universe. And he killed Luke’s teacher, a war hero in his own right. What? Luke was an underdog when it came to Vader. But we knew Vader had to go, and we knew Luke was the one to do it, but we didn’t know how that was gonna happen since Obi-Wan was dead. And the intrigue into Luke’s heroic path was something I loved.

So when I read the letter, I immediately remembered the post I wrote about the martial arts school I used to attend.

Ah-choo

Ah-choo

When I wrote that post, I had an inkling that it would find its way back to them, not through any active part by me. And I didn’t write it because I wanted to thwart their business, I wrote it because it was something that spoke to me, one of the main reasons why I left that school. It took them about four months to discover it, and I heard the owner of the school, who doesn’t teach there much anymore, made a special trip to talk about little ol’me.

Now, if I wrote a story and the owner of the school was the bad guy, and the hero, some awesome writer, wanted to draw him out, and all he did was write a post on a small site, and the bad guy took the bait, I’d say the antagonist was really stupid, and that I did a bad job in creating the bad guy.

As the writer, I have to make sure the antihero is formidable. Otherwise, anything the hero does to overcome the odds looks weak. And that’s what I hope I did in my book, Nightfall. The bad guy kicks some serious ass, and my hero is rubbin’ his bum, but that’s part of the fun in stories. The underdog is the underdog for good reason. He’s gotta pull himself up and take it to the baddie. Otherwise, the reader, audience will be bored.

Cliche

No skid marks, right?

No skid marks, right?

I think the most common advice given to writers is not to be cliché. One teacher suggested writing opposite of your cliché tendencies. Dexter is a great example. He’s a serial killer. But his father raised him to kill with purpose, so he kills other serial killers. BREAKING BAD is another great example. Movies and TV have always pitted the drug dealer against the hero. How about the hero being a drug dealer, the antihero? SONS OF ANARCHY anyone?

There are two things I wanted to discuss today. First, is structure cliché?

My best friend is obsessive when it comes to knowing everything before attempting anything. Writing was no different. He read every single book on the market, went to seminars, visited websites, and hired writing coaches. Incredibly, obsessive—I mean—studious. To be honest, he’s opened my mind, and I’ve learned a lot from him.

He emphasized the importance of structure and how structure helps form our stories. So I asked whether being too structural can be cliché? Every story has a beginning, middle and end. That’s not cliché. Every good story should have at least one character experience change, becoming the person they’re meant to be. Fine. Then he advised that after a certain number of pages, this should happen, then another number of pages, this should occur, and so on and so forth. That’s cliché/formulaic. But then he started to nit pick and state that the first sentence of consecutive paragraphs should alternate between action and emotion, something he picked up from a writer we both admired. I said, “That sounds incredibly limiting.” Apparently, this is something Jim Butcher does. I have yet to confirm.

Damn. Those cars are speeding

Damn. Those cars are speeding

But to limit yourself in that way, to be formulaic and even too technical can leave your story dry, soulless. I read in a writing magazine that the worst thing for an editor is to have nothing constructive to suggest when an author’s work is technically spot on. Buildings are basically boxes stacked on top of each other. Architects, please don't beat me up. But the underlying foundation, the steel structure, the physics and obeying of gravity are constant in all architecture. But when looking at a skyline, it's rare to find any two buildings identical because it's also a piece of art.

I've always melded technique with instinct, my inner picture. Structure is always needed to serve the story. The story does not serve the structure.

In life we need to play against the norms, being cliché.

A friend, Dennis, set up a date for his pal, Fred. Fred asked for some advice on what to do on a first date.  Dennis suggested dinner and a movie.  Dinner. And a movie.

Wha—?

In a prior article, I wrote about my limited experience in the PUA world. Excuse me.  And the one commonality from all the wild and crazy advice was connect with women on an emotional level.  Another words, listen and talk to them like real people (wink wink).

Is there something in my teef?

Is there something in my teef?

Don’t know about you, but it’s really hard talking to a woman with food in my mouth. Cuz once I’m done with that bite, another goes in. And how attractive can I be talking to a woman as bits of food shoot from my mouth onto her plate? That ain’t gonna get me nowhere (double negative, I know).

Don't touch me there

Don't touch me there

Then we’re gonna go and sit in a dark room full of other people? Can you say intimacy? Or lack there of. Not to mention that that is cliché, as first dates go, very dry and unimaginative.

I wanted to suggest doing something different like window shopping, trying to find the most expensive thing. That way you can see what her tastes are, what she likes, leaves a lot of openings for spontaneous conversation. Or sit somewhere and people watch, create stories about them, a great way to see what your date self-projects. Fred is also a writer, so imagination isn’t lacking. But I held back because Dennis would address me as master, making fun of my mightier than thou attitude when my real intention was to help.

I left my martial arts school because of the massive heads I dealt with. So I'm very conscious of my own ego. It does get in my way, and I know to wait and let it stroll by.