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A Writing Prompt for Villains (and Thanksgiving)

A Writing Prompt for Villains (and Thanksgiving) how to make a stronger villainYou know that moment when you’re writing something and what you’re writing gives you an idea for something else to write? Well, while writing last year’s “Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt,” I couldn’t help but think about how it could be turned into a writing prompt for villains (and Thanksgiving).

Seem wrong? Of course it is! It’s villainous!

How to Make a Stronger Villain with the
Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt

If you think back to last year’s Thanksgiving writing prompt, you’ll remember that it was all about what characters want and how badly they want it. From a writer’s perspective, that’s important for figuring out character motivation and planning character behavior. From a villain’s perspective, it’s useful for almost exactly the same reasons.

After all, villains are plotting against your characters the same as you are (or should be).

That means that a very similar writing exercise can help you make a stronger villain and up the stakes of your plot. Here’s how it works.

  1. Pick the villain and target(s) you’re going to work with. If this is for a book, the target should include all the heroes (all the people opposing the villain) – thinking of 1 is not enough, but you can work on them 1 at a time.
  2. Use the happy Thanksgiving writing prompt to figure out what the target(s) values. If you’ve already done this, all the better.
  3. Think of ways the villain could endanger the objects, ideals, or people the target values. You can aim for the most important ones, but a villain with a meticulous personality might try to cover them all. If the main hero’s family or valuables are protected, consider their friends or allies. There has to be a vulnerable spot somewhere.
  4. Integrate the villain’s plans into your plot. Does the villain do the work him or herself? Does he or she assign someone else? When do the point of view characters find out about the danger(s)? How is the danger averted? Are the attacks spread out (faced one after another), or must several be confronted at once?

Remember that realistic villains have finite resources, so they may need to prioritize attacks by the cost, profit, and chance of success. That said, if they can’t manage to threaten at least a couple of the valued people or things, then they’re not that impressive as villains. The more efficient, effective, and insightful their threats are, however, the more frightening and powerful they will seem.

On the other hand, if a villain is bad at figuring out what the enemies value, he or she isn’t going to succeed (not without help or lucky happenstance).

And when you think of it that way, it makes sense that a villain would like last year’s Thanksgiving writing prompt. A process for identifying the hero’s weaknesses? Oh, yeah. That’s handy. It’s like an excerpt of Villainy for Dummies. 😉

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Characteristics of Curse Words

Characteristics of Curse WordsCurse words are useful tools for characterization and worldbuilding. Rather than picking or making up curse words at random, however, I find it useful to consider the characteristics of curse words first.

What Curse Words Have in Common

There are two basic types of curse words: the funny ones that are more socially acceptable and the ones that are more taboo. I’m going to focus on the second grouping today.

Phonetic Characteristics of Curse Words

Many curses, including ones I know from other languages, have specific similarities in how they sound:

  • harsh consonants
  • consonant emphasis
  • short vowels
  • short (or have shorter versions)

Since they are generally used to express anger or frustration, the words themselves tend to have a harsh, abrupt sound that flows easily (trippingly off the tongue). Many of them are also directional – they can be followed by a direct object (like “it” or “you”).

Whom characters direct their curses at can be very telling: does the person only direct curses at inanimate objects? Only at adults? At everyone including children and people who’ve done nothing aggravating? Each option makes a big difference in how the character is perceived.

Social and Moral Characteristics of Curse Words

Besides the way they sound, curse words also have similarities in meaning – they’re all related to something that’s taboo, not talked about, or generally considered bad. Things like sex, poop, or being condemned by God. Things we use euphemisms for in polite company.

What curse words a person chooses or is offended by can show a lot about his/her background and beliefs. For example, in the Bible Belt, “God d@#$!” can be more offensive than other words because “taking the Lord’s name in vain” goes against their religion. In other, less religious circles, on the other hand, it’s considered mild compared to the f-word and others.

Interestingly, society also deems it more appropriate for men to curse than women – especially with the most taboo curse words. Women are supposed to use milder oaths if they curse at all.

That’s why the curse words you choose for a specific character and world can be so important. And some situations and characters are going to require cursing to make sense or seem real.

So why pick something random when taking these two aspects of foul language into account can let you use vile oaths to build characterization and setting on purpose?

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Writing Fall: It’s More Than a Season

When building a world, we need to sprinkle in aspects of our world as well as new creations from reimagining our world. That includes seasons, and since Fall has finally arrived, it’s the perfect time to discuss why writing fall isn’t only leaves and cold breezes – it’s more than a season.

Worldbuilding Fall

What do I mean by “it’s more than a season”? Well, let’s just say that it’s not enough to throw some weather changes into your story. Maybe that works on rare occasions, but, come on, you and I both know that there’s more to fall than that (or any other season for that matter).

But, hey, we’ll start with the obvious bits.

Fall Weather and Climate Changes

That’s what everyone thinks of isn’t it? The physical aspects that affect our senses:

  • Cool, dry air on sunny days
  • Rain and thunderstorms (even tornadoes and hurricanes)
  • Golds, reds, oranges, and browns across the treetops and the ground
  • Yellow grasses and crops
  • Migrating birds

On the other hand, does everyone really think of that?

What about people in southern California? Or Arizona? Or areas even further south? Fall doesn’t mean the same things to them as far as temperature and changing colors.

There are, however, some aspects of Fall that people surrounded by cool breezes have in common with their friends in warmer climates – at least ones  that share parts of their culture.

Fall Products & Culture

Big marketing firms have made sure that people across the U.S.A. all associate Fall with specific colors, scents, holidays, and flavors. These should not be a surprise to anyone in the U.S.

  • Reds, oranges, browns, and golds (That sounds familiar…)
  • Bronze
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cardamom (Spices associated with pumpkin pies, apple pies, cider, mulling spices, and more)
  • Jack-o-lanterns
  • Turkeys
  • Scarecrows
  • Corn husks
  • Decorative Squashes (Did you know you can eat most of those?)
  • Pumpkin Spice

Sound familiar? It should. Srsly, the pumpkin spice trend alone has become so big that it’s become a running gag.

And, yes, even with the pumpkin spice thrown in, I can’t blame it entirely on marketing. Many of those ideas and symbols go back to traditions that have been associated with Fall ever since our culture was mainly agricultural, and it was harvest time.

And that’s actually my point.

The season change has other aspects that affect the culture besides strict weather changes: the growing season, decorations, activities, etc. Yes, they’re related to those weather changes, but that doesn’t mean that the weather is all you need to add to create the feel of the season.

It takes more than that.

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Quotes about Luck Writers Should Remember

Ideas like “bad luck” and “good luck” are prevalent in every culture. As a writer, you control what type of luck your characters get (Muahahahahaha!), and taking that into account can add realism to your story as well as inspire interesting plot twists. That said, here are 6 quotes about luck writers should remember (or at least try out as plotting inspiration).

Quotes about Luck for Plotting Inspiration

Some of these luck quotes are powerful on their own. They have a nice ring to them, they give new insights without further analysis, or they simply feel real. Others… well, they take a little more work.

 1. “I’ve had no luck.” — The Baker from Into the Woods

Not the most impressive quote, I know; however, it gave me an interesting perspective on luck. The idea of no luck.

Technically, in the context, he’s saying that he has had no good luck. As in, he hasn’t found any more of the items the witch required of them.  But, at the same time, he hasn’t really had any bad luck. At least no active bad luck, and if we consider luck an active thing, then the lack of good luck would actually be neutral rather than an example of bad luck.

In this case, neutral luck or no luck is still impeding the character’s goals, so this is a good reminder that the situation doesn’t have to be dire to get in the way.

2. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” — Seneca

Based on this quote, good luck is when you’re prepared when opportunity comes. Then, you can take advantage of it, and good things happen to you. Alternately, this means that bad luck is when you’re not prepared when opportunity comes, and the situation worsens as a result.

What an intriguing angle.

I could see this as advice from the wise elder type (a stereotype, yes, I know), a character epiphany, and a hilarious/nerve-wracking situation brought on by a feeling of poor timing (like in An American Tale when the two parts of the trap – the giant mouse thing and the cats – are repeatedly not ready at the same time). It could even be interesting to prepare for something that never happens. Now, that would have consequences worth reading about!

And that’s to start with. That’s a lot to take from a quote.

3.”Bad luck comes in threes.” — old saying

Ever had a year (or series of years) that felt like this? Like no sooner did you get your feet back under you than more awful news would knock you over? I know I have, and I know others who have, as well. That’s one reason repeated troubles help a story feel real. It’s something we expect from life (except maybe when we’re too young know).

To have conflict, you need to plot challenges for the character to go through and overcome. If everything comes too easily, you better have an outstanding world and characters. Otherwise, readers will lose interest.

4. “You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” — Cormac Mccarthy

Hmmm…so what you thought was bad luck might actually turn out to be good luck in the end?

Ok. I can think of examples of that in books and in life. Although, from those experiences, I would say that there is 1 caveat: just because it turns out to be neutral or good luck overall doesn’t mean it won’t be hard to get through in the meantime.

As one of my favorite Calvin & Hobbes comics said, “Being miserable builds character!”

5. “The only thing that overcomes hard luck is hard work.” — Harry Golden

This is the entire concept of a plot: the main character defeats hardships by hard work, dedication, and skill. Or dumb luck, beauty, and magic. Or true love. You know, if it’s a French or classic Disney fairytale.

My main point with this one is that you get to decide what overcomes hard luck in your book. Pick something you value and use it to teach a generation that it’s valuable (it saves the day in all the books I like!).

You also get to decide how your characters react afterwards. If you want to mix things up, have the main character rescued by someone else. Then, dealing with being constantly rescued could become the real conflict. You can get really creative with this aspect.

I also like the term “hard luck.” That goes with the last idea where the horrible things you go through become a learning experience. That point of view could be useful.

6. “Luck is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it.” — Hunter S. Thompson

I would consider the two sides of the wire bad luck and good luck with the wire being neutral luck (also known as survival). Repeated conflicts batter the main characters, challenging their balance. Sometimes, they might fall off on one side of the other and have to struggle (or be pushed) back to that wire.

Because if they do nothing, they’ll stay where they’ve fallen.

That said, are you ready to go tug on that wire? Ready to use these quotes about luck to give your character’s a hard time? To make a better story?

I think so.

Go. Change up some luck.