Creating the Perfect Villain

Every story has good versus evil in it. You represent the good with the hero. Heroes always have some minor flaws, like being shy or afraid of snakes, but they triumph in the end because they will do the right thing. Their flaws make them human and likeable.

Don’t forget the villain.

The villain is the second-most important character in your story. A good villain creates problems for the hero to solve. Without problems, there is no conflict. Without conflict, there is no plot to move the story forward. Stories need mystery and tension to make us want to turn that next page.

So how do you create the best villain?

Villains are heroes in their own minds. That’s what makes them so scary. They believe that they doing the right thing, through their own twisted view of the world. The crucial difference between a hero and a villain is that a hero is ultimately self-sacrificing in order to do the right thing. A villain is selfish to the core.

Just because a villain is selfish doesn’t make him totally unlikable, though. In the same way that a hero has flaws, a villain can have endearing qualities. A villain may love his mother. A villain may adore animals. Think of Inspector Gadget’s enemy Dr. Claw who is always petting his M.A.D. cat. A villain is even more frightening when he or she can still commit horrible acts in spite of being able to show affection or love in some way. Don’t make your villain totally evil, or he won’t seem real to your readers.

Characters are usually transformed into villains because of things that happen to them. For example, maybe your villain was teased by bullies as a child. Maybe she saw her mother living in poverty. Having bad things happen to a person is not an excuse for them to become a criminal, but that can often be an excuse to be a bad person in his or her own mind.

Remember the story of David and Goliath? Both of them were loyal to their countries, both wanted their side to win, both were confident. The difference was that Goliath fought for pride and personal glory. David fought for his God, not for himself. They are alike in many ways, but David is the flawed hero and Goliath is the villain we still talk about as the example of unequal battles. Their choices make the difference.

Finally, make your villain smart. Heroes need a smart opponent; no one cares if you can outwit a dummy. Plus, a smart villain is choosing their evil path, which makes them all the more blood-curdling. Mix a little compassion into the villain’s black set of morals to turn it an unpredictable gray, and you have a character that will raise goose bumps on the back of your neck. And hopefully, that of your hero.

Click here for a short workshop exercise to create a perfect villain!

Create your own Spooky Halloween story!

I’m bringing back an idea that I loved even when I was no longer a kid. There was a series of books that let you choose your own adventure. Nearly every page ended with a choice for the reader: Do you want to go down the staircase? Turn to page 74. Do you want to open the door? Turn to page 143. Each choice led you to a different storyline, making the tale unique each time you read through it.

I often wished that I didn’t have to then turn to a different page to continue the story. Too often I was tempted to read snatches of other story lines while searching for my page continuation. Sometimes I would catch spoilers without meaning to. If only we had hyperlinks in books that could whisk us to the next page!

Now it’s Halloween time, and I just completed a new book. It’s web-based, so you really can click the link to continue. I hope you have as much fun reading these stories (yes, there are several plots all woven together to make this mystery) as much as I did creating it.

Click here to begin

Hint for making your screen viewing size larger: most systems will toggle to full-screen by pressing the F11 key. Press F11 again to return to normal mode.

Enjoy!

The Vending Machine

Today I’m sharing a short supernatural story that won an honorable mention at the 2009 Art/Work: Creativity from the Cube city-wide competition in Kansas City, Missouri.  This is the first in a planned seven-part anthology dealing with the famous “Seven Deadly Sins” dating from medieval times. Each story will be limited to 1000 words. Enjoy!

Update: This story also won 1st place in the Young Peoples’ Fiction competition at the 2010 Liberty Arts Squared festival!

The Vending Machine

by Duane Porter

This is so cool, Andy! Come look at this!” Mike marched down the alley to a large metal box.

Andy followed tentatively. “Hey, it’s an old vending machine! And it’s still got candy in it!”

Mike’s brown eyes glowed as he pushed his black hair out of his eyes. “Check out the prices! Twenty-five cents!”

Andy nodded. “How long do you think it’s been here? Why would they leave the candy in it? Stuff’s probably crawling with worms.”

Chicken!” Mike drew a quarter from his pocket and jammed it into the slot. Quickly he punched in a code. “They have Butterfingers!”

So do you, apparently,” Andy grinned. “The Butterfingers are on G1. The bag from G2 just dropped into the bin!”

What? No way!” Mike pushed the door open and pulled out a red bag labeled ‘Lucy’s Red Hots.’ “Aw, geez, I know I pushed G1! Have you ever heard of this crap?” He shook the bag in Andy’s face.

Never seen ‘em before.”

Man, it doesn’t even feel like there’s anything in here.” He tore open the end and peered inside. “Holy Cow!”

What?”

Mike drew out a piece of paper the size of a business card and a ten dollar bill.

Crap, no way! Anything else in there?”

Empty.”

What does the card say?”

Mike stared for a minute. “It’s some kind of poem.”

Greed is the downfall for seekers unwise.

Three times you may profit, but the fourth will surprise.”

They looked through the dirty glass. Sitting in row G2 were three more packages of Lucy’s Red Hots.

Andy, you think those other bags have ten dollar bills in ‘em, too?”

Andy shook his head. “I don’t know, Mike. Why would anyone leave money in candy bags?”

Mike had already rolled another quarter into the slot and punched G2. The second bag of candy fell into the bin.

Andy shifted nervously as Mike ripped open the bag. “It’s a twenty! Geez, Andy, I got thirty dollars for fifty cents! This is freakin’ incredible!”

It looks like there’s another card, too.”

Yeah, big deal. This one says:

Twice you have gained, so much more indeed!

Beware that you do not fall prey to your greed!”

Who writes this crap?” Mike scowled. “I wonder how much is in the third bag?”

Andy felt a surge of panic. “Mike, don’t get any more bags, please! This is creepy!”

Mike merely laughed as he fished for another quarter. The boys listened as the money rolled down the pathway. The third bag dropped into the bin.

Rrripp! “Oh, man! This is freakin’ unbelievable!” Mike held up a crisp fifty dollar bill.

That’s the third one, can we go now?” Andy pleaded.

You’re kidding, right? Hey, don’t you want to read the card?”

Andy grabbed the card this time and read out loud.

You are quite brave to buy more than two.

Now you have three; what will you do?”

Mike’s eyes dilated with anticipation. He fumbled in his pocket for a quarter.

Mike, are you nuts? The card said bad things would happen if you took more than three! Let’s get out of here – Mike, noooo!”

Mike jammed the last quarter home and watched the final bag fall from the rack.

As his hand closed on the bag his eyes widened in shock.

Mike? What’s wrong?”

Mike seemed to wither, as if all the fluids were being sucked out of him. He collapsed like a deflated balloon and was sucked inside the vending machine door. The red bag of Lucy’s Red Hots popped out onto the alley, and the vending machine door banged shut.

Andy moaned in disbelief. He looked inside the vending machine. A single green bag sat in row G2. It had a cartoon-like picture of a boy with black hair and brown eyes under the label ‘Mike’s Sour Apple Treats.’

Oh, no, no, no, no…” Andy mumbled as he searched in his pocket. He pulled out a quarter, shoved it in the slot and punched G2.

Nothing happened.

He hit the coin return, fished his quarter out, and tried again.

Still nothing.

He collapsed in front of the machine and put his hand out for support. He jumped as he touched the bag of Lucy’s Red Hots.

Slowly he ripped open the bag. Inside were another card and a bill with Benjamin Franklin’s picture on it. “A hundred dollars,” he whispered.

He turned the card over and read:

My goodness gracious, your life’s at an end.

Unless this last note is being read by a friend?”

Andy gasped as he realized what he had missed before.

The price below G2 now read $100.

Andy didn’t even think about it. He fed the hundred dollar bill carefully into the machine and pressed G2. Slowly, agonizingly, the spiral rack rotated and the bag of Mike’s Sour Apple Treats dropped.

Andy jumped as his quarter clattered into the change return. Shaking, he put his hand into the bin and pulled out the bag. It felt empty.

He tore one end open and the bag puffed out like popcorn in a microwave. Glittering blue sparks shot out of the bag and formed the outline of a boy, quickly coalescing into Mike’s familiar form.

Andy grabbed Mike’s arm. “Mike! Is it really you?”

God, what happened, Andy? I felt really strange for a second, and then I was back here with you – hey, what happened to my money? The ten, the twenty, the fifty – they’re all gone!”

Forget about it, Mike. You won’t believe what I …” his voice trailed off.

What is it, Andy? Why are you looking at the vending machine again …”

Both boys stared at the four bags of Lucy’s Red Hots sitting neatly in row G2.

Seconds later only the sound of running feet echoed down the deserted alley. A chill wind blew between the buildings, sucking a crumpled green candy wrapper into the air. The abandoned vending machine waited silently in the dark.

Moving On

While making some technical changes to the web site, I had to move it to a new server. Let’s just say that I couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty together again.

Now I have an opportunity to rebuild and redesign this new site to meet the needs of you, the reader. We still have links to purchase books, and the original blog is still intact. I’m going to focus on providing reviews on new or classic books, a more informative platform on programs for education and other events, and getting a newsletter out on a regular basis.

I’m looking at this as an opportunity to move on to better things. Anything less would be pessimistic. And pessimistic is one thing that I am not, and that I hope neither of us ever becomes. Life is too short!