Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Depiction Part 24 - Depicting A Villain by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part 24
Depicting A Villain
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 
Here we come to the main question a writer must answer if weaving a conflict between Hero and Villain: Why Does The Villain Want To Rule Forever?

Here is the index to the previous parts in the Depiction Series:


By "depicting," I mean show don't tell -- create a visible consequence of what you want to say, instead of saying it.

Saying what you want to say is "telling" not "showing."  In screenwriting, that is called "on the nose" -- dialogue that is the author speaking to the viewer, not one character speaking to another.

Here is the index to Dialogue:

One reason we gravitate to Romance, go away and come back over and over, is that the two main characters are not "Hero" vs. "Villain."

The two main characters are both Hero Quality Material -- great novels start before the Hero Quality in either is fully in charge of their decision-making.

TV Fiction is gravitating toward the Ensemble Cast -- a rag-tag group of Hero and/or Apprentice Hero Characters striving to overcome impossible odds to achieve a worthwhile goal.

Star Trek: The Original Series (ST:ToS) did this using mostly the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triad, which Roddenberry told us ( in the many interviews we did with him to excerpt for the Bantam Paperback STAR TREK LIVES! ) that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy were three parts of his own personality.  This is actually a well known secret of fiction-writing, dating probably way back before the Ancient Greek plays.

It is how you "tell the story" -- "tell" being the operative word. A writer "tells" a story.  That is what it feels like while writing words, one after another.  When you get stuck, you ask yourself, "What Will The Other Characters Do?" and you don the role of that Character.  As all good Character Actors will explain, to don a role you must reach inside yourself for that trait, pair away all the rest of the real you, and bring that single aspect up to the surface where the audience can see it and recognize it.

That is the secret to "targeting a readership," -- find a fragment of a real person and depict that single trait so that a lot of people can understand it and find within themselves the laudable or reprehensible trait which is dominating the Character's decision making.

Here is the Index Post to the series on Targeting a Readership"


Screenwriting manuals give a formula for creating Characters -- identify 3 Traits, specify them and then write that character ALWAYS showing one or two or all three of those traits.

When done mechanically, just following the formula, the procedure produces "cardboard  Characters" viewers do not believe.

This happens more in movies and TV Series than in novels -- which is why some people prefer reading novels to watching TV.

A good case in point is the TV Series, The Librarians,

which is a blatant copy of the TV Series Warehouse 13.



The Librarians is a TNT TV Series:

Returning to the universe of TNT's hit movie franchise, The Librarian, this new series centers on an ancient organization hidden beneath the Metropolitan Public Library dedicated to protecting an unknowing world from the secret, magical reality hidden all around. This group solves impossible mysteries, fights supernatural threats and MORE...

In Season 3 - Episode 1 - The Librarians And the Rise of Chaos -
we get that wondrous line from the Villain -- " ... and rule forever."

This is delivered (rather well, considering how corny it is) as "on the nose dialogue."

This is what this Villain (adversary, opponent, nemesis ... ) aims to achieve.  It is the statement of the goal.  By that choice of goal, the viewer can instantly identify the Villain as a really Bad Guy (especially because he has enough magical power to make it happen!)

The Librarians is designed to be comedic -- like Warehouse 13, it is very broad comedy, somewhat akin to the TV Classic My Favorite Martian -- which was the only real science fiction on TV for years.


And from TV.Com --
Comedy, Fantasy, Science Fiction
witty remarks, planetary explorers, secrets and lies, space travel, outrageous situations

My Favorite Martian is actually a SitCom with Science Fiction elements (but in those days it was considered Fantasy).

In both cases, we have the adversary of the week -- and the team (the Martian and his host human on Earth) unites to defend -- the Guest Martian or The Library.)

From TV.Com
My Favorite Martian first aired in September of 1963 on CBS and was probably one of the first sitcoms with a "bizarre" or fantasy premise to emerge in the early to mid 1960's. It joined the ranks with Mister Ed which began in 1961.

Star Trek: ToS began in 1966.

My Favorite Martian paved the way for Star Trek - and all the Science Fiction Romance that has come out of the fanfic.

The Librarians is ensemble cast, like Star Trek - but has a "story-arc" like Babylon 5.  Star Trek was an "anthology" show - designed to be viewed in any order, with the adversary of the week (usually not very villainous).

So My Favorite Martian and Star Trek were stories about "How To Make Friends With Adversaries - who are quite Alien."  They begin the continuum which has resulted in Science Fiction Romance about "How To Marry An Alien."

One of my all time favorite novel series about marrying an alien (even having the Alien's kids!) is Gini Koch's Alien Series.  The 2016 entry in that series is Alien Nation (yes, the author knows all about the TV Series by that name.)

Gini Koch depicts her Hero, Kitty Kat, a woman with fiery determination to make things right, as having a knack for converting enemies into friends or at least allies against the monsters trying to kill everyone.

In Alien Nation, Kitty manages to convert some of the most voracious monsters into friends.  It sounds ridiculous -- but Gini Koch makes you believe every word.  The secret is in how she depicts what is going on inside Kitty Kat's head -- this great Hero that everyone trusts to avert disaster has no idea what she's doing, and no plan that she knows of.  She has a few clues from a super-being (not a god, but a Being who understands the universe as the creation of God), but Kitty Kat has to figure things out and take chances on the fly.

When things work out well, you believe it could actually happen that way, and it is not just that Kitty is married to an Alien and has acquired "powers" while having his children.

Gini Koch's novel series is not comedy -- it reads more like a well played video-game, with comedic moments, absurdities turned to opportunities, and drama writ large.  The target audience is familiar with Star Trek -- maybe not with My Favorite Martian -- and games.

In the 1960's, we were just beginning to launch orbital vehicles and dreaming of real space travel -- wondering if our ships would bring back Alien Diseases we could not contain.  We were focused on finding Alien Life Out There.

Hundreds if not thousands of novels and short stories had been published about First Contact. The film, The Day The Earth Stood Still, is classic because it addressed all those issues.

Here is the 1951 Classic:

And here is the 2008 remake:

Again, the 1951 film focuses on how the fearsome, formidable, monstrous Alien is actually a nice guy having a hard day at work.

As with the 1984 classic film, Starman,
we end up wanting to leave Earth with the Alien -- absolutely smitten with this valiant figure and torn up inside to lose him.

Much of the most famous science fiction of those decades depicts the Alien as a potential friend, lover, ally, advocate, even though the Alien may start out at odds with Earth, or perhaps Earth authorities order an all-out attack on the Alien.

The consensus seems to be that Aliens are not necessarily Villains.

Just like humans, Aliens have a variety of potentials within them.  Some are friends, some are stupid, some are silly, some are immature, some are powerful but inept, some are misinformed - the list goes on.

These very humanistic aliens were the most popular during those early decades.

Then came the pronouncement from unimpeachable experts that there just weren't going to be ANY planets around other stars "out there."  The solar system we are in is unique, and just is not going to have anything like a duplicate anywhere -- probabilities are absolutely against the idea of Alien Life Like Us.

The academic power behind this pronouncement, fraught with every mathematical proof you could name, believed and espoused by the Einsteins of the era, drained most of the funding from NASA, and nearly killed off the space program.

Along with it, went Star Trek and most of the Science Fiction Romance you might see made for large audiences (such as film, or TV).

Then funding was squeezed out for orbital telescopes, and other instrument packages to explore our solar system.  Meanwhile, physics and math marched on.  It takes a lot of very fancy math to slice and dice the information garnered by our orbital instruments, and even our mountain-top instruments.  It takes a lot of computing power to understand that data -- computing power we didn't have in the 1960's.

So recently, the unimpeachable experts are pointing at actual planets around stars so distant it makes no sense to quote distances in miles.

We have a whole new generation of unimpeachable experts publishing in peer reviewed journals, as prestigious as the ones that declared how improbable an Alien Civilization Out There was.  Now, the calculations are trending toward the inevitability of there having been Aliens somewhere.

Of course, we are looking at data that is millions of years old.  Light travels way too slowly for us to have any idea what is actually happening "now" (the very definition of "now" and "time" is changing as we figure out what gravity is.)

So, once again, films and TV depict interstellar civilizations -- but this time, the Aliens are not so friendly.  War is more fun, so we have Star Wars continuing.  And Star Trek has become more about War than Exploration of the Unknown.

But while Science Fiction's depiction of interstellar civilizations was relegated to the absurd, another branch of the Science Fiction genre called Adult Fantasy (Fantasy that is not morality plays for children) has formed and taken off.

Early among the Adult Fantasy entries was Katherine Kurtz's Deryni Series

Reprinted many times over the decades, this series depicts an alternate universe -- set around our year 900 AD -- and involving Royalty.  Every book in this series is about "who shall be King" -- it is about who shall "rule."  One faction vying for rulership is purely human (with all the villainy that goes with human mindset), and the main opposing faction is Deryni, basically human but with "powers."

The worldbuilding behind the Deryni universe includes the existence of "gods" and "demons" and forces and powers both Dark and Light (as in Star Wars).  In the Deryni Universe, there is also competition between Deryni and humans for control of "The Church" -- which is pretty much depicted as if it is Christianity.

The humans are convinced Deryni and their "powers" (of telepathy, fireball throwing, teleportation, etc) are of the Devil.  Deryni understand their powers as being simply Power -- like any capability -- and the "Light" side of their force comes from the God worshiped by the humans in the Church.

So the whole "who shall be King" plot line is driven by the argument over the truth of Religion.

I do highly recommend this series -- it does have some hot Romance laced through it, but like any story of hereditary Aristocracy, pivots on arranged marriage.

This series was one of the earliest in the Adult Fantasy market and helped shape that market, define the sub-genre.

Later, whole series arose depicting Power without God, and God or gods without humans with Power.  For the most part, "The Church" as a governing body and institution commanding the culture was deleted from Adult Fantasy.  Aristocracy, Dukes, Kings and their necessary wars persisted, but the power of God was left out.

That deletion of God from fiction parallels the rise of the atheist movement in today's world.

People want fiction that seems realistic -- and the real world was systematically rejecting the concept of Religion (even though God persisted, the institutions designed to serve God's purposes became despised for hypocrisy and lack of tolerance and diversity).

Political Power became the sole bone of contention in the plots, even when magical power was "real" in the fictional world, and the special people who could wield magic were organized (Hedge Witches or as in Babylon 5, a Guild).

For a long time, ESP (telepathy, telekinesis) was accepted as a science fiction element while "magic" involving summoning demons or angels or praying for acts of God was relegated to Fantasy.

Most recently, though, the Fantasy Genre has emerged as the flip side of the Aliens of the 1950's and 1960's (The Day the Earth Stood Still, My Favorite Martian).  After a couple of decades of mixing and blending ESP and Magic, reinventing the premises behind why they work and who can work them, the Fantasy Genre has focused on angels, demons, djinn, sprites, brownies, fairies, vampires, were-creatures, shapeshifters, zombies, ghouls, all the mythical Supernatural creatures and peoples, to tell exactly the same stories we saw about Aliens From Outer Space.

In modern Fantasy, the Mythical Creatures perform the same role and function as the Aliens did in early Science Fiction -- friend or enemy, opposition, voracious attacker bent on stripping Earth of all its wealth, eating humans, or whatever their objective.

Some of these Mythical Creature adversaries want to "escape" from some other dimension, penetrate the barrier between dimensions, and "rule the earth."

Those are the Villain Aliens.

The friendly Aliens become allies using their power and knowledge to help the human hero vanquish the Evil Supernaturals.

In the 1950's and 1960's, Aliens from Outer Space were either bent on "ruling" Earth or were potential friends.  Potential friends were the most popular.  Gradually, the assumption that anything Alien out there just had to be Bad Guys - so Potential Rulers became the most popular.

Today, some Mythical Supernatural People are potentially friendly, but the prevailing assumption seems to be that Supernatural Creatures are bent on ruling Earth, and therefore any Supernatural that intrudes must be destroyed before it can "take over."

Remember when the Vampire Romance shot to the best sellar lists in mass market paperback?  That sub-genre grabbed enough market share to get spine-labels and logos so you could find them on the bookstore shelves.  It took a while for writers to gear up to produce a lot of Vampire Romance -- and meanwhile, the readership lost its taste for "The Vampire As Good Guy" novel.

As manuscripts flooded into publishers, publishers reduced the number of slots for Vampire Romance.  As the e-book market began to form, many of those unsold manuscripts went to e-book, but the sub-genre disappeared from mass market shelves.

Hot-steamy Vampire Romance still thrives in e-book, with every type of Vampire being the  Hero, and writers inventing new types.

Blending the Supernatural with the Scientific Alien, I did a Vampire-Alien-From-Outer-Space Romance in my St. Martin's hardcover release, Those of My Blood, which has had many reprints.


So, among Aliens From Outer Space, and among Supernatural Aliens From Another Dimension, we find those who want to "rule forever" and we label those with the ambition to Rule as villains.

The blackest of bad guys are always bent on "ruling."

Those with "Powers" want to "be King."  We always create genres around Villains, Bad Guys, Malevolent Forces, Evil Masterminds that want to RULE as the Supernatural creature in Season 3 - Episode 1 - The Librarians And the Rise of Chaos -

Those who are driven "to rule" are Evil.  That's how you identify Evil - it is determined to "take over" and to "rule."

Good stories are about opposing Evil and thwarting its Rule.

Why is that?  Why do we depict Villains as wanting to Rule?

Why do we know that the Character who wants to Rule Forever is the Villain, the Evil that must be stopped at all costs?

If the Villain does not tell us, "...and I will rule, forever!" how do we figure out that this Character is the Villain?

There are thousands of right answers to that question.  To do Fantasy worldbuilding, a writer has to pick an answer (or generate a brand new one) to why the need to Rule is villainous.  Depict that reason without the on-the-nose dialogue line, "...and I will rule, forever!"  If you can do that, you will show-don't-tell the Villain of your piece.

Creating and depicting good Villains (who are dead set on Ruling) may require a writer to learn more about the inner workings of their own minds than they want to know.

Sometimes, bringing that knowledge to the conscious level creates "writer's block."  And sometimes getting hold of that knowledge breaks "writer's block."  So experiment carefully.

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. I enjoy the LIBRARIANS series quite a lot. Librarians as heroes, what's not to love? I have a hard time, myself, accepting the plausibility of a villain who wants to rule the world (or solar system, galaxy, etc.). Why would anyone bother? I feel the same way about revenge as a motive, although I've used it in my own fiction and tried to make it plausible. It just doesn't resonate with me emotionally. I can identify with striking out in anger at somebody who's hurting me or a loved one, but wasting years of one's life plotting vengeance in cold blood?

    Don't worry, vampire romance still thrives in mass market publishing, even if not to the extent it did at its peak. For instance, Harlequin has just published a new one by Susan Krinard.

    1. I do agree about not having a revenge or rule the world motive so I study it at a distance.