Writing a Villain

If you’ve been on Quora, you know that the site has people who ask questions and communities with experience who answer them. It’s supposed to come off as subject matter experts giving in depth answers to the many questions people ask. I’ve taken to answering some questions on Quora and have certainly asked a few in my time.

Since starting the Starweather Press, LLC YouTube to discuss writing, I’ve posted some questions in video form on the channel. One question, posted here – https://www.quora.com/What-sort-of-villain-or-conflict-could-I-use-for-my-fantasy-novel-I-don-t-want-a-Lord-of-The-Rings-type-villain asks writers to provide their knowledge on writing a villain that isn’t a Lord-of-the-Rings-type.

In a world of fantasy, who can blame the querier?

My answer considers creating a round character. Someone with actual goals and motivations that are clear. Someone or something that has flaws and qualities, knowledge and things to learn. Sometimes a villain is simply an antagonist who doesn’t learn the lessons and grow as a character in contrast to an MC or protagonist. This can make a villain empathetic, similar to Regina in Once Upon a Time. This can show just how hard it is to change in comparison to the protagonist who does make a change and learn the lesson.

Let me know how you write a villain. Do these tips help? Thank you for reading.

Heather A Busse

The Color Revision and Editing Method

Color Editing Method

When writing it’s important to revise and to edit the document. This is one way to approach editing. It isn’t the only way. It’s just a way that has worked for me.

Note: This is a personal writer edit. This does NOT replace getting a writing critique or hiring an editor.

In fact, I recommend this process order for edits:

  1. Write the first draft.
  2. Do a personal edit. Use an editing method. I use a color method. *I share this later on in this document.
  3. Revise the draft based on the personal edit.
  4. Get a writer critique performed on the piece of writing. A writing critique will be a small group of writers that give in depth feedback on the craft elements of writing for each other. It may include grammar, punctuation and spelling, but should focus heavily on craft. Craft includes voice, POV, character development, plot, world-building, themes, dialogue, literary devices and scene/exposition. They will provide feedback on what is working well and why. They will give feedback on what isn’t working well and why. If this doesn’t happen, form a different group for critique.

Note – you should not be paying for this. This should be a group of writers about the same level of experience and talent that work together to improve the quality of writing within each other’s work. It’s supportive, but honest. The focus should be on the writing, not the writer or trying to write the story for the writer. Create a group of up to about five writers.

  • Based on the writing critique, do another revision.
  • Get beta readers. Have them read the story from a reader’s perspective. Is it readable and interesting? This shouldn’t be super in depth. You might get simply what works and what doesn’t on a basic level from a reader’s point of view. This is NOT the same as writing critique. It’s what a reader might like the most in a story or why they wouldn’t read a story.

Note – I don’t recommend paying for this either.

  • Do a revision based on the beta reader’s feedback.

Note – At this point the piece of writing has gone through a personal edit/revision, a writer critique based edit/revision and a beta reader edit/revision.

  • The last step is HIRING a professional editor. YES you do need to do this for a professional level edit. Do this before submitting to a publisher or self-publishing. It’s important. It separates well-written works from sloppy writing. It shows professionalism. Have respect for the reader and be a professional. A professional editor may only be someone who edits based on grammar, spelling and punctuation or they may also provide content edits. It’s up to you the type of editor you hire. You may want to hire someone that does both.

Finally, you are ready to self-publish or submit to a traditional publication. Good luck.

Select a color for each editing category. I use these colors for each category, but you can assign whatever color you want.

The categories:

  1. Proofreading:

In YELLOW, highlight any areas of the Work in Progress (WIP) that requires a revision of grammatical, vocabulary, spelling or punctuation errors. Make the edits in track changes maybe or another editing software.

Some of the things to look for:

  • Verb/subject agreement
  • Verb tenses consistent
  • Consistent style rules; AP, Chicago, your own etc.
  • Spelling – American English, British English, another language. Is the spelling correct?
  • Are there too many adverbs?
  • Too many repeated words?
  • Are there too many gerunds?
  • Prepositions
  • Plurals
  • Articles
  • Pronouns
  • Empty sentences or vague words that do not supply concrete detail, plot, world or character revelations
  • Empty modifiers (huge, very, really)
  • Correct word used (may be spelled right, but is it used correctly)
  • Do sentence styles vary? Do sentences serve the story? Meaning, do they show character, plot, and/or world-building?
  • Have you taken advantage of nouns and verbs?
  • Check that punctuation is correct for whatever style you’re using.
  • Are sentences active, passive? Passive clues (to be verbs and sentences that do not begin with the subject)
  • Clauses correctly formed
  • Fragmented sentences
  • What is the readability score? Have you checked throughout the piece?
  • Character

In ORANGE, highlight any areas of the WIP that requires an edit for character issues. Take notes. Some of the things to look for:

  • Are the characters well-developed?
  • Are they flat? If so, how will you make them round?
  • Are their behaviors and motives consistent to who they are?
  • Are they believable?
  • Do they exhibit flaws?
  • Do they have preferences?
  • Check their actions and choices. Do they make sense?
  • Check their emotional responses. Are they believable to who they are or who they are becoming?
  • Do they have histories? (Even if you don’t share all of it)
  • Do your characters have “enemies” or people who dislike them? Do they have people they dislike?
  • Do they grow, change, learn a lesson, fail?
  • Are they surprising?
  • Are the characters’ voices distinct from one another and consistent throughout?
  • What are the character interactions and relationships like? Are they well-developed and believable?
  • Are their reactions to events in the novel realistic?
  • Do physical descriptions remain consistent?
  • Are character names consistent?
  • Plot

I use PINK to highlight areas of the WIP that require an edit for plot issues. I may also make notes for each issue to fix.

  • Are the stakes high enough? Believable?
  • Is there tension throughout?
  • Are plot twists believable? Do they surprise?
  • Do the events unfold naturally, or thrown in without context or jarring to the reader that confuses rather than surprises?
  • Do the scenes drive the story forward?
  • Are there hooks at the start and end to each chapter?
  • Are the “promises” made at the beginning of the novel fulfilled by the end? Or in a tragedy, is it clear why the protagonist failed?
  • Dialogue

In BLUE, highlight issues with dialogue. Make notes on what to fix and how.

  • When the characters speak through dialogue, are they moving the plot forward?
  • Are their words providing character and scene?
  • Are their interactions believable?
  • Are their word choices true to who they are?
  • Do they speak like real people within the context of the world? Example – If the character is from Manchester, do they have a feel in the dialogue of being from Manchester?
  • Did you describe how the character sounds, their accents and slang consistently throughout the story?
  • Are the speakers distinct from one another?
  • Would it be confusing to the reader to understand who is speaking?
  • Literary Devices – A NEON GREEN

I use a neon green or light blue for this. Here is a great resource that defines the types of literary devices – https://literarydevices.net/. This is more of a strong recommendation to use literary devices to create dynamic, interesting ways to present sentences and story structure. There are so many types to use that having a checklist would be difficult. Perhaps take note of ones that you intentionally used or find out that you used and check to see if they work with the tone and voice of the story. Add them if they work for the story.

Here is a list of some common devices:

  • Anaphora
  • Epistrophe, Epizeuxis, Antanaclasis
  • Chiasmus
  • Foil
  • Hamartia
  • Hyperbole
  • World-Building/Setting

I use PURPLE for setting. Take note of any issues with setting, world-building, time/place.

  • Are the place names, locations shown to the reader?
  • Is the time shown to the reader?
  • Is there enough detail about the world to immerse the reader?
  • Do the details about the world make sense?
  • Are the details consistent throughout the story?
  • Are physical items consistent from one scene to the next? Such as if the character took off the coat in the chapter opener, they shouldn’t be wearing it at the end unless that is also shown.
  • World-building may include:

When applicable, are each of these things consistent and believable?

  1. Politics
  2. Currency
  3. History
  4. Religion
  5. Magic
  6. Physics
  7. Medicine
  8. Agriculture
  9. Education
  10. Trade
  11. Economies
  12. Entertainment
  13. Art
  14. Geography
  15. Technology
  • Scene

I use GREEN to mark necessary edits within a scene. Scene is also called “showing”. Good stories either weave exposition and scene together or balance exposition with scene. Important plot and character development should be shown in scene. The story events that move the reader through the beginning to the end should have scene. Check:

  • Are the right events shown?
  • Do scenes work to move the story forward, show character growth or interesting surprises/reveals?
  • Does the scene keep the reader interested?
  • Is the scene important information better given through quick exposition?
  • Break down the scene into acts; do the characters react and behave how they should? Is the action moving or dragging?
  • Is it too fast? Is it too slow?
  • Does the diction work for moving the story and creating tension?
  • Does the scene leave the reader wanting more, feeling something, connecting to the story and/or character?
  • Exposition

Use RED for exposition. There is a use for exposition. Important information the reader needs, but would drag the story down (scene is a slower pace) should be written in exposition. Tip – weave exposition at the right time during scenes and it doesn’t feel so expository, but definitely use it when you need to get information out fast, but wouldn’t work well in scene.

  • Is the exposition important for the reader to know?
  • Would it be better in scene?
  • Does the exposition come at the right time during the story?
  • Does it balance with scene, so that it doesn’t come as a massive information dump?
  • Voice

I use a GRAY or light blue pen or marker for this. Voice is the form or format used by the story’s narrator. Yes, there is a narrator to a story, usually a character either known or unknown to the reader that the “author” uses to tell the story. This is also sometimes known as the author’s voice or style. Voice is the personality of a story.

  • Double check that the character/narrator’s voice is coming through each scene. Is there too much of an author presence dominating the character’s voice?
  • Is there a personality to the narrator? Does it work well?
  • Is the narrator’s voice consistent? Do they have a distinct personality?
  • Do the words fit the character’s personality, knowledge and experience?
  • Do their mannerisms fit their location in time and place?
  • Does the narrator behave according to their identity markers? Occupation, sex, sexual orientation, religion, class, creed etc.
  • Do the characters in the story behave according to their identity markers?
  1. Tone  

I have some metallic markers that I use, so for this I pick SILVER. Tone is known as the mood of a story. Tone, much like voice is shown with diction, syntax and literary devices and structure. It can be confused with voice and structure, but each term has a different definition based on the effect created by the tools used.

  • Is there a mood to each scene or even piece of exposition?
  • Considering each scene or point of exposition, does the mood created fit?
  1. Theme

For theme I use GOLD, but be careful of trying to manipulate the reader into learning a theme or lesson. Let it come naturally throughout the story. Themes are pondering those questions of life such as; coming of age, good vs. evil, survival, heroism, prejudice, class, gender, courage, love, friendship, the underdog etc.

  • I think for a writer, it’s important to see what themes arise in the writing.
  • Does the story serve the theme or themes?
  1. Point of View

Underline point of view issues in black or mark them in black. Point of view is 1st, 2nd and 3rd person. It is how the narrator is presented in the story.

1st person may be considered an unreliable narrator, because the story is usually about them and each person will have the bias of only their view. They may have biases about themselves and how others see them. They may have biases about themes in the story and may seem like they are telling the reader what to think.

2nd person is “you”. The narrator is telling a story about “you”.

3rd person can be a close and immediate read, it can be omniscient, it can be limited and it can be a distant read. It can have many 3rd person POVs. It’s also considered to be a reliable narrator, having little to no bias, because the story is not about them it’s about something they’ve seen or at least took part in, but maybe was not the main character. Example – King Arthur stories are frequently told about him by other characters in the story, even though he is the feature. It’s that eyewitness that saw something recounting what they saw to the best of their ability (in limited 3rd).

  • Determine what the POV is and check that it is consistent throughout
  • If you mean to have POV shifts, check that it happens in the right spot and that it is clear to the reader.
  • Does the POV work for the story? If you wrote it in 1st, would 3rd be better? If you wrote it in 3rd, would 1st be best?
  • Are multiple POVs necessary? If so, when is the best point to change? Many authors choose to change by chapter rather than within a chapter or paragraph, but this also happens too. Does it work? Is it confusing?
  1. Structure and Formatting the Manuscript

I use brown to note structural issues. Structure is the format and sequence of events in a story. There are different types of structures including the 3 part and the 5 part. The 5 part includes; introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. Check the structure of your story.

Formatting resources – https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/what-are-the-guidelines-for-formating-a-manuscript

  • Is the structure interesting?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Is it believable?
  • Is it too cliché?
  • Is the format of the manuscript consistent throughout?
  • Are sentences single-spaced? Are rows double-spaced?
  • Are there 1 inch margins or whatever is required for publication?
  • Is the cover page formatted according to submission guides?
  • Are there page numbers? Where?
  • Is your contact information present?
  • Are indents formatted the same from beginning to end?
  • Did you select a readable font? A serif font is often preferred for the clear difference with the letters and number liLt1IT. Sans serif can be difficult for numerous people to differentiate those letters and the number 1 for how similar they are, which does slow down the reading and take the reader out of the story. This also can happen with serif fonts for some people, so consider your audience.