It Takes a Villain

I’ve worked on a couple games now that were fairly late stage and required complete rewrites; repurposing pre-existing events or assets. The major thing these games had in common was the lack of a clear villain.

There are a lot of ways games differ from books or movies, but one of the most significant (for a writer) is that you’re not in control of the main character. You can’t control how the player feels, you can’t guarantee the player will notice a specific detail (unless you use a cutscene, which can be problematic in itself).

Usually the main character drives a story. When you can’t use that main character that way… Well, it’s pretty easy to lose direction. The story is directing itself according to the needs of the developers, not the needs of the main character. Which means it won’t feel compelling.

A villain, however, focuses a story admirably. Or it can, if you introduce the villain early enough, establish his villainy, and give him something to want. He can force the player’s hand, to some extent. He can set up ambushes, he can spy on you, he can hire someone to poison you, he can mind control the King… He can have a story. His actions can follow an internal logic and that, in turn, can make a story feel real.

Often newer writers try to be too coy with their villains. They try to hide them until the end, so it’s a surprise. Problem is that you have no reason to hate the villain if you didn’t realize he was the one causing your problems. You need to show him, or someone directly connected to him, kicking puppies pretty early on.

Ernst Blofeld, Bond Supervillain

It’s easy to hate someone who kicks puppies. It’s easy to believe the corrupt sheriff is working for a shadowy crime boss. You may not actually *see* that crime boss until late in the game, but so long as you know he exists and you can connect horrific acts with him, it works. Think of the tiers of villains in a James Bond movie. Minor guy leads to major guy.

It’s worth noting here that not all stories require a villain. However, epic adventure games? They do.

I may try starting with the villain for the next story I write. It would be different.

They say you need to love yourself before you love others… I call BS

Cubby Selby used to say that the reason cliches exist is because they’re often true. I think, maybe, we’ve learned that cliche = turn your brain off.

They say before you can love anyone else, you first need to love yourself. Which has always struck me as ridiculous. You can love someone else with a desperate ferocity without ever loving yourself: witness my mother’s absolute dedication to both my brother and me. She never, in her entire life, loved herself. I think she’s learning to, now. I think the cancer made her examine herself and what she wants more closely. If not love herself, I think she’s beginning to at least value herself.

I don’t think my father has ever really loved himself, either.  But he loves my mother, my brother, me, Uncle Stan, the dogs. It’s a small group, but he would do almost anything for any one of us. I don’t know if he’s learning to love himself or not. It’s a bit harder to tell. But I think he’s learning to accept himself. He apologized to me for the way he treated me during my childhood. Completely on his own, he apologized to me.

To be able to look back and see that about himself, and then not only realize he wronged me, but to actually make the apology unprompted… That’s pretty amazing.

It’s no secret to those who love me that I’m not particularly fond of myself. Remember that sketch I posted of myself at seven? I picked that particular picture to draw because of how much hatred I felt towards that little girl.

Tonight, walking Ragnar, I was listening to the audio version of Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (which is a pretty damned awesome book). Something Alda said at the end about knowing your own values struck me. I wish I knew what it was in particular that made it hit home. I’ve certainly heard plenty of variations of essentially the same advice. But something did strike me.

I tried to figure out what I valued. Family? Partnership? Dogs? Writing? Which did I spend the most time doing? Well, I spend the most time worrying about things and trying to come up with absolutely perfect solutions (yay OCD!). I don’t want that to be my value. But I was really startled that I didn’t know the hierarchy of the things I valued. And then it occurred to me, well, I don’t much value myself so why would I have even cared what things mattered to me? Of course I didn’t know. Because it didn’t matter.

No, I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. But that I’ve felt that way. And then that line of thought went even further. Each of those potential values I listed is a partnership: my parents, my boyfriend, my dog, my (possibly entirely imaginary) audience. In each case, I only value half of the equation. So why would I even care what happened to the other half–in this case–me?

The answer is I don’t. Or I didn’t. Gah. All this self actualization language is so imprecise… can I tell you how much I hate using lifecoach-y sounding terms? I hate it. Possibly as much as Gollum hated Samwise. Or maybe it was as much as Samwise hated Gollum…

Imagine you’re making a meal for two people. One, you care deeply about. The other, you don’t. In fact, the other you may even actively dislike. But you put up with that other because, after all, if they hadn’t shown up there wouldn’t be this dinner. Person A happens to love kale, and brownies, and pasta. Person B likes pasta, but isn’t so much into the dark leafy greens and doesn’t like chocolate (blasphemy!). So what do you make? Pasta, kale, brownies. Hey, Person A gets everything they want while Person B at least gets one thing they like!

(BTW, you’re Person B.)

Aside from this making you a bad host… the math is wrong. Person A isn’t getting what they want at all. Person A is here for dinner with Person B. How can Person A be happy if their friend is getting shortchanged?

Now let’s take away the theoretical dinner and go back to those values. If I value my family but I don’t value myself and take care of myself–my family won’t be happy. Same with my partner, or my dog (I would treat myself like shit, which would affect all of them), or my possibly imaginary audience (which, you know, might not be imaginary if I valued myself and therefore dedicated more time and focus to my writing. And, uhm, sent editors stories when they asked me for them…).

Both sides of the equation need to be considered. A + B isn’t equal to A. It’s impossible to have a relationship with someone who isn’t there, or is intermittently there. And it is impossible, as that person who self negates, to build anything lasting and healthy.

You can love someone else while not loving yourself, but you’re not going to do a very good job at it.

In Memory of One Kick Ass Biker Chick

Wendy Moon

Have you ever had one of those friends? One of those prickly friends who is never easy, and sometimes you think maybe they’re bat-shit insane — either that, or brilliant, and then you realize, maybe those two things are the same?

I had one of those friends. An incredibly prickly, incredibly savvy woman who was willing to make a stand on something she believed in, even when it cost her a job and threatened to get her blacklisted in her industry.

She was a woman who escaped a cult, but lost half of her children to it in the process. I don’t think she ever forgave herself for that…

She made her way to LA, worked in Hollywood with some of the craziest people you’ll ever meet. And she fell in love. With motorcycles. They gave her freedom, and my words will never do justice to how she felt, but maybe some of hers will: I am a Motorcycle. Check it out. Really. It’s about a lot more than riding motorcycles, a lot more than gender, a lot more than being a writer…

I knew her in grad school. And she really did come across as intense and maybe a little crazy. But damn, she was fun. And she cared passionately about her friends, and about gender roles, and about motorcycle safety. She cared a hell of a lot about me, and I cared a hell of a lot about her, too. Even though she reminded me often she was closer to my mother’s age than mine. She’s the one who kicked my ass a year and a half ago about getting back to my own writing, and I did. And I sold that story. But we lost touch. She was depressed, I was overwhelmed with my mom’s cancer…

I looked for her a few times on IM, but didn’t see her. She’s been in hermit mode before, disappearing for a few months at a time. A few months became nearly a year…

She’s dead. She died in January, of a heart attack. The only reason I know – the only reason – is another friend, a close friend of hers and mine, had a student hand in a paper referencing one of Wendy’s articles on motorcycle safety. That friend looked up the website and saw that the article had been published posthumously.

Wendy Moon died January 9, 2011. Look her up. Google her, and you’ll see dozens of websites mourning her loss. Motorcycling magazines, list serves, personal blogs… She was fucking brilliant and she actually did something to make a difference. She called out the motorcycle industry on shady practices.

She was not an easy woman. Nor a happy one. But she was amazing. And knowing that she’s gone… well, my world just got darker.


Sketching to Short Circuit Perfectionism

I’m stalling out on the story I’ve been working on (the Troy story, for Swan_Tower). Not because I don’t know what happens next, I do. It’s that whole “It must be perfect, oh my god, it isn’t perfect, I must waste away of consumption and die now!” thing. You know, that thing.

So I’m sketching. To give my brain a break. To let my subconscious run the show for a while. To do something creative in which I have a lot less invested so if the end result sucks, it’s completely okay. And if it doesn’t work, well. It will have been more fun than putting in commas and taking them out again.

So, look! Sketches!