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7 Tips for Writing an Altruistic Villain

Altruistic Villains

[Courtesy of flickr by Lucky Lynda]

Most stories feature a character or characters in opposition to the protagonist. We call these characters villains. Some villains are more effective at evoking sympathy and indignation from readers than others, which is ultimately the goal for many writers. Some of the more effective villains have good ideals that give shape to their actions. The main problem with their morality is usually that they push their ideals too far. “The ends justify the means,” is often an applicable statement in this regard. These types of villains are very compelling, because we can see where they’re coming from. In the sections that follow, I’ll discuss some concrete methods you can use to write an altruistic villain. Note that not all villains need to be this way. Some are extremely effective at being raw forces of evil and mayhem. The Joker is the most-often cited example. Now let’s get started!

1: Start out with an ideal that most consider to be a morally good one.

Examples include the ideals of freedom, honesty, equality, love, generosity, tradition, security, change, faith, aspiration, justice, independence, honor, redemption, and knowledge. These all sound like good things. But it’s easy to imagine how these could become problems if taken too far. Design your villain with one or more of these ideals in mind. It will eventually become the basis of their villainy. It’s often said that everyone is the hero of their own story. The same goes for villains. Usually, they’ll solidly believe that they are doing the right thing. This is easier to accomplish if their actions are based on a verifiably moral goal.

2: Develop your villain’s background so that it fits with their ideal.

Many villains had to endure some terrible event in their childhood or years before villainy. This will frequently shape their worldviews and instigate them to action. Interestingly, heroes and villains often go through the same sorts of instigating events in their early years. It’s how they react to these stimuli and what they’ve done in the time since that makes them a hero or a villain. So develop your villain’s history such that it reconciles with their malevolent state in the present.

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6 Simple Ways to Kick Writer’s Block in the Teeth

So you’re struggling with writer’s block. Here’s the good news: You’re not alone. Great writers throughout history have had staring contests with blank pages. Here’s the better news: If you use the right strategies, writer’s block can be overcome. This article will teach you four simple strategies for kicking writer’s block in the teeth.

1. Write garbage.

Writer’s block happens when the complex and sensitive neurological process of creativity gets disrupted, typically by stress and fear. One way to overcome that anxiety is to dive into the work by writing as much garbage as you possibly can.

In other words, get writing in your project, regardless of how awful, useless, or nonsensical that writing is. This is useful even if all you do is spew words onto the page that you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you will delete later. The point isn’t necessarily to find the right words but to get yourself writing. You’ll be surprised how quickly this breaks down anxiety and gets you to a place where writing feels natural again.

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5 Guidelines for Writing a Strong Female Character

[Banner image courtesy of flickr by Blue Stahli Luân]

People talk a lot about writing strong female characters. Writers and readers everywhere always seem excited when a story features a female as the main protagonist. This is likely because of the seeming rarity of such stories. We could cite examples to the contrary all day, but that doesn’t change the fact that the stereotypical storybook “hero” throughout literary history has been a man. In this light, it could be a relatively new thing, this female hero. It’s becoming more prevalent, but is still rare enough that the gaming distribution platform Steam has a specific tag for “female protagonist.”

But what does it take for a female character to be “strong”? Well, here’s some tips to help examine your literary laudable lady.

1. Badass characters are not necessarily strong characters.

The difference here might be a bit self-explanatory, but it’s also an important one to understand. One might watch a movie and see a female character who makes a habit of making incredible acrobatic stunts whilst simultaneously beating up dozens of bad guys. They’ll see this character and say that she’s a “strong” female character. But what they really mean is that she’s a badass.

Contrary to common belief, this doesn’t make a character “strong.” A strong character is a well-written character; a character with depth, personality, flaws, strengths, and attachments. A strong character is one that makes mistakes and learns from them. A character’s worth is not defined by the number of enemy grunts they can dispatch in a single scene.

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How to Win NaNoWriMo This Year

NaNo postcard[Image via flickr courtesy of Monda]

NaNoWriMo—or “National Novel Writing Month”—challenges you to complete a 50,000-word novel by the end of November. The “winners” of NaNo are those who hit their 50,000-word goal by the end of the day on November 30th. As someone who has “won” twice, I’m here to give you nine tips on hitting that monumental goal. Let’s jump right in.

1. Nail this first week!

We wrote about this at great length before in Six Tips of Nailing the First Week of NaNo, so we won’t spend too much time on the details of how to do this. What’s important to note here is why. Winning NaNoWriMo is almost always a matter of staying motivated, and one of the best ways to do that is to give yourself the gift of momentum.

2. Remember That Consistency Is Key

If all you do is write 100 words each day, you get 3000 words—about 12 typed pages—in a month. And that means each 100 words will get you the same amount. While big bursts can do a lot to move you forward toward your NaNo goals, the backbone of the effort is writing consistently. And for those of you who are unclear, the precise target is 1,667 words. Don’t freak out if you fall short, though. So long as you’re putting in consistent effort, victory will soon be in view.

3. Don’t Research

If your work needed research, then October was the time to do it. I’m sorry—really, I am! I get it! I’m a research junkie!—but you just can’t spend your time delving into the scientific details of what you’re writing. What you can do is skip over sections that you want to enhance with research later on, leave yourself notes on items you need to fact check, and otherwise work around the edges of issues that deserve research in the proper time. Just remember: That “proper time” is December.

4. Socialize

For me, the most motivating NaNo tool is the “word war.” In a word war, you collaborate with your friends and rivals (in an online or offline space), set a short timer, and then all write in a burst to see how many words you can get onto the page within the time limit. While in-person events in your area are great for this, there are even Twitter accounts and chat rooms that help create a digital version of these word wars.

But maybe competition isn’t your shtick. Luckily, meeting up with your fellow NaNites comes with other benefits, like giving you a dedicated space to write, a social accountability system for your goals, and a group of friends to brag to when you succeed.

5. Forget Quality

Shannon Hale famously said that, during a first draft, you’re “simply shoveling sand into a box so that later [you] can build castles.” Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pay any attention to quality; if you keep pursuing ideas that don’t excite you or write nothing but gibberish, that can take the wind out of your sails. That being said, you should keep in mind that this is meant to be a rough draft. Keeping things messy is not only fine, it’s a key to productivity—both during NaNo and in your other writing pursuits.

6. Be Willing to Jump Ahead

If you get lost during your journey, I strongly encourage you to jump ahead to the next scene you do have an idea for. Staying focused on things that excite you will help you stay motivated, getting rid of stalling will help you keep up momentum, and you’ll be surprised how often writing “future” events give you ideas for the dry spaces between.

Another option, of course, is to “jump back.” If you really can’t figure things out, or don’t know how you want your character to behave, then consider writing a sequence from the prequel space of the story. Whether you justify it with flashback, dream sequences, or an alternate point of view chapter, exploring the story of your culture, hero, villain, or a side character can give you some juice and help stir ideas for other sectors of your novel.

7. Disconnect

The internet is the enemy of the novelist. It’s a worm hole—a portal into another realm with limitless possibilities and content specifically designed to give you those addictive little dopamine spikes. If you’re not careful about staying disconnected, you can spend all of your NaNo time writing little more than status updates and tweets.

In fact, I believe this so firmly that I wrote a whole article about it over on LitReactor, so check out that piece if you need some tips on how to stay away from the digital world.

8. End in the Middle of an Idea

This can be a surprisingly effective technique. For one, it gets your obsessive mind ruminating on your story in a way that can help you generate new ideas. For another, it decreases the anxiety barrier for your next writing session since, at the very least, you know where to pick things up. Some people even take this so far as ending in the middle of a sentence, and if you could stay sane while doing that, go for it! (I honestly think that paritcular extreme could break my fragile mind … but to each their own.)

9. Remember: You’ve Already Won

It can be stressful to hit the “winning” goal. It’s ambitious to say the least, and life tends to get in the way. If you let the difficulty make you anxious, though, you’re going to sap your motivation. One way to avoid freaking out about detours and setbacks is to remember that, even if you don’t “win,” you’ll still have written dozens of pages. Just keep doing your best. If you hit 50k, that’s freakin’ awesome. If you don’t, that’s okay too. After all, every word is a victory.

Good luck to you, brave NaNites. It’s your courage and effort that bring your story into the world. And remember: Your story matters.

Seven Poetic Things You Should Never Do


Poetry has a long history.  The first poem was written about 4100 years ago, and the most recent poem was written probably about two seconds ago.  In all this time that we have had to develop this art, there are some rules that everyone, regardless of poetic style or experience, should follow.  This is a list of seven things that you absolutely must not do as a poet

1. Never say you aren’t a poet.

The bright noonday sun is suddenly obscured by a man who gently sits beside you.  He is dressed in shades of black and grey “a la Paris,” complete with a black beret set askew on his head.  He absentmindedly takes a puff from his extra thin cigarette before pulling out a heavily worn notebook and turning to look at you.  His voice is smooth and methodical as he greets you.  “Excuse me,” he says, “but would you mind being my muse for a moment?  You see, I’m a poet.”

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Turn Your Assignments into Productive Writing


With school starting up in full swing again, many students will be under pressure to write several assignments that may be quite daunting. In my own schooling I found that one excellent method of relieving some of that stress is to turn the assignment into productive writing for my own projects. It might never become something you publish, but at least make it a tool for helping yourself. Hopefully, this can also apply to other forms of assigned writing, not just school work.


When deciding to turn your assignments into productive writing there are two major things to consider;

1: What is the assignment designed to accomplish?

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