Red Lettering

Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Archive for the tag “Villains”

The Treatment of Henchmen

The Treatment of HenchmenDear Villains (etc., etc.,)

My name is Athelas Hale, the writer and president of The Association for Protection of Character’s Rights (AfPoCR). Recently it has come to my attention that some of you treat your henchmen (etc., etc.,) in less-than ideal ways. While it’s not the AfPoCR’s job to regulate what villains or heroes do, technically, some of us here at the association were concerned about the way you’ve been operating. While, of course, being villains (etc., etc.,) you most likely won’t even open this letter upon receiving it, I do hope that some of you will at least peek at this missive.

Among other behaviors that I’ve noticed, I’ve seen that you have a tendency to kill off your henchmen. Or—worse, some say—you throw them in the dungeon and lock them up for the rest of time. Now, some of you undoubtedly don’t do this, understanding that life isn’t to be wasted (in which case, why on earth are you reading this letter for villains?) but some of you have done it in the past, and will do it again. I could not help but noticed that the logic of this is lacking slightly. Please allow me to explain.

As a villain, you must have a certain amount of henchmen (etc., etc.,) to do things for you. Some of you may prefer to storm the castle alone, but most of you will most likely need a bit of backup. As the treatment of henchmen becomes more widely known across the worlds, less and less people are planning to be henchmen. Some decide to turn into farmers, or heroes—some even decide to become supervillains themselves. The supply is slowly running low, and every time you kill a clumsy minion, you make yet another spot in your army that has no one to fill it. While you might be able to replace him, the fatality of your wrath will not only strike fear into the hearts of your other henchmen; it will also slowly eat away at their loyalty until fear is the only thing tying them to you. While some may consider this to be a good thing, I have found that when faced with two things they fear—you and your enemy who you are riding off to battle—henchmen usually take the easiest, most logical road. They run away from both. While some of you can manage with only a few or no henchmen, if you’re honest most of you will know that you would be proverbial toast without your vast hordes of minions to back you up. Worse, your henchmen might not only fear you, but hate you enough to be willing to stab you in the back when you give them the first opportunity (e.g. the untimely fate of Saruman.)

As for locking your minions up forever, who can afford that? I know most of you surely can’t—the budget has been tight these days for everyone. You either feed them or you kill them, and we’ve been over killing them already. Not only will you be obliged to feed your locked up henchmen, another possibility is that your enemy will be locked up and stuck in the same dungeon. Your henchman, who is now looking for a chance to relieve you of the burden of your head, will be able to not only help them, but be helped by them.

One thing that henchmen have recently been complaining about is their reputation. You, as their overlord, should be looking out for their public image. Henchmen have found a joke circulating around the internet (I’m sorry if that hasn’t been discovered where you are. Even in places without internet, henchmen are picking these things up) about their inability to aim, about their lack of intelligence, about their inability to tell the sound of a rock from the sound of a person invading your fortress. Now, these henchmen try very hard—they really do. Most of your men come from poor families with little education and no place to go, so their inability to read has branded them as unintelligent, and no one ever taught them the basics of patrolling a castle or fighting a war. Unless you’ve created your own version of the orcs (a very clever move on Morgoth’s part), be aware that your henchmen will not only get restless with the continued mockery of the common people, but they’ll also be needing a proper education to do their best at serving you. Train their ears, teach them to read, and most definitely teach them how to properly aim with their weapon. Also, avoid making your henchmen have long shifts while watching important prisoners, as they may grow tired and fall asleep, thus giving your prisoner an easy escape. Please be aware that embarrassed henchmen may hold you responsible for their bad reputation, and may grow too eager to prove themselves. Such plans on the part of henchmen can backfire and damage your whole operation.

We all know that some of you can grow very frustrated with the actions of your henchmen. Yet few of you take the time to move among your henchmen, be there for them when they need you, listen to them when they speak, and pay attention to what they think. Henchmen are most often sentient creatures that need a good leader as much as any of us do. Be that good leader for your henchmen. Give them someone to look up to, someone to trust. Let them know that you, their leader, will always be there for them. Pay attention to the way they think so you’ll know whether to be the caring father of the charismatic captain. Always know if your henchmen are frightened or nervous, and know how to allay their fears. They’ll not only follow you—they’ll love you. They’ll die for you, and not out of fear that’s easily broken; out of a complete devotion to you. Be their family, and they will be yours. Be loyal, and they will be loyal to you. Understand them, and you’ll not only find yourself getting frustrated less, you’ll also be able to teach your henchmen how to best go about the things you want them to do.

Beware, also, of threatening the families of your henchmen. Certainly they love their mum and would do anything for her, but that not only makes them hate you just a little more every day, it also gives your enemies a way of winning their affections. Should your enemy decide to simply rescue the families of your henchmen, you will have just lost your entire army.

Since I’m sure you all have certain supervillain-like duties that need attending to, I shall have to end this letter at that. Please remember, though, all of you villains, evil-overlords, criminal leaders, usurpers, and all the rest of you—always remember that henchmen are worth taking good care of. If you would like to know more, simply go to the AfPoCR’s website (if you can find it; I’m afraid it’s unavailable in many worlds, including but not limited to: Earth, Narnia,* Anthropos,** Amara,*** and Rudiobus****) where you can find a link to purchase the newest guide, The Care and Keeping of Henchmen: A Guide for the Busy Supervillain.


Athelas Hale

(Writer and President of The Association for Protection of Character’s Rights. (AfPoCR))


*Narnia: From The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis. No copyright is intended and no right is claimed to these novels.

**Anthropos: From The Archives of Anthropos, by John White. No copyright is intended, and no claim is made to these novels.

***Amara: From The Dragon Keeper Chronicles, by Donita K. PaulNo copyright is intended, and no claim is made to these novels.

****Rudiobus: From The Tales of Goldstone Wood, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. No copyright is intended, and no claim is made to these novels.


Get to Know Your Characters Challenge Responses: Antagonists

Get to Know Your Characters ChallengeToday is Thursday, readers—Thursday the 16th. As promised, the Get to Know Your Characters: Antagonist closes today, with some exceptional pieces of work from a couple of different writers. Do go check out their work, and I’m sure they would love to have you comment!

First Blood, by Michael Hollingworth

Prompt Chosen: Write about the first time your villain killed or ordered the death of someone.

So Easy, by Beckah (Ghost Ryter)

Prompt Chosen: Write about the first time your villain killed or ordered the death of someone.

Untitled, by Katie Grace

Prompt Chosen: Your antagonist is between three and ten. Write something that represents their life at that point.

I decided to write something with my villain from IOTW. It brought up a slightly awkward question of what exactly to call him; he gave my protagonist four choices when she first asked his name. Eventually I decided to call him what he’s called in the novel for the sake of continuity, but at one point in the story he refers to himself by another one of his names. The majority of the time he’s called Rais, but in his thoughts, he calls himself Rashad.  Before you reach this point and give me the look, know that it wasn’t an accident.

This was a very interesting thing for me to write. Since IOTW is in first person, I never had the chance to go this far into my villain’s point of view prior to this. Though he’s changed slightly between this time and the novel, it was nice to be able to get a feel for his character. 

The prompt I chose:

  • Write about when your antagonist moved into his place of current residence.


Nothing but darkness as far as Rais could see. Slowly, he lifted himself upon bleeding hands, raising himself onto his knees, though nothing was beneath him to support his weight.

“No,” he whispered, the word punctuated by his heartbeat thudding in his ears. “No, it didn’t happen. It. Didn’t.”

Not even an echo drifted back to him. He remained completely and entirely alone.

His thoughts chased themselves around in his head, none quite becoming comprehensible, all of them filled with the desperation he tried to push back within himself.

…it should have worked…

   … he must have been dying…

    …not wrong… I could not have been…


   Carefully, Rais climbed to his feet, allowing his eyes to slide shut so they would not continue straining to see. He knew there would be no light. His whole body screamed pain at him and he could feel the damp of blood and sweat, but he remained on his feet. Rais inhaled slowly through his nose and let it out through his mouth, shaping his face into the smile he had become so used to wearing.

He could do this. He knew he could manage, if only he could stay calm.

If time had been even vaguely measurable, standing there for a long moment might perhaps have worked. As it was, Rais was more aware of the lack of time than of the steady breathing in-breathing-out pattern, and abruptly he collapsed onto his knees again, beating at nothing with his fists as the desperation welled up inside of himself.

“No!” He shouted. “No, I did not fail!”

The silence did not even have the decency to answer as it would have in a world.

Slowly, Rais allowed himself to sink down lower onto the ground. His heart slammed against his ribcage and the silence magnified the sound of his breathing until it seemed almost deafening.

Light. Rais scrambled to his feet, his entire body shaking. He needed light.

Peeling his eyelids open, he stared out into the complete darkness surrounding him. He could see nothing, no matter how hard his eyes strained.

You must know how to do this, he said, mentally adopting his slightly patronizing tone to speak to himself. Think, Rashad.

  Rais closed his eyes again, balling his hands into fists and ignoring the pain that shot up his arms. Light danced across the inside of his eyelids, teasing him with it’s lack of existence. Slowly the correct words came to his mind, and though it made his gut twist further into a knot, he whispered them.

“In case you ever have to form a half-world,” he had been taught. “This is how you go about it. One step at a time, eh? Keep it easy, though. No cementing. Keep it changeable. Your world, eh? Your commands oughta keep working whenever you give ’em.”

    He could feel the energy draining out of his body, but he kept his eyes squeezed shut, forcing himself to continue. It would work—it had to.

They thought they could imprison him. Idiots—he could do this. He could bend the prison to his own will.

Light flashed through his closed eyelids, staining them red as blood. He opened his eyes, gasping for breath as he saw the sun, the complete, glorious desert sun, beginning to rise on the horizon.

Perhaps it was fake—he didn’t know for sure, but he could see light. It was all that mattered.

Rais collapsed, the entirety of his energy spent, but he did not close his eyes; he remained staring up into the sun that belonged in the early morning desert sky. It already gave off enough heat to bake anything that happened to fall beneath the rays of light, but Rais did not care.

“You did not succeed,” he whispered, his lips scarcely moving. “I will not stay here. I will save it.”

He closed his eyes, letting the light that shone from nothing and onto nothing wash over him, his lips now moving soundlessly as he let the exhaustion and the effects of the injuries take over. “You cannot stop me from saving the desert.”




Apples and Antagonists

Apples and Antagonists

Picture an apple.

‘Tis red, yes? Red, fairly constant in color, fairly normal in size and definitely normal in shape.

Congratulations. You’ve just pictured a stereotype. While sometimes quite lovely, stereotypes not only lack variation; they lack personality. Of course, for apples, this isn’t much of a problem. When it comes to things we’re going to eat, personality is not high on the qualifications list.

When it comes to antagonists, though, personality makes it pretty high. And yet, oftentimes, I see the same thing; just like apples, people seem to think that, because antagonists all serve the same purpose, they must be the same. Apples come in different colors, with spots or scratches, in weird shapes, huge, tiny, and in just about every form of variation that can occur within the same fruit; there are even some blue apples. Antagonists, being (most often) sentient creatures, come in an even greater variety.

If we take the time to make it so.

Of all the characters in the world, villains are probably the most stereotyped. They come in clichés, the evil emperor without a care for the lives of the people, the black-haired, black-clad, black-mustached, black-caped evil overlords with devious plans to take over the world equipped by their maniacal laugh. (Admittedly, the last bit  is a bit of an exaggeration when it comes to Young Adult novels these days, but you get the idea.)

And then, there is the other side, the ones that are too sympathetic; the sob-story villains who, of course, couldn’t use their human nature and automatically responded by turning evilbut they couldn’t help themselves! The tragedy in their back-story made them do it!

The idea is to find balance between these two sides. Sentient creatures (be they human or otherwise) have the ability to refuse evil, so whether or not they had a terrible back story, it is their choice in the end. In the end, assuming that your antagonist is a villain, your villain has decided to do something that’s wrong (whether they’ve justified it in their head or not), and it was their choice, not one made for them; they are entirely responsible for what they’ve done. Mind control, by the way, is an entirely different matter, leaving the role of antagonist up to whoever is doing the controlling. Since your villain has decided to be the evil fellow, he must automatically turn into a cape-swirling evildoer, yes? I’m afraid it’s not that simple. Your villain is neither entirely innocent of all the crimes brought against him because of what’s going onnor is he automatically an entirely evil fellow without a shred of human-ness within him.

He remains a person. Yes, perhaps an evil person, but a person nonetheless. This, my dear readers, is where it gets complicated. How are we to make our villains not only evil people with a certain amount of danger about them, but also make them people?

In the end, it’s fairly simple. Aside from the fact that one is evil and the other is good, villains and heroes are not all that different. The differences between them are slightly enormous, but when it comes down to it, some villains would make the best heroes if they changed what they were fighting for.

Being a supervillain requires a certain degree of insanity, devotion, and determination. Without it, they would never achieve the status as antagonist in a novel. Saving the world also requires those ingredients.

I have a slightly bizarre mix of villains. In IOTW, my villain is a calm, in control man with a very expressive smile and a whole world of hopes for the goal that he sincerely believes is right. In another story, I have a villain who acts more hero than villain; his passion, his energy, his devotion brings a whole group of people to him. He could be seen bravely leading the charge at the front of his men, moving among his men before the battle to encourage them, remembering even the most insignificant of them. Except for the slight fact that he’s a murderer and his purpose is only for himself, he could be the ideal hero-King.

In both, I see character traits that someone could find in a hero. In both, I see a villain very clearly, but at the same time, there’s a person.

Having your villain be a person is the real goal. Since there’s no 3-2-1 step guide to creating people, there’s also not one for creating villains. The one thing that I’ve found helpful to remember? Villains are people. They have personalities and quirks, things they value and lines they won’t cross, just like the heroes do. At the same time, they’re villains. They’re people who don’t understand or don’t care for the sanctity of life, who are more willing to sacrifice other people than themselves, whether for themselves or for something that they believe is right.

They all serve the same purpose: conflict, but they’re not the same. They’re apples, all different, with huge variety, not stereotypical.

So let your villain be a person. Let him turn blue or green or whatever color he wants to be; let him be flecked with brown specks or smooth entirely around. Make him into a person, an introvert who doesn’t like introducing himself or a speaker who can capture the attention of hundreds of people at a time. He’ll still be an antagonist, just as an apple will be an apple. But this time, he will neither be stereotypical nor plastic. He’ll be a villaina real villain.

Get to Know Your Characters Challenge: Antagonist

Get to Know Your Characters Challenge


Good afternoon, folks. Today is the day that Get to Know Your Characters returns; hopefully with a better picture this time, and a more official way of doing things.

From this point on, Get To Know Your Characters has turned tri-monthly. Every three months, on the first Tuesday of the month, bloggers are challenged to write something about the specified character type from their novels (whether works-in-progress or finished) and post it on their blogs. The point of the challenge is to help authors learn more about their characters through writing prose, exploring situations in character’s past with their pen (or keyboard).

Those participating in the challenge write up their bit of writing, post it on their blogs (or in the comment section of this post, if they don’t have a blog or would prefer to not post it on their blogs) on or before October 16  (preferably before, but life can be life, so it’s best to have a “or”) and send me the link to their posts. Sixteen days after the challenge was issued, the blog post will go up here with my piece of writing and with a link to the post of every person participating.

The character-type for this month: Antagonist.

The way of doing things: Pick a topic from this list and write something 100 words or more and post it on your blog.  (Feel free to mix and mash topics, or do more than one, if you wish!)

  • Your antagonist is between three and ten. Write something that represents their life at that point.
  • Write about a year before the start of your novel.
  • Write about the first time your villain killed or ordered the death of someone (bonus points if you focus on how it made them feel).
  • Your antagonist and his/her best friend, brother or sister, or second-in-command are talking about something completely random of your choice, within the past year.
  • Write about when your antagonist moved into his place of current residence (then again, maybe I’m the only one interested in seeing the villain moving into his lair).

BONUS: Write about the day or night before your antagonist was born. It’s slightly random, but sometimes it’s interesting to explore what was going on at that time.

The Challenge closes on October 16, so you must have your piece of writing posted and the link sent to me by or before that date. You an email the link to me or post it in the comments here.  (If you do decide to post it on that date, it’s best if you get it to me before noon, that way I can be sure to have it when I post the blog post.)

Over the next sixteen days, I look forward to being able to meet your antagonists.




There is one rule of writing that is very necessary, and yet very simple.

Your hero wants something. Put something in the way of their getting it. 

This is typically titled conflict. Conflict is what drives your plot onward, and your character toward change. Conflict comes in many shapes, form or fashion, from the rain-clouds keeping the protagonist from going on a photo-shoot, to the villain trying to take over the world. Conflict is most often brought about by the antagonist who, in turn, is most often a villain.

People, especially younger authors, often tend to forget to develop their villain. Whether they forgot to ask the ever-needed question of “Why?” or they forgot to remember that their villain is a human being, capable both of failings and successes and, indeed, hopefully less likely to make unintelligent mistakes than the hero (I refer to the previously stated rule), villains tend to be left out of the list of important things to work on.

There are some people who make their villains evil beings with no motives, and then there are others who raise the cry of, “Villains are people, too! They were caused to be bad by their early lives! The poor things!”

Villains are people. They have their hopes and dreams and, yes, even fears. They might not fear your heroes; they might fear fire, or water, or being alone. Yet God gifted humans (and other sentient creatures!) with the incredible gift of free will. Animals respond to how they are raised and taught, but humans always have the choice to hate, or to love. Villains are those who chose the first.

So I ask you the questions: Why does your villain do what they do? When they were a child, what were their hopes for their lives? What do they fear? Who do they love, whether now, or in the past? What causes them pain? And, for a fun option, is there a song that makes you think of your villain? Comment!

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