Nobody is all bad

Well-intentioned antagonists are more interesting than black villains. On the simplest level, stories that contain villains are usually stories about good and evil. Usually the protagonist stands for the good, and the villain opposes the good.

Most villains are action-oriented. They steal, kill, betray, wound, and work against the good. Many of them begin to look alike. Often there’s a tendency for them to be poorly motivated, and one-dimensional. The reasons for their evil actions are rarely explained, as if people do evil just because they feel like doing it.

It is possible, though, to create dimensional villains. Depending on the style of the story, and how much depth you want to bring into it, villains can be just as unforgettable as any other character.

Smooth off some of the villain’s edges by showing some good points. Maybe he has to get to his daughter’s school performance. You can usually find complex psychology reasons for emotions such as fear, frustration, anger, rage and envy. So, let’s be fair: just as you would with the protagonist, tell us what motivates the antagonist.

The short journal

Keeping such a long-form journal is really time consuming. Fantasies of devoting lots of time to recording deep thoughts and in-depth recollections usually founder on a simple reality.

The solution? Keep the journal idea, but ditch the length. Write down a sentence or two each day to record your most prominent memories.

One sentence is enough. Just make sure you keep your journal somewhere handy to make recording that short recollection of your day convenient, avoiding any excuse to skip days.

Find your time

I like to walk for a couple of hours each morning before breakfast. I do most of my thinking at this time. It is a great way to start the day. Well, that’s what I think. But I know this habit wouldn’t be popular with other writers.

How do you structure your day? Are you a night owl or an early bird? There is no right or wrong way. It’s just a matter of knowing how you work best. You may like to brainstorm in bed in the morning leaving the afternoon to write. Or you might write on the bus.

It is about finding the routine that works for you. Know it and own it. This is your time.

Reveal your character through his words

One of the most effective ways of revealing character is through the character presenting himself in his own words.

If you just write: “He had no problem in spreading lies and innuendos” you know little about your character, but if you use his words, such as Trump’s words about Obama’s birth certificate, you get an immediate impression of the man:

“Who knows about Obama? … Who knows, who knows? Who cares right now?… I have my own theory on Obama. Someday I will write a book, I will do another book, and it will do very successfully.” (taken from an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on January 6, 2016)

What is your character’s natural inclination?

Just as the natural inclination of snow is to melt in warm weather or freeze in the cold, now your character well enough to know what his natural inclination is to act when around friends, with family or with business colleagues.

And then, as the story develops, ask yourself if you can change the character’s natural inclination. The fun is to watch your character change. Unlike snow, humans evolve. And then ask yourself ‘If they change their natural inclination, is that change believable?’

Capturing dreams

Dreams are like scenes from films – write them as if they are part of a film. Pay attention to the setting. Where are you? What does this setting mean to you? What theme does this setting suggest? What wouldn’t happen in this setting?

Dreams have a strange sense of place and time. Try to capture that sense of dislocation in your writing.

Also, all the characters are part of you, so look at the dream from each character’s point of view. What is important is not what happens but how the characters respond to what happens. So ask each character ‘How do you feel about what has happened?’