In any work of fiction, these are the two areas more vulnerable and more precious than any other. Sex and the challenge of the Bad Guy. I covered sex already (HERE), so now let’s move on to the Bad Guy.
The Bad Guy and the why-how challenge: Writing a villain is easy enough, but you really do have to make him or her strong and to some extent unstoppable. If your villain isn’t a serious force to be reckoned with, then there is no threat. You can have the meatiest book ever, you can have a saga of strong emotions, action and adventure, marvelous obstacles to get over, through, around, and all the trauma and excitement in the world. You can have the twistiest plots with the best winning-through-in-the-end formula. It could be expertly written – everything – but it won’t help you one iota if the average reader sits back and says, “Why didn’t she just go to the police?” or “Why didn’t he just quit?”
You have to answer those questions. In the book. You have to show your reader why the easy escape just won’t work. Let’s make it clear: THERE CAN BE NO WAY OUT. If the solution to the hero’s problem is so easy and so obvious to all, you’re not only left with a useless book that took a substantial amount of time and effort to produce, but it will forever haunt you. It’s that Cringe Factor again. Thirty years on and you’ll have a tic in one eye, and a habit of looking over your shoulder and flinching occasionally. It’ll still be with you – that embarrassment. Especially if someone says to you, “Hey, aren’t you the author of…?”
If you want to write a book that doesn’t feature a natural ending on page two, THERE HAS TO BE NO OBVIOUS SOLUTION. The reader will be with you (hopefully), trying to work out a way. You don’t want him or her to beat you to the climax. Even if they know there has to be a way out and they know what they want the ending to be, you don’t want them to figure out the details before you present those details to them.
I can’t tell you how to write your book, nor would I presume to try. You know what you are trying to say. I can only tell you what I do, which is of course only one of many ways of writing.
My story evolution stems from the challenge. The big one, the end one. I know where I am aiming from the start. I have the characters and their emotions as they enter, tired and desperate, into the final battle. Everything I write is leading to that moment. In The Khekarian Series, that challenge I focused on features in the last book of the series, and yes, that means I am still writing towards that showdown. The big showdown, that is, every book has it’s own climax, it’s own showdown. Each book still stands alone. I’m talking about the showdown on the main set in the series.
After deciding what the end will be, after crawling through everyone’s emotions, reactions and things that must happen at that time, I step back and begin to put together the overall structure that allows those characters to get caught up the way they will. I put in the starting points as various characters join the plot. I allow plenty of free movement for sub-plots and characterization to develop, then I string together a rough idea of how to connect the dots. The big dots, at any rate, the smaller dots get done next.
Some of those dots include what I call “the closing of the gates”, the bits that prevent an easy solution that the Good Guys should have seen by page two (or ten, or twenty, or whatever). I come up with a list over time of what I would do in their situation, then systematically disable those options in the book. When new solutions pop up, I disable those, too. Sometimes this is tricky. I’ve met (created) problems where there is only one feasible way to disable it, but that one way creates more solutions from the character’s perspective – I can spend months working some of these out of the plot and to keep those heroes challenged.
As an example from The Khekarian Threat, book one in the series, I had to structure realistically how law enforcement would evolve on a pioneering world where people and towns are scattered and few. I made the planet as it was precisely so Aleisha could have the adventure she had. That also happens to be – ahem, confessions time – why the story started off as science fiction.
Of course there has to be one way out, but I do enjoy making it harder and harder for the Good Guys. I like the feeling of the story closing in around them. I also like the option of no way out at all. That’s because I can be mean, too, and because I don’t want you – the reader – knowing for sure they’ll get away. Sometimes, they simply don’t.
So, the tough stuff, the why-how challenge of the Bad Guy, and sex, if you get them right, you’ve got yourself an audience. But I’m sure you already know that.
Happy writing, everyone.