Tag Archives: villain

You Were Doing So Well!

22 Mar

Publishers and directors all want the “sure thing,” which is fair, because that’s what their customers want, too. Formulas work, and to go off formula, you have to train the audience to expect where you want to go. So when the creator goes off script, the audience gets mad.

For example, let’s take the book I just finished, Takedown by Brad Thor. It’s a “thriller,” not a technothriller, because that would require more “tech.” This is hunting terrorists, which…. hey, is not necessarily my thing, but I’ve liked them in the past. I happened by the Little Free Library near my home and found this, so I thought I would give it a shot.

It starts off well, capturing the bad guy, who becomes the McGuffin of the whole story. In other words, he’s the objective of the whole plot and does nothing to further it himself. I know this because he has the blandest name in the world: Muhammed bin Muhammed. Now we can’t just have him be the bad guy, he has to have a kink that makes him a really bad guy, but since we just met him, it’s hard to bring him in. They bring in a… what I can only call a “consultant villain,” who is actually really cool, sympathetic, and highly capable. Unfortunately, he’s a minor character.

Now this being the fifth in the series, and I’ve ever only read this one, our hero is a complete unknown to me. However, he’s introduced pretty well. The author introduces a lot of characters, but unlike other stories, I don’t feel overwhelmed by them. It becomes obvious that a) here are the characters that matter and b) here are the characters that don’t, but I’ll remind you of them when appropriate. So the flow works great.

When the BOOM happens (because this is a book about terrorism), it’s pretty good and the plot is great. In fact, the actual plan is pretty cool–even cooler because no one–not even the terrorists–know what the actual plan is. However, the point is to chase the McGuffin, and our hero has to stop them. That’s pretty cool.

There is a needless chest beating subplot where the civil liberties loving DHS secretary just can’t understand why everyone else in the administration just wants to use “extraordinary rendition.” Which leads to a “how dare you question the military” speech. Now I’m a Navy brat. I love folks who serve in the military. But when you’ve been around enough veterans, you know they’re the first to tell you, “look, the military screws a lot of people over.” Just because someone serves does not make them a saint. So there’s a “screw the hippies” storyline, which is rather ridiculous, considering you need both the “kill the bastards” and the “save the whales” crowd to make society work.

However, the unforgiveable part is after the climax, when the hero has saved the world, got the girl, and everything is resolving as it should, the author ruins it in the last paragraph. Literally–the last paragraph. “Ha, ha, Horvath! You have met your match!” What. The. Hell?! I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you’re going to screw over the hero, you start it at the beginning of the next book, not at the very end. At least make it an epilogue or last chapter, not just a… “oh, I forgot!”

This is why Bond fans hate On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The film is actually really good! But because it ends on such a downer, fans rejected it. (Plus, it was the first film without Sean Connery.)

So a book that was a good 4 out of 5, drops an entire star just because the author wanted to set up the next book… at the last minute. What a waste! I now have no interest in reading anything this author writes. Have you run into this before? Let me know in the comments below!

And when you’re done writing that, why not check out some of my books! Or if that’s too pricey for your blood, download some of my stories for free!

Sympathetic Villains

15 Mar

It happens so rarely that you have to sit up and take notice. In my opinion, the best fiction has an antagonist that you can actually sympathize with. When you know why they’re doing their scheme, it makes the story really come alive.

So I finally decided to watch Jack Ryan Season 1 on Amazon Prime. I like the Tom Clancy books, I like his universe, and I’ve even read the books (literally) ghostwritten for him since his death. Then I watch the show and… yep, you’ve got all the old characters reimagined for the modern day and I’m loving it. Then they introduce Mousa bin Suleiman… holy crap!

Here you’ve got the perfect villain; it doesn’t start that way, though. He’s just a dad with four kids, struggling with his new job, and his wife doesn’t like the guys he’s bringing over to the house. He just happens to be the leader of a breakaway Muslim extremist cell. He’s intelligent, speaks multiple languages, charismatic… heck, he even beats the crap out of ISIS leaders who are perverting the cause. You’re rooting for him as much as you’re rooting against him. Plus the actor does an amazing job of showing the man who has so much need for revenge, at the same time, worried about what his actions are doing to his family. Frickin’ brilliant!

Mind you, that’s the Clancyverse–from the beginning in Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy always made sure you knew what the villains were doing and why. They were not just paper targets for the heroes… they had a solid reason why they were doing bad things. In some ways, I always thought Clancy gave terrorists far too much credit. When he wrote clever scenarios for attacks, Tom thought like… well, an American. Al Qaeda knew what targets get the most attention. Bin Laden attacked the biggest building in New York (twice!), Clancy blew up a church in Texas (well, on paper, anyway). Personally, I think the church in Texas would be more effective, but I’m getting way off point.

Sympathetic villains are hard to come by, probably because it takes time to develop them. Take Hans Gruber from Die Hard; you follow him and his whole crew from the beginning of the film. He’s smart, effective, charismatic and he’s there to rob the place. You don’t know that at the beginning of the film, of course, but he’s systematic and clever and suave. Of course, when you’re trying to rob a major international corporation, you kinda have to be. I guess that’s why I also like Heat. De Niro is great as the leader of this heist, but they hire one doofus who likes to fire off his gun and suddenly everything unravels. (That movie was actually based on true events.)

It’s so much easier to create black and white villains, or robots wrestling, or faceless aliens coming to kill us all. But when you have to know why they’re coming to kill you… oooh, much scarier. What do you think makes a good sympathetic villain? What’s some better examples? Let me know in the comments below!

While you’re at it, you can check out some good villains in my books! 🙂 Or if the $1.99 threshold is too high for you, download some of my free stories. Mind you, I don’t have as much time to develop the enemies in those, but you can get the flavor for my writing. Enjoy.

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