The Bigger Bad Guy

You guys have already heard me talk about how much I love the TV show The Vampire Diaries. Aside from having wonderful and consistent romantic tension, splendid characters, and fantastic plots—all things that are very essential to the makings of a good show—I’ve been able to pinpoint more specifically what makes this show so good.

I’m calling this idea “the bigger bad guy.”

It’s a fantastic device that works well to create well rounded characters, show excellent character development, and help the story get better and better as it continues. (How many times have we been disappointed by a second or third season of a show—or a sequel to a book series—because it wasn’t as good as the first one?) The Vampire Diaries only gets better with each succeeding season—something I can’t really say for any other show.

I’m now going to talk about “the bigger bad guy” and how TVD uses it. *Spoilers may be below up to the third season.

First, take a look at this guy.



This is Damon Salvatore, our antagonist for season one of TVD—well part of season one. His brother, Stefan Salvatore, has just moved to Mystic Falls, your average small town. Except, of course, for the fact that there are vampires and other mystical creatures—a very creative town name on the creators’ part, I know. Damon has promised his brother an eternity of misery, so he follows Stefan around to try and make his life hell. At the moment, that mostly includes ruining Stefan’s budding relationship with Elena Gilbert. Oh, and Damon also has a secret agenda to reunite with his one true love, Katherine (Elena’s doppelganger), whom he believes has been stuck in a tomb for 100 years, give or take.

Now check out this chick.



This is Katherine. Turns out, she wasn’t stuck in a tomb. She’s actually been just fine out and about living her life. Damon’s crushed at first, but once he falls in love with Elena (whoops), he moves on. This is when Katherine makes her appearance and starts making it her agenda to make both brothers’ lives miserable. So now Damon is a good guy (most of the time.) He helps Stefan and Elena out as they try to get rid of Katherine.

Now at this point, things are a little harder to follow, so I’ll summarize even more.

Elena gets kidnapped by Rose.



Rose assumes that Elena is Katherine (another whoops), which is why she kidnapped her in the first place. Katherine sort of helps to get her back. But before that happens, Rose takes her to this guy.



Elijah needs Katherine as a bargaining chip. You see, his brother Klaus has been holding his brothers and sister as undead hostages in coffins. Rose eventually tries to help the rest of the gang fend off Elijah and provides information on these scary brothers. Turns out that Klaus is even scarier than Elijah.


movie pilot

And eventually Elijah joins the team to try and stop Klaus, who is basically unkillable. Our ultimate bad guy.

Note that there are many other bad guys throughout the TV series. I’m just trying to give you guys a taste of what I’m talking about.

But now on to the main points I’m trying to make. There’s always a bigger bad guy. This enables each episode to be better than the last. Because the stakes are higher (vampire pun intended), and the conflicts are more intense as the bad guys get badder and more powerful.

It’s also fascinating to see characters undergo such change. The bad guys become good guys as their goals align with the good guys’. They don’t always become perfectly good—they still have their fun flaws, but they do change in remarkable ways that are exciting to see.

Now, TVD isn’t the only show out there that’s doing this. Look at Loki’s character in the second Thor movie. Look how he aligns with Thor to face a bigger bad guy. Look at Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These changeable bad guys are everywhere. And look at how much we love them! These are the characters that have the most fan girls—just saying.

Sometimes looking at where characters are going can help you solidify who they need to be at the beginning of your story. This can help with rounding out characters and their development. And it also makes for some interesting plot turns.

Read a Lot. Write a Lot.


“[R]ead a lot. Write a lot.” –Stephen King

*This is the Monday post you’re looking for*

Without further ado (who am I kidding? I love ado!) this Tuesday’s Monday’s post!

Continuing on a claim I made in my last post—that I’ve read 150 books so far this year—let me say that I had a reason for reading so much. Since last year I’ve been writing in the new-to-me romance genre, and I wanted to get a feel for it.

But reading so many books is expensive. Erasmus might be able to spend his money on books first, but I like to wear clothes and eat decent meals too. Over the years, I’ve come up with some ways to read a lot on a budget.

(1) The library, duh.

You might not have heard of a library, but it’s a wonderful place where you’re allowed to borrow books for free! It’s book paradise.

But seriously. I know many people who love to read and don’t ever go to their local library because the library never seems to have the books they want. If you have a little know-how and patience, you could read virtually whatever you wanted using only your library. All copies checked out? Place a hold. The title you want isn’t carried by the library? Put in a purchase request. That’s right. Depending on the library, they might go ahead and buy the book for you. (Your mileage may vary).

(2) The online library.

This option is for those who perhaps don’t have the ability or wont to go to the physical library. Increasingly, libraries offer digital media, and as with all technology, the interfaces are becoming slicker by the year. Many libraries’ online catalogs let you download audiobooks and ebooks. For example, the Provo City Library uses One Click Digital and Overdrive. I’ve used both.

Even more exciting, more and more library catalogs have “one-click” downloads that allow you to check out and download the book directly from the catalog without navigating to an external site. But even if the library catalog redirects you to an external site, the process for downloading your books to your computer is extremely easy for even the non tech-savvy.

Companies (like Overdrive, the one I’m most familiar with) are also developing mobile apps that are continually improving. Once you have an account set up (based on your library card information) you can check out and download books straight to your phone or tablet.
All for free!

(3) Online retailers.

Amazon? But this is an article about saving money!

True. I will admit that sometimes I have a hard time finding the titles I want to read at my local library (and sometimes I don’t have the patience to wait for a hold). Perhaps it’s because libraries often carry the most popular books, and I’m to the point where I’m reading in niches and subgenres that don’t make sense for the library to carry. Libraries are the best, but I’m also not averse to buying books if it supports the author. The key for me is balance. I check some out from my library, I buy some from Barnes and Noble or Amazon or wherever.

But here’s a cool idea. Go to your local library’s website and see if they have a program called Buy It Now. This is a fairly new program that some libraries have that allows you to enter Amazon’s website through the library’s Buy It Now portal. For anything you buy, including items other than books, a percentage of the proceeds is given back to your library!

Here’s an example, again from the Provo City Library.

buy it now

Full disclosure: I work for the company that developed the Buy It Now program, but they’re not asking me to pimp it. I just think it’s really, really awesome.

(4) Free ninety-nine.

Try a self-published book or a book from a small digital press.
They often cost much less than a book from the Big Six. I often buy books for as little as $0.99–if you’re braver than me, you can go for the free books.

I’d recommend taking the time to find a blogger or two you like who review indie-pubbed books in addition to books from big publishers. You’re more likely to avoid the low-quality offerings and go straight for the good stuff. In the romance genre, sites like Dear Author and Smart Bitches Trashy Books review indie-pubbed books, and through experience I’ve learned I trust their reviewers’ opinions. Some of the best books I read last year were indie-pubbed and I learned about them because of these two review sites.

For YA and Fantasy, my favorite bloggers are called The Book Smugglers. They will also occasionally review indie-pubbed books. Let me know if you can think of any others.

(5) The book round-up.

The two sites I mention above do a daily deals feature, and they nearly always include books deals for all the major online retailers and from all major and minor publishers. Even if Amazon isn’t your cup of tea, Barnes and Noble and Kobo deals are also featured. Here’s a little secret for the people in love with Amazon’s low prices—Barnes and Noble more often than not price match Amazon. If Amazon is running a great deal on a book, B&N probably is too.

(6) A final note.

For print-only readers I have fewer suggestions, and unfortunately they’re all pretty obvious. Use the library. Borrow books from friends. Swap or trade books at a used book store.

Any way you slice it, writers need to read. We need to know what is happening in our field. All writing is a conversation, and we need to know what’s already been said in that conversation so our contributions can build on the whole and add something unique.

How Important Is Prose?

My internship has got me thinking lately about prose.

I’m a sucker for a beautiful line. Take, for example, this line from Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone: “…the wintry peace might have hailed from another time. Snow and stone and ghostlight, Karou’s own footsteps alone and adrift in mundane thoughts: school, errands. The occasional cheek-chew of bitterness when a pang of heartache intruded…”


Back to the internship. Being a sucker for a well-crafted line, I’ve often found myself conned by a well-constructed query letter (I’m not even talking about a beautiful query. Just a well-constructed one), only to read the attached pages and discover the story isn’t what the query made it out to be. These are disappointing moments.

As genre writers, are plot and character more important to us than prose? I don’t think so.

In popular fiction, I’ve heard the idea that prose must serve the story. That it must not stand out, or distract from the progression of plot and characters. I know that not every popular fiction writer subscribes to this school of thought. And I’m not even disagreeing with those that do. I can like a story that doesn’t have outstanding prose—and by outstanding, I mean something beyond the ordinary, whether that be beautiful, raw, stark, or literary.

On the other hand, I’m often dazzled by beautiful prose. I love it especially in third person, when the prose becomes a narrator or author’s voice. Let me just throw out a few examples: Laini Taylor and Shannon Hale. But what I’m noticing lately is how prose can distract from a weak plot or flat characters (not with the two writers I just mentioned. They have beautiful prose in addition to great characters and plot). I’m noticing, I think, because I’m now turning more of a critical eye to the things I’m reading. I’m setting aside details in favor of the big picture. I love beautiful prose, but I really do think plot and character have to come first.

Here’s the takeaway lesson, then. I’m doing NaNoWriMo, and it’s going to be really important that I don’t sweat the small stuff, like word choice, just quite yet. Not until I get a finished draft. Then I’m going to whip my characters into shape. I’m going to knead that plot until it has the exact consistency I’m looking for. And then, when the substance of the novel is sound, I’ll go through and let myself have fun dusting the manuscript with a healthy amount of beautiful prose.



The Benefits of NNWM

Forgive me if this post seems redundant of Megan’s, but I was going to talk about NNWM and she totally stole my thunder. So instead of changing my topic this week entirely, I decided I would talk about it anyway.

While Megan is braving the waters of NNWM for the first time this year, I am something of a NNWM veteran. I’ve done it (successfully, no less) for the last two years and I always enjoy myself immensely. Even though I am a college student and am fighting the uphill battles of term papers and midterms, NaNo November always has a special spot in my heart. So despite the fact that I often wake up on December first feeling like I’d been run over repeatedly by a semi-truck for the past thirty days, I am here to impart what I think are the benefits of NNWM.

Benefit the first: You learn that you can write a book.
My first year doing NNWM, I was sitting down to write with a bright shiny idea and a very rough outline. Prior to that November in 2010, I had written drabbles and snippets of scenes and the occasional snatch of conversation. I had written a few short stories for creative writing classes, but I had never sat down and plowed my way through an entire coherent long-format work. So even though 50K is about the size of a novella or a middle-grade novel, it was way more than I had ever written before that. But I did it.

I daresay that I rocked it, even.

Which is not to say that I wrote anything spectacular. In fact, I would say that the 50k I wrote during that month should never be seen by human eyes ever again. But that’s the beauty of NNWM. In order to write that much in such a short time, you have to shut off your internal editor. You have to stop telling yourself that you suck and that you can’t write anything until you don’t suck. You just have to go for it.

But let me tell you–finishing up that novel, writing those last words and submitting them to the NNWM word-count validator, that feels pretty great. It’s empowering. You just wrote a freaking book! How cool is that?

Way cool, is the proper answer.

And since my first NNWM, I’ve learned that I crank out words and stories. I’m no longer bound by intimidation. I’ve proven to myself that I can write a book–even if that book will stay safely buried on my hard drive forever– and that’s a pretty impressive thing.

Benefit the Second: It’s a crash course in time management.
Here’s a funny thing about me: the more busy I am, the more productive I usually am. NNWM forces you to micromanage your schedule. I usually end up sitting down and mapping out my daily schedule by the hour, carving out time little by little to write. And because I also have papers that are due and tests that need to be studied for, I have to make time to write and do my homework. The result is that I’m usually far more on top of my assignments than I am at any other time of the year.

I might be alone in this, but I kind of thrive with that kind of insane pressure.

Of course, that high level of stress does have it’s drawbacks. Case and point, I was so overloaded with school and work and life this past weekend that I didn’t write my two papers and I didn’t prepare for my colloquy with my professor, and instead I spent most of Saturday watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory and Veronica Mars. My body and my brain had crashed completely and I needed a weekend of vegging to recoup.

But the fact is, in order to succeed in NNWM (and you can succeed–don’t let anyone tell you differently), you need to manage your time. You need to be prepared to come home from class or work or whatever and sit down and write to meet your daily word count goal. If you set time aside for it–I usually give myself an hour and a half per day to get it done–then it’s more likely to get done. And if you set time aside for all the OTHER stuff you have going on, you can get that done too.

Benefit the Third: Creation is energizing.
Okay, so maybe that’s not completely true, but I like to think it’s mostly true. Creativity does have it’s toll. Your mind can burn out, which is why you need to have time to do whatever it is you do to recharge.

But I think by and large, creating things gets your mind working in different ways. Being creative is a habit. I don’t believe that it’s something dictated by muse or inspiration. If you make a point of creating something every day, your brain will start to get in the habit of it. It will expect to be have to be creative–and it will rise to the challenge.

Because here’s what I love about NNWM: as much as you’ve outlined, as much as you’ve planned for this month, you will hit a point where you will say, “Screw this. It’s not working. I’m going to make something crazy happen.” Now the crazy something you make happen might not be the best storytelling and it might not be the best plot development, but it will probably be one of the most creative and hare-brained thing you have ever thought of.

Putting yourself under the pressure of NNWM forces you to drop assumptions of what good writing and storytelling is. It’s not worth it to fuss around with the plot you wanted to write when you have word-count deadline and that plot isn’t working. You have to come with new ideas that propel the story forward. You have to be creative.

And I think that sort of creativity is powerful. It energizes. It moves you forward. Simply put, it’s pretty dang awesome.

Benefit the Fourth: The spirit of competition compels you.
So again, this might be something that applies to me and not you, but I have a HUGE competitive streak. I do best when I have someone to beat or when I have to prove myself to someone. When things get hard, I have a tendency to work harder to prove to myself that I won’t be beaten by the hard thing.

And NNWM is perfect for people like me. If you’re signed up on the website, you have bar graph that tracks your progress each day and you have this beautiful red diagonal line that shows you where you’re supposed to be. For me, that red line is a challenge. It taunts me. It tells me I can’t conquer it.

Which just makes me want to conquer it more.

Benefit the Fifth: No matter what, if you try, you win.
And I think this above all is my favorite benefit, and this is the one I share with people trying NNWM for the first time. If you’re not a consistent writer, if you’ve only been able to write a couple hundred words of any given story in the past, so long as you try–and try hard, no namby-pamby trying here–you’ve written more than you would have otherwise.

Because let’s face it, any substantial amount you write is better than nothing. Writing 5K words is better than writing 1K. Writing 10K is even better than that. And getting to 50k? I mean, dang, if you’re writing a YA novel, you’re more than half-way done!

The only thing that will stop you from writing a book is not writing. And every year, NNWM encourages you to put aside your excuses and your fears and to bury yourself in words and stories and just write. And if you don’t make it to 50k, that’s totally fine. Because in the end, you wrote something.

And that makes you awesome.