Monday, March 16, 2015

Do you have a VAP?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

The book I just finished writing is the first (completed) manuscript of mine that has a true villain rather than the "she used to be my best friend but now we don't get along" type. Because of that, I was bound to make some mistakes along the way.

One big thing that I've taken away from the experience of writing this book is the need for a Villain Action Plan, or a VAP. When I first started working on my plot, I knew that theoretically my villain needed to be active and have motives and all that good stuff. But weaving that through the story was much harder than I thought it would be.



When I do it all over again (which I'm getting ready to as I'm in the early stages of a new book) this is how I'll do it:

I'll start by considering who my villain is apart from my main character.

This can be as simple as writing a paragraph or two about what my villain's goal is and how they intend to achieve it. My favorite exercise for deepening my villain is to use character journaling, but I don't usually do that until I'm well into the first draft.

It's very important to explore their plan apart from the main character, especially if they didn't expect the main character to interfere. Otherwise, they don't come across as very intelligent, which keeps them from seeming as formidable.

I'll look for points of intersection.

Now that I've taken the time to think through how my villain plans to meet his goal, it's time to look for where he and my main character will intersect. 

When I was working on my last book, basically all I did was figure out where Piper and my villain collided. The problem with that is it left big, unexplained, and unintelligent gaps in my timeline. Why would my villain take a random six weeks off while my main character grieved? Made no sense.

But if you've taken the time to figure out everything they're already doing, you've given yourself what you need to craft a thoguhtful villain. And a thoughtful villain is a dangerous one.

I'll lay their actions out on a timeline.

I shared this timeline tool back in October. This really is a handy little thing that can be very simple or as color-coded and info heavy as you want. 

If you're not a spreadsheet person, another way to do this is with sticky notes or index cards. You could use a plot line like this one:


Or you can just go crazy storyboard style:


Picking one color of index card/Post-it for your main character and another for your villain and using that to visualize how their story lines coincide can be very helpful. 

Not every story needs a mustache twirling type villain (The Fault In Our Stars and Stephen King's 11/22/63 are proof of that) but I intend to be smarter and more intentional the next time I throw one into a manuscript!

What kind of bad guys do you tend to write? 

35 comments:

  1. I tend to written the evil overlord type of villains, usually with a slight twist. The Emperor, the bad guy for my WIP, is my MC's master, so, yeah. In my last book, which I never finished, the villain was Thyphon, an monster intent of destroying the dragons and thus destroying life. That didn't last.

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    1. There's certainly no right or wrong on the type of villains. Different types work for different stories. Sounds like you've found something that works well for your current story!

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  2. What about a story that doesn't have a "villain" per se, but the main character him/herself provides the main conflict for the story.
    In my case, Deborah struggles more with herself than with external forces. It's the old cartoon thing, with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, except they're both inside her. Can a story feel realistic without a villain? I mean, there are contagonists and all that...

    What if the villain is an external force?

    Sorry, a lot of questions!!!! :-)

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    1. When the main character is their own villain, the conflict is classified as self vs. self. Done right this can be the best type.

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    2. As I said in my post above, not every story needs a physical villain. Neither The Fault In Our Stars or 11/22/63 have one, even though they're very different types of stories. For The Fault In Our Stars, cancer and time are really the antagonists. In 11/22/63 it's the supernatural force of the past.

      To Anonymous's point, I would suggest there's always an element of man vs. self in stories. Who the hero wants to be versus who he is.

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  3. My villains . . . I actually have a variety of villain types. Almost all of them are out to rule the world in some way, shape, or form. Nightshade is kind of the "classic villain" in that she's driven mainly by a desire for power and revenge- she's actually a bit cliche in several respects, but I think that's balanced out by the fact that I've developed her personality a good bit. My other main villains tend to be ladies wielding immense magical powers who think they're doing the world a favor by conquering it- or so they claim, saying that they'll wipe out war, rebellion, etc. once everything's under their control.

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    1. Lol! I have the 'take over the world for the greater good' villains too.

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    2. I really like that type of villain. I think they're very interesting when done well.

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  4. I tend to have my villains not be the main antagonist but coming up with their plan is the best of fun. A trick I like is to take the way I was going to have the heros win and then have the villain anticipate that so that I have to think of something cooler.

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  5. I have a ton of villains/antagonists. As far as the main ones go, I flip-flop things a bit. The main characters are under the impression they are trying to destroy the villain, only to find out their mentors are the real danger, trying to quench the only thing that could stop them.

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  6. My antagonist and mc have a mental connection, so they always know what each other is planning to do.

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    1. That would certainly make it challenging to best the other!

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    2. Oh my, that sounds so interesting! Talk about suspense; how is either going to win?...

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  7. Can the VAP be used when you aren't writing a fantasy novel? My novel isn't a fantasy novel, more of a story that's set in this type of world with little magic, but it still have a little magic. But I'm not sure if there is really a 'bad guy' in my story.

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    1. Of course it can. And not all stories need a classic bad guy type, just a person or two who opposes the main character's journey.

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  8. I tried writing an evil villain into my story, but then it wasn't working because the characters all ended up stereotypical...so I first made him good, then I made him eat a plate of cookies, and the plate of cookies poisoned his mind and turned him bad :-) Yup. And I'm pretty sure it works, because it links into the ending of the book.

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    1. I don't think I've ever seen that in a book. Poor villain!

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  9. I started out writing the pure evil kind, but now I like to write people who have good reason for wanting something that hurts my main character or at least stands in his or her way.

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    1. I think you do a great job with villains, Jill.

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  10. Oh goodness haha. In one of my stories I have three villains. Sort of. There's the MC's father, who is a big baddy, but he isn't really the villain of the story... I guess... But his threat is always there. Then there is Fanic, who is basically a hired assassin who is psychotic. (Everyone loves him for some reason.) Then there is the leader of a group of rebels, who isn't such a bad guy, but goes about things the wrong way. :P And then in another story there's an insane fellow and... Well... Depending on the story, the villains are different. Haha.

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    1. Sounds like you have a good diversity going, Bethany! I love the name Fanic.

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  11. Hmm... I think so far in my writing journey, most of my villains have not been anyone or anything physical, but more of the flaws of the main character. (Because of her reaction to X it gets in the way of destination Y or something like that... probably a very bad example but anyways.) Thank you for the post! Does this mean you started writing a new story? That's always fun. :-)

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    1. I'm not getting much time to work on it yet, so mostly I'm just thinking about my new story :)

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  12. My villains don't really have villainous plans. They just have malicious intentions in everyday life that are horrifying in their ramifications.

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  13. I'm not very good at clear-cut villains. They tend to get too clever so that I can fill plot-holes.

    In my new story, the villain issue is a bit fuzzy. I'd say the real villain is legalism, because both the good guys and the villains are plagued by it. But as far as people go:

    For most of the book, the main villain isn't opposed to the protagonist's external goals and in facts sincerely believes she is acting for the protagonist's own good, when in fact she's slowly destroying her. Whereas one of the antagonists is actually a "good guy". (Silly protagonist, chasing the wrong goals. XD)

    And the secondary villains have done worse things than the main villain, albeit with somewhat non-evil intentions, but I think they're still secondary because they don't affect the protagonist as much. If I wrote from a different POV character, though...

    Lol, sometimes I think I am incapable of writing a nice straightforward story. They all end up confusing at one point or another.

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  14. My villain is fighting with another group for my main characters allegiance. A major part of the villain's plan hinges on the main character doing his part.

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  15. I'm currently plotting a complete rewrite of my sci-fi mystery novel which also has a "real" villain. There were a lot of problems with my first draft, but now that you bring it up, I realize that one of the bigger problems was that my villain was actually extremely dumb. I think making a solid VAP will help me make my villain intelligent, so I'll have to create one when I flesh out my villain's character.

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  16. I haven't actually written many villains before, which is odd, since I do villain analyses every other Friday on my blog. *squints at self* I've mostly been writing abstract antagonists (and moral ambiguity!) but when I do find need to write a villain, I am definitely going to make sure s/he has a beautiful action plan that will make even the most hardhearted mustachioed man WEEP.

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  17. I've written several types of villains: the mustache-twirling type, the evil government, disease, even stories where the protagonist himself is his own worst enemy. But the ones where you have an actual physical antagonist are always the hardest. I often struggle with making my villain have an actual VAP, rather than just forcing him to follow the line I need for my story to work. It just means a lot more thinking and editing for me. :p


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com

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  18. Wow, I don't usually think about what the villain is doing in my story (apart from when he/she attacks, mwaha), lol. XD This is such an eye-opener, and I love adjkasl the sticky note planning board where you've used different coloured sticky notes! That is such an awesome idea, and that will give me a plan that shows me what the villain is doing in his/her spare time! :D I will definitely be doing that, thanks!

    The villains I write are not so much the ones with lairs and minions, but as my writings lack variety (XD), they are most usually just a regular person who my MC finds intimidating. Sometimes, though, it will be a sickness or something in himself/herself that my MC must overcome. I guess it just depends. :D

    What kind of bad guys do *you* tend to write, Mrs. Morrill? :)

    -Koko :D

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  19. I have a question. I've been working on my very first original story for a possible Manga. Its still in the outlining stages, but in my story 'Illuminnare', the main character attempts to rescue his best friend, Aize, from himself. Without spoiling too much, Aize practically has an entire massacred species' anger inside of him and one hell of a personality disorder. He's basically two people at once. He doesn't want to be the villain, but he doesn't have control.

    Is it possible to make the ally the hero wants to save and the villain the same person?

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