Loving scenes where the villain wins

HOW TO FEEL RIGHT ABOUT LETTING THE VILLAIN WIN

Some lights are seen better in contrast with dark.

NOT necessarily permanently – I don’t write downers or tragedies – but so you have done a good job when writing something that, in the long run, enhances the story.

A hero is a hero ONLY in comparison to the obstacle overcome.

The DIFFERENCE between the hero’s HIGH and the villain’s LOW is the STAKES of your story.

The answer to every objection is: Does it make the story better?

Even in a long book, you have only so much space to use the whole palette of emotions that go with your story. You don’t get to waffle about – you have to use what you have, and make it squeal.

This means that you have to be confident enough to do what the STORY needs, even when it hurts – or at least feels odd – when you get to the place where you have to write that the wrong character is winning.

For a while, you tell yourself.

Not permanently.

So the ‘winning’ characters have something to overcome that is worth writing about.

But plotting it to happen and writing the scene are different

I knew what I was going into when I chose to start writing this novel trilogy. It is in many ways a fairytale for grownups, something that is highly improbable in the real world.

But I figured out a way to make it come out the way I wanted.

I found a way to make the ending POSSIBLE.

And, as you might expect, it required some finagling to make it interesting and not trivial.

It required making ‘highly improbable’ ALMOST ‘impossible.’

And then doing the writing to make it happen.

Believably.

To me. Who am picky about plausibility.

Because the characters need to change

Some of them do.

And change of direction requires the application of force.

Nobody changes unless they have to.

And these characters had no reason to go looking for change, except that I wanted them to.

The bigger the change, the bigger the applied force needs to be

The applied force is the stakes, and I needed to make the stakes big enough to make a couple of very stubborn characters change, so it’s really their fault.

But then I got to the actual writing

And I found I had to make the reasons for change credible because the characters had turned into people I cared about.

So the actual writing of the lowest scenes not just in the middle novel, but in the whole trilogy, was hard.

Even though I knew it was coming and exactly what was going to happen.

I had to admit that there was no way around the difficulties I plotted in in the first place. Duh!

So I went ahead and wrote the first of these scenes, and it was as hard as I imagined it would be, and harder because I write linearly, and couldn’t postpone doing it now.

I am proud to say I survived

The story survived.

Some version of the characters survived.

The villain got to win.

At least for the time being, but mostly because it is necessary.

If you aren’t writing stakes you care about, I can’t see the point of putting in the kind of work this is taking. Because it is very hard to let the villain get away with things, even temporarily, because it is necessary to create that leverage for change.

And I had to give it the very best writing I could create – and make every tiny step in the win justified – because otherwise the villain is a straw villain, easy to overturn.

I hope it works for my readers after it works for me.

Or you guys are really going to hate me.

**********

How do you feel about this kind of story – as a reader?

If you’re a writer, have you ever had to do the same?

I’ve earned some kind of reward.

**********

18 thoughts on “Loving scenes where the villain wins

  1. marianallen

    There has to come at least one point in a story where the protagonist is under such threat or seems so utterly defeated that it takes one or more people — the protagonist, the antagonist, and/or a secondary character — has to find something within to tip the balance in the protagonist’s favor. Or, you know, not. In my SAGE trilogy, the members and attendants of the House of Sarpa are skin-crawlingly awful, but I wrote their scenes from their points of view, and everything they did made perfect sense TO THEM. I think it made them stronger characters.

    Liked by 1 person

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  2. Lynda Dietz

    This is what I loved so much about your first book, and why I’m waiting (not so) patiently for the second one. My gut literally hurt a bit when reading through some of the more emotional parts. That’s good writing, because you’re not afraid of letting your readers hurt a little before things get better.

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      There are millions of books out there. If mine doesn’t give you a unique living experience, it is costing me far too much to write to be worth the effort.

      There is a section in Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction – Chapter 8, Tension all the time – which led to me having a checklist of 14 different situations/opportunities for increasing the microtension of a scene.

      Before I write I scene, I have examined the possibilities of all those, written something about how I would include them, and thought about each in detail. It takes time, but the rewards are helpful.

      Fiction is condensed life. Reading it lets me live other lives. I’m glad I triggered your emotions – I was aiming to.

      And otherwise, why read such long books?

      I have a new kind of scene going on, again, and I’ll probably blog something when I figure the darn thing out.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  3. Widdershins

    Good (well written) villains are worth their weight in gold. I think the best ones are just as committed to their villainy as the ‘hero’ is to their heroism, and not just to advance the hero’s journey.

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  4. Lee McAulay

    This is a great exploration of what makes writing difficult. I know, it’s just putting words on a page, which is great fun – but sometimes solving the problems you’ve given imaginary people keeps you awake at night…

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  5. Chris

    This post reminded me of Aristotle, who said in Poetics:

    [Tragedy] must not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity: for this moves neither pity nor fear; it merely shocks us.

    Nor, again, that of a bad man passing from adversity to prosperity: for nothing can be more alien to the spirit of Tragedy; it possesses no single tragic quality; it neither satisfies the moral sense nor calls forth pity or fear.

    Nor, again, should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited. A plot of this kind would, doubtless, satisfy the moral sense, but it would inspire neither pity nor fear; for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves.

    The lesson here is that narrative antagonism, as you explained, is a matter of relational dynamics. Many great narratives (Othello or Frankenstein come to mind) indeed can be flipped on their back if one (either directly as audience or with the help of a creative director) approached the story from the antagonist’s perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

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      1. lgould171784

        I wanted to get across that despite her history of despicable behavior, she was a complicated person who regretted hurting people but still stood by her actions. I did have some concerns as to whether readers would believe she could redeem herself. Fortunately, it seems so far that most can accept it.

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Probably more about the HOW she redeemed herself than that she did – too many stories try to make you believe something happened, and the writers don’t want to do the work. TV writers are particular bad at this.

          My guess is that you sweated over this one until it was believable.

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