Friday, May 24, 2013

Guest Post--Fleshing Out Your Villains

Hello folks,

I have a guest post from an author buddy of mine today, Lee Allen Howard. He’s here talking about his new release, DEATH PERCEPTION, and the process of making a great villain.

Fleshing Out Your Villains

As readers, we’ve come to expect the fully developed protagonist. After all, if the main character is a pasteboard creature, who wants to read the story? So writers spend a lot of time developing their protagonists, and, perhaps, their “helper” characters.

But one thing I’ve learned to do is to give my antagonist equal treatment. Early in my writing career, I created antagonists—what I called “villains”—for the sole purpose of frustrating my hero and his goals. This led to “cardboard villain syndrome.”

Your protagonist and plot are only as strong as your antagonist. He or she (or it or they) must also have a backstory that has led to the development of certain weaknesses, strengths, fears, desires, and goals. He might be an evil bastard, hell-bent on destroying your protagonist, but he also might be a decent guy who just wants the same thing your hero/ine wants, and has the gumption to compete for it. Or he wants the exact opposite of what your hero/ine is striving for, and is willing to fight for it.

Your villain cannot be a skeleton (unless we’re talking about that story I wrote in second grade). He/she/it/they must be fully fleshed using the same development tools you used for your protagonist.

The best information I’ve encountered in 20 years of reading and writing fiction—and reading about writing fiction—I discovered recently in Robert J. Ray’s The Weekend Novelist, in the sections “Weekend 1” and “Weekend 2.” (If you buy this book, be sure to get the original 1994 version, not the revised version.)

Ray leads you through the process of writing a brief character sketch (the broad strokes), plotting a timeline for life and story events, developing a backstory by asking “what if?” to probe motivation, and building a wants list—for your protagonist, your helper, and your antagonist, exploring where desires mesh and clash.

I followed such a process in DEATH PERCEPTION, my latest supernatural thriller tinged with horror and peppered with dark humor.

By devoting as much effort to your antagonist as you do to your protagonist, you will have a stronger story, one that readers will love. Flesh out your villains, and you’ll flesh out your fiction.

DEATH PERCEPTION is available in trade paperback, Kindle (.mobi) and Nook (.epub) at


Lee Allen Howard writes horror, dark fantasy, and supernatural crime. He’s been a professional writer and editor of both fiction and nonfiction since 1985. His publications include The Sixth Seed, Desperate Spirits, Night Monsters, “Mama Said,” “Stray,” and DEATH PERCEPTION, available in various formats at

You can keep in touch with Lee on his Facebook author page. Follow him on Twitter @LeeAllenHoward.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Goddess Fish Book Tour

THE CRACKED SLIPPER by Stephanie Alexander
A romantic women’s fiction fantasy

When Eleanor Brice unexpectedly wins the heart of Gregory Desmarais, Crown Prince of Cartheigh, she's sure she's found her happily-ever-after. Unfortunately, Prince Charming has a loose grip on his temper, a looser grip on his marriage vows, and a tight grip on the bottle.

Eight years of mistreatment, isolation and clandestine book learning hardly prepare Eleanor for life at Eclatant Palace, where women are seen, not heard. According to Eleanor's eavesdropping parrot, no one at court appreciates her unladylike tendency to voice her opinion. To make matter worse, her royal fiancé spends his last night of bachelorhood on a drunken whoring spree. Before the ink dries on her marriage proclamation Eleanor realizes that she loves her husband's best friend, former soldier Dorian Finley.

Eleanor can't resist Dorian's honesty, or his unusual admiration for her intelligence, and soon both are caught in a dangerous obsession. She drowns her confusion in charitable endeavors, but the people's love can't protect her from her feelings. When a magical crime endangers the bond between unicorns, dragons, and the royal family, a falsely accused Eleanor must clear her own name to save her life. The road toward vindication will force a choice between hard-won security and an impossible love.

The Cracked Slipper is a book club friendly fairytale retelling in the vein of Gregory Maguire, with a dash of romance. Set in a pseudo-renaissance, corset-and-petticoats enchanted kingdom, The Cracked Slipper brings a magical twist to women's fiction.

The dragon stood and lumbered toward the first cave. It passed the other unicorns, slowing every few steps, and they responded with reassuring whinnies. The next dragon appeared, followed by two more of Tremor’s unicorn guides. The first dragon called to the second, who screamed once in return. Both creatures seemed eager to get underground.

The transfer continued for nearly an hour without much fanfare. Eleanor thought she must have miscounted when there was a break in the procession.

“This will be the last one,” said Gregory. “I wonder what’s taking so long.”

Tremor paced at the mouth of the cave. Dark smoke rolled from under the ground. Tremor sent two of his fellows down below, and when after a few minutes they did not return, Thromba called to him to send two more.

Without warning, and with an earsplitting scream, and a new dragon burst from the cave. Stubby horns revealed her as a doe.

“Ho!” Gregory yelled. “Nestlings!”

Three baby dragons, about the size of saddle horses, squealed and circled their mother’s feet. She screamed and shot fire at the wall of men and unicorns. The men fell back. The unicorns just shut their eyes. As Gregory steered Eleanor toward the cabin she caught a flash of white behind the dragon’s legs. Teardrop had somehow been pushed from the line. She was pinned between the raging dragon and the canyon walls. As the dragon backed and reared, her massive tail, all wrathful muscle, swung in a deadly pendulum.

“Teardrop!” Eleanor screamed.

Teardrop zigged, looking for a way around the mother dragon. The dragon’s tail came down hard and clipped the mare across the shoulder. Teardrop slammed into the rock wall. She cowered, stunned and heaving.

“Teardrop!” Eleanor yanked free of Gregory’s grip.

“Eleanor, stop!”

She ran past the startled guards and into the chaos.

“Get back!” Tremor snorted.

“I won’t!” She yelled to be heard over the dragon. “I’m going to help her.” “You can’t, and we must control this situation.”

“I will, damnit!” She tried to get around the stallion but he stepped in front of her again. “Get out of my way!” she stormed.

He lowered his head. “If you insist on this foolery at least let me help you.”

Gregory was shoving past the guards, but she climbed onto Tremor’s back before he could reach her.

“Eleanor!” Gregory screamed.

She clung to Tremor’s mane as he raced at the dragon. Her eyelashes stuck together in the blinding heat. Tremor dodged and wheeled as the dragon spit fire. Two other unicorns flanked them.

Tremor skidded to a stop. Eleanor leapt off and ran to Teardrop. “Hurry!” Tremor called.

Foam dripped from Teardrop’s muzzle as she pressed against the wall. She wasn’t bleeding—her thick hide was nearly impenetrable—but a raised welt marred her shoulder. Her eyes rolled.

“Teardrop,” Eleanor tried to keep her voice calm over the screams of the dragon as it went after Tremor. “Help me. Take me back to Gregory.”

Teardrop swung her head at Eleanor’s voice. Her dark eyes came into focus. “Why are you here?” she whispered. “You will be killed.”

“So you must take me out.”

Teardrop nodded, and Eleanor grabbed her mane and pulled herself onto the mare’s back. “Go, now,” she called. “I need you to get me past this dragon.”

Teardrop scraped at the ground with one hoof and pricked her ears. She watched Tremor and his helpers and the mother dragon. She spotted an opening and dove for it. The dragon spun and swung her tail again. Eleanor held on as Teardrop leapt. They barely cleared the spinning spikes.

They came to a stop past the line of unicorns, and Eleanor’s legs gave out when she slid to the ground. Gregory caught her, cursing and kissing her.

“Dammit, Eleanor,” he said. “You’re the most stubborn, disobedient, brave, exasperating woman.”

She sat on the ground with her head between her knees. The magicians bustled around Teardrop. They tried to examine her injury, but she snorted them away. She stood over Eleanor, breathing down the back of her neck.

Eleanor raised her head as Tremor called a dozen of his fellows into the skirmish. The doe blew fire, but more unicorns pressed in and she backed down. Her children squeaked and smoked around her. Tremor stepped from the line and knelt on one knee. To Eleanor’s amazement one of the nestlings crept out from under its mother’s belly and slunk toward him. The doe hissed a warning. Tremor stood, and gently touched the baby dragon with his horn.

The doe exhaled a long blast of fire, but this time there was no fight in it. The other baby dragons came forward, and Tremor touched them all before nudging them toward the new cave with his muzzle. Their mother let our several low whistles and followed them.

Once the doe disappeared under the ground, Thromba ran to Eleanor and Gregory. “Dear HighGod, sire,” he said. “It was a botch-up, and the princess nearly roasted.”

“No, Thromba,” Gregory said. “We both know you can never tell how the does with nestlings will react. Last year we lost three men to a new mother. Not so bad, really.” He knelt beside Eleanor.

“Are you angry with me?” she asked.

“No,” he said. “How can I be angry? But you must be more careful.”

He helped her stand on her shaky legs. She ran a hand over Teardrop’s withers and the white hide twitched under her fingers. “Does it hurt?” she asked.

“Some, but we heal quickly.”

“Princess,” said an airy voice behind her. It was Tremor.

“Thank you,” she said. “I’m sorry if I made things more complicated.”

Tremor lowered his head. “I thank you,” he said. “For reminding me of what is important.”

Stephanie Alexander grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, the oldest of three children. Drawing, writing stories, and harassing her parents for a pony consumed much of her childhood. After graduating from high school in 1995 she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the College of Charleston, South Carolina. She returned to Washington, DC, where she followed a long-time fascination with sociopolitical structures and women’s issues to a Master of Arts in Sociology from the American University. She spent several years as a Policy Associate at the International Center for Research on Women, a think-tank focused on women’s health and economic advancement.

Stephanie embraced full-time motherhood after the birth of the first of her three children in 2003. After six wonderful years buried in diapers and picture books she returned to her childhood passion and wrote her own fairytale. Her family put down permanent southern roots in Charleston in 2011. Stephanie is an adjunct professor of Sociology at the College of Charleston.

Check out Stephanie’s website. Connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @crackedslipper. Find The Cracked Slipper on amazon.

Hey readers,

Love me a good fairytale retelling.

Want more from this tour? Follow it here.

And don’t forget to comment for a chance at a prize.

Stephanie will be awarding a $10 Amazon gift card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Arguing for Writers

Good Tuesday,

I was very, very, very, very (you get the idea) behind on life last week. I only posted once. *horrified face*

I’m back on track this week. I’ll post three times, and to make up for my earlier blunder, I have a real writing-related post today.

There’s been talk within my circle of writers lately about writing conflict. As any good writer knows, conflict isn’t just fist/sword/gun fights. There’s internal conflict, small group conflict, non-physical conflict, etc.

A big part of conflict is arguing. Being who I am, I am no stranger to the finer nuances of the well-orchestrated argument. I frequently forget that not everyone is familiar with arguing, though. As a writer, it’s important for the toolbox (or lockbox) to be filled to overflowing with every tool (lock?) imaginable.

So I’m here today to discuss the finer nuances of arguing.

***NOTE: No people were harmed or yelled at in the writing of this blog post.***

The Argument

Ever wanted to punch someone in the face? Yes? We’re going to get along wonderfully (just kidding). Maybe? You’re getting there. No? We’ve got work to do. As I said above, conflict isn’t always throwing punches. Arguments are often shouting matches with no punches.

Then why did I ask you about punching someone’s face? Arguments are the steps before the punches start flying. Once the first hit makes contact, the situation’s escalated past argument to brawl. I’m here today to talk about the crucial time before the broken noses and split lips.

How do arguments start? Let’s stick to two-person arguments for the sake of confusion. So person A disagrees with person B (or vice versa if you’d prefer).

A - “I want the green curtains.”
B – “I want the blue curtains.”

Seem stupid? Stay with me. You’d be amazed how many arguments blossom from simple statements like this. A and B have stated their different preferences. Now what? In a perfect world, one would say “you’re right. Let’s get the blue/green curtains.” This is not a perfect world, and so often, the things we say are not what’s really bothering us.

A – “I really want the green curtains.”
B – “And of course because you want them, we have to get them.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. The argument has taken a subtle shift. It’s no longer simply about the color of the curtains. B feels as if his/her needs are tossed aside in favor of A’s on a regular basis. B’s statement implies that A has gotten his/her way before—frequently—and used whatever methods necessary—begging, coercing, flat-out stating the “law”—to get it.

A – “What is that supposed to mean?”
B – “Please. It’s always what you want. Remember the kitchen floor tiles?”

More problems. A either doesn’t know or doesn’t want to acknowledge what he/she is like. But B isn’t being completely honest either. He/she is hiding behind curtains and floor tile choices to keep from stating the real problem.

A – “What does the floor tiles have to do with the curtains?”
B – “Of course you don’t know. Why would you know?”

Oh boy. If you’re anything like me, at this point you’re thinking “B, just say it.” But B doesn’t. In fact, once this pattern has begun, B will evade and lie until either the argument blows up (with no resolution) or until he/she is backed into a corner and has to say why he/she is upset.

A – “I don’t understand you!”
B – “You never have!” *storms out of the room*


A – “I don’t understand you!”
B – “That’s because you never listen to me. I’m not happy, A. Can’t you see that?”

The second option is the healthier one. Unfortunately, the first option is the one more often seen. In terms of fiction, you want to employ various versions of the first one until the end of the story. The first one widens the gap between characters through a lack of resolution. It’s tough to resolve anything when one person leaves. By contrast, option two shows a step toward resolution. “I’m not happy, A,” is a confession. B has finally said what’s bothering him/her. Now the discussing (rather than the arguing) can begin.

So there are the various parts of the argument. What are A and B feeling throughout this process. This is the part, I think, where most people get stuck. Anyone can write dialogue between two characters who can’t decide on curtains. It’s another thing to know and recognize the stages of an argument.

Blue vs. green curtains – Most likely, B’s emotions have been growing for a while. Arguments never come out of the blue (no pun intended). There’s always a backstory to every blow-out. Find a reason for your character to feel as if his/her needs are not being met. Be creative. Then when A makes the harmless “I want the green curtains” statement, B’s patience hit the last straw, and the claws come out. B is fed-up, hurt, scared, and wants, more than anything, to be heard. A, by contrast, is confused and can’t understand why his/her normally quiet partner is acting like this.

Of course you don’t understand – This is a classic line. It never gets old because it’s always used. B is trying to hurt A. He/she is trying to pull a confession out of A. They want to hear “you’re right. I don’t understand. What’s the matter?” This, unfortunately, is rarely the response they get. And sometimes, even when it is, B doesn’t respond by calming down and explaining. When people are riled up, sometimes they just want to fight. Yes, they want to resolve, but B’s desire to make A feel the same way B has for so long takes over. It’s no longer about fixing things. It’s now about causing pain.

You never understand me *door slams* - Ouch. B has thrown his/her last verbal punch and left A to either wonder or go back to what he/she was doing and not care. (That’s up to the author.) B, at this point, most likely gets in his/her car and drives to a friend’s house or until the car runs out of gas. He/she wants space. He/she wants to swear at the top of their lungs. He/she wants to play out the myriad of ways the argument could have gone and obsess on the reasons it didn’t go those ways. It’s not a pretty picture.

What’s going on with A during this time? If A is the “go back to what he/she was doing and forget it” type, A is watching TV, going out with friends, or getting ready to move out—“I don’t want to put up with this anymore, so I won’t.” If A is the wondering type, A is as emotionally distraught as B. A is going to sit in the silent house and think about what could have caused the argument. If A is really caring, A will wait for B to return and try to resolve the earlier blow-out immediately.

B – I’m not happy because your mother did it again.”
A – “My mother has nothing to do with this.”
B – “Yes, she does. Why does she hate me?”
A – “My mother hates no one. Get over yourself.”

This is a very bad direction for an argument to take. Either A is right—his/her mother hates no one—and B is overly emotional, or B is right—A’s mother hates him/her—and A is being irrational.

If A is right, this could be a relationship ender. Attacking family members without good cause rarely ends well. A is feeling betrayed—how could B be so mean? B is frustrated—how can A not see what’s right in front of him/her.

If B is right, this is a good place for a meaningful speech on B’s part. You know, that speech that ultimately forces A to see the truth. At this point, A may or may not be aware that he/she is rapidly losing ground. If A is not aware, he/she will keep the argument going—why stop now? If A is aware, there’s one of two options. Either A will relinquish the anger and actually talk to B, or A will make his/her argument louder and more forceful to hide that he/she knows he/she has lost. It’s called denial, and people love it when they might be wrong. “No way am I admitting the other person is right.” Except that’s about as healthy as storming out of the room.

And don’t forget the underlying emotions. While A is shouting all the louder to keep from sounding wrong, he might be feeling guilty but unable to admit it. Or he might not care. If B is winning, B might be feeling triumphant. Or B might be feeling bad for yelling, or, in a worst-case situation, B might be gearing up to say “forget it. I’m sorry I snapped.” That would only bring the argument back to square one.

The key with the argument is to know your characters. Who are they? Which role would they play in an argument? Do they fight for their stance or give in at the first sign of bad weather? How quickly to they give in? Do they have an ego problem that keeps them from being the first to give in/apologize? You need to know all of these and more, depending on the specific argument.

I hope I’ve given the baffled arguer somewhere to start. If you’re a non-confrontational person, understanding the argument can be tough. It took me a while to stop having my characters argue at every opportunity. Arguments were how I got through a lot of my childhood, but I’ve moved past them. I’m not saying to go out and argue for the sake of research, but staying calm all the time isn’t healthy either. Humans need to let out steam, and they need to stand up for themselves. Sometimes that means arguing.

Thanks for reading.