The best villains are… (a writing lesson)

Since the presidential debates are tonight, I thought I’d do a little writing lesson on villainy. Take that how you choo-choo-choose.

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Anyway.

The best villains are heroes in their own minds. They are complex. They are people with loves, hates, hopes, dreams, desires, and friends as well as enemies. They have heart, for evil without heart is weak and can be, from a philosophical standpoint, destroyed by the idea of “what’s right.”

“I want to rule the world and enslave mankind!” or “I’m all about killing puppies!” are so clearly evil that the ideas themselves can be soundly countered. After all, only a madman wants to rule the world and enslave its people and it is universally understood that killing puppies is bad. Villains with no motivations beyond the generic lack of understanding of right and wrong are almost always unappealing.

Now, a villain who legitimately, 100% believes what he’s doing is the right thing to do for all parties, the best thing to do in a given situation, a villain that can convince me his reasoning comes from an honest, sincere place . . . that is the interesting villain. Even in comic books and movies, characters like Ultron and Thanos, I would argue, are more complex than their desire to kill everyone.

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Ultron, after all, believes mankind is a great, multi-headed monster. Every time he takes a human life, he believes he’s doing the right thing. He believes he is making the world a better place. Occasionally it is difficult to argue with him.

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Thanos, so enthralled by the idea of Death, wants only to make her happy, he wants to give her the gift of trillions of lives. He puts Death’s happiness above everyone else’s. In fact, to a certain degree, by bringing people closer to Death, he believes he is giving them a great gift, for when he is done with them, they are nearer to Death. That, dear readers, is a crazy complexity.

Or, if we’re talking comics, you really don’t have to go any further than Magneto.

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I disagree with his actions, but I understand his motivations. This is one villain (of many in the world of comic books–Deadpool and Harley Quinn, I’m looking at you) who have been so well-liked by fans that they have actually become something akin to heroes.

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Look, it’s simple really. A villain you can empathize with, that shit is crazy, crazy good. A villain that is nothing more than a generic evil, that’s, frankly, lame. Even everyone’s favorite serial killer, Jason Voorhees, has a sympathetic back story to make viewers at least in part understand his anger.

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So, writers, if you’re out there in writer land, trying hard to come up with a profound villain, an evil for the ages, if you will, do your best at making them good. It’s a paradox, I know, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The devil’s greatest trick was convincing mankind we needed the word “paradox.”

My summer in Westeros

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

 

 

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!

 

 

Along with spending plenty of time in Gravity Falls this summer, I also visited Westeros . . . a lot. You know, George R.R. Martin’s fictional fantasy land inhabited by lots of bad, bad people? Yeah–that place is awful. Anyway, I got a free month’s worth of HBONow and used it to watch 60 episodes of Game of Thrones.

I started on July 12th and finished the sixth season on August 10th, the day before students came to school. Since I had spent nearly 30 days in the various violent locales in and around Westeros, I felt prepared to deal with a bunch of American teenagers . . . .

But seriously, this show is wild. In many ways, the first season is similar to the first book. As I watched it, I thought to myself, “Why am I watching this? I mean, I already read the books, right?” But friends told me to keep going. They said that the further along I go the more significant changes I would see.

And they were right.

They’re are significant changes . . . .

Though the essential’s of Martin’s twisted fantasy are there. There’s so much violence and war. So many women are murdered. So many children are used . . . and the number of characters who are eunuchs is astounding. Like I said, I had read all the books beforehand, so I knew what was coming. That said, the show is, at times, almost too intense. I’m looking at you “Battle of the Bastards.”

I like it though, despite its graphic content. I think it has a cold, harsh reality that few television shows possess, which is a bit of a paradox since it has zombies and dragons . . . . It’s both a good thing and a sad thing to see all of this extreme content. It’s good because it shows how awful war is and how awful mankind can be. It’s sad for the same reasons and more. It’s sad because, like most good fantasy and sci-fi, it’s allegorical . . . . If this show is allegorical, what is it saying about our world?

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It’s 7:57am, a Wednesday, a week and a half before this post is due. I just got my daughter off to school but my son is upstairs in his bedroom curled into the fetal position because every time he straightens out he gets, “. . . a sharp stabbing pain . . .” in his belly. It’s probably nothing. It’s probably some weird flu bug. Or maybe he ate something he shouldn’t have eaten. He is in middle school; God only knows what goes on in that wasteland of hormonal madness . . . .

I shouldn’t be worried. I shouldn’t have a growing pit of despair (cliche intended) in my belly. But I do. Fourteen years ago, when my son was born, it was rough. He had open-heart surgery when he was five days old. He has a specialist he sees regularly. Those regular appointments are coming less and less, which is, obviously, a good thing. All of his knobs and whistles seem to be operating as they should. However, this doesn’t mean I will be pushing him toward an athletic career anytime soon. He’s interested in computers anyway, so my wife and I caught a break there . . . maybe. Maybe my wife and I molded him to be the way he is. Nature vs. Nurture, who knows?

Anyway.

He’s up there, in his attic bedroom, miserable like any other kid with any other ailment is miserable. He’ll probably be back to his old self by the end of the day, making mildly entertaining jabs at . . . well . . . at everything and everyone. He’s a bit of a smartass. I don’t know where he gets it . . . . Right now though, he’s sick.

And I’m terrified.

His mom doesn’t get this way. She’s stronger than me, more hopeful, less cynical. “Kids get sick,” she says when it happens. “They can’t help it. He’ll be fine.”

I grimace and worry because I can’t help it. He’s not fine. Even though it’s his stomach, I see every possible awful scenario running through my mind. It’s like there’s a race track in there and it’s a baton run and all of these terrible outcomes that have him back in the hospital hooked up to various life saving and heart monitoring devices are battling for the finish line. I can see those bastards now, vying for the #1 slot.

My plan is for none of them to win so on his 14th birthday, when I publish this blog, we’ll both have stomach aches because we ate a birthday dinner of his choosing . . . because we’ll probably overeat.

*UPDATE*

He got better. We had pancakes, bacon, and eggs for supper tonight. I definitely overate, but the 14-year-old showed some mature restraint. My wife and I must be doing something right . . . .

My friends and I have a podcast now and it is basically the most epic thing that has happened since the beginning of forever

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Near the end of the 2015-2016 school year, master teacher and all around genius, Julie Rowse, approached me with an idea. “Let’s do a podcast,” she said. “Let’s get AJ Reimer in on it too,” she added. “He’s funny.”

“Bully,” I said.

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“In it, we’ll talk about TV,” she said. “We’ll call it Teachers Talking TV.”

“Bully,” I repeated.

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“Each episode of T3 will be about 20 minutes and cover one episode of a TV show the three of us like . . . or maybe don’t like . . . we’ll have to see where it goes. Anyway, we’ll review different seasons of different shows,” she explained.

“Let’s do Parks & Rec S3:E1 for T3 S1:E1!” I exclaimed like a teacher hepped up on the joy of the end of the school year . . . .

Reimer stumbled upon this interaction and asked, “What’s going on?”

Rowse told him the plan as I danced giddily about our office, pretending I was Leslie Knope.

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“I’m all in,” Reimer said, joining me on the dance floor that had thought itself to be a mere office floor.

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Thus, Teachers Talking TV (T3) was born.

And that’s 100% true.

 

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Parks & Rec S3 is our first victim (as you might have picked up on due to the fact that I wrote it and there are several gifs with characters from said show populating this particular post). We’re dropping a new episode every Friday for the foreseeable future. You can contact us at teacherstalkingtv@gmail.com if you have questions, concerns, suggestions, or are interested in sponsoring us. But don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted on how things are going. Check it out on Soundcloud or iTunes. Subscribe. Get it.

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A World of Pure Imagination

Thanks Gene, you were great.

This year I’ve mourned more people I don’t know than I thought I could. At least I know where these folks live now, a world of pure imagination. That’s gotta be awesome.

Without Labor, Nothing Prospers.

Lest you think I’m sitting around doing nothing tonight, I’ve posted another great blog you should all be reading.

Julie Rowse

I’m looking back at the 90+ drafts I have here on my blog. Here’s one I started last November. I originally titled it “Football From Where I Sit.” When I finished it tonight, I took a different direction. The new title is a quote from Sophocles.

Two years ago, one of the assistant football coaches brought a contraption down to my classroom and said, “I thought you and your journalism staff might be interested in this. You can use this website called High School Cube and broadcast games.”

The wheels in my mind took off. I researched the product and the website and thought we just might be able to make it work. A rabid sports fan myself, I’d been trying to build more sports coverage into the journalism program. That season, we just ran video for football. No audio. We taped up the mic as best we could and…

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Whisper Listing

For this week’s blog, I’ll direct you to this great story by M.C. Tuggle. Check it out.

M.C. Tuggle, Writer

Whisper Listing

“In transactions involving haunted real estate, the rule is not only caveat emptor but also caveat venditor.”

The looming presidential election is shaping up as a combination fiasco and tragedy of such staggering proportions, the only thing we can do is laugh. So in a desperate act of escapism, I wrote a satirical flash fiction piece entitled “Whisper Listing.” It’s featured in the latest issue of Bewildering Stories. Here’s hoping it provides a bit of comic relief to our ongoing political agony.

(In real estate, a “whisper listing” is a house for sale in a market restricted to a select group of potential buyers. Celebrities often use them to avoid publicity.)

* Be sure to check out Challenge 680 linked at the end of my story!

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