Happy Halloween, everyone! As a special treat, I’ve got fellow writer Skyla Dawn Cameron on the blog today discussing heroes and villains. For a bonus goodie, you can grab a copy of her book Bloodlines for FREE until November 1st. The other ebooks in the series are half price right now, as well (Hunter, Lineage, and Exhumed). I, personally, love these books. That’s an understatement. Zara Lain is my spirit animal. Just don’t tell her.
On Villains as Heroes
By Skyla Dawn Cameron
It’s a common sentiment among writers that villains are the heroes of their own stories. And of course that’s the difference between having an absurd, mustache-twirling caricature and an antagonist readers can remember.
The fun thing when writing the Demons of Oblivion series is getting to play with that because I have alternating narrators.
Zara Lain narrates Bloodlines—she’s a vampire, an assassin, and she’s not a very nice person. This made her the perfect (initial) antagonist in the sequel, Hunter. Hunter from the point of view of Ryann David, a demon-hunting nun who is among a team sent to kill Zara Lain after she murdered one of their own.
This made for fun scenes to write—the reader is put in Ryann’s head but (hopefully) they’re already familiar with Zara and rooting for her as well. That duality continues, as in the third book, Lineage, I introduce Peri Takata, a rather vicious quarter-demon mercenary. Peri would make a great villain as she’s self-absorbed, driven by revenge, and an ends-justify-the-means sort of person with a strong sociopathic bent. As the narrator and protagonist, however, she ends up at odds with previous main characters Zara and Ryann. And when Peri and Zara inevitably get in a physical fight, it makes for some great tension for long time readers.
The temperature of the room seemed to drop drastically, just me and the pissed off vamp.
Son of a cocksucking whore—I was in trouble.
Zara hadn’t put the gun away, but then she hadn’t shot me either. So…score?
“He said he’d give me the rest of the names,” I said in a low voice. “And where to find them. He knows more than he’s told you.”
“Of course he does. He’s also a fucking liar. If there are names and locations he can get you—which I don’t entirely buy—he’d never tell you. He would kill Nate and then kill you and you’re so fucking stupid, you think that he won’t. That I won’t.”
I tensed, shifting my weight. One on one, I could take her. Especially with my abilities. But she was six feet away, had a gun, and at the end of the day I was the mortal one. “And what happens after you kill me? Sean is stuck in your psychic’s body. He might be lying about all kinds of shit but I sure as fuck believe him when he says Rhys sees and hears everything going on, knows everything Sean knows, and I’m the only one who can exorcise him like I did the others.”
“Uh huh. And it didn’t occur to you to maybe exorcise him first and then ask Ellie about all this stuff that Sean knows?”
She smiled unkindly. “Mensa, remember.”
I couldn’t let this happen. Couldn’t. I still had a mission. Zara might be on board now to stop this group who were out to get her too, but I couldn’t just let her do it. I couldn’t die knowing they still lived, couldn’t die until I’d brought justice upon them. If I did, then the last five years would’ve been a waste.
The slightest flicker of her arm told me she was about to shoot.
We must’ve been close enough to the hot spot of Macamigon because the power slammed hard, bursting through me the moment I opened the flood gates. It poured like warm, slick oil through me and pushed at the air, rattling the walls and knocking Zara back. I darted forward, rushing through thick, red air, and went at her full force.
Too close to shoot, she clocked me across the chin with the heavy barrel of the Desert Eagle instead; my head snapped to the side. And then she smacked the left check. Then right. Shouting at me.
The last hit was harder than the rest, my jaw grinding uncomfortably when I moved it. A blink, shake of my head, and I recovered and dove, still not giving her any room. My hand locked in her glossy, smooth hair and slammed her face into the wall, muscles thrumming with demon energy. White drywall flakes puffed out and scattered.
I kicked the back of her knee. Hard. She elbowed me in the face.
My eye smarted, watered, and possibly something in my face bled. The pain was lost in the pounding migraine taking over my head and adrenalin pushed me on. No, not adrenalin—hate. Fury. Because this fucking bitch was going to take away my chance to avenge my family. It didn’t matter if she had her reasons, didn’t matter if I’d tried to fuck her over—nothing mattered because my babies were dead and I was alive and none of it was fucking fair. I screamed and grabbed her hair again, giving it a yank and a twist.
Her heel struck my shin. I didn’t let go of her hair and slammed her face again. But she had longer arms than me and spun, locked on my arm, and jerked me forward; I hit the wall this time. My nose burned but didn’t feel broken—yet—and I choked on floating drywall.
Another yank jerked my arm, pain shooting up my shoulder, and I hit the ground, sliding on the carpet. Back of my head barked the leg of the side table; I ducked under, pressed my hands to the top, and heaved it overhead. Wood splintered when the table struck her.
She looked pissed. Blue eyes glittering, hair hanging in ropes over her pale face. Red light flashed briefly over my vision, graininess twirling again. My power had come fast, sure, but it was wavering. I sucked it in, pulling, fire tracing my body, and I let it go again. Air rippled and the force knocked her off her feet, slamming her into the wall. I clambered up, soles of my runners scraping on the carpet and giving me less traction than if I’d worn my damn boots, and launched myself at her. We collided, crashed, beat against the wall just as she started to recover, and I knocked her on the floor. I sank a knee into spine, popped a shot into her kidney. Or where I thought her kidney might be—
Airborne in a blink, flying across the room again. I landed on the shards of broken table, splinters jabbing me. Adrenalin gave my body a nice coating, pain tinging only in the corners and not full blown yet. I scrambled up, dove once more, this time shoved her face-first into the wall again.
Agony burned and blood flew; she’d twisted her head and sank teeth into my arm. Fangs. I grappled, fighting to get her down because of those fucking inches of height she had on me were too much of a disadvantage.
She kicked my side, the force—the shock—violent in its intensity, rocking through my torso so hard I felt it in my spine. Punched my head and I thought my neck snapped. I gasped and my vision flickered, demonic energy I’d been pulling on either weakening or I was losing my hold on it.
I slammed on the ground hard enough that my teeth rattled. My hands locked on her legs, knees digging into carpet, and I hauled her feet out from under her. The gun struck the ground and spun, glistening in the fluorescent lights.
Get up and MOVE, you dumb bitch!
Zara was down and I scrambled up, hands outstretched for the weapon. She grabbed my ankles and pulled. I slammed forward, knocking my chin on the hard floor and biting my tongue. Blood filled my mouth, spilled past my lips, and I spat it out. I blinked and my left eye was all puffed up, not working right.
But I got my hands under me, my feet under me. Got my heel in her face, too, and glanced back in time to see her head snap to the side. Panting, bleeding, aching—the fucking gun was just six feet away and I clambered toward it.
Then the truck hit me.
I flew across the room, hit the wall, and crumpled in a heap, the lid to the coffin pinning me down. I coughed, something deep and wet and painful rattling in my chest. Maybe I cracked a rib. And maybe it pierced my lungs.
Maybe it didn’t matter because Zara had the gun.
I wrote it, I know these characters inside and out, and even I didn’t know who to root for.
I think this was an easy direction for me to go in because I invariably identify with a lot of villains. Not in the Oh what a sexy serial killer way (I dated an attractive controlling semi-sociopath: I promise you, it is not sexy). But some of my favourite films are the ones with villains I root for.
Take Kayako in The Grudge (and Ju-on), or most of the ghosty women in Japanese (and Korean) horror. These are often wronged/abused women, and Kayako is the clearest example of this. Here’s a woman who was abused, kept subservient, and she yearned for something more. Then her husband brutally murdered her and her kid. She did what any repressed woman longs to do: she expressed her anger.
By terrorizing Buffy and all the white people who came into the house.
Another favourite villain comes in the form of the alien queen in Aliens.
Okay, yes, she’s responsible for the deaths of hundreds and yes I cheer when Ripley shouts “Get away from her, you bitch!” Everyone does.
But the queen alien just wants to mind her own business, raise some babies, and be left alone. She even calls her children off when Ripley threatens to torch the eggs; she then only went after Ripley (we presume) because Ripley negged on their truce and cooked her fetuses over-easy anyway.
Look, I’m a thirty-one year old woman, I have a biological clock, and I have very little tolerance for bullshit. I get it, girlfriend! You’re at that stage in your life when you just want to have babies. More power to you.
This, of course, leads us right into the other side of the villains-are-the-heroes-of-their-own-stories truth: your heroes are the villains of that story.
A good protagonist (I’m actually loath to use “hero”, especially for my characters) must act. They must do more than stand around and react to the antagonist/villain. They must do things that make them the villain in someone else’s story.
Here’s a tale for you: once upon a time there was a little girl. She lived with her mom and dad in a house and had a completely normal life. And then one day she came home from school to find her mom had a visitor—an old friend, she said. Her mom assured her everything was fine, and since she loved and trusted her mom, she did as she was told and went to her room.
Soon she heard noises downstairs. Eventually she crept back down as the voices went silent and she found her mom dead in the kitchen, the “friend” standing over the body.
A terrible story. Hopefully that little girl can one day avenge her mother’s death, right?
This little girl:
Remember, from this fight?
That’s what I like to play with, what I get to do in the Demons of Oblivion series, whether switching up the protagonists and antagonists from book to book or writing short stories/novellas centered around the POV of side characters. The entire fifth book (spoiler alert) alternates between two point of views, and the narrating characters are at complete odds with one another.
The importance, for me, is to recognize that especially in urban fantasy, which is saturated in violence and bloody quests for vengeance, that this duality exists just as it does in life. The antagonists in your life are the heroes in their own, and you have to accept that sometimes you’re the villains in theirs. Without this nuance, without these layers between black and white/good and evil, we might as well just watch cartoons.
If you’re in her way, it sucks to be you.
After three hundred years of unlife, narcissistic vampire Zara Lain has seemingly done it all, and she’s now making a living as a successful thief-turned-assassin. Her newest assignment seems simple enough: kill the aging leader of the O’Connor coven and his only heir, and she’ll have another ten million in the bank.
But in the dangerous world of the supernatural, few things are ever “simple.”
When a massive assault decimates the continent’s population of powerful witches and warlocks, and its orchestrator has vampires being hunted down and captured, Zara realizes the tables have turned and now she’ll be playing the hero. Forced to join with a smart-mouthed fellow vampire, a demonologist who’s also a fan of hers, a recently widowed—and frequently brooding—warlock, and her best friend’s mom, Zara’s grudgingly willing to do what she can to save the day.
If only people would stop ruining all her outfits…
Details: Exclusive to Kindle until January 2014 http://www.amazon.com/Bloodlines-Demons-of-Oblivion-ebook/dp/B00FI83ZV0/ (Free from October 28 – November 1)
Includes bonus short story “Thrall”, narrated by warlock Nate O’Connor.
Warning: contains heavy doses of snark, a sexually confident heroine who likes killing people and has no secret heart of gold, lots of explosions, and very naughty language.
Also, some terrible stuff happens to expensive formal wear. I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.