What Makes a Bad Guy, You Know, Bad?

From Pixabay

I’m interrupting our discussion of self-publishing frugally to pose an off-topic question to you. It has to do with the antagonists in our stories.

You do have an antagonist, don’t you? A bad guy? A villian? A Big Boss Troublemaker, or BBT (as one of my favorite bloggers, Kristin Lamb, calls it)? Because if you don’t, then you don’t really have much of a plot, which results in not much of a story.

An antagonist does not have to be entirely evil, and in fact if it is, it becomes a shallow caricature; not very believable or compelling. Some would argue that the antagonist doesn’t have to be evil at all; they just have to do bad things, or at least things that hinder the progress of our good (or good-ish) protagonist.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about motive, and/or motivation of our antagonist(s). What makes a bad guy, you know, bad? There are a number of possibilities. It could be their upbringing or past experiences that motivate them to seek revenge, or harm others, or just be plain difficult to get along with. They could be an oblivious antagonist, thinking they are spreading peace, love, and rainbows everywhere they go, when in fact they’re leaving a wake of destruction. (Have you met someone like that in real life? They’re perhaps the scariest antagonist, because they always think they’re the protagonist.) Maybe their evil stems from mental illness (which doesn’t really provide any answers about its source, does it?) Or they could be just purely, simply, inexplicably evil. I think of serial killer stories. True confession: I love serial killer stories, both in book form and movie form. I want to know what makes a seemingly completely evil person tick. Why are some people seemingly amoral, that is, they have no empathy and can heartlessly cause others to suffer? A good example of this is John Doe, the serial killer in the movie Seven, who seems to push the limits of deep, pure evil, stopping just short of becoming two-dimensional.

Anyway, my creative process, and what I read/see of others’ works, makes me pause and consider: From whence cometh evil? It’s an age-old question, and one that should bother us, especially when we find that evil within us. You know what I mean–those times when you and I have asked, “How could I have been so selfish?” Some of my social media friends seem to deny the problem, either by using minimizing terms such as “mistake,” “ignorance,” or similar; or by blatant avoidance (“Hitler provided extreme solutions to current conditions,” etc.).

As an evangelical Christian, I happen to believe in a real, personal being called the Devil or Satan, whom I consider to be the source of evil, both generally and within humanity, including his enticement of the primal humans into making a tragic moral choice with epic repercussions. Now, I realize that this raises more questions: When and how did the Satan figure turn evil? And what was the original source of that evil? For many of those questions I reluctantly, and with disappointment, must punt to mystery. But getting back to the source of evil within us, I’m hopeful that my worldview goes a long way in explaining the source of said evil in both us and the fictional villains within our stories.

Part of maturity is, I believe, the uncomfortable realization that we’re not the basically good people we thought we were. We hear it all the time. “People for the most part are good at heart,” “The human condition, while flawed, is basically good,” “Yes, my son is a serial killer, but he doesn’t deserve to die, he’s a good boy!” Sound familiar? It should. It’s carved deeply into our culture. Could it be that culturally we’re in denial? Do we have a flawed group-think going on?

In the words of Bugs Bunny, “Mmmmmmmm, could be!”

But what do you think? From whence cometh evil? And how does it play out in your stories? Give your opinions in the comments section below. Let’s share and discuss!



My Self-Publishing Profit Thus Far


I’m well on my way to becoming a bestselling author! I have turned a profit! Okay, maybe my perspective is a bit rose-colored. Here’s an accounting of my profit so far.

First, my expenses:

Word processing program (app) for my tablet: $10

Promotional cards from Vistaprint: $26.75

Book cover art: 1 free from my artist niece Sharolyn Pope-Townsend, 1 done myself at, also free.

Editing: Done myself for free, with helpful advice from a professional editor friend.

Total Expenses: $36.75.

Total of royalties from Amazon (so far): $48.99. My royalties are set at 35 cents per ebook and $1.92 per paperback. So far I have sold about 35 books all together. It’s a bit hard to figure out with Amazon’s system of paid units, free units (through Amazon Prime), and KOLL borrows. But they assure me that I get royalties from each of those.

So my net profit since self-publishing on Amazon is: $12.24.

So I guess I’m not yet a million-book-selling author. But I have a start! What I hear (actually read) from those who know, is that an author needs a body of work before they can hope to become a known author. So I’m working on that. I have to keep in mind the saying that “it takes years of hard work to become an overnight success.” I’ll keep you posted on my progress.


My Second Book is a Dog Story


You like dog stories, don’t you? Who doesn’t? Take a look at my latest work published on Amazon, about Laika, the dog who went up in the Sputnik rocket. Here’s my story description:

“The world’s most famous dog was launched into space aboard the Sputnik 2 rocket in November of 1957. Many are aware of Russia’s sanitized account of the mission, and the American perception of the events, but what was the dog’s experience? Share Laika’s point of view as we follow her through her capture, training, and fateful launch into space. Be warned though; it’s going to be a rough ride.”

I took some inspiration and cues from some of Jack London’s stories; you know, Call of the Wild and White Fang; his dog stories. I wanted to write from the first person perspective of the dog, bringing the reader into Laika’s thoughts and experiences. If you know about Laika’s fate (spoiler alert), you will know that there’s quite a bit of sadness to the story; but I tried to give it a lot of hope and heart, too, as well as some humor.

Here’s the link to my book: Click Me! If you read it, please write a review at Amazon for me. Thank you!

Promoting Your Book by Blogging


When it comes to promoting a book, or oneself as an author, or both, one of the pieces of advice that I see repeatedly is to start a blog. Everyone, and I mean everyone, recommends this. And it’s presented as a must-do. For some, it’s a presumed given that you will be a blogger. “You’re an author, right? And you’re breathing, right? Well then, I also assume you’re blogging. What, you’re not blogging? Shut the bleep up! No, I mean it, stop talking, and go start blogging!” That’s the voice of all those advisers in my head.

So what did I do? Um, you’re reading it right now. Yes, a blog! This blog, about writing, publishing, and promoting frugally. So I’m on the right track, right?

Well, maybe not. Those same advisers are telling me that I may be blogging the wrong kind of blog. What? But this blog is one of my babies now! (Lesson learned: Don’t get too attached to your blog.) My advisers tell me that writing a blog about writing is the wrong blog to be writing, as least if you hope to attract new readers with that blog. We need to be writing to potential readers, not to fellow writers. This blog is the literary equivalent to preaching to the choir.

Okay, pausing for an important announcement: I’m not planning on abandoning this blog any time soon. (My imagined myriads of readers give a collective “whew” of relief. I’m so deluded.)

But what should I be blogging about? The answer: My advisers say to blog about my other interests; anything but writing, with the hope of connecting with potential readers about something else, and occasionally mentioning oh, by the way, I’m an author, check out my book. Realizing this was a “duh” moment for me. How did I not see this obvious-as-elephant-in-the-room reality? I need to connect with potential readers, not fellow authors. I need to build an audience rather than just peers. Got it.

So what should I be blogging about? What are my interests, that others may be interested in? (Cue cricket sounds.)

Oh, I know! I have a number of things that come to mind that may be blog-worthy. Okay, some of them might be just dumb. But rather than listing them here, how about if I present them in the next blog post, and get your opinions? Yeah, let’s have some fun with that!

Meanwhile, I will continue with this blog, because even if it doesn’t bring in more readers for my books, I still think it’s blog-worthy. Collecting readers is not my only motivation. Whether or not you become a reader of mine, I still want to help you, my fellow writer. Why? Well, partly because I’m one of those weird people who likes to help. But also, we need each other! You can help me too. Give me your reactions, opinions, criticisms (nicely please), and ideas. Share them in the comments, and BAM, we’re helping others too. We’re in this thing together.

Promoting Your Book by Writing More Books


In 1960 Harper Lee successfully published her first and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. It became a bestseller and Pulitzer prize winner, and of course went on to become an Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck. So, who’s next? You? Me?

We can dream, right? But the dream of a one-off success is likely to be just, well, a dream and nothing more. On a rare occasion an author experiences the Hollywood-esque success story. The rest of us, to become successful authors, have to do such unseemly, daunting, and difficult things as marketing and promotion. Bleah! Why did I ever imagine that becoming an author would bring to an end my involvement in sales?

Anyway, one of the marketing techniques that I’m learning about online is something known as writing; that is, writing a lot.

Kristin Lamb, in her helpful book Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World, advises that one of the best ways to promote your book is to write another book. And then another, and another, and so on. In other words, you (and I) need to have a body of literary works with your (and my) name on it. Once I thought about this, it became obvious enough to pull out of me an “oh yeah, duh.” I imagined a potential reader stumbling upon my book at Amazon, and saying “That looks interesting. What else has he written?”

Readers, like people generally (especially Americans), like to be presented with choices. If my potential reader sees that I have, in addition to my first (sci-fi dystopian) book, its sequel and its third sibling, plus an unrelated historical fiction novella, plus a couple of short stories; he or she is more likely to choose one of those options. When presented with only one book, my reader-to-be will more likely think, “Oh, he’s only dabbling in this writing thing. Not a real author.”

My imagined potential reader is not mean-spirited; please understand. He or she does value their time, though, and wants to know that I’m a serious (aka “real”) author. So if I can trick him into thinking–oops, I mean convince him that I have actually written more than just one story on a whim, they’re more likely to trust me as an author. This will all make sense if you imagine how you shop for books. (Or how we peruse the library shelves.) Yes, sometimes I’m thinking “Should I read this? What if I don’t like it?” But more often I find myself thinking, “Should I read this? What if I do like it? What else has he or she written?”

So other than my first book, what else do I have to offer? Have I written a shelf full of books? Well, no, but I’m working on it. I’m taking the advice of the pros seriously. I just finished writing a historic fiction novella, and will soon publish it alongside my first book. And I have already started writing the first book’s sequel, plus I have the skeletal plot of the third in the series in my head.

So I’m on my way to becoming a prolific author! (One book at a time.) How about you? How much have you written? Feel free to plug your book series (or single book) in the comments below.