How Can A Good Villain Make You Write… Or Die?

Last week, I picked up the reins on Slamdance again. I opened up the private wiki I maintain (using a program called TiddlyWiki) and began crafintg an outline. It’s probably the first time I’ve seriously done it since The Second War of the Worlds for NaNoWriMo 2010.

When I last attempted creatng an outline for Slamdance, I used a system called The Snowflake Method. It looked like a great way to stave off the problem I have with seat-of-the-pants writing: A draft that, because I don’t know where it’s going, goes somewhere I don’t like.

Even then, I kept stalling. I just couldn’t get a decent plot synopsis, at least not one that I liked enough to develop. Something happened at around Step 4, when you take the one paragraph plot summary you’ve written, add the summaries of your individual characters and blend the lot into a one-page summary of the plot. I tried writing what I had, but I kept getting that horrid directionless feeling.

It got so bad that I was wavering on the whole idea of writing a novel, but even when I back-burnered it, I’d still stir the pot every now and again, letting ideas simmer and taking a spoonful to taste.

Then last week, a flavour came together, and I put the pot back onto Snowflake Method temperature, wrote the one-line plot idea and got developing. So far, I’m up to Step 5, where I write a one-page summary of each character’s experience of and actios during the main plot. It’s the furthest I’ve ever got!

But what was this flavour, this idea that got me moving?

A villain.

I’ve been saying for ages that I needed a villain of some sort to get Slamdance (the novel and the lead chaaracter) moving. The problem was, I was aiming for something way too big right off the bat. I didn’t know enough about Slamdance and his world to introduce a villain of the sort of scale I had in mind, but I didn’t know what else to do.

But the villain I thought of last week is perfect. It’s powerful, with wants both potentially world-shaking and also very small scale and easy to empathise with.

That’s the trick. My villain doesn’t have have any direct connection to the hero (at least, not to start off with), but what it wants and how its actions draw the hero in are simple and, I think, grabby.

Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that this villain will survive all the way through the drafting process without some kind of major change. But it’s got me writing, and that’s all that matters right now.

Speaking of writing, I made another interesting discovery during the outlining process. There are a couple of places in the Method where the outliner just needs to be able to write, firstly when he’s turning the one-paragraph plot summary into something more substantial and also when writing the character synopses (which I’m not sure I’m doing quite right; they’re still very much “and this happens, and the character does this” than about what’s actually happening within the character).

When I took my first tilt at these, I found myself doing what I’d done in the past – writing in a very stop-start fashion as my inner editor kept looking at every line I’d written and saying, “Hmmm. Is that really good enough?”

I don’t like that guy. If I listen to him, I don’t get anything written at all.

So I pulled out another old tool, one I thought wouldn’t be of any use to me until the drafitng process: Write or Die.

Write or Die in action on an iPad. From

You know, I don’t think I’ve told you about Write or Die on this web log. It’s a very basic text editor (think Notepad) with a couple of extra features. Before commencing a session, you can set yourself a time limit, a word count goal and a difficulty. These are self explanatory; when the session starts, a timer and a word counter show you how much time you have left and how many words you’ve written, and a couple of progress bars at the top show you whether your count is beating your time.

But the difficulty setting is where Write or Die shines. It kicks in if you stop writing, your screen will turn red, then a horrible noise starts playing. To shut it off, you have to start and rattling the keys again.

On the highest difficulties, Write or Die even starts deleting your words if you pause long enough (no, I’m not that crazy).

I bought Write or Die as an aid to drafting a novel, but I actually made the most progress on my outline plot and character summaries when I ran it, and though they might not measyure up to some platonic ideal of what a synopsis ought to look like in my head (based on zero examples; even Randy doesn’t give any completed examples on his site) they’re still workable.

I even used Write or Die to write the first draft of this blog post.

In the end, Write or Die is great for getting ideas out of head and onto page, and it’s been invaluable in getting me to generate new content.

Next Questions?

Just what makes a good character synopsis?

Can I use the Snowflake Method to whip something up for NaNoWriMo?

Are You Curious?

Who is your favourite villain?

What’s your best kick-in-the-pants that gets you moving on a project?


The Snowflake Method


Write or Die

Doctor Evil image sourced from Primary Ignition