Category Archives: Frank Morin

Why the Hero Needs Friends, but the Villain is a Loner

Hero with friendsWhy does the hero usually benefit from a group of friends to support them, while the villain seems to go it alone, surrounded by toadies, henchmen, and often monstrous servants, but no real friends?

A favorite example for me is David Eddings’ classic fantasy: The Mallorean. I loved this series when I read it as a teen, and one of my favorite aspects of it were the fantastic cast of characters. Their friendship, bantering, and personal quirks felt so real, and helped draw me into the story. Every one of them played an important role somewhere along the way, without which the hero could not have succeeded.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was a villain who casually killed just about everyone they knew as soon as their usefulness ended. The contrast was powerful and effective.

Frodo and gollumAnother stellar example is the friendship between Frodo and Sam. Without Sam, Frodo was doomed. Antagonistic forces were always loners: Sauron, the Dark Lord; Saruman the White, who turned traitor and allied with Sauron, but couldn’t be considered a friend of the ultimate tyrant. Then there was the creature, Gollum. So alone he had developed schizophrenia to have someone to talk to. I was fascinated by Frodo’s attempt to befriend that broken, evil soul. In the process of allowing Frodo close, Gollum actually seemed capable of redemption, but when he rejected Frodo, his ultimate fall was guaranteed.

So why are friends necessary for the hero? I’ve come up with what I think are some compelling reasons:

  1. The hero is usually the underdog in most stories. They’re caught up in crazy events that they usually would rather avoid, but cannot seem to escape. The enemy is usually far more powerful and dangerous. Without friends to help them develop and grow and become the hero the story needs, they’d never survive long enough to get a shot at victory.
  2. The hero must usually rise to fight some kind of evil, which means they represent the good. They might not be necessarily good of themselves, but they must represent good, or have ties to those they care about that are good. And those ties of love and friendship make them human, help readers relate, and encourage us to root for them.
  3. The hero is usually attempting to effect change. Real change cannot be done solo.

There’s a lot of great information about heroes and heroism out there. One resource I discovered is Matt Langdon of Heroism Science. He’s got an excellent post about heroism and the team heroes need to build in order to succeed. Check it out here: https://heroismscience.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/every-hero-needs-a-team/

Back to the villain. Why do they have so much trouble building friendships?

  1. If they’re truly evil, they simply can’t understand friendship, which is a form of love, placing it outside of the realm of understanding of a truly evil villain.
  2. True friendship requires acts of kindness and thoughtfulness, which is selfless and understanding. Most villains are proud and selfish, which again makes it nearly impossible for them to understand or embrace the necessary demands of friendship. Pride is by nature competitive, pitting the proud villain against anyone and everyone.
  3. However, if your villain is not one of those ultimate evil types, you might be able to craft one who gets it, at least at some level. Some of the most interesting villains are those who honestly think they’re right, who display kindness and honor, but who draw different conclusions about the world and how to fix it than the hero.

Xavier vs MagnetoThink Magneto from X-Men. He’s ‘The Villain’ and he does terrible things. But through the story, he is portrayed as a man of deep thought and, at least initially, seems interested more in protecting mutants from abuses than causing them. He’s actually very good friends with Professor Xavier, even though they must face off time after time. The root of their differences is their different world view. That type of conflict is extremely fascinating.

So build stories with great heroes and a stellar cast of supporting characters: the Mentor, the funny Sidekick, etc.

And when crafting your villains, consider making them human too, with real, complex motivations for what they do, with people they care about, and with real human emotions.

Those kind of villains are harder to hate, those stories are more complex, and often more difficult to write. But those are the stories that resonate the most powerfully. None of us will have to face the Dark Lord to settle the fate of the entire world, but we all have to face people who do mean or rotten things. Or maybe they’re just people who hold different political or religious views. It’s easy to see them as villains, but those people are human too, and although it makes it harder for us to hate them, they usually feel like they have good reason for what they do.

Deeply moving stories happen when the hero must stand against a friend. Find that story, and you’ve got a winner on your hands.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
Rune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Tension in Physical Confrontations

Martial ArtsCujoWhich scene evokes more tension?

1 – Two master martial artists dueling in a high-flying contest of furious fists?

2 – A child trying to hold a door closed against a huge, rabid dog?

Most people choose number two, even though both contests could likely result in at least one person dying, and the first contest might be more visually impressive. Why is the image of the child against the rabid dog inherently more tense?

Here are a couple of reasons:

  1. Need a real threat of danger. If we don’t feel the threat, we don’t feel the tension. That’s why humorous confrontations lack tension. (Think most of the fight scenes in Get Smart) In the amazing martial-artist duel, there is a threat of danger, but if both men are equally matched, that threat alone is not enough to ratchet up the tension. We need to add in another element.
  2. Disparity of force. If the hero is most likely going to lose, we feel more tension. Think David vs Goliath (if we didn’t already know the ending). In the martial-arts example, it’s more tense if the hero is somehow at a disadvantage and more likely to lose. One of the major reasons we feel such tension in the child vs dog example is that the dog holds a huge advantage unless the child can lock the door. Add to that the natural tendency of most people to want to protect children, and the tension grows tenfold.
  3. Stakes. The higher the stakes, the greater the tension. If the outcome doesn’t matter, there’s no tension. If the hero’s life, or the life of a loved one, is on the line, the tension can shoot through the roof. Add to that the fact that the hero finds themselves at a terrible disadvantage, and the tension ratchets up another white-knuckled notch.

Also remember, often the lead-up to a fight is more tense than the fight itself. In the middle of a fight sequence, we get caught up in the thrill of the battle. Sometimes we get swept away by how cool the fight sequence is and may not actually feel so much tension as we did before the fighting started.

Batman vs BaneLet’s look at a couple of examples from well-known films. First consider Batman’s final fight with Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. An awesome fight scene, but what filled it to overflowing with tension was the fact that Batman had faced Bane before and lost. The hero faced a very real possibility of losing again, of getting broken and defeated. But he stood up and faced his enemy, despite the risks, and that made us cheer for him, even while filled with nervous tension that made the eventual victory that much more delicious.

ANeo vs Mr Smithnother great example is in The Matrix in the fight scene between Neo and Mr. Smith. The entire movie sets up the tension, with the viewers being told and demonstrated over and over again that the Agents were impossible to beat and that everyone who had ever tried to stand against them had died.

Then Neo is forced into a position where he chooses to fight anyway, and the tension is awesome. The resulting fight scene is super-epic, our enjoyment magnified by that huge tension build-up.

An important note is that the stakes need to be believable. For example, in the recent hugely-popular movie Avengers Civil War, the tension didn’t work for me because I felt he set-up for the fight between heroes that I both thought were great wasn’t done well. I didn’t believe that they had sufficient justification to try killing each other, so the stakes felt hollow, and the tension weak. The fight scenes were well choreographed, but they lacked true tension because they felt forced.

And sometimes the most tense scenes are the ones where the hero and the antagonist are forced to be polite to each other, but are yearning to leap at each others’ throats. The tension in such pre-fight confrontations can be dialed up to delicious levels.

One great example is Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indy meets his arch rival, Belloq, in the café, right after the scene where we’re led to believe the leading lady, Miriam, just died. The conversation is laced with insults, and the threat of fatal violence bubbles just under the surface. It’s a great example to study.

So, let’s assume we’ve got a great confrontation planned, with serious stakes that have been well established, with a very real threat of danger, and with the bad guy holding every advantage. It’s still all too easy to destroy the tension by failing to manage the pacing, or by including too many details.

Princess BrideConflicts have to move along at an increasing tempo. They can start slow – think the epic sword duel in The Princess Pride – but the tempo must increase, then increase some more, that rising tempo helping to raise the tension level.

During a fight scene is not the time to suddenly pause to discuss the finer details of craftsmanship of the weapons being wielded, what types of metals were used in building them, or the history of their use. If fighting with guns, don’t pause to discuss the pros and cons of different calibers, or compare the ballistics. Nor is it the time for long monologues or exhaustive self-analysis. Such detours kill the tempo and pacing and snuff out the tension. If such details are important, include them somewhere prior to the fight so the reader already understands.

One must also be careful not to share too many details. Imagine trying to read a detailed blow-by-blow account of an epic martial-arts duel. Such a chronicle would run for pages and pages, and would bore the readers to tears and destroy any chance of maintaining pacing or tension.

So pick the most important details and focus on those. Paint the other aspects of the fight with broad strokes, including enough sensory detail to lock the reader into the scene. Make sure the blocking is clear so the reader understands the physical location and how the combatants are moving within the space, but don’t describe every punch, swing, or the trajectory of each bullet. Then dive deep into the critical final sequence, slowing the action and increasing the level of detail so the reader is absolutely dialed in to what is happening. This will increase tension even more, as well as the pay-off.

If those moments are properly set up, they will explode across the page with increasing tempo, careful choices of details, focus on the stakes and the ultimate conclusion, resulting in amazing scenes that will linger in readers’ minds long after they reach the last page.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
No Stone UnturnedFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers sci-fi time travel thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Trashing Your Novel Might be the Only Way to Save It

PhoenixHappy New Year!

As we discuss new beginnings this month, I’m talking about those times when you must begin at the beginning – again – when to decide to throw away your novel and start over.

It’s a scary idea to consider for any writer, no matter how experienced. We slave over our work, sometimes for years, pouring our heart and soul into our new creation. It’s like our baby, a precious part of our identity.

So when do we kill it?

The answer to that question is kind of a sliding scale. As new authors, it can be a shock to realize that revisions are necessary, that we have to cut and chop and operate and rebuild our story, perhaps several times. At a minimum, some of those precious little nuggets we’ve worked into our story might have to get chopped as we refine and perfect the story. Other times, we have to cut and change more, making some fundamental shifts in our plot, characters, setting, etc.

And occasionally, we have to throw it all away and start over. In these cases, it’s usually because the story we thought we were telling was the wrong story. Or our skills as developing writers just wasn’t up to par with the story we were trying to tell, and there are such critical flaws in the story that it’s simply not going to work.

In those cases, to save the story, we must kill it. Like a phoenix, the story might only live to be amazing only through the ashes of its previous life.

I know what I’m talking about. I’m arguably the king of the phoenix. My first novel – the four-year, three-hundred-thousand-word monstrosity that I was convinced was going to take the world by storm – wasn’t. I cut my teeth as a writer on that story, and I still love it. A big, fat, epic fantasy that had some amazing elements, but was not a professional-level product. It simply was not going to work.

The day I realized that was a dark day. I faced a choice, as we always do when facing revisions of every kind. Either cling to my pride and embrace that parental impulse to protect this precious story I had worked so very hard for so very long to produce. It’s understandable, but that approach would have guaranteed the story never succeeded.

Or – kill the story and start over. That’s what I did. I threw it away (really should have held a solemn ceremony with a huge bonfire in the back yard). Then I started over. Page One.

I took the elements that had been good – some of the worldbuilding, some of the characters, etc. And I redesigned an entirely new story. It was a painful process, but it was also amazing and awesome because the resulting story was ten times better. I will likely release it this year.

You’d think after all of that, I’d know how to write a first draft that was mostly good and only needed minor revisions.

Nope. Not me.

Set in StoneMy second book – Set in Stone – book one of my popular YA fantasy series – suffered its own issues. I actually outlined this story to the Nth degree in the hopes of a near-perfect first draft. Problem was, I was outlining the wrong story. By the third draft, I realized there were fundamental flaws with it.

So I chopped about 80% of that novel and rewrote it again. The result was amazing. I added the humor, which is such a big part of the series. And I plunged deep into the unique magic system and added several new characters, which are some of the most popular characters in the series. If I had clung to the original draft, the story would have tanked and I would have wasted an entire world and years of effort.

So shredding that story and rebuilding it again was the only way to save it. Phoenix number Two a success.

Just about every other novel I’ve written has also required massive rewrites. Maybe you’re smarter than me or better skilled and your stories don’t require such overhauls. But don’t hold back. The story is what matters, and first drafts are sometimes a process of discovering what your story’s heart really is. Rewrites are when you get to polish the story and craft it to perfection to make that heart really shine.

This week, I’m enjoying a rare writing retreat where I’ll be diving into edits on my next Facetakers time travel thriller. I’m not expecting to need such in-depth rewrites, but as I get into the revision process, I’ll do what it takes to make the story shine.

The story deserves it. My fans deserve it. So I do the work.

I’m a storyteller. It’s what I do.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
No Stone UnturnedFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers sci-fi time travel thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Pause to Enjoy the View

Forbidden CityA lot of people travel during the holidays, and many of us focus on how efficiently we can get from point A to point B. How many times is the first question you get asked when arriving at a destination after a long drive, “How long did it take?”

It’s important to learn to not just focus on the ultimate goal, but pause to enjoy the journey.

The journey of writing is similar. About two years ago, I set the outrageously optimistic goal of releasing eight books in eight months. Not possible, even if I was just releasing ebooks. But given the fact that I also release paperbacks and hardcovers too, it’s simply not humanly possible. Dealing with the printer, getting proofs, waiting for shipping, etc alone takes more than a month per book.

I might have been naïve to the true amount of work required to publish as an indie writer, but I tackled the challenges with a determination to get there. Despite my eagerness to release books, I refused to skimp on quality to hit a crazy deadline.

Big surprise – I didn’t make my goal.

However, in the last 18 months, I’ve released five novels, won spots for two of my short stories in fantastic anthologies, and donated a third to an anthology raising funds to fight plagiarism. Not bad.

It’s been crazy-busy learning the ins and outs of running my own indie-publishing company, completing manuscripts, final edits, MS prep, interior formatting, cover design, giveaways, traveling to conventions, etc. Plus, like everyone, there’s still that pesky day job, family, kids’ activities, community involvement, sleep, etc.

Sales are building in the right direction, and hopefully this year they’ll reach a tipping point and take off. Until then, I’ll keep releasing novels, just on a more reasonable time table.

At times it’s been easy to get so focused on the next project, the next milestone, and my never-ending to-do list that I can forget to pause and enjoy the journey.

The end of the year is a great time to do so. When I take the time to reflect on the past eighteen months, I take a deep breath and enjoy the milestones.

There’s still lots of work to do, and that will never change. But I can enjoy each step in the process. And I can celebrate so much material being published and enjoyed by fans: