Category Archives: Frog Jones

Regarding the Humble Blowfish: A Guest Post by Frog Jones

A guest post by Frog Jones.

In my day job, I’m a public defender. This means, among other things, that any time I am placed on panels at conventions, invariably one of those panels will be the “What Makes A Good Villain” panel. After years of giving this panel, I can say with a certainty that the question of how to build a really solid, evil character is one of the harder challenges in writing.

Because here’s the thing: humans don’t set out to be evil. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says to themselves “That’s it. Time to go dark. I am going to start the killing with…you.” Doesn’t happen that way. No, evil is a slow, insidious process of a thousand decisions, each one of which appears to be completely correct at the time, but the sum total of which is a monster.tumblr_lw80vfKeXS1qaselw (1)

I’m talking about villains, here. Not just antagonists; that can be any opposing force. I’m talking about truly evil people who want to do truly evil things. Writing someone like that who doesn’t come off as a mustache-twirling dude in a top hat next to a woman whom he has strapped to some train tracks is a real trick.

And this is why I want to talk about Walter White.

Walter is, in the beginning of the series, just a normal guy. He teaches high school 1e6ef57e6d5035c88257d69d70da7f1baa439711-thumbstudents, has a wife and a disabled son. He works a second job at a car wash to pay the bills, and even then the family is just barely getting by. They cannot afford a new water heater. Still, it’s his pride to be the guy taking care of his family. He’s constantly under stress, but he takes that stress and bottles it down because, well, that’s what you do.

Fast forward to Season Five, and Walter White is a drug lord with no compunctions about murdering for his territory or threatening his family. He is, by anyone’s account, evil.

Breaking-Bad-Season-5Now, I’m not saying you have to write five seasons of a television series to get a believable villain into your plot. But I do recommend that you figure out how and why your villain broke bad. And Walter White is a great model of the basic things you need to get there.

For Walter, the cancer triggered him. Once he knows he’s dying of cancer, he realizes he will no longer be able to take care of his family. And that right there? It’s the one thing he had. Oh, he’s not rich like his college buddy who didn’t sell his stock early, but he is taking care of his family. It’s the one thing he has to be proud about.

This pride? It’s normally considered a virtue in society. Walter wants to make sure that he’s the guy who provides, not someone else. Good on him, right? Way to stand up and take responsibility. Way to “be a man.”you-cannot-hold-your-head-high-with-your-hand-out-quote-1

So now we have a series of pressures placed on Walter. One is his financial pressure, because he never has enough money to provide for the basics of life. The next is his self-applied pressure to provide for the family himself. When the cancer comes along, it adds a ticking clock. Now Walter has to make a significant amount of money very, very quickly, because to do otherwise would be to fail in his responsibility to his family.

See what happened there? Not a bad guy. Just a guy put in a position where all the pressures on him forced him into a situation where the next choice seems perfectly logical. If you’re a professional chemist, and you need to make a lot of money very quickly, then cooking meth makes a lot of sense.

This right here? This is the point where you need to take your villain. It may be backstory, in your case; it certainly was in mine. But in the life of every evil person, and I know this as someone who spends his entire life working with evil people, there is a series of decisions that lead, inevitably, to damnation. And it starts with one.

Walter’s decision is wrong. But it’s perfectly logical. It makes sense. He’s going to die anyways, so the legal consequences aren’t really a big deal. He needs the money. Someone is going to sell meth to these junkies, and that meth will be laced with all kinds of other things, because they aren’t nearly as good at this as Walter.

This is the moment. The moment where your villain goes wrong. The moment where he or she makes the decision to do the wrong thing for all the right reasons. After that, it’s a slow and gradual slide into hell.

Not every story can or should be Breaking Bad. But everyone who wants to write an evil character should watch Breaking Bad, because it is a perfect case study in how a villain is born.

 

About Frog Jones

Frog Jones writes with his wife, Esther. After a ten-year vow to never show each other a word they had written, they eventually broke down and wrote a novel together. Together, they have published the Gift of Grace series from Sky Warrior Books, as well as short stories in anthologies such as How Beer Saved the World, First Contact Café, and Tales from an Alien Campfire, as well as many more.

The Joneses live on the Puget Sound in the State of Washington with Oxeye, who is twenty-five pounds of pure bunny. Frog’s works can be found at http://www.jonestales.com, and he also appears on the Three Unwise Men podcast at http://3unwisemen.com.

The Highs and Lows of Life

A Guest Post by Frog Jones

My name is Frog, and I am an addict.

To begin with, I am a full-time public defender. In the course of that job, I spend roughly fifty hours a week wrist-Mason County Courthouse
deep in legal briefs and heroin addicts. When I am practicing as an attorney, I owe it to my clients to be the best attorney I can be. When years in prison are on the line, it’s my job to make absolutely sure that the State gets it right. So when I am working as an attorney, I cannot be anything but an attorney.

When I stand in front of a jury, it’s a rush. I love it, and the whole world melts away into nothing but me, and my voice, and my will. A well-done closing carries you and your jury into a rhetorical ecstasy, and I chase that high on every trial I do.

I am an addict.

I am also involved with the Mason County Drug Court. Here, I’m not just an attorney; I am a part of a therapeutic team. When I’m serving on the Drug Court, or serving as legal counsel for the Drug Court foundation, I owe it to the addicts who are actually struggling to improve their lives to be the best Drug Court team member I can be. So I volunteer for the Foundation, giving extra of my time to make sure that the program has the resources it needs to help those people. And I get to watch people improve from their addictions. Do you know what it feels like to watch a drug addict hit one year clean and sober, get a job, and get to spend time with their child for the first time in six years? Knowing I’m a part of something like that is a glorious feeling, and I chase that high with every participant that comes into the program.

I am an addict.

Foundation LogoI am the Chairman of the Board for the Mason County HOST program. Seems pretty technical, but what it means is I volunteer to organize and lead a team of people who are devoted to housing the homeless teenagers in Mason County. This organization has two employees, three community grants, and a Memorandum of Understanding with the County, and is responsible for a budget of roughly $160,000 per year. And as a result, the homeless teenagers who make their way into this program all graduate high school. 70% of them move on to post-secondary education. These numbers are so good that the federal HUD program has inspected us to figure out what we are doing right.

Imagine what it’s like to sit at a high school graduation, and watch ten to fifteen kids walk that aisle. Kids whose drug addicted parents had ejected them from the house, or beaten them until they left, or took other liberties that forced their exit. Kids who were trying to live in a tent, on the streets, and not getting food stamps because you have to be an adult to qualify. Imagine watching these kids graduate, knowing that they’re off to college and putting together an actual life for themselves. And knowing that you had a hand in it. It is a high that I cannot begin to describe, and I chase it with a passion.

I am an addict.

And in the midst of all this, I write. I write short stories. I write novels. Some of them get published, some don’t. But I sit in front of the keyboard, and I create stories that I would want to read. And there’s no high. Presumably there could be. I imagine that the moment I accept a Hugo, or a Nebula, or some other distinction of high honor that there will be a high. This, however, is not likely to happen in the near future. So there is no such thing, for me, as a writer’s high.

You see, all those highs? There are lows to go with them. Losing a jury trial where my client may very well be innocent is devastating. Watching a Drug Court Graduate relapse, overdose, and die wrecks me. And hearing that one of our former students in the HOST program has gotten into a car accident because they were driving drunk, and died? Absolutely depressing.

And I write. I write because it isn’t a high, and it isn’t a low. I write because it is an escape. This is not to say that I write only when I feel like it; I can’t produce like that. I force myself to write whether I feel like it or not, because it allows me to get away from my life. It allows me to leave the highs, and the lows, behind. I write not to chase the high, but because I can find my stability. I write because it is before the keyboard that I can find peace.

The question of the month here is how to strike a balance between my writing and my life. For me, this is an improper question. There is no balance to my life without the writing.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t practical issues. It has to be scheduled. It has to be pre-planned. The schedule must be followed. But that’s not because I need the money, not because I need to make a deadline, and not because I have to prove something about myself. The schedule must be followed because, without the stability that creating my art provides, my life will spiral out of control. Writing is the thing that provides balance to everything else.

Because I am an addict.

Frog Jones:

Frog Jones writes with his wife, Esther. After a ten-year vow to never show each other a word they had written, they eventually broke down and wrote a novel together. Together, they have published the Gift of Grace series from Sky Warrior Books, as well as short stories in anthologies such as How Beer Saved the World, First Contact Café, and Tales from an Alien Campfire, as well as many more. The Joneses live on the Puget Sound in the State of Washington with Oxeye, who is twenty-five pounds of pure bunny. Frog’s works can be found at http://www.jonestales.com, and he also appears on the Three Unwise Men podcast at http://3unwisemen.com.

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