Does your villain suffer from Stupid Villain Syndrome (SVS)?

Everybody loves a good villain, right? So the reverse must also be true: everyone hates a bad villain. Worse, they’ll stop reading if your villain suffers from Stupid Villain Syndrome (SVS).

SVS is when your villain meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • They’re not scary enough for the reading level of the book. They’ll come across as comical and mustache-twirling if they’re not sinister enough.
  • They’re not strong enough to physically pose a true risk to your protagonist’s goals. Readers won’t be invested if they feel no one is truly opposing your protagonist. Nothing will feel at stake for the protagonist.
  • They choose incompetent sidekicks. Ruthless villains want sidekicks who can carry out their orders successfully. While protagonists might be able to get away once or maybe twice, they shouldn’t be continually able to outsmart sidekicks. It makes the villain appear weaker by association.
  • The villain over-explains his or her plan in the end, resulting in giving the protagonist time to escape or think of a plan. While a plot should be twisting and keep readers guessing and some explanation might be necessary to clear up certain earlier plot points, don’t use this method to give your protagonist time to come up with a brilliant plan. Your villain can gloat and revel in the moment, but just not too long.

If your hero needs time to untie the ropes that bind their hands or to get off the railroad tracks like in old cartoons, try instead to perhaps have your hero’s sidekick or another character cause the needed distraction to give the protagonist time to escape. Try to have your villain give as little explanation as possible and give your protagonist the smarts she needs to piece the rest together on her own. Or maybe, split the dialogue so that half the reason why the villain committed the murder is given while the protagonist is danger, and the other half comes when the villain lies dying or realizes they’re trapped. At the very least, have your protagonist escape while the villain is giving their speech to show how foolish they were not to kill them right away.

A good thing to keep in mind to avoid SVS is actually a quote from actor Tom Hiddleston:

“Every villain is a hero in his own mind.”

The villain is often the one that took the path the hero could’ve taken but chose not to. Yet, the villain probably had very legitimate reasons for taking that path. Something drove them to it just as something made the hero pick a different way. We spend enough time with the hero to get their reasoning, so make sure we have enough time with the villain to get their reasoning before the final few scenes when they have to over explain. (However, I will point out that SVS doesn’t apply as fully to mystery and twist endings since it’s not always obvious who the villain is. But, there better be enough breadcrumbs that readers believe the credibility of the villain after the big reveal.)

Overall, your villain deserves, nay, needs to be just as complex as your hero in order to avoid the pitfalls that come with SVS, and avoiding SVS will go a long way in strengthening your villain, which by proxy strengthens your protagonist and probably gives you a stronger, more intriguing plot!

 

 

How Publishing is Like Playing Super Mario Bros.

First off, you start off small.

That’s right. You’re tiny, vulnerable. Maybe you’re even unsure of the rules. You run ahead only to run straight into a goomba. And you die.

That’s what sending your first query feels like. You’re one tiny voice in the slush pile. You send your query off only to get a rejection 6 weeks later. And in some ways, it does feel like you die. Your hope dies. Your spirit dies. Maybe even your dream dies.

But the great thing about Mario is that you have more lives left! You can start all over again. And this time, this time you’re coming back with more knowledge. You’re better prepared. Maybe you had a critique partner read over your query letter and show you where an agent may have gotten confused. Or maybe you strengthened your opening few pages. And now you’re ready to jump over that first goomba when it comes.

What happens after you sail over that goomba? You find some blocks. One even contains a mushroom! You grab it, and you feel ten feet tall, just like you do when you get your first request from an agent for 50 pages or the full manuscript!

Now you’re on a roll! But then, you encounter a series of pipes. Some you can go down, and some you can’t. Think of each of those pipes as literary agents. Some just won’t be interested in your novel. Some maybe just signed a client who writes too similarly to you. Whatever the reason, those pipes just don’t lead anywhere. They’re just not the right fit for you.

But stick with it! Work past those Koopa Troopas, those pesky individuals who say you’ll never succeed and shouldn’t be spending so much time writing or those thoughts that keep coming back saying you’re not good enough. Keep a close eye on those because just when you think you’ve squashed them, those shells shoot back out of nowhere and knock you off a cliff. And you have to start all over again.

Yet, if you don’t give up, if you don’t give in, if you dodge those shells when they come for you, you might just find a pipe that leads you to a strange new world. It might be a world filled with terms you’re not familiar with yet, like R&Rs (Revise & Resubmit), but it’s usually a world that holds secret treasure (hello signing with an agent!).

While it might feel like you’ve found the Holy Grail, you’re still a long way off from defeating Bowser. So you keep going.

But once you’ve found an agent (hey there, Luigi!), you’ve got help on the journey. Your 1 player game has now become a 2 player one! Now it’s off to the castle! You and your agent…I mean Luigi, burst through those doors, dodge fire and lava and goombas galore. Then, you meet that castle’s boss…aka The Editor at the publishing house your agent submitted to…the one who holds your fate in his or her hands!

Sometimes, in a few moves, the boss kicks you into a flaming lava pit and you die (aka you get rejected.) Sometimes, though, you might defeat the boss only to learn that your princess isn’t in that castle, meaning that even though the editor liked it, they couldn’t buy the project for whatever reason. So you move on to another castle. And another. Always looking for your elusive princess.

And then, one day, many goombas later, you find the right castle! And you realize that all those levels you beat before have been preparing you for this moment. You’re ready. You march right up to Bowser and show him what you’re made of!

And you win!!! Before you know it, Princess Peach is running into your arms, all wrapped up in a nice publishing contract!

Congratulations! You’ve done it! You’ve won the game!

They’ll be time for celebrations and congratulations. But, you can’t rest on your laurels because as the saying goes, “The only thing harder than getting your first book published is getting your second book published.” You’ve got to keep practicing because everyone knows there’s going to be a sequel to the game, and it’s going to be even harder than the first one. So put on your red hat, keep an eye out for Yoshi, and grab all the Super Stars you can because you’re going to need them on your quest to make the New York Times Best Seller list….I mean get a new high score. But from this little Toadstool, who’s always full of advice, encouragement, and helpful tips, I just want to let you know that you’ve got this! We’re all rooting for you, Player 1. Good luck!