• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:

    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!



Writing Villains that Rock

Once upon a time, villains were bad to the core. They did bad things for evil gain and that was all there was to it—soulless, unaccountable, wicked.

 This is no longer the case.

A contemporary villain, like the shape-shifting Daos (pictured left) from Quantum Encryption, is fully fleshed out and has all the ingredients that makes a good hero—they are on a journey, they have strong motivations, much is at stake, much is risked, the choices are hard, they believe in their cause and they are believable to the reader. In this way, the villain is just like the hero/heroine only they have contrary goals/moral/cultural conditioning. The writer these differences and uses them to challenge, test and block our hero. This only rings true if the villain is authentically formed and fully actualized. These villains come in many forms.

The Shadow Villain. Like Gollum in LOTR, this character represents the ‘dark side’ of the hero/heroine. He is a nemesis but a personal one. The readers ‘gets’ where he’s coming from—boating accident leads to finding a ring that haunt him for the rest of his life. This kind of villain can be a key player in the story, elucidating the history, world building and nature of an ‘evil’ object (the power of the one ring). In the end, this shadow villain may guide the hero through the darkness and like Gollum, succeed in the quest, even unintentionally, where the hero could not. The chance for redemption is always present. We are saddened by their demise.

The Betrayal Villain
. Like Cyper in the Matrix or Darth Vader in Star Wars, this type of villain was once on our hero/heroine’s side. As betrayer he creates the opportunity to do bad things AND tell the ‘other side’ of the story. The reader gets to hate this one particularly because it feels like they had a choice and made the wrong one—to go against our hero. The chance for redemption is present up until the end. If they make the ‘wrong’ choice, we cheer their demise. Standing ovation.

Super villain. Like Sauron in LOTR, the Dark Side of the Force in Star Wars, or the Machine Mind in the Matrix, the super villain is all powerful. There is an impersonal quality to them, like a force of nature. We do not ‘know’ them unless they have a representative with a growth arc or history (Darth Vader, Agent Smith). Only through these individuals is the super villain accessible in a personal way. As a force of nature, the super villain is the obstacle for the hero/heroine and one that is usually woven into the world building.

The Anti-Hero. Like Battlestar Galactica’s Number Six and Patrick Süskind’s Jean-Baptiste Grenouille from Perfume, these are serious ‘villains’ but the story is told from their POV. Sometimes they do ‘bad’ things (terrible things) but only to ‘bad’ ( like Dexter). In this case we love that justice is served. They may also be bad, or mad, and do terrible things for no good reason at all, but we are riveted to their story because it’s so interesting. The anti-hero is a way to tell the villains side of the tale while suspending judgment. The concept of the anti-hero is discussed more on Writing Excuses, a great resource. Also see my notes from a recent hero/villain workshop.

Who is a favourite villain on your bookshelf right now? In film? I’d love to hear about them. Comments welcome.

Kim is the author of the Quantum  Enchantment and the Quantum Encryption series. Her new book ‘Journey by Night‘ is out September 1, 2011. Read more about her books at KimFalconer.com

Fallon Friday: The problem with writing TV Characters

Someone emailed me recently, asking why I don’t write for TV . The short answer is, nobody has asked me. The long answer is much more complex and much of the reason I don’t lose too much sleep over the fact that (in this reality, at least) I write novels and not TV episodes.

It really gets down to characterisation. A novel (and in stand-alone movies, too) characters must undergo a journey, where they start at one point and travel, be it physically or spiritually, to another point. In fact, without a significant journey, the book won’t work. Any story where the character has learned nothing by the end of the tale is going to fall flat, leaving the reader with the feeling of “well, what was the point of that?”.

Weekly TV characters, on the other hand, have to mark time. They are defined largely by their ability to repeat the same formula each week, to keep the viewers coming back. So whether they are discovering a new superpower, defeating the monster of the week, winning a court case, or solving a crime, that’s what they do and they’d better do it every week, or else. I’m not talking soap operas here. They can change characters at will, and have much larger ensemble casts to play with, and are therefore not quite as restricted as series that rely on a small number of characters (or even a single character) to carry the story.

TV characters are rarely allowed to evolve and grow, and if they do, it’s usually only in the most limited sense. Dare to deviate from this and you have either break-through TV that will make you millions and win lots of awards, or you’ll cop a lot of flack because your characters change significantly, from one season to the next.

If you want an example of this, take the X Files. Scully the sceptic and Mulder the believer were the perfect foil for each other and offered a fabulous balance that made every episode a joy. For about the first 5 seasons. And then we run up against the problem with TV land. You see, after 5 years, Scully had seen so much, and been through so much, that it was absurd to think she was still the same sceptic assigned to keep an eye on “Creepy Mulder” from season 1. But that was the formula and when they messed with it after Mulder left, the series fell in a heap because it just didn’t have the same feel.

Then you have a writer like Joss Whedon, who quite deliberately evolves his characters and makes them grow, who copped quite a bit of criticism (particularly in Buffy’s 6th season) for Buffy not being the same ditzy cheerleader she was in season 1. By that time, Whedon argues quite rightly, she’d died, been resurrected and stopped half a dozen Apocalypses. That sort of thing has to leave a mark, you know.

I know this doesn’t apply to all TV shows, and the “reset to zero at the end of each episode” philosophy isn’t as prevalent as it once was, thanks to shows like Lost and Heroes . (Remember Bewitched, where Darren never changes his stance on Samantha’s use of magic to perform housework, or the neighbours who never wise up?) But if you look at the experiences of many TV characters, they go through trauma after a trauma with no apparent lasting scars. Literally. (Note… it’s perfectly all right to maim and otherwise scar supporting characters, btw.)

If you think I’m off the mark, here, tune into any episode of Law and Order (in any of its various incarnations), which you can watch out of sequence, any season, be certain you’re going to get the same thing. Law and Order has the art of marking time down to a fine art, which is why it’s so successful and will probably still be going strong in fifty years, by which time it’ll be Law and Order: Space Patrol, with our noble detectives and lawyers solving crimes in outer space.

So, despite the different characterisation requirements, would I write for TV if I had the chance? Of course, I would (although whether I would be any good at it is a different issue altogether…LOL). And I know many other writers who feel the same way (Trudi Canavan has a secret hankering to write for Charmed and make them do it “properly” hehehe).

To make characters engaging, to write consistently under extreme pressure, year after year, keeping the series fresh and enjoyable, is a true talent and I take my hat off to those writers who do it with such ease. I think they are underrated and probably not appreciated nearly enough for their skill, which is a shame, because as the recent writers’ strike in the US proved, without the writers, nobody in TV land has a job and we would be doomed to ever more dire reality TV shows. Oh dear…

Jennifer Fallon