Process in Progress #3 – My Villain Isn’t Palpatine (and, Seriously, Thank God)

I had to do my taxes this week.

They just got away from me. I was definitely spoiled last year, able to get to them at the point I naturally would have (in June), so when I learned that they were due earlier this year, my brain just kept hearing “Not yet though,” until days before they were due.

Cool.

So I busted my ass to do them and managed to finish before Resident Evil: Village and Subnautica: Below Zero came out (because the true hell would’ve been owning but not being able to play two of my most anticipated games of 2021 because I had to finish extremely tedious paperwork), but, as you can imagine, this week was still a major pain. Which is also why this post is a little late.

That said though, somewhere in the mix, nearly lost, was a super important triumph:

I finally finished the backstory for my villain.

And, to frame that success in the most accessible light I can imagine, I have to add that–thank God–he’s not just Palpatine.

That Easy Palpy Goodness

I don’t know if it’s just me . . . but the reflex to make villains like Palpatine . . . is weirdly strong.

I don’t mean that I make them look like him or act like him; none of my villains has ever criticized the protagonist for their lack of vision and shot lightning out of their hands.

But, because I grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy, and the prequels came out while I was in high school, Palpatine’s backstory stands out more than any other backstory for any other villain I love. Pro-o-o-o-obably because no other villain I love has full movies devoted to their backstory.

Well, I mean, Darth Vader obviously does, but I always choose to forget that his backstory is “he hated sand a lot.”

Okay–jokes aside, I never really think of Vader as a villain of Star Wars; in my eyes, he’s more of a puppet used by the real villain: Palpatine.

Anyway, my point is, I watched Palpatine become the Emperor in my teens and early 20’s, so whenever I think about my own villains, even if they’re a floating mask that looks like an eye and attaches to people’s faces, forcing them to do its bidding (yes, one of my early villains was basically Majora’s Mask), when I try to dive into their backstory, it is always super duper easy to imagine that they were a politician in an ancient era who fomented civil war that allowed them to gain power.

The villain for Memory, who actually is an old, male emperor, really re-e-e-e-e-eally challenged that reflex.

Thankfully, a totally different problem with his backstory helped me shake off that case of the Palpies.

A Forced Restart

I absolutely hate scrapping massive blocks of worldbuilding and starting over. It’s just soul-crushing every time, especially if it’s tangible pages of writing you’ve already done that you literally have to delete.

And even though it was written in outline form, my first run at my villain’s backstory was many pages long. Wa-a-a-a-ay longer than it should’ve been.

The thing is, I was forced to restart it because it was built around a discrepancy with my magic system that didn’t make sense–a super esoteric plot hole that would only be visible to me on the back end . . . which meant I just could not let it stand. Because I just obsessively hate plot holes so much that it’s borderline dysfunctional.

Anyway, I smoothed out the magic system, went back to restart the villain’s backstory, and realized that one of his major drives (learning how to wield magic better than his siblings so he could make a name for himself like his father stressed all of them should) just wouldn’t work anymore (because, post change, no one can wield magic except for gods). That meant I couldn’t go the route of him just being power-obsessed.

Which was, ultimately, such a blessing that I’m here writing about it. Because, without realizing, I’d slathered on a little bit too much of the Palpy on the building blocks of my villain. I didn’t go full Palpatine, but the dude was an old man who manipulated different political parties to fight while hiding he had crazy powers . . . Definitely too much Palp.

But being forced to find a new, more unique motivation yielded a backstory that feels weird and interesting. I can’t share it here, but the major thing is that my villain wasn’t an insane narcissist who manipulated his way into power. Instead, he was just a guy who had pretty intense issues, put in a variety of world-specific situations that ultimately made him a monster.

And I guess that’s the key term here: world-specific.

This is, in no way, an instructional post. If anything, this is just me venting about how I’m still learning how to fight bad reflexes when it comes to my creative process.

But I think the most important take away here is that my new villain’s backstory is world-specific; the things that made him who he is are only possible in the world of this story, and that feels so integral to making him unique that “How are their motivations world-specific?” is going to be in my villain-design tool kit from now on. Because that alone will force me to think more creatively about the world as a whole, and that just feels right to me.

Whether or not that’s right for you is totally up to you. I’m not here trying to preach today. I’m just a man freshly done with his taxes, venting.

And celebrating. Cause my WIP got several degrees less typical this week, and that’s always a good feeling.

And, more important than anything: because I finally finished the villain’s backstory, I can finally finish the outline this week.

Which means I’m just a week out . . . from finally writing prose again.

I’m so stoked I could open-hand slap a cake right now.

~~~

To be clear, I’ve never open-hand slapped a cake before.

But I absolutely could right now.

Anyway, thanks for reading. I post here every Sunday. Full warning though: this is just an aspiring Fantasy writer’s blog, and, as you can see, I post whatever weird, sometimes entirely self-centered bullshit I decide to write about each week. I just do not cater to algorithms; in fact, I usually don’t write about new fads until literal years after they’re popular. Example: I watched Terminator: Dark Fate for the first time the other day. I just don’t care about being timely. I care about writing, and experiencing stories outside of their hype windows. So if you’re down for reading the perspectives of a guy who cares a lot about storytelling but doesn’t give a single shit about what’s happening on the Epic Games Store, well, hey, there’s a Follow button on the side bar on the left side of the screen (on PC) or the upper right corner drop down menu (on mobile).

Until next time, stay safe and try making resin jewelry. It’s a relaxing, easy hobby. Just sit somewhere pretty; pop open a window; wear safety goggles, a face mask, and gloves; mix up some resin with whatever colors; pour it and leave it for a day. Come back, see what worked out and what didn’t, try something else.

Just allow something fun and uncomplicated to exist outside of your control. Because, especially if you’re a writer, you deserve to enjoy some chaotic beauty in your life.

Published by

Louis Santiago

I'm a fantasy writer based in New York. One of my short stories, "Aixa the Hexcaster," was published at Mirror Dance Fantasy. You can read it here: http://www.mirrordancefantasy.com/2016/09/aixa-hexcaster.html.

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