Peggy Bechko: Creating Your Best Villain

Could Cruella be the worst best villain in history?

 by PeggyBechko

Villains aren’t just people who run around being mean and slapping puppies (in fact sometimes they have and love their very own puppy or kitten).

So how do we as writers of for screen, stage and print write the very best villains the world will love to hate?

You make your villain a match for your hero. Pretty much that simple…and that hard. Your villain can be a who or an it.

Think about Lord of The Rings Orcs to the Elves or Ripley vs. Alien. How about Kirk’s nemesis, Khan or maybe Frankenstein or the Wolfman vs. whoever. The Martian vs. staying alive on Mars.

Actors love to get these parts. People love to read about them in books. They hold attention. Great villains make for a great read or a great movie.

Heroes and villains work off each other. There must be a ‘balance of power’ to make their strange ‘dance’ fascinating to reader or watcher. They operate as two halves of a whole. And sometimes they literally are – i.e. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

How about Luke Skywalker when he discovers Darth Vader is his father? And don’t forget the current wave of comic book heroes and villains courtesy of Marvel Studios.

The villains we create for novels and screen scripts cannot be weak. It’s the job of the villain to create conflict and roadblocks for the hero to create drama and suspense. That’s what getting lost in a novel or a movie is all about.

If a villain isn’t very strong, the hero you create who is about to shine and show off his or her strengths won’t have a strong obstacle to push back against or who’ll give that hero reason for self-examination, growth and finding the strength to overcome. A weak villain is pretty much ‘meh’.

Something else to keep in mind is a villain has to seem to be, at least in the beginning, even more clever than the hero or stronger or more formidable. The hero has to be trying to figure the villain out and the villain (whether person, planet or weather) has to come on strong, winning for the greater part of the book or movie.

There have to be moments when we, the audience, cannot possibly see a way out for the hero. And the villain’s goal needs to be interesting. His fight against the hero creative. The villain doesn’t’ have to be all out ‘evil’. He or she or it can be misguided but powerful. And, though the ‘clever’ element often enters in, it’s not a requirement.

Think about this as well. Who gets the best lines? Usually the villain (presuming your villain isn’t a comet headed for earth). Work hard to make your villain human, dig deep to find that humanity within and don’t create an all dark villain. If you pull it off it will make that villain even more terrifying than just ‘good against evil’.

Unpredictability is a great plus for a villain too. How better to make an audience jump than to have a ‘monster’ like King Kong one moment cradling Fay Wray in the palm of his hand and the next batting her would-be rescuers off a cliff. Or tossing her in the bushes to go off to battle a dinosaur.

Try to avoid clichés, but don’t shy away either if it is just the perfect touch to a scene.

And remember your villain is no wimp. This guy is every bit a match for the hero in determination to succeed. He doesn’t back down and he doesn’t give in. He’s for real. Powerful and possibly capable of defeating the hero.

Even if it’s a comedy you’re writing, novel or script, the villain, no matter how comically presented, takes him or herself very seriously…and so are his goals that set up the drama/suspense/adventure.

As a wrap up I want to leave with one caution. It’s easy to turn a specific villain into a generalization. Stereotyping can lead to big problems with your script or manuscript and even hinder a sale.

Remember the cold war when ‘communist’ villains abounded? Made it seem like all ‘communists’ were villains. Now we’re in a zone where “Arab terrorist” frequently goes together while not all terrorists are Arabs and visa versa. The writer who doesn’t think things through can punch a lot of emotional buttons. Not all Mexicans are ‘drug lords’. Not all black American are pimps.

If your character absolutely must fall into that stereotypical swamp, then do something with that villain to make it a stand-out character for many other reasons.

Now go out there and create the best worst bad guy you can!

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

Peggy Bechko: The Writer’s Life – And the need for Focus

by PeggyBechko

It’s astonishing how many distractions there are in the world these days – throw into that procrastination (a writer’s biggest nemesis) and it can be a cruel world for the writer. But we’re going to ignore that old side-kick procrastination and think about focus despite the fact the two of them do go hand in hand.

Focus can lead to great things. Lack of it can truly disrupt the creative flow. Once you’re focused and can maintain that focus the work will flow smoothly and swiftly. It’s almost intangible and yet when we’re ‘in the zone’ we all know it. I mean…

[oops, got to go open a window…on the other side of the house…it’s stuffy as I write this]

…what writer hasn’t felt that ‘locked in’ feeling. The one when one sentence follows another in perfect synergy. When the flow is perfect and we imagine nothing could possibly derail the creative force.

[hmm, gotta change my ink cartridge, even though I’m not printing – be right back]

So, ahem, focus is key. That ability to continue working – mind fixed like a laser on the work at hand; creating a story any studio or publisher will be mad to get…

[uh oh, just look at that wall – the plant was overwatered and the stain is a streak on the wall. Wonder if I need to paint that]

Oh, sorry, where was I? Ah, yes, focus. There are writers who need total silence to focus – others who like music – or, like me, enjoy birds tweeting in the background. Whatever it takes in order to focus and block out the rest of the world while writing – do it. Don’t give in to what takes your attention off the script or manuscript at hand.

[uh, oh, my night to cook, day has just burned away – husband won’t mind cooking instead – oh, wait, he did last night and he’s going to mind…a lot… if I don’t have a legit deadline; which I don’t, sigh]

Every time focus is broken it’s like booting up all over again. It isn’t just the time lost from the distraction – it’s the time needed to realign thoughts, to get back into the flow. If you need to take a break, take a break. But, don’t let everyday distractions take away from your focus. Here are just a few ways to keep yourself focused.

First block out any time you intend to write. Be reasonable – you aren’t going to write for twelve hours straight. Focus on two or three. A little longer is okay but let’s not press it past six hours. You’ll get unproductive fast. And give yourself some breaks. See that two or three hours I mentioned above? Yeah, that’s about right. Then take a break of at least fifteen minutes. Go for a walk, do something, get away from your computer. No, you can’t surf or check email. Really get away.

Next, and I’ve said this before, turn off things you’re likely to find distracting like your social media. Ban distractions. Unless you’re expecting an email with a great writing gig offer shut it down.

We’re all guilty of it – editing while we write. Don’t do it. You’ll have plenty of time to edit later. It’s yet another distraction, thinking you can fix all those little mistakes as you go.

Goals are good. Keep everything turned off and your area distraction free until you meet your goal. Pages. Number of words. Time at the keyboard. Whatever. If you have a goal distractions are less likely to take you. And your will-power gets stronger the more you apply the distraction-less environment to your writing.

You really don’t want to come to the end of the day thinking “well, rats, have to work into evening or late night cuz I didn’t get done what I needed to.”

Do you really think you’ll remain focused and be productive then?

Just asking.

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

Peggy Bechko Wants to Know: “Where’s the Talent?”

The search for talent never ends

by Peggy Bechko

Have you ever wondered about your talent for this writing thing? Whether scripts, books, articles, whatever. Have you ever thought, “Do I really have talent for this?”

I’ll be willing to say that’s a big yes for pretty much anyone reading this post. You have indeed asked that question of yourself and perhaps someone else – someone who’s read your work or maybe someone from whom you’ve taken a course. It’s a very real concern to writers. And, let’s face it, writers frequently need reassurance.

So, let’s think about this and ask a few questions.

First, the worst case scenario. How do you react when you fail? We all fail. It’s a human thing. That really isn’t as important as you might first think. The thing most writers and even philosophers will ask is what do you do next? Right now I hear grumbling – “what the heck does that mean?”

Uh, well, since you failed, did you learn anything from it? For want of a better phrase, did you grow? Or, is it the reverse? Did that failure make you feel smaller, less than you were? Did the accompanying criticism (when did we ever face failure without criticism to go with it?) diminish you? Did you allow it to drive you down? Did you immediately think you should just give up?

Beware of emotions that can destroy your dreams and hamper your next effort. Be mad, be frustrated, be whatever it takes for you to get back on your literary feet and try again. Failure isn’t the terrible thing it is sometimes made out to be. We learn from it, we course correct because of it.

So ponder what makes you outstandingly different. What makes you unique? Well, for one thing, getting back up once you’re down. You have strengths and weaknesses. You must have gone through a lot of self-analysis before deciding to try it as a writer. That means you decided what you really want to do. Yay for you! If I’m wrong here you’ll have to give it a rethink. Just don’t let the poison of rejection and a temporary failure decide for you. Keep asking yourself what you really want.

Here’s a big truth for writers and heck for almost anyone doing anything…risk. There’s always risk. I could come up with a whole lot of old clichés regarding this, but you already know if you play it safe as a writer your writing won’t grow. It will be middle-of-the-road at best. If you’re not taking big risks with your writing you’re not positioning yourself for the big gains. Which circles back to the paragraph above on failure. Failure just isn’t. Don’t let it determine where you are going.

Add to your ponderings as well. Who’s supporting you? What are your relationships, business and personal? We all need a support network, someone who’s a positive influence. Who’s yours? If you don’t have some writing pals, a spouse, a significant other, a good friend to cheer you, on you might want to look into changing that. Where are you going to draw your strength to deny failure and continue on?

And here’s a final talent you need to be a truly talented writer. You need to be able to cope with change. Just look at the publishing industry, the explosion of good independently published material. Look at the movie biz. Change is a constant. Styles of script writing change. Ways of making movies change. Do you plan to throw up a stop sign and attempt not being part of it?

Reality is you either adapt to changes or the system mashes you down. Are you going to make use of the changes and put them to your advantage as they happen or are you going to try to ignore it all and stubbornly cling to the ‘old ways’?

Change offers new direction, new perspectives, and new opportunities. Don’t consider change a problem. Embrace it, use it, make the most of it. Your talent will surge as a result.

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

Peggy Bechko’s World of Stand-up (Sit Down?) Writing

by Peggy Bechko

Sitting or Standing – oh, what the *&^%!

We’re writers. We end up sitting a lot.

We’re no doubt aware of the fact that sitting a lot isn’t really good for us. There are studies that claim to show how very, very bad it is by informing us all that it increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and of course cardiovascular disease. It also leads to obesity and back pain. In fact it could be killing us (duh – look at what sitting all day causes).

But wait. Now there’s a new study by researchers in the UK that comes at it from another angle and says long days of sitting doesn’t seem to be killing us after all. At least no faster than standing.

What? Oh, for crying out loud.

So what’s the basis for this?

Well, here’s a quote: “Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself,” said researcher Melvyn Hillsdon from the University of Exeter. “Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing.”

Hmmm. Okay, writer, now what do we do?

I mean I got a standing desk and everything.

There’s a key here, right? Umm, yeah. It hinges on our daily activity according to these researchers (who, by the way, spent 16 years on their project). The extrapolation is apparently activity, every kind of activity.

Define activity I said to myself.

In general, it’s any sort of movement.

For example, the study took place in London which is a city that requires a lot of walking to and standing on public transportation to get places. So, the folks in this study had double the average daily walking time that most other folks there in the UK and I’m assuming in the US.

So, despite the fact that remaining seated for long periods is bad for your health, no matter how often you hit the gym, simple movement is big for health.

What is needed apparently is a bigger expenditure of energy in some form. Even fidgeting counts.

The take-away?

Well, I’m not getting rid of my standing desk. I like it and I actually think it causes me, personally, to focus better. If you want to see it you can check mine out at – it’s a Varidesk.

I split my day between sitting and standing (standing with a lot of fidgeting). Now I’m adding to that a new focus on increasing physical activity. The fact is my standup desk does encourage more movement than sitting. I do fidget and I do move back and forth on my feet and I do tend to step away more often. So now when I step away, I walk up and down the stairs.

All that walking is good, and easy to arrange. My suggestion is that you make the commitment to walk more, to fidget at your desk more and to generally keep spending your energy.

After all, who needs the stress of worrying about the hours we spend at our computers, a situation that no matter how good our intentions we can’t change?

Now, get up, stretch, move around, then go on and write that award-winner. Your body may not be able to give an acceptance speech for your conscious contribution to a healthier life, but your life will speak for it, every moment of every day.

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

Peggy Bechko’s World of Character Names

by Peggy Bechko

Writing a script? A novel? A short story?

Then you have characters who need names, and not just any name, but a name that sticks, a name that echoes, a name that sounds good coming from an actor’s lips or on the pages of a script or manuscript. So, as with most everything, there’s a good side and a bad side.

The good side – you’re god when it comes to your story. You’re the one who creates the characters and tags them with the names that will stay with them…and with you throughout the process of writing said script or novel. Yay!?

The bad side – well, this can be a tough process. I mean what if you name a character Sally and she’s really an Imogene? Or a Charlie turns out to be a Theodore? The simple reality is that what may ‘sound’ good to you when you write it on the page might come across entirely differently to a reader or when an actor speaks the name.

As a writer, it’s important for you to choose a name appropriate to character and provides the best read…and listen for readers and audiences.

Here are a few simple tips to consider when determining a character’s name. First consider the alphabet. Yep, A through Z. If you name your main character Zelda then naming her side-kick Zed isn’t a good idea. Let’s not have Fred and Fredda either. Here’s why. In the beginning, the reader reading your script or manuscript is doing it fast, skimming, reading for content. You don’t want names tripping them out as that reader tries to keep your characters sorted out.

You might also plant the idea in your brain that it’s a good idea to avoid names that are androgynous. Why? For a script you want the reader to identify your characters clearly from the outset. For a manuscript you don’t want the editor going back and forth through the paragraphs to sort out who is who. So unless that particular name is an absolute must because of the story line, avoid names like ‘Pat’, “Jean’, “Robin’, Casey, Bobbie and others that could confuse the reader.

Think about your setting and the context of the story. Character names can tell us something about the character’s personality and ideally add some depth to the story. Think about stories you’ve read and movies you’ve seen. Have the names fit and perhaps even subconsciously touched a note for you? For example. The recent film, Passengers. The main character was Jim Preston. A straight-forward, down to earth name. The woman he awakens is Aurora Lane. That name hints at more. It brings lots of things to mind. It’s the Roman goddess of sunrise who’s tears turned into morning dew. It was also the name of Sleeping Beauty and it’s the scientific term for the Northern Light. This hints at a more complicated character.
And the bartending Android is simply Arthur. One name. One location. A friendly and simple name.

What I’m getting at is the meaning behind the character’s name can add a lot of personality. And, because of the ebb and flow of time and corresponding names it can even give an idea of the time in which the story is set and the location. That’s helpful for period pieces, space operas and the like. You can even consider calling characters by their last name alone if that tells the reader/watcher something about that character.

Finally, the more memorable the name of the main characters, the more memorable the movie or book and the more likely people are going to talk to their friends about it. Think about the last couple of books you read and movies you’ve seen – do you remember the name of the main character?

Character names are not just ‘labels’ hung on those moving elements of your script or story. Hook your readers and movie goers in all ways … and names are just one of them.

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.