Sacha Black is a bestselling and competition winning author, rebel podcaster, speaker and casual rule breaker. She writes about people with magical powers, sapphic fiction for teens and other books about the art of writing.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why we love a good villain
- How to give your villains more depth
- Why you shouldn’t use mental health conditions as motivation for your villain
- What soul scars are and how to use them
Listen to Sacha Black talk about how to write villains:
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[00:00:00] Kristina: Hello and welcome to The Writer’s Mindset with me, Kristina Adams.
[00:00:03] Ellie: And me Ellie Betts.
[00:00:04] Kristina: We’re here to create a community of authors who persevere, are their most productive selves, and publish at as speed they’re comfortable with.
[00:00:11] Ellie: And this week we’re talking to Sacha Black about writing super bad villains.
[00:00:27] Ellie: Sasha black is a best-selling and competition, winning author, rebel, podcaster, speaker, and casual rule-breaker. She writes about people with magical powers, sapphic fiction for teens and other books about the art of writing.
[00:00:41] Kristina: Back in January, I read her book 13 Steps to Evil: How to Craft Superbad Villains. And it gave me the most amazing idea for The Witch’s Sacrifice.
[00:00:50] Ellie: It was so beautifully evil. I loved every second of it.
[00:00:53] Kristina: Thank you. So naturally, based on that, I just had to speak to Sacha about her thoughts on writing the most evil, villains . A big thank you to our patrons for all your support. We couldn’t do this without you.
[00:01:05] Ellie: As a patron, you get early access to episodes, bonus content and our undying gratitude for supporting all the work that goes into these episodes to inspire and motivate you. And Kristina has a sneaky surprise for you.
[00:01:19] Kristina: That’s right. I’ve just released the first couple of episodes of our new bonus series, Healthy Habits. This exclusive bonus series is full of the techniques I use to manage my chronic health issues, and now I want to share them with you. Regardless of what speed you write and publish at there are techniques on things that can really impact our ability to write that we don’t talk about. Stuff like nutrition, stuff like whether or not you’re moving and getting out of your chair enough and getting that blood really pumping, stuff like how your brain actually works so that you can get it to work for you.
[00:01:53] Ellie: That sounds incredible. Where can our writers go to listen in?
[00:01:56] Kristina: To find out more, visit patreon.com/writersmindset.
[00:02:04] Kristina: With me today is the rebel author, Sasha Black. Welcome back to the largest mindset.
[00:02:10] Sacha: Thank you for having me.
[00:02:12] Kristina: So today we are talking about one of our favorite topics, which is writing evil characters. Before we get cracking, though, can you just tell our listeners a little bit about you.
[00:02:23] Sacha: Yeah. So I am Sacha Black. I am the host of the Rebel Author Podcast. I also co-host, uh, with Daniel Wilcocks, the Next Level Authors Podcast. I am an author of non-fiction writing craft books for authors who want to improve their craft, their prose, their stories. Um, I’ve also just finished a young adult fantasy series, and now I am moving into the realms of Sapphic fiction for teens.
[00:02:51] Kristina: Very nice. So one of your non-fiction books is all about writing evil and the very best villains that we can. But why do you think so many of us love a good villain? Sometimes even more than the hero?
[00:03:10] Sacha: Yeah. I mean, I, I personally prefer villains more than the heroes, but, um, my answer to that has changed over the years. Of late, I am obsessed with CliftonStrengths. So I don’t know if you know what CliftonStrengths are yet.
[00:03:24] Kristina: Can you just explain it for our listeners who haven’t heard of it before?
[00:03:28] Sacha: Okay. So CliftonStrengths is essentially a personality test, um, that gives you a list of your top strengths and essentially the purpose of it is once you know what your strengths are, you can work on improving those strengths and ignore your weaknesses because strengths are, um, a pathway to success. So, rather than getting small gains on your, by trying to improve your weaknesses, if you just focus on improving your strengths, you will get, you will get the 10 X effect, essentially. And any strength can lead you to any success that you want. The, they don’t box you in to say, oh, if you only have this strength and you can do this or whatever, it’s not like that. Um, you just have to find processes that work best for you. And what I have learned recently is that villains are often what’s called yellow dominant. So they have a certain set of strengths of which I share those strengths. So I think one of the reasons that I personally like villains is because I see myself reflected in them. Not that I’m a villainous bitch, but, um, you know, I’ve got, I can, can I still out, am I allowed to swear? Okay, cool. Um, and then I think the other reason. Okay. So like, if I, if I take this as a more broad, why do I think people like villains, I think is because villains question the truth, right? A lot of us get stuck in like stigmas or what society say we should, you know, expectations, societal expectations. But villains are these empowered creatures who follow their hopes and dreams, no matter what, and they are relentless in their pursuit of those dreams. And like, yes, I know those dreams might not be good dreams, but it’s, that’s not really the point. It’s the fact that they are relentlessly pursuing what they like their big goals and their big dreams. And ultimately isn’t that what we all really wish we could do? So, yeah. And so. I think there is a little piece of us that wish that we were as bold and brave as villains, albeit probably for a more positive outcome. Um, yeah, so I think that’s probably why.
[00:05:44] Kristina: Out of curiosity, who are your favourite villains, either from like books or film or TV?
[00:05:50] Sacha: Right at this very moment. I so, like I can’t pick one villain that is forever because you know, new things come out and then you fall in love with new ones or whatever. Right at this moment, I love Villanelle from Killing Eve. I don’t know if it’s the character or if it’s the actress’s kind of portrayal of the character, but oh my God, she is just exceptional. Erm, so I love her. And then, you know, some more classic ones. I really loved, uh, Agent Smith in The Matrix. His kind of ethos and, uh, like a manifesto made me stop and go. Whoa, wait, what? And like for one second, I completely agreed with everything that he was saying. Who else did I, who else do I love? I love, um, more antihero types, like, um, Beetlejuice. Um, who else do I love? Um, I can’t think. There’s a couple, anyway.
[00:06:49] Kristina: We talk about the Marvel villains a lot in this house, cause my boyfriend also seems to like the villains more. So he’s a big fan of Darth Maul, he loves Thanos. His display picture and Disney Plus is Thanos. Um, and also is it Killmonger and Black Panther?
[00:07:04] Sacha: Yeah.
[00:07:05] Kristina: Yeah, because like, they, they feel like they’re doing the right thing and you can almost understand the logic, but they’re going about it in a way that’s hurtful rather than trying to make positive, entirely positive, change. They’re going about it by punishing some people who don’t necessarily deserve it or they have, or they’re just doing it in a bit of an aggressive kind of way, rather than trying to do it in a more diplomatic way, I guess, which is seen as the good way of doing things.
[00:07:32] Sacha: Yeah. I like one of the, so my dad told me this story the other day about, This person in a country. So this is a true, I’m not, I’m not going to mention the countries cause I don’t want to upset or offend anybody, but basically this person in power, um, had a problem because a disease basically was ripping through the city and thousands of people were dying. And so. This person promised, um, like people who are on the streets and the homeless people, uh, basically site safety on an island. They were going to ship everybody, you know, people who are very like into drugs and things, you know, people causing problems, essentially. They promised, this person promised them safety, um, on this island. So shipped them all off, uh, in this boat and then sunk the boat. Within a week, the disease and the illness was eradicated.
[00:08:26] Kristina: Oh my God.
[00:08:27] Sacha: Yeah. Now who’s the real villain? Because what this person did is fucking awful, awful, but also he saved tens of thousands of people’s lives.. So I don’t, like, when my dad told me the story, I was like, uh, how do I respond to that? Because that’s like, who does that? You don’t do that, but also saved millions of lives. So, you know, was that a villainous decision? I don’t know. Like, do you know, it’s that age old question of, do you, do you sacrifice one for the sake of many, you know? But who, who has the right to make that decision? I don’t know. You know, and it’s, and it’s taking that right, and that God, like, right of making that decision with lives that, that creates, that people perceive as villainous. So yeah, like, I love that moral debate, like between what is good and what is evil where, where those lines are. You know, and that person who was in power felt like they were doing the right thing.
[00:09:34] Kristina: But like morally you’re deeply conflicted at the same time.
[00:09:39] Sacha: Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, when my dad told me that I was like, oh my God, I need to go. And like, research, like what happened, but yeah.
[00:09:45] Kristina: That’s how I’m spending my afternoon after this.
[00:09:48] Sacha: I’ll tell you a little bit more detail after, but yeah. I was like, OMG.
[00:09:53] Kristina: All right, before we go off on a tangent about all the history of this and a moral debate. Although, that would be very fun. Uh, what are some common mistakes you see in fictional villains?
[00:10:04] Sacha: So I think like the two most common mistakes are not having a solid motive for the villain. I think that, you know, even some villains who work, who are like really famous, they don’t have that. They just want power right? And without a justifiable reason. Now, there are rule breakers and examples, that break rules all the time and they’re still successful. Like for example, and you know, I disagree strongly with the authors personal views and opinions, so that author will remain nameless. But Lord Voldemort is a classic example of a villain who really doesn’t have a very justified motive in my humble opinion. Um, and yet, you know, the books are wildly successful, so there are rules, there are rule breakers, um, out there and examples of rule breakers. But I genuinely think that when you have a villain who has a more solid motive, like take agent Smith, for example, you bring a depth and a richness to the characters that make your readers buy into those villains in a way that you just don’t get with other stories. So that’s probably the first one. And then the second one is not matching the villain and the hero close enough, closely enough together. Wait, what are words? You know what I mean? So basically like the, the, the hero and the villain, um, should be aligned. And we might talk about this a little bit more in terms of like, like thematically, they should be aligned like motivations, um, goals. They need to be connected so that whoever wins, the win impacts the loser. Um, because that, then you get a, a more holistic story and a more like, fully like it’s closed off and satisfying to the reader when you do that. So, yeah.
[00:11:52] Kristina: Yeah. I agree. Although I do find some people are like, oh, this character is just a psychopath. Oh, they’re just a narcissist and that’s their justification for the character being the way they are. And it’s still kind of a surface level justification, right?
[00:12:06] Sacha: It is. Yeah. So there’s a whole chapter in my book about mental health, because generally speaking, mental, like mental people with mental health disorders are stigmatized quite a lot in fiction and never more so than with villains, like people like, oh, this character is schizophrenic, therefore they are doing bad things. But like, that’s complete bullshit. People with schizophrenia are not outwardly aggressive. Erm, like, yes. okay, of course there’s going to be the, the 0.1% of people who have just like happened to have schizophrenia, but you know, who do something bad. But then there’s more people out in the world who don’t have schizophrenia who do bad things every single day. And the problem is that people use the disorder as the cause for the actions. Whereas that’s not the case at all. You can have depression and be an asshole, you know, like, just because you have, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be a bad person, right? And so I think that’s like that’s the problem in, in those circumstances. Using the mental health disorder as the, as the justification for bad behavior is essentially stereotyping and stigmatizing a section of society.
[00:13:18] Kristina: It is, and it’s really not fair. And I actually realized my protagonists have more mental health issues, my villains, a lot of the time.
[00:13:26] Sacha: Yeah. But that’s, but that’s great, right? Because that’s, you know, all about representation and you know, what you’re doing is allowing people who do have mental health disorders to feel represented and to feel seen and in fiction. And like when you asked me the last question, that is why this conversation is going to go, but I’ll save that for later.
[00:13:46] Kristina: Yeah. I think that represents (unintelligable). Words? I think that representation is just really important and also I’ll be honest and don’t know how to write my characters any other way. I find it really hard to be like, how do I write someone who doesn’t have anxiety? What does that look like? Like I live with someone who doesn’t have anxiety, been in a relationship with him for 12 years still can’t visualize it.
[00:14:09] Sacha: Yeah.
[00:14:11] Kristina: Cause I’m just so in my own head, going through different types of anxiety all the time, that’s just the way my brain works. And I’ve recently started down the path of being diagnosed with ADHD and retrospectively looking at characters, I’ve realized I’ve given them some ADHD traits without realizing. Not that they’re like completely ADHD or anything, but they have the traits there. I didn’t realize.
[00:14:33] Sacha: Yeah. Yeah. I love it. Yeah. I, I, I think it’s fantastic and more authors should do it. So
[00:14:40] Kristina: I agree. It is hard though. So before we go off talking about representation, diversity, you have a really great episode on diversity that I was listening to earlier. If you want to give it a quick plug?
[00:14:52] Sacha: So, uh, Mazey Eddings, um, came on. She wrote a book called A Brush With Love, which is about a dentist. It’s a romantic comedy, and the protagonist is neurodiverse and, um, uh, suffers with anxiety and a few other things. And yeah, we have a fantastic discussion about, you know, how to write characters, who, who are neurodiverse with authenticity and with respect whilst also being realistic. Um, and yeah, it’s really, it was really interesting talking to her, so yeah,
[00:15:26] Kristina: It’s a good discussion and it’s one of those things that is hard to balance. And I think the more research you do, the more balanced, um, what you write will become.
[00:15:35] Sacha: Absolutely
[00:15:36] Kristina: Going back to our villains, then, um, you briefly touched on it already about how your villains should represent the books and anti theme. So can you explain what that is and why a villain needs to represent it?
[00:15:49] Sacha: Yeah, so like, you know, everybody should know what that book’s theme is. Um, it is the message, the underlying kind of thread that runs through your story. Um, so like a good example is The Hunger Games, um, where, to distill it very simply into one word, the book is about sacrifice. Obviously it’s more complex than that. But essentially, your, your hero. So in this instance, Katniss represents self-sacrifice. She makes multiple, multiple self sacrifices in order to help save, uh, you know, look after those loved ones that she, she loves. But the villain, um, President, now I always get a son named wrong, Coriolanus however you say it. President Snow. Anyway, he represents the opposite. So the anti theme, he represents the flip side. Now your hero and villain should always be like two sides of the same coin and they have to have this deeply connected, um, connection to, for want for a better word. And, and so he represents, um, like sacrifice of others. So for example, she, um, right, basically in the first chapter, she, um, sacrifices herself and volunteers as a tribute, so to save her sister. And so she’s sacrificing herself in order to, to protect. Whereas, um, President Snow, like sacrifices, others. He is literally sacrificing teen, uh, teen kids. He, um, you know, brings them back to life and makes them wolves or whatever it is that he does and, and, you know, sacrifices people over and again, and, you know, forces people to work in and live in horrible conditions in order to, uh, better himself, essentially. And so When you have like a hero and villain, they should be in conversation with each other. Like, I don’t mean, I don’t mean that literally, but metaphorically, it is a debate of the thematic question. And the only way to do that is to have one person on one side of that. And then one person on the other side of that. And I think when you don’t have that, the books feel like something is missing. They feel like, unsatisfying. I think so. Yes. Hopefully that’s explained that.
[00:18:02] Kristina: Yeah, I agree. That was something I really juggled with. When I started writing fantasy I was like, what do I want my thing to be? What do I want them to represent? And I realized that my theme is more of a question and it’s about whether or not we have the right to play God and control other people’s lives. Cause it’s a series about necromancy. So it’s about do they have the right to bring people back, should they, should they use their powers to heal themselves or heal other people? What are the kinds of moral implications of that? And there are some people who do it for personal gain. There are some people who do it for selfless reasons. So there’s kind of lots of different aspects that I’m really enjoying, exploring there.
[00:18:38] Sacha: Yeah. And, and exactly, it goes back to that example. Um, earlier on, was that person in power, you know, that person in power technically did a good thing because it saved, he saved loads of lives, but in reality, that meant sacrificing a load of lives. And so that’s the interesting thing about villainy because obviously everybody knows that villain thinks that they are the, they are the hero of their own story, right? And I just find that so fascinating that like, uh, ability that we have to explore those moral lines and, the, the ability to make a reader stop and go, oh, you know, and question what they think as well. And the only way you can do that is by having like those two characters directly, uh, oppose each other, or this is what I also find interesting when they’re both actually going for the same goal, but they have either different reasons why or different methodologies for going for the goal of one methodology hurts more people and one methodology helps people. You know, that sometimes is just as interesting, um, like an interplay as having them completely opposite .
[00:19:51] Kristina: Yeah I agree. One of the books that always stuck with me because of its moral question was Jody Picoult’s The Storyteller. Cover your ears if you haven’t heard and don’t want to spoiler, cause we’re bad for spoilers on the show. But, um, at the very end. The character who did work in a concentration camp, but did not physically hurt anyone, shall we say? Whereas his brother did, he actually saved someone. Um, he asked someone to kill him after he’s told her his life story. And you never find out if she does it or not. It ends at that moment when she says it.
[00:20:27] Sacha: Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. That is horrific. I would be, she must’ve pissed her readers off.
[00:20:37] Kristina: She does a lot. So her readers are kind of used to it now.
[00:20:40] Sacha: Yeah.
[00:20:40] Kristina: Because her books are kind of known for raising those moral questions and not answering them because it’s not about inflicting judgment on you or telling you what to believe. It’s about raising those debates and really making you think.
[00:20:51] Sacha: Yeah. Yeah. I read a couple of hers. I can’t remember. One was about a young girl and the sister and somewhat one of the one, the one that you didn’t expect to die, died.
[00:20:59] Kristina: My Sister’s Keeper.
[00:21:00] Sacha: That’s it. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:21:02] Kristina: Yeah. I haven’t read that one, but one of my friends has, and she always rages about the film and how different it is..
[00:21:06] Sacha: Yes. Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:21:09] Kristina: And I haven’t read it because I don’t like sad books.
[00:21:13] Sacha: Yeah. I love a sad book. Like, oh, I love having my heart ripped out. But I like bittersweet, right? So like there’s so even though there’s a sad ending, like there’s also hope like at the end of the story, so you can rip my heart out. As long as you heal it in put a plaster on it.
[00:21:29] Kristina: Um, we talked about, uh, motivations a little bit just then. So what’s the difference between a goal and a motivation and why are they both important?
[00:21:40] Sacha: Yeah. So goals are like the tangible outcomes that your villain wants. Like the villain wants to destroy someone’s business. The villain wants to bomb a city. The villain wants to build an army. That’s a goal. The motivation is the reason why the villain wants it. So like, why do they want to destroy the business? Like, what is the root cause of that? Who upset them? Like, what is the backstory there? Um, you know, and then the same, like why do they want to blow up the city or what, you know, all of these things. So this is, that’s the core difference, but the thing is, is that your villain actually needs both of these because a villain without a goal, so without the specific outcome that they are after, leads to a villain with no depth, right? A villain without a motive, leads to a meandering plot, it’s not a very tight plot. It’s not a tight story. So you need both of those in the villain in order to have a character that can really pull and create that pace, tension and conflict throughout the story.
[00:22:53] Kristina: How does the soul scar tie into that goal and motivation and what actually is one?
[00:22:58] Sacha: So a soul scar is essentially another word for wound. Um, so everybody always gives their hero a wound. They that’s that the thing that creates the flaw. But the problem is, I don’t think that wound is, it is a big enough, strong enough word. So I always like to say it’s , soul scar, because these wounds, especially for villains, they have to run so deep that they have left this gigantic scar, literally like on, on that very being, in order to generate the mindset that enables them to create or do bad actions essentially. So a soul scar could be, I dunno, like losing a limb or losing a loved one or failing to save a sibling. Um, it could be, you know, uh, sacrificing one to save many. And then the guilt that comes from that. So like a soul scar is something that, yeah, creates this wound or flaw in the villain. And the reason that you need it is because that is usually one of the things that creates the motivation and the reason why in a villains character. Um, and also it creates a lot of depth and often really solid backstory. So it’s a, it’s a great one to include.
[00:24:20] Kristina: I really like the term soul scar, because you say wound and it almost implies it’s got the possibility to heal.
[00:24:26] Sacha: Yes, exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Well, and that’s the thing, that’s why it’s a wound for hero right? Because hero’s heal, whereas villains nine times out of 10, they don’t heal. The only time that that’s not necessarily the case is when the villain is a protagonist. Um, and I just did a master class recently on villain protagonists. And it makes me want to write a second edition because there’s, so I’ve done so much thinking about this. now I’ve got so much more to say on the topic now. I mean, it was like the, one of the first books I ever published that was years ago now. So, uh, yeah, I, I suspect a second edition or, or second villains book will come out at some point.
[00:25:03] Kristina: Hmm. Have you got any good examples of villain protagonists that you’d recommend people analyze, if it’s an area they want to explore a bit more?
[00:25:11] Sacha: Yeah. So I’m just going to give films because they’re, what’s on the top of my head, but Cruella, the recent Cruella with Emma Stone, she’s a protagonist and the recent joker with Joaquin Phoenix. Both of those are, um, villain protagonists. Let me see. I’m trying to think of the, uh, Megamind is another one in a kid’s film. Um, and then, then, then, um, yeah, I can’t do it on the spot those three though.
[00:25:37] Kristina: I think three is plenty. Yeah. Um, one of the things that really stuck out for me, other than something we’ll get to later was you said that it’s important for the villain to have something that they love, whether it’s their mum, a pet, a child, something. And it made me laugh because I realised I’d given my villain a dog, just because I felt like they needed a dog, but then actually helped make the victim feel more human and give him more depth, because he had that capability of loving something and the dog was basically him in dog form.
[00:26:07] Sacha: Yeah.
[00:26:08] Kristina: So why is it important for a villain to love something like that?
[00:26:13] Sacha: This is one of the areas that, um, I kind of, I’ve developed my thinking on since I wrote the book, When I first wrote the book in my mind, it was because we needed to give the villain like one thread of humanity. One piece of them that is good because if you don’t have like, nobody is all bad, like it’s just unrealistic.
[00:26:38] Sacha: And even though yes. Okay. You know, we, there are horrific people in history who you could say are purely bad. But even those people in history thought that they were doing the right thing, right? So in a weird way, that means that that was a thread of good, you know, whatever. I’m not here to debate what good means. So essentially it was about realism and that was kind of where I was going with that originally. Roll on the five years, and for me, it’s actually about reader connection, right? And so we have this concept called Save the Cat, which, um, Blake Snyder, uh, developed. And he’s a film, film, well was a screenwriter. And the point of Save the Cat is to, so when your hero starts the story, they’re flawed. But when you have a Save the Cat moment and quite literally, I mean, like save a cat. Although of course there are many examples where, you know, maybe they help an old lady walk across the road or whatever you endear, the protagonist to the reader. Now I think that in a good book, you will do the same with a villain because your read a needs to feel something about the villain. It doesn’t matter what they’re feeling, but they need to feel something. And if you want your reader to, even for half a second question whether or not they agree with the villain, the only way to do that is to make them connect with the villain. And so you can do that by either a Save the Cat, like giving them a dog or a pet where they’re kind to, or you can do a reverse Save the Cat, which is what I see quite often, when you have a villain as a protagonist. And so a reverse Save the Cat is instead of the character doing something good, something awful happens to the character and it has the same effect on the reader. So when something awful happens to somebody we’re like, oh no, that poor person. So in the Cruella film, she gets dragged away from her mother, um, and her mum dies and she’s all alone, um, in London. Well, that’s awful for a little orphan girl, you know. Automatically, we feel sorry for her. We are connected to her. In the Joker film, he gets beaten up by, um, some kids when he’s just trying to do his job, holding a banner and that’s awful. He didn’t deserve it. And so we automatically connect with him, um, despite the fact that they are both unlikeable characters technically. So yeah, like it’s, for me, it’s about connection with the reader.
[00:29:13] Kristina: And that connection, like the importance of it can’t really be overstated. I don’t think.
[00:29:18] Sacha: Yeah. Yeah. I agree.
[00:29:20] Kristina: Another thing you mentioned is important for villain to have is integrity. So why does that matter?
[00:29:28] Sacha: So integrity is essentially when, like, you have a set of values or ethics that you hold really dear to yourself. It’s like a, like a moral honesty. Now, weirdly like in our enemies to lovers, one of the foundations of that is this a raw, honest truth. And there is something that makes a character, I’m trying to think of a word that isn’t integrity, but like makes a character feel genuine when they have integrity and they stick to their moral values. Now, a hero does this because we want to see them as like Knights in shining armor. They have these values. They couldn’t possibly break the values except when they do, because they have to save the loved one, you know? And yet we see that as a good thing with villains. It creates a kind of ferocious, terrifying villainy. When a villain says they will kill your mother, if you don’t do X, Y, Z, and then you don’t do X, Y, Z, and then they kill your mother, that is terrifying because they follow through. And yet, we accept that as a reader, because they told the truth the whole time, like they told the truth the whole way through. Like, one of the examples that I love about this is President Snow in the Hunger Games. He always says I only ever killed for a reason and I will never lie to you . And it’s true. He sticks to those the whole way through, and I can’t help, but kind of love him because he, he’s so honest and truthful despite the fact it’s fucking awful, what he’s doing. So yeah, I, um, I think it creates a kind of terrifying-ness around the villain when they have integrity. And they, also, it creates tension and conflict because the reader will innately know that if a villain says they’re going to do X, Y, and Z, then you know that they’re going to do that. And that brings up the tension, for the reader as well.
[00:31:31] Kristina: I’ve been rewatching Rizzoli and Isles recently. And, um, Isles’s birth father, cause she was adopted, he is a serial killer. He’s part of the mob, but he actually says to her, when someone is making it look like there’s been murders going on, that’s his M.O., he says, you know, I don’t kill women. I don’t kill children. I only kill people who deserve it. And there are certain people that it looks like it is him doing it because it’s the same M.O. and stuff, but he’s like, it really, really wasn’t me. And it turned out it wasn’t him because he does actually have integrity. But at the same time, he’s still quite terrifying. Cause he’s still a serial.
[00:32:09] Sacha: Exactly. Well, that’s like Dexter as well, right? Like Dexter has a moral code that he sticks to religiously. So, you know, he’s only going to kill people if they, if the police force weren’t able to prosecute. And in a weird way as a viewer, that makes you, makes what his, he’s doing and his actions more acceptable. So like integrity is one of these tools that you can use to really make the reader feel uncomfortable.
[00:32:36] Kristina: Exactly. Let’s move on and talk about endings then. Cause we talked about how we both like bittersweet endings and obviously happily ever after generally it’s more of a romance thing, but you do find it in other genres. But why is it not credible if the villain loses everything and then the villain gets everything.
[00:32:54] Sacha: I think realism, you know, in the real, I know there’s a difference between fiction and realistic reality, but it’s very unusual. Like all war, everybody loses, right? Everyone loses with war. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the winning side of a war, you still will lose thousands of people, thousands of your citizens. And I think that ultimately every book has some kind of battle or war or sacrifice that has to get made. And so, ultimately, I think it brings a sense of realism and sacrifice. Like the hero sacrificing and the villain making the heroes sacrifice helps to complete that change arc. So it creates a more emotionally gratifying ending that the hero wasn’t handed, uh, the prize, so to speak on a plate. They had to fight for that win, they have to, um, do something, change something. Um, and that is really what the reader is there for. They’re there for that change to see how on earth the hero is going to get around this seemingly um, Unbeatable villain and the harder it is, the more satisfying that ending is the heart, the bigger, the sacrifice, the, the greater, the payoff, I think, uh, for the reader.
[00:34:21] Kristina: So how far do you think writers should push their main character then in that climax? Like, should it make them uncomfortable to push them that hard?
[00:34:31] Sacha: I think so because otherwise, what, like, what are you doing? Like, I really likes, I mean, this might be just my opinion. Cause obviously, you know, you take Disney, you’re not going to have, they can’t traumatized kids, can you? But you know, I really think that the hero should have to sacrifice something that means an awful lot to them if they want to, to win, because otherwise have they really changed, right? They have, they should have to let go of a piece of themselves or they should have to let go of something that means a lot to them. There’s one exception to that because, um, we have like the hero’s journey and then we’ve also got The Heroine’s Journey, and Gail Carriger has written a great book about this. And I think you can push too far if you have given, if you have promised the reader something. So for example, the Divergent series, sorry, spoilers. Um, but the divergent series is a really good example of an author who made a unwritten promise. So the divergent series follows, um, Tris Prior, but she is a heroine. She is not a hero. And so in heroine stories, it’s all about bringing people together and the team winning, right? But at the end of, uh, what was it called? Allegiant? Can’t remember. Anyway, at the end of the loss book, she dies. So she dies a hero, a hero’s death in a heroin’s story. Like I personally felt so betrayed. Um, and I think loads of loads of readers felt very betrayed and it’s because she had given this unwritten promise that it would be a happy ever after. And I think that is the occasion because, you know, you can kill off a hero. You absolutely can make them make the ultimate sacrifice. Um, but only if you set it up that way. Um, and so, yeah, that would be my caveat. Like, just be careful if you… Make sure you’re like foreshadowing, that these things are gonna happen is what I would say.
[00:36:26] Kristina: Yeah. This is why I’ve become a big fan of doing an outline with my books. I didn’t do it for like the first 16 books or something, but now because of how intertwined some of my plots are, I’ve started doing it so that I don’t shoot myself in the foot. Because working on Hollywood heartbreak, which overlapped with the first couple of What Happens In… books and also juggling all of the really complicated themes in that, it was a mindfuck. And if I had plotted my first couple of books in more detail, I wouldn’t have had to go back and reread stuff because I would, would’ve just had notes to refer back to.
[00:37:00] Kristina: And so now I’ve been doing that with the Afterlife Calls series and it was reading that chapter in your book about climaxes that made me go, oh my God, I haven’t pushed my characters hard enough. I can do way more. So I was flitting between like reading a page and then writing notes of what I could do. And then like I was editing it and reading it, um, to send to my beta readers. And it was the first time I read one of my books and thought, yeah. I almost gave myself a book hangover, but which sounds really big headed, but I’m generally quite hard for myself, right? And I just thought, no, you know what? This is the perfect way to wrap up this kind of four book arc and lead into the next one for these characters, because I hadn’t realize it, but I’ve been foreshadowing some of these events anyway.
[00:37:49] Sacha: Yeah. Love it.
[00:37:53] Kristina: Does it always have to be the hero that takes down the villain, though? Could it be like a side character, or a mentor, a bestie?
[00:37:59] Sacha: This is a really hard question, but I, I, to give you a black and white answer, yeah, it does have to be the hero. In a heroine’s journey, when you have like the rag tag group, crew of friends, you can absolutely have all of those friends in the climax, right? There are different kinds of stories. There are stories where the heroine, the hero goes off on his own to save the day. And then there are heroine stories where it’s about the group and about the collective. Now that said, the crew of friends or the found family, whoever it is, can all be there helping to set up, um, the hit, the heroine, to make that final blow, whatever that looks like. But it has to be the heroine to make the final blow because ultimately that final blow is the conclusion to the heroine’s character arc. And if they are not making the final blow and ending the villain or, you know, defeating the inner conflict, whatever it is, then they’re not really completing their character arc. And if they don’t complete their character arc, your readers, aren’t going to be as satisfied. Like I think you really cheat yourself out all of that, what’s the word, like that satisfying book hang over sigh that a reader will get when finally the hero took down the villain. And also the other reason you need that, the hero to do it is because ultimately they are the ones driving the book. They are the ones, or they should be the ones driving the story. And therefore, if they’ve driven the story all the way to the, the finale, why would you let anybody else like that final blow? It just doesn’t make sense.
[00:39:39] Kristina: Yeah, that was something I always knew who was going to take down the villain because of the fact she’s been emotionally manipulated by him the whole time. And all of the other characters are present, but they’re doing different things. Like I can’t say anything in case there are any listeners and they’re already going to tell me about for spoilers. Because this book isn’t even out yet, but it was really important to me that they were all that and that they all kind of lifted her up in some way, but she had to be the one to make, take that final blow and then decide if she was going to actually kill this person or just make them suffer in a kind of Princess Bride type of way.
[00:40:15] Sacha: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And of course, you know, they don’t have to kill off the villain because sometimes that’s a choice, they don’t, you know, a hero isn’t gonna make. But also, sometimes vengeance is bliss.
[00:40:30] Kristina: You’ve already mentioned one of the books you chose last time we spoke to you, which was the Divergent series. But have you got any more books that have changed your life that you would like to share with people?
[00:40:42] Sacha: So I’m going to cheat a little bit and say it’s a genre. That’s changed in my life. So around July last year I picked up the first queer novel that I’ve ever read. Now as a queer woman, that’s probably a bit weird, but like, you know, every time I would go into Waterstones or wherever I’d be faced with a slew of straight young adult books. So that’s what I read and I didn’t think anything of it. Um, and you know, so that’s also what I wrote. Just so happened that I, I picked up, um, a queer, fake dating book, and this was Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating. And it was the first time I had ever read about two queer women. And I was, and I really, it was like, oh my God, like, they need to get together. And I like fell all the things. I felt so much emotion. And I was like, whoa, like, I really enjoyed that. And like, you know, it’s, it’s a good book, but it’s. The best book in the world. It is, it was a solid story and I enjoyed reading it, but I enjoyed reading it way more than I should have enjoyed reading it for sort of, kind of the standard of the book. And I was like, what is that? So I picked up another queer book and I think, I can’t remember what that one was. I think it was by Tess Sharpe, The Girls I’ve Been, and then I picked up another book and another book, and then I read some girls do by Jennifer Dougan Dugan. And it was after reading that one that I was like, oh, I see now. The connection is the fact that all these characters and all these protagonists are gay, like, and I was like, oh. And so now I have been consuming queer fiction. And it was real, like, come to Jesus moment where I was like, oh my God. And now I can’t un-know it, right? I can’t unknow the fact that there are queer books out there. And the, I like reading them more than I like reading straight books. And so yeah, now for me, like, that has changed everything. So I spent like the last six, seven months finishing off the series, which is kind of behind me. And, um, now I’m moving into writing a Sapphic fiction for teens. And yeah, like that has literally changed the course of my career because I can’t, I can’t knowingly write straight books anymore. At least not for a while. Anyway, maybe I’ll go back to it, but…
[00:43:10] Kristina: That’s so cool. I love that you just, yeah, that is just sparked complete change in direction by discovering these books.
[00:43:18] Sacha: Yeah. Like literally I couldn’t, I was like, this must be what everyone feels when they read about relationships in books. Like, and I love romance. So like, you know, I would ship the characters still, like in a straight romance, it’s not, but it’s a totally different feeling when you see your love in a book, It has literally changed my life. Like, I feel so much stronger about fiction now than I have done in ages. And like, it’s almost like a fallen in love with reading again.
[00:43:47] Kristina: That’s so cool.
[00:43:48] Sacha: Yeah. Yeah, so….
[00:43:50] Kristina: Didn’t you mention in the episode we talked about earlier about you looked into how many queer YA books that were or something. And there really wasn’t very many.
[00:43:59] Sacha: Yeah. So, um, queer young adult books, when I did my research about six to eight weeks ago, there were about 760 I think it was, uh, books in queer young adult. And of those, at the time it was about 150 that were sapphic. Now I think it’s over 200 because there’s a lot of books coming out now all the time. Even still like 150, 160 out of 760, it shows you like how tiny this market is. So yeah, like it’s a very, very small market and I think it’s going to be a really hard sell. And, but I don’t care.
[00:44:36] Kristina: I think there is demand for it. Cause I’ve spoken to a lot of people who’ve been like, I don’t connect to straight romance in the same way that I do queer romance. Where’s the queer romance that, you know, and they just don’t even know how to find it.
[00:44:49] Sacha: Yeah. Yeah. So my plan is to basically clear my decks of work and then write hard and fast for the rest of this year.
[00:44:59] Kristina: Very nice.
[00:45:00] Sacha: Yeah.
[00:45:01] Kristina: You’ve been recommending some queer fiction on your Instagram as well. Haven’t you?
[00:45:05] Sacha: Yeah, so I missed last week, um, because it was my birthday and my wife randomly flew my dad over from the Netherlands as a big surprise. So yeah, I like lost all the Friday, but that’s fine. Um, so, yeah, every Friday I will release like a little slideshow of like, I dunno, I dunno what I’ve done. Like maybe, can’t actually remember what I’ve done, but I’ll do it like I trope or I’ll do, you know, fantasy books I want to read. And they were all queer and they’re all sapphic. And the other thing that I’ve done is I’ve actually collated the list of 150 books, although I’ve just found another list site and I’ve also, brought a load more books. So I need to compile it again. And, um, um, I think next month, maybe. What is it, are we in March? April or May, I’m going to start releasing it as a reader magnet. Um, so if people are looking for recommendations yeah, like follow me on Instagram and then in a month, or so’s time, I will announce that I’m like, you, you know, I’ve got to share this leaflet basically. So, um, so yeah, I basically want to have the biggest list of queer books for teens or like mostly sapphic books.
[00:46:09] Sacha: I would say I haven’t really got like, gay or trans books on them, a couple of trans books are on there. But yeah, because it’s so hard, it was so bloody hard to find these books. So I’m like, well, I’ll share that and I will, you know, but you go to sign up to my mailing list. Yeah.
[00:46:24] Kristina: Where can our listeners go. If they want to check you out on Instagram or anywhere else?
[00:46:30] Sacha: Okay, so you can follow my podcast, just using any podcatcher. And it’s the Rebel Author podcast. I am most active on Instagram, which is @sachablackauthor, Sacha with a C, so S-A-C-H-A, or my website, sachablack.co.uk.
[00:46:47] Kristina: Awesome. Thank you so much for joining us. This has been really fun.
[00:46:49] Sacha: Oh, thank you for having me.
[00:46:54] Ellie: If you enjoyed the Writer’s Mindset we’d be really grateful if you could leave us a rating or review on the podcast platform of your choice or a thumbs up on YouTube
[00:47:04] Kristina: It really helps other writers to find us so that we can help them to achieve the wildest writing dreams, too.
[00:47:09] Ellie: And don’t forget if you’d like early access to episodes, a chance to submit questions for our guests and listen to our new bonus series that Kristina mentioned earlier, come join us over at Patreon at patreon.com/writersmindset.
[00:47:23] Kristina: Every little bit, helps us to help you more whether it’s rating, a review, or becoming a patron.
[00:47:28] Ellie: I’ll see you next time.
[00:47:29] Kristina: Keep writing.
- 13 Steps to Evil – Sacha Black
- The Witch’s Sacrifice – Kristina Adams
- A Brush with Love – Mazey Eddings
- Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
- The Ghost’s Call – Kristina Adams
- The Storyteller – Jodi Picoult
- My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult
- Save the Cat – Blake Snyder
- Heroine’s Journey – Gail Carriger
- Divergent – Veronica Roth
- Hollywood Heartbreak – Kristina Adams
- TheMummy’s Curse – Kristina Adams
- The Necromancer’s Secret – Kristina Adams
- Hani and Ishu’s guide for Fake Dating – Adiba Jaigirdar
- The Girl’s I’ve Been – Tess Sharpe
- Some Girls Do – Jennifer Dugan