Michaeline: Good Villains, Writing Craft and Mute

Love padlocks on a bridge in Berlin. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD: Watch Mute on Netflix first if you are especially sensitive.

I just finished watching Mute, a near-future thriller that came out on Netflix this month. I found it a riveting story, full of nuances and great writing craft.

The villains are particularly worthy of study. In our writing class at McDaniels, Jennifer Crusie told us how important it is that the antagonist be as interesting and exciting as the protagonist – if not more so. (And here is a blog post from Argh Ink about it.) She also taught us that the villain is the hero of his or her own story, and that we should really like our villains.

If we create a villain that is devoid of all good things, we create a cardboard character with no real life. And on the flip side, our heroes should have flaws. It makes them more believable, and it allows us to pity them, or empathize with them.

In Mute, two of the very many bad guys are bantering army doctors who fix up (or take apart) people for an underworld businessman. Director and co-writer Duncan Jones said he had the duo (Paul Rudd as Cactus Bill and Justin Theroux as Duck) watch the movie MASH for inspiration (Geek Tyrant interview). These two guys are “the smartest guys in the room” and have the kind of great chemistry you need to pull off great banter. These guys are definitely the heroes of their own stories.

But the characters are selfish, and they have terrible flaws. Cactus Bill is Continue reading

Michaeline: Lessons from the Great Masters: Pride & Prejudice

Darcy looks down on Mr. Collins, who is bowing with great (but false) humility before introducing himself.

Mr. Collins neglects to profit from Elizabeth Bennet’s advice. (The Ball at Netherfield, Darcy and Collins. Via Wikimedia Commons)

As I mentioned in the comments earlier this week, I am reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. This time around, I’m trying to drag my brain away from the story and the political implications of gender, and really concentrate on the mechanics – how she made the story work. Dear readers, let me tell you, this is very difficult. I get so caught up in the world, it’s hard to remember to pay attention to the underpinnings and scaffolding. But, I have managed to catch glimpses of certain techniques.

Last night, I was reading Mr. Collins’ speech to Elizabeth Bennet at Netherfield Ball – the one where he’s determined to introduce himself to Mr. Darcy and give Darcy good tidings of Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine De Bourgh (who is also the woman who gave Collins his job as a clergyman).

The first thing that struck me was how elegantly Austen managed to portray a very complex man in a few sentences of dialog. His guiding star in life is summed up in this sentence: Continue reading