creative writing

Does every story need a villain?

The writing community goes back and forth about whether a story needs a villain or not. Some people want a villain to make the hero become a hero. They believe a villain promotes action, conflict, romance, and other plot trends.

In some genres, this is true. The story must have a villain to succeed. However, in many stories a villain is not necessary and I do not think a writer should worry about creating one all the time.

A story needs at least one protagonist attempting to accomplish at least one goal. The writer creates conflict through the use of obstacles making the accomplishment toward the goal a challenge. The obstacles do not have to be a bad person.

Obstacles can be things as weather, environment, or other natural occurrences. They can be organizations like companies or governments. Or, they can be the culture and society who rule over the protagonist.

A villain is an easy way to form obstacles, host conflict, and create action. It is a simple way for a writer to expand the story and keep the interests of a reader. I do not write stories with villains.

While the back and forth between a hero and villain can make a good plot, I try to read something with broader scope and maybe not as predictable as the antics of two people fighting.

I write stories without villains to complicate my protagonist’s approach to achieving their goals. I want the person to confront obstacles bigger than another person. Even if those obstacles are the protagonist own doing and they are the villain.

How to Write a Good Title

The title of anything is what people read first. For most writers, a title is also one of the hardest things to write.

When I’m trying to come up with a title for what I wrote, I spend maybe weeks or months hoping inspiration will strike. Surprisingly, it sometimes works. But, not often enough.

So, I use other techniques like writing down the five most important things about what was written. These could be names, objects, animals, or anything mentioned throughout the writing. After I have the five things, I get rid of two of them.

Next, I add in the two things that almost made the first list of five. Of course, this is just mixing words together different ways in the hope something appears to make sense. However, it also makes me think more about what is important in the story that should be in the title. Sometimes this works and a title pops out that I like. A lot of times, not.

Another technique I use is more logical. If the story is about two people, I put their names in the title with a description of the environment they exist in such as riding a train. These titles are sometimes okay.

While there are lots of opinions about this, I think short titles are not that good. The best titles are at least five to seven words. These are harder to write, yet tell more about what was written. A one or two word title does not say much.

Out of all of this, the single most important thing to writing a good title is taking the time to think about it. A title should be as important as what is written.

Should a writer read only in the genre they write in?

I’ve read about and talked to many writers who read mostly in the genre they write in. Actually, most people read primarily in one genre where they find the reading comfortable and enjoyable. They know what to expect.

People should read what they want (although I would challenge them to read different types of stories). I try to read in different genres. I enjoy the diversity of style and form found in stories written for audiences with opposite tastes than mine. Such as romance, horror, and other genres I normally do not seek out and read (nothing racist, dehumanizing, overly violent, etc.). I may not write in these other genres, but I think it helps with my writing.

I feel more capable at providing contrasting viewpoints to my plots and characters. To me, I add depth and strength to what I write after reading a novel outside the genre I’m writing in. As an example, if I’m writing a science fiction story, I read a romance book. How many people know that romance books have happy endings?

This can also be a good technique for grant writers. Sometimes, it’s good to stop writing the proposal and read a horror book. After all, I feel I’m in a horror show when trying to complete a long, detailed grant request.

A creative writer or grant writer should experience reading outside their comfort zone to add variety to what they are trying to write. Sometimes this change can mean publication or funding for a nonprofit.

Who are the Characters in a Story

Every story has characters. They may not be human, but they should have human traits. Also, there has to be at least two characters in the story. Stories with one character are not stories, but monologues. You can have one person talking in a story, but they should talk about other characters.

Characters do not have to be people. They can be things, animals, vegetables – as long as they act with human traits and can express thoughts and feelings in a way that people can have empathy with. They also need to be put somewhere, in some type of environment, that affects how they feel and helps define them as characters.

After settling on who the characters are and where they exist, there has to be some type of challenge to them. This could be a conflict with other characters, the need to achieve one or more goals, or a combination of these.

From here, a story improves when the writer adds depth by layering and expansion of the characters, where they exist, and their challenge. The best way to do this is through relationships either between the characters, their environment, their quest, or a combination of these.

Another way to provide depth and layering is for the characters to have something in common that drives them apart, have them as opposites that makes them the same, or they transform the other from good to bad or vice versus.

While two characters are the minimum in a story, there can be too many characters. The number depends on the length of the story (less in a short story, more in a novel). I learned from readers over the years that, when a story has too many characters, the reader struggles to figure out who is who (certainly me).

No story is a story without characters.