Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday's Thugs: Guest Blog by Howard Sherman

Howard loves reading books as much as writing them. When he's not wiling away his day with words he also enjoy fine food and wine, rousing conversation, travel, golf, gambling and gourmet cooking that he both executes and eats with his wife and daughter.

Howard Sherman is an 'implementer of interactive fiction'.  All of his books can be considered ebooks that you play or games that you read, thanks to the fact they are all 100% text based and yet require a computer, a smart phone or other tech gadget to enjoy.

Howard has graciously stopped by today to talk about writing villains in interactive fiction. I hope you will give him a warm welcome. If you would like to know more, you can visit his blog at:

Interactive Fiction Villains

Like any writer, I take great care and give much consideration to the villain in my novels.  It's a tricky balance writing a character who's evil machinations are simultaneously plausible yet unpredictable. 

Plausible in the sense the villain's decisions and actions make (relatively) perfect sense when fully unveiled and unpredictable in the sense that the reader should have only the vaguest of notions as to who the nemesis may be.

This becomes a whole lot more complicated in my arena as an Implementer of interactive fiction.  I have all of the same challenges any author of fiction has plus a couple of more to really keep things interesting:

1) Interactive fiction is non-linear, which means that the normal understanding of "beginning, middle and ending" doesn't apply.  Since you can investigate a crime scene one moment, go buy a bagel the next minute, then head over to police headquarters the next minute, and then decide to retrace your steps - the story is a vast area of unpredictable possibilities all driven by the reader.

2) Since the story is dynamic in the sense that the other characters in the story are also walking around of their own accord, performing actions in keeping with their own timetable and at times reacting to what you, the reader who has assumed the persona of the main character,  those characters (including the bad guys) can become capable of almost anything.

How do you write a villain that can just as easily keep tabs on you (as the good guy) as you (the main character good guy) can keep tabs on them?

I tend to keep my villains hiding in plain sight.  That means they can be anybody you'll meet in the story.  Then, to keep the reader guessing, I pepper in enough red herrings to make at least three characters prime suspects. But which one is the villain?

This is exactly what I did in my forthcoming interactive murder mystery Four Badges.  I wrote the entire novel around who did it, what they did and why they did it.  The only thing the reader knows starting out is that a sleepy little town in New Jersey way past the 'burbs wakes up to discover two prominent members of the local community were slaughtered in the safety of their own hones.

But that's it. Who did this? Why would they do this? Where are they now? What are they up to? From there I leave the reader guessing as they explore town, examine crime scenes, question witnesses and local townspeople in the quest to find the killer.

Along the way, I throw a few more curve balls to really keep things interested and mix it up for the reader.  I'm a big fan of the art of misdirection and consider it the most cherished tool in my author's toolbox.

At the end of the day, the villain's been discovered only after the reader discovers crucial details yielded only through keen observation while also, employing superior deductive reasoning to come up with the killer -- whose actions are perfectly plausible, yet far from predictable when all is said and done.


Gwen Mayo said...

Thanks for the great blog post Howard. I may have to give interactive fiction a try. It sounds interesting.

Howard Sherman said...

Thanks very much for your kind words, Gwen. I really hope you do give interactive fiction a try. It's got something new for even the most seasoned readers.