Feb 14 2010

When the Villain Beats the Heroes, Don’t Just Let Them Go

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

If the heroes are defeated but the villain lets them walk away, the manuscript is probably dead on arrival.

 

If the characters can lose without anything bad happening to them, nothing’s at stake. Give your villain some chance of beating the hero once and for all, or there’s no point reading the story. If the closest your villain can come to victory is releasing the heroes with a stern warning, that’s just pathetic.

 

If you are absolutely sure that you want to release the heroes, please at least give the villain an adequate reason not to kill them or take them prisoner/hostage.  Here are some reasons that are probably NOT adequate.

  • “Next time I won’t go so easy on you!”  Don’t bother having a fight/confrontation unless something’s at stake.  Also, you and I both know that the heroes will beat the villain next time, so this is empty bluster. When the heroes lose, make sure that there are consequences. For example, in Star Wars, Luke lost a hand, Han got captured, and Obi-Wan died after losing various fights.
  • “You better join me next time, or else!”  Not too bright.  If the villain just defeated the heroes in combat, how useful could they possibly be to him?  Also, wouldn’t you rather have lieutenants that don’t have a history of trying to kill you?  Finally, if you really want to do this, please have the villain be more proactive than just letting the heroes walk away and think his offer over.  For example, have him poison a hero or take one hostage so that he can blackmail the others.
  • The villain’s only goal was to show off or make a meaningless statement. “Now you know my true power!”  Ick.  Again, make sure there is actually something at stake.   If the loss has no consequences, readers won’t care.
  • The villain is too nice and/or stupid to kill (or capture) the foes he has beaten in combat.   If so, he’s probably not much of an obstacle. Unless you’re writing a comedy of errors, please make your villain competent.  Beating a wuss isn’t very impressive!

Here are some reasons that might be sufficient.

  • The villain advances a major goal by releasing the hero/heroes. For example, the Joker infects Batman with the disease that is slowly killing the Joker, to force Batman to find a cure. Or maybe the defeated hero is some kind of Trojan horse.  For example, the antagonists in The Matrix inject a homing device into Neo so that he will lead them to the other protagonists.
  • The hero is saved by a plan he sets in motion. It’d probably be undramatic if the hero were saved by backup bursting through the wall at just the right moment.  (Guardian angels!)  But you could give the hero some role in saving himself.  For example, perhaps the hero knows he’s losing and has to survive until help can arrive.  Perhaps the act of calling for help is difficult and the hero has to figure out where he is before the cavalry can save him.  Don’t just make him (or her) a passive damsel in distress waiting around for a rescue.
  • The villain has a compelling reason to take the character(s) prisoner/hostage instead of killing them. Even though imprisoning heroes (particularly superheroes) has rarely accomplished anything, it makes more sense than just letting them go.  At the very least, this gives the villain a bargaining chip to deal with any remaining heroes. Or maybe one villain keeps the hero alive because it will help him in some antagonist-vs-antagonist conflict (hat-tip: Slick).
  • The villain tries to interrogate the hero. Perhaps the hero knows something which would help the villain defeat the other heroes.
  • The hero has previously done the villain a tremendous favor and the villain is more fair than murderous. A villain might intelligently choose to spare someone that previously spared him, for example. If the villain is known for honoring his debts, others will be more likely to offer him favors on credit. See also: the Lannisters in Game of Thrones.
  • Killing the hero in the near future will be less problematic than killing him now. For example, a villain might pass on an opportunity to kill someone publicly rather than waiting for the right moment where he could get away with it. A supervillain might pass on openly killing a hero because it might create fatal problems with either the hero’s teammates… or with the hero’s villains. For example, the Joker has vowed to kill anyone that killed Batman because Batman is more fun than anyone else he’s fought against, and the mobs might kill Batman’s killer because protection money tends to go to the scariest player (i.e. anyone that killed Batman). See also: Sid the Squid in The Man Who Killed Batman… Killing Batman never works out well for anybody but Batman.

54 responses so far

54 Responses to “When the Villain Beats the Heroes, Don’t Just Let Them Go”

  1. Eric J. Krauseon 15 Feb 2010 at 9:15 am

    Great tips in this post. It is frustrating to read about a villain winning a fight and just letting the hero go without good reason. Basically it’s just saying, “Okay, you’re at a low point in the plotting structure. I’m letting you go so you can beat me in the climax of the story.” As you said, if I were an editor, I’d reject a plot like this, too.

  2. Cy Ton 09 Apr 2010 at 5:47 pm

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    SuperHeroGadgets.com

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  3. Sean Higginson 30 Nov 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I’m glad I found this one. Going to have this problem at a later point in one of my stories and hope that I have come up with a feasible solution.

    Hero has a secret identity he does not want to reveal to the general public but the Villain is already aware of identity. Villain captures Hero, beats Hero senseless. Villain can’t keep captured Hero without risking him being found and revealing the Villain’s less than legal past-times. Villain decides against killing Hero because Villain is aware that once the Hero is dead, the cosmic powers that created the Hero are free to make a NEW HERO, but he believes (almost accurately) that he has an upperhand over the current Hero.

    I’m sorry if this is difficult to read, but the name’s were changed to protect the guilty. Please share what you think.

  4. B. Macon 30 Nov 2010 at 4:00 pm

    If you want to release the hero, I’d recommend making sure that the encounter will continue to present challenges for the hero down the road. For example, maybe the villain poisons him with something that won’t kill him, but will help ensure that he retains the upper-hand forever. Or the villain does something to the hero so that releasing him helps the villain advance a goal. (Like bugging him OR releasing him in such a way that it helps deflect blame from the villain, like framing the hero for a crime somehow).

  5. Sean Higginson 30 Nov 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Hero is stalking the Villain at his house. Hero gets noticed and gets beat down, broken ribs, ect. Villain reveals, I’m aware of your true identity, I know who sent you (even though the Hero doesn’t yet know himself), but I can’t kill you or else a new and better Hero might be chosen.

    Villain is egocentric, and believes he is practically unstoppable. Plans to become an all-powerful to rule the “third plane” (Earth, between Heaven and Hell). Hero has been chosen as a joint effort by the forces of Heaven and Hell to act as the chosen one so that neither side needs to exhaust too much of their own forces in fighting said Villain. Villain believes he has the upper hand (Hell, one of his lackeys just put the beat down on the Hero).

    Does he still need to do something completely sinister to make setting the Hero free feasible. Or should I scrap this story and come up with a different two-parter to put in its place?

  6. B. Macon 30 Nov 2010 at 9:11 pm

    “I can’t kill you or else a new and better Hero might be chosen.” Umm, okay, but this may dampen the drama: if the villain won’t do anything to the hero when he has the chance, at what point will the hero actually face danger? Here’s a possibility: If the villain isn’t willing to kill the hero, maybe the primary threat to the protagonist actually comes from his employers. Heaven and/or Hell threaten to consign him to the worst pits of hell (perhaps even the Chamber of Cheese Shredders?) unless he gets his act together.



    Also, there seems to be a discrepancy between the villain’s belief that he is practically unstoppable and his refusal to kill the hero lest the hero be replaced by somebody stronger.

  7. Sean Higginson 30 Nov 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Yeah, I think I realized that as I was typing this up. Also, I’m finding the difficulty in the fact that the Hero has practically already lost everything of personal importance.

    The Villain does fear defeat, but he believes at this point that he knows the Hero’s fatal flaw and can hold onto that (much easier than discovering who a new Hero would be as well as discovering a flaw to exploit). The real danger within this story arc will not come to the Hero directly, but those around him. What happens if the Villain’s plot is completed, where does that leave the Earth?

    The Heaven and Hell aspect will come in much later down the line, as both sides believe they have picked the perfect warrior, not only to defeat the Villain, but also serve their own cause.

    (A year worth of storylines planned out and it still doesn’t seem like I’m scratching the potential of this character. Not to mention I’m stuck with a case of let the good guy go…I need to change this storyline I think.)

  8. Spazzotron the Conqueroron 01 Mar 2011 at 1:33 pm

    What about this scenario:

    Evil-Villain-Man has solidly beaten the crap out of Hero-Man, and then pulls the ‘let the hero go’ trick by telling the hero that he (Evil-Villain-Man) has kidnapped Hero-Man’s family, and that if Hero-Man doesn’t hurry, his family will die. Or something.

    Hero-Man freaks out and starts to leave at a high rate of speed, when Evil-Villain-Man says “Just kidding!” and shoots him in the back. Evil-Villain-Man then imprisons the hero and kidnaps the hero’s family for real.

    Plausible? Or just stupid?

  9. ekimmakon 01 Mar 2011 at 3:47 pm

    An idea for Stagecast:

    He has the head of a magazine/newspaper that unfairly criticized him during his magician days, held hostage. The heroes fight their way to the top of the building, and believe they have Stagecast cornered. However, he reveals that he has planted several bombs on the building, and they only have three minutes to escape before he detonates them. And then he jumps out the window for a ‘certain death survival’ trick. He has cameras record their escape to ground floor, with the hostage, broadcast citywide. When the hostage is released into police custody, he and his men take the place of the escorts, and shoot the hostage.

    Well?

  10. ShyVioletson 17 Oct 2011 at 9:11 pm

    If my hero is captured by the villain (who isn’t really a bad person he just works on the wrong side of the law) and ends up letting her go 1) because he thinks capturing her was wrong in the first place and 2) he thinks her motivations for coming after him are noble. Is that okay? I can clarify if necessary.

  11. CCOlsonon 17 Oct 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Maybe there should be a forum for helping people come up with villainous plots. Like”this is my hero, please tell me how a smart villain would go about killing them”.

  12. Mynaon 18 Oct 2011 at 3:01 am

    xDDDD I like that CCol.

    @ShyViolets: Why would the villain capture her in the first place if they thought it was wrong?

  13. ShyVioletson 18 Oct 2011 at 6:25 am

    He isn’t the main villain. He work very closely with the main villain and is now experiencing doubts about what his employer has been having him do. The main villain was his mentor so he wants to believe he isn’t doing anything wrong but kidnaping is over his personal moral boundaries. He has no problem with theft and other white collar crime but kidnaping is not his thing.

  14. CCOlsonon 18 Oct 2011 at 11:16 am

    I think a secondary villain having a bout of conscience is perfectly reasonable if you do it right. Kidnapping (and subsequent murder) is a very different crime from non-confrontational theft and embezzlement. For one, it’s a Federal crime in the U.S. and punished much more severely than any level of non-violent theft. That alone should be enough to make a normally non-violent criminal wonder if he’s getting in over his head. It must fit with his character though, and you have to show that it does.

    However, consider how your main villain will react to the action of his underling. According to evil overlord policy, the secondary villain should at the very least be transferred to some division where he will no longer have any chance of interacting with the protagonist. That’s if he’s a useful minion who can’t be readily replaced. If he ISN’T useful, then evil overlord policy suggests he should be disposed of immediately, because he is obviously a liability.

  15. Mynaon 18 Oct 2011 at 2:28 pm

    I agree with CCol, if he’s not the main villain and he’s thinking of defecting or something similar, he can have doubts, let the hero go, and it would be believable. You just need to be careful with how you execute it. : )

  16. B. McKenzieon 18 Oct 2011 at 6:10 pm

    ShyViolets, admittedly I only have a bit of information to go on, but my initial impression is that your (secondary) villain sounds too nice to be very threatening. If the villain is nice enough to let the hero go because the villain isn’t a bad person and recognizes that capturing the hero was wrong, what’s at stake for the hero? Are there any circumstances under which this villain might actually do something villainous to the hero?



    If this secondary villain is not primarily intended to threaten the heroes, what is his main purpose(s) in the plot? (Maybe he’s sort of the Darth Vader meant to make the Emperor look more purely evil? Maybe he’s a villain-turned-protagonist?)

  17. B. McKenzieon 18 Oct 2011 at 6:27 pm

    CCO: “Maybe there should be a forum for helping people come up with villainous plots. Like ‘this is my hero, please tell me how a smart villain would go about killing them.'” Okay, I’ve set it up here.

  18. ShyVioletson 18 Oct 2011 at 7:21 pm

    I really want the secondary villain to eventually become a hero. The main villain is the real bad guy being ruthless, manipulative, and cruel, but doesn’t like to get his hands dirty so he sends the secondary villain to do it for him.

  19. Indigoon 19 Oct 2011 at 12:00 am

    @ShyViolets
    Hey, I have a secondary villain-turned hero in my comic book too 🙂 The way I’m developing 2ndary villain is that she used to be best friends with the hero in high school (before they had powers) but something happens that causes her to pursue a career of villainy while the protagonist chooses to become a hero. Neither of them know about each other’s super identities because they lost contact for a couple of years.
    Basically the villain ends up working for the main villain because she (main villain) promises to cure a disease that she has developed front her powers, if that makes sense. Anyways she ends up kidnapping the hero, discovers the hero is her old friend, and rebels against the main villain and teams up with the hero. More details in between, of course, but that’s the gist.

    As for your villain, Violets, I would say as long as you build up to the moment he/she decides to become a hero, it should be believable. 🙂

    P.S. Sorry for the long comment!

  20. ShyVioletson 19 Oct 2011 at 6:29 am

    @ Indigo

    Your story for how your and why your villain becomes a hero sounds really interesting and like something a lot of people, myself included, would really like to read about.

    As far as my secondary villain goes, he was raised in the foster care system until he was about 10 years old. Then the main villain, who adopts foster children with unique gifts to use as tool and, if necessary, weapons. So the main villain raises him and several other children acting like a good father and mentor all the while teaching them to do things life fight and steal.

    The secondary villain is the main villain’s most skilled student/child and the main villain almost feels like he is his actual son. The main villain sends the secondary villain to steal a rare and powerful artifact and frame another thief, who has gone strait, for the crime. The second thief is the boy friend of my hero’s mother. The hero goes after the secondary villain and is captured.

    After hearing the the hero’s side of the story he begins to realize that many of the things he has been doing are wrong. He then helps her escape and the two of them work together to bring down the main villain.

  21. Indigoon 19 Oct 2011 at 11:18 am

    @ShyViolets
    I really like the idea for your story too; the idea of the villain adopting foster children with abilities is a fresh take on the super villain team storyline. Also the close bond between the secondary villain and his foster dad makes sense as to why he is pursuing a life of crime, whereas he might have otherwise turned out to be a hero if not for his upbringing. The fact that the villain considers him his son will createA LOT of drama when he finally decides to rebel against the person who raised him, needless to say. I would like to read your story when it’s ready 🙂 Is it a novel or a comic book?

  22. ShyVioletson 19 Oct 2011 at 8:03 pm

    @Indigo

    It’s going to be a novel. The plot goes roughly like this. My hero, Theo, and her family have just moved because her mom, who is a police investigator, just got a new job. Theo has also begum to relies she is developing super powers (she has very advanced eye sight). A rare and powerful Egyptian artifact, gets stolen from the local museum and Theo’s mom’s boy friend (they have been dating for 10 years so he’s basically Theo’s dad) get framed for the crime. He was a thief in his youth but went strait after the death of his best friend. Theo then uses her powers to track down the real thief (aka secondary villain/Eli) but he escapes her. The the primary villain (The Shadow Man) sends the secondary villain to capture her, which he does fairly easily even though he feels that it’s wrong. After hearing Theo’s side of the story, he relies that his “father” isn’t the man he thought he was and he helps her escape. Final the two of them work together to retrieve the stolen artifact and capture the villain.

    There is a lot more than that but I’m working on getting my ideas out of my head and on to paper.

  23. Indigoon 20 Oct 2011 at 12:21 am

    I like the sound of that, it definitely sounds like something I’d read. Yeah it’s hard getting all those ideas onto paper and then trying to make it all make sense 🙂

  24. ShyVioletson 20 Oct 2011 at 5:38 am

    I’m trying to accurately map it all out so i don’t contradict my self. 🙂

  25. Indigoon 20 Oct 2011 at 10:26 pm

    That’s exactly what I’m doing with my comics! It takes forever, but it’s really helpful in the end. 🙂

  26. ShyVioletson 21 Oct 2011 at 5:43 am

    It will make sure nothing is redundant and that there are no continuity errors :3

  27. Innocent Bystanderon 24 Feb 2013 at 5:10 pm

    This whole article made me think of the James Bond scene when Trevelyn (sp?) has him at gun point and… just boasts about it. (Bet he feels sheepish about it when Bond drops him from the sky later.)

    As for reasons for the villain to spare the hero, here’s a few:

    The villain’s about to kill the hero, but something comes up that demands his attention (ex. the death ray’s malfunctioning). Stretching it a bit (considering it shouldn’t take too long for the villain to just shoot them), but it could work.

    The villain needs the hero to be stronger (maybe he wants to fight a worthy opponent and the hero, while having potential, isn’t at his level yet) and the fight was to motivate them.

    The villain has a personal connection to the hero and doesn’t want to kill them. Besides the infamous “I am your father!” they could’ve once been friends or maybe even lovers.

    The villain has good intentions (it’s how they achieve them that’s villainous) and they genuinely believe the hero will eventually realize that they don’t have to fight. And maybe get a bit stronger/smarter when they come to that epiphany.

  28. Green Ninjaon 24 Feb 2013 at 7:57 pm

    I think that although the death ray malfunctioning is pretty good, I find it better when the hero does something to stall them
    (Like they took the bullet out of the gun somehow, and when the guy fires a blank he’s like “What the heck?”)

  29. WinlowMudDon 04 Apr 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Would it be alright if the hero is the only connection that the villain has to whoever he really wants to get at, and only leaves him near death, while also displaying that whenever he/she becomes useless, he will die. And adding insult to injury, what if the villain were to take hostage/kill people close to the hero?

  30. B. McKenzieon 05 Apr 2013 at 10:18 pm

    “Would it be alright if the hero is the only connection that the villain has to whoever he really wants to get at, and only leaves him near death…” Yes, I think so, IF this attack actually creates meaningful problems for the hero (like the victim begging the hero to give it up and/or the hero having second thoughts about his calling). “What if the villain were to take hostage/kill people close to the hero?” It’s been done enough that I’d recommend bringing some twist (e.g. maybe the hostage only got entwined in the mess for some really interesting reason).

  31. WinslowMudDon 06 Apr 2013 at 11:36 am

    hmmm, thank you. i think it is a good enough reason, but that will be explained later. Spoilers?! 😉

  32. Frenzyon 07 Feb 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Just reading through those reasons reminded me of exactly why it is that most of my characters, including the main protagonists, are villains. I just absolutely hate poorly written, or just generally stupid villains who don’t have the good sense to get rid of the hero while they can. I hate villains who go off on incredibly long and pointless monologues, describing their entire plan to the hero with highly cringe-worthy lines. I like good villains who aren’t so stupid that it’s not even funny, and have common sense.

    Villains! Kill the dang heroes when you capture them! Stop with the convoluted plans, stop stalling and shoot them! I can’t tell you how much of a pet peeve it is of mine when the heroes inexplicably find ways to escape.

  33. B. McKenzieon 07 Feb 2014 at 4:41 pm

    “I hate villains who go off on incredibly long and pointless monologues, describing their entire plan to the hero with highly cringe-worthy lines.” Villainous explanation is a red flag that the villain is so incompetent he will never actually accomplish anything… If the villain could actually accomplish anything, explaining his goal would probably be unnecessary.

    Alternately, if the villain’s goal (or motivation) is interesting, it might be more helpful to have the hero figure it out rather than having the villain tell him/her.

  34. CozaTriteon 14 Sep 2014 at 1:35 am

    I was just wondering if this would be considered a plausible way for the hero to be let go after being beaten.

    My ice-powered hero, Frost, faces off against a villain with the strength of ten men. This battle is a complete curbstomp on the hero. He is thrown across the warehouse they’re fighting in, gets punched through thin walls and gets bodyslammed at least twice. Broken, bruised, and bleeding, he lays there as the villain winds up for the final blow–only to be distracted by flashing red and blue outside; the police have arrived. The hero takes the opportunity to jam an icicle into the villain’s leg and escape.

    Again, just wondering if this is plausible as a way for the hero to be let go after being beaten.

  35. B. McKenzieon 14 Sep 2014 at 10:02 am

    CozaTrite, I think that would be plausible, although if possible I think it’d be preferable if the hero wasn’t getting a lucky break like the police showing up at exactly the right time. (For example, it’d probably be more impressive if he distracted the villain rather than relying on the police to do it).

  36. Beehiveon 26 Dec 2014 at 9:33 am

    Wow, I totally did that. Like, Mr.BigBad#1 knocks out the good guys that try to stop him and walks off, but… It’s not weird, is it? I mean, for one, said villain is not much of a villain, really, and they don’t have a history of trying to kill each other. More…like…that’s the first time they even meet/become aware of each other’s existence. …uh…

    I just can’t think of a reason why he would capture them and killing them is out of the question. The point of the encounter is 1) introducing that not-as-evil-as-annoyingly-tricksterish-pain-in-the-ass-philosophycal-psycho antagonist and 2) setting the stone for some character development/getting the main plot going …of sorts.

    Um, let me elaborate…?

    It’s their first hero-group mission and they utterly fail. The guy that (albeit reluctantly) sent them out there faces his confidence issues, most of the group change their mentality, one guy does something he wouldn’t have done otherwise and, well, random baddie randomly not-robbing that random bank was not so random, y’know.

    (Does that make sense? No? Feel free to shoot me.)

  37. B. McKenzieon 27 Dec 2014 at 1:43 pm

    “Like, Mr.BigBad#1 knocks out the good guys that try to stop him and walks off, but… It’s not weird, is it?” It’s not weird, but I probably would decline a manuscript over this. I feel your villain is showing that he is incapable of winning, which makes him very unthreatening.

  38. Crosseon 30 Dec 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Would you say that it is acceptable if the (apparent) big bad lets the “good guy” live because the good guy has a potential way out of a bad situation for everyone?

    In my game, the main character, Damien, is captured by a group of mercenaries working for a company called Ficluer Pharmaceuticals. Damien’s brother, Alexander, is the head of the R&D department on the base that Damien is at (the company changed the records that Alex saw and made sure they had no contact so that they remained unaware of the presence). When he sees that the person brought in for testing is his brother, he tells the merc’s (against his own direct orders from Mr. Ficluer) to bring him to Alex himself. They bring Trish to the regular biological storage containment, and Damien to Alex.

    Alex, knowing that Damien is an under-educated savant in biochemistry (Damien never got into the field because he refused to let the work he hated consume him the same way it did their father, who more or less abandoned them for work), began talking to Damien in hopes of eliciting his help in “fixing” something that is very clearly wrong with the Panacea that the company is working to produce. So, when not being imprisoned or stored away, Alexander attempts to both show his brotherly love towards Damien, and also forces Damien to work towards fixing something that Alexander, nor the scientist’s working for the company cannot.

  39. Preston Keion 09 Jan 2015 at 2:39 pm

    What if the villain THINKS he killed the hero. Like, throwing him off a bridge into freezing water or something. That’s a viable option. I’ve seen it many times and it’s pretty affective, actually. The hero is in a warehouse that the villain blows up so he thinks he won or something of that nature.

  40. B. McKenzieon 10 Jan 2015 at 12:15 pm

    If it looks plausible that the hero might have died and the villain does not have the opportunity to check, then this would be okay the first time it’s used.

  41. Vixis Shiar'Deluson 23 Nov 2015 at 12:35 pm

    Would you say that an undercover villain allowing the heroes to live to protect his identity is compelling and/or believable enough to work? He doesn’t ‘just’ let them go. He ensures he keeps tabs on them and will kill or injure them if presented the chance, but is attempting to gain power and support, and killing the heroes in their current state would reveal his identity.

  42. B. McKenzieon 24 Nov 2015 at 8:40 pm

    “Would you say that an undercover villain allowing the heroes to live to protect his identity is compelling and/or believable enough to work?” I guess it depends on execution, but I suspect that unless he’s actually gaining something from letting them go, he’ll come across as sort of unthreatening. Maybe less of an issue if the readers don’t know what his game is at that point — if he’s not known to be a villain, he can probably afford to play his hand more slowly with less concern that the villain will look very weak. However, if the main villain is submerged, I’d recommend having a more immediate threat available.

  43. Vixis Shiar'Deluson 25 Nov 2015 at 9:46 am

    He’s known to be the villain by the two main characters that are “onto him,” but the fact that he jumps bodies to keep them off of his trail helps keep him from being discovered. Other than that, no one really knows who he is. The main villain is someone who can possess other people, but jumping bodies or controlling others can make him a little weaker. He’s more of a mystery/thriller villain for the most part, trying to rise to power in both human and alien realms. In the end, his plan involves killing or getting rid of most of the main characters, and staging an attack on the city so he can take over the body of the current human president. But until then, he remains more in the shadows.

    The story definitely has it’s share of action, but it is also more of a slow burner. I would say it more classifies as a thriller than anything, but in the same way that Full Metal Alchemist-Brotherhood was a thriller.

  44. Vixis Shiar'Deluson 25 Nov 2015 at 11:19 am

    There are times that Jaizon uses his proxies to try and eliminate someone, or that he does it personally. But for the most part, he tries to stick to the shadows. He still racks up quite a body count though, as he has his off the grid science department conduct experiments on aliens and humans…most of which end horribly.

  45. Vixis Shiar'Deluson 25 Nov 2015 at 11:44 am

    At the risk of being called a spammer, I must add one other thing. Jaizon doesn’t actually capture either of the people that are investigating him for some time.

    At one point, however, the two characters attempt to confront and expose him. Jaizon threatens to detonate a bomb underneath the crowded streets they are standing on, indicating that he already has most of his consciousness in another body (bluff). One character bites, the other still intends to go through with their plan. The one that agrees to stop (and who intends not to stop at all) is let go, but is warned that he will be under very heavy scrutiny. The one that attempted to follow through with the plan is captured by police forces, and imprisoned for attempted murder of a military official (Jaizon is in the body of a military General). Jaizon speeds up the sentencing process, and has the good guy put on death row, with weeks to live.

    The other instance that he captures a main character is after one gets injured during a reckless operation he planned. Jaizon has the character and his team picked up and brought to his science facility to be experimented on. He specifically wanted the character because of his apparent resistance to alien biological and mental manipulations, which is later found to be related to the characters ability to absorb and change energy to a suitable and usable form.

  46. B. McKenzieon 26 Nov 2015 at 9:21 am

    “He’s known to be the villain by the two main characters that are “onto him,” but the fact that he jumps bodies to keep them off of his trail helps keep him from being discovered.” I feel that this would probably make his decision to let a hero walk more of a problem. If he has the ability to possess different bodies, and only the heroes are on the trail, I don’t feel that maintaining secrecy is a believable motive to NOT kill them (or at least take some other drastic action to neutralize the threat they pose). If he comes across as lackadaisical about a major threat as I think he probably will, I think that’d be a major obstacle to publishability (compared to works with more threatening, capable villains).

    The villain already has one hero executed for attempting to murder him… What does the villain gain from leaving a loose end under “scrutiny” rather than, say, having him tried as an accomplice to attempted murder (or engineering a fatal confrontation with police or a murder in prison). My suggested alternative would be having one hero killed by police in-scene (probably more emotionally compelling than an execution weeks later, hopefully a cool opportunity for the villain to be clever, and almost certainly more plausible*) and the other hero arrested (with the intent of having him murdered in prison). Also, I think this would give the hero a better opportunity to be interesting (breaking out of prison rather than being allowed to walk away).

    *Unless the country is openly a dictatorship, I think him making a capital trial/appeal go ~100x faster than normal would raise a lot of questions.

  47. Vixis Shiar'Deluson 30 Nov 2015 at 10:57 am

    Hmm…Okay. I’ve got an idea. Let me know if this revised scene plays out any better.

    Keep in mind that the two main characters are fairly intelligent men, and wouldn’t go into anything without some kind of a plan. They don’t know exactly who they can trust, but they have to take risks. Before going to the rally, where they plan to confront Jaizon, they make fairly loose plans (loose so they can adapt if need be). They both wear protective vests (due to the risk of exposure, Jaizon will likely be forced to use normal weaponry and not his abilities) and have something akin to fake death toxins (I don’t remember the name, but the thing that slows your heart rate to a minimum) to use if they need to ‘die.’ They also get into contact with the police’s mortician. Their plan, essentially, is to force Jaizon to strike first and be arrested for attempted murder.

    The scene plays out more or less how I had it set up before. Alfred goes up to an attempts to confront Jaizon, who then threatens to detonate a bomb under the streets. There are a few moments of doubt where you aren’t quite sure if Alfred will go through with it or not before he calls Jaizon on his bluff. Jaizon attempts to control Alfred, but is only able to disorient him for a moment. Alfred reacts without thinking, giving Jaizon a chance to bring out his gun and shoot Alfred in the leg, which they hadn’t planned for. Jaizon calls attention to the happening, stating that treason and attempted murder would not be tolerated. Matthew, in an attempt to get Alfred time to escape, comes behind Jaizon and attempts to attack him from behind. Jaizon turns and stops him from attacking using his mind control (this does expose his having abilities, but he later turns it to his advantage. As people with abilities are often scorned, and he plays the bullied kid turned political hero). He forces Matthew to his knees, and has him arrested. However, this gives Alfred time to take out and use the fake death toxin. Matthew is carted off to prison to await his almost certain death sentence while Alfred is carted off to the mortuary. Of course, there is some drama in Jaizon attempting to view the body himself, but that comes later.

    So the scene ends with one hero being imprisoned, one being near death, but alive (despite the villains best effort), and the villain in the peoples good graces after an attempted assassination.

  48. B. McKenzieon 01 Dec 2015 at 10:32 am

    “There are a few moments of doubt where you aren’t quite sure if Alfred will go through with it or not before he calls Jaizon on his bluff.” The reader is usually an unknown quantity. We HOPE that they will follow along the path the author is giving them, but don’t take it for granted. Personally, I’m not seeing much room for doubt here*. If a villain SAYS he will do something, generally he will not. Villains don’t usually telegraph their successes, because a pre-explanation is not necessary for something that we’ll actually see happen later, but they DO discuss their non-successes in great detail because we’ll never actually get a chance to see them happen. I think most editors and many readers would pick up signs that the villain is windbagging (“wait, why is he THREATENING to do things rather than actually doing them?” -> potentially a perception of weakness and/or incompetence).

    *While I don’t think that readers will be as doubtful as hoped, I’m guessing it probably won’t be a major problem for the scene. If the villain unintentionally comes across as weak, I think that would be more serious.

    My plotting tip here is that any bluff that is instantly disregarded without consequence is probably not as dramatic as one that actually does induce a change in behavior and/or takes the protagonists some time to see through. If the villain’s bluffs are instantly seen through, I think that will raise questions about villain competence.



    “Their plan, essentially, is to force Jaizon to strike first and be arrested for attempted murder.”

    My impression is that it’s a pretty weak plan. Do they even have any surveillance on-scene to help them prove later on what happened? They do know that he’s a mind-controller, right? Why do they assume that other people in-scene (e.g. the police officers that might potentially witness him attempting to kill them) are going to be on their side? Are they counting on eyewitness testimony against a living mind-controller? Also, even if they DO successfully get him arrested and convicted, could that actually stop the mind-controller from grabbing his next victim?

    I’d suggest building at least one of the following into their plan: 1) trying to obtain tangible proof that the villain has mind-control powers (e.g. a taped confession*, maybe video of the power in use, allegations from someone in a position to know, etc) or 2) killing him.

    *And, uhh, if the plan is going for the confession it probably needs to be more artful/clever than confronting the villain and hoping that he makes an unforced error while being recorded.



    ” Jaizon turns and stops him from attacking using his mind control (this does expose his having abilities, but he later turns it to his advantage. As people with abilities are often scorned, and he plays the bullied kid turned political hero).” Ah, I think this is not being consistent with the parameters you have set. If abilities are generally scorned, I’d recommend having this being a noticeable problem for the villain. Even if abilities WEREN’T generally scorned, I feel it really should be a problem that a villain’s ace in the hole (the ability to mind-control) has been publicly alleged (let alone proven), because that should raise all sorts of questions about the no-doubt curious things that have happened around the villain as he has used his powers. I’m not sure it’s possible for a character to talk his way out of this with a Checkers speech without making everyone else in the universe come across as an idiot*.

    *Okay, so if convincing people that “I’m a completely decent, misunderstood guy that just happens to have mind control power and all sorts of questions swirling about how I’ve used them” is pretty much impossible at that point (and I think it is), a Baelish-style campaign of political favors and/or blackmailing and/or coercing major third parties into supporting him even though they know that something is amiss could be more plausible than a Checkers speech. But having them NOT realize at this point that something is badly wrong would, I think, raise major IP concerns. This could be serious enough to torpedo a submission even if it were otherwise publishable.



    Also, revealing the villain’s powers is AFAIK the only thing the heroes actually accomplish in confronting the villain… If the reveal doesn’t have any sort of lasting impact on the plot, I’d suggest removing it rather than breaking consistency to gloss over that it happened.

  49. Vixis Shiar'Deluson 01 Dec 2015 at 1:31 pm

    “If a villain SAYS he will do something, generally he will not.”

    -Jaizon is very thorough and will follow through on his word in any situation that won’t put him at a very high risk.

    ***SOLUTION***

    Jaizon actually does have bombs planted around the area, but his use of human shields is anticipated by Alfred and Matthew, which is why they split up.* Alfred is biding their time and trying to force a confession out of Jaizon** while Matthew and some of the more trusted members of the police he works with are searching for the bombs. However, Jaizon planned for the possibility of an intervention, and emplaced a security system that would both alert him if the bombs were being tampered with. So when they think they have the all clear, Matthew signals to Alfred that they are ready to confront Jaizon. They also speak to the security personnel at the rally and alert them that there is a situation, but that it is contained (Jaizon has control of almost all fo the security personnel, minus personal body guards and whatnot). Alfred continues speaking to Jaizon, and attempts to call him out on what he calls a bluff (since the police are working on/already defused the bombs). Jaizon activates a device that will call in police that are loyal to him and his proxies to the bomb sites, and tells him not to worry. While the bombs are being defused, Matthew realizes that one of the shells is empty, which means that the final bomb is somewhere else. Matthew and his men manage to locate it, but there is no time before it detonates. Matthew attempts to contain the explosion by alchemically extending the ceiling around the bomb into the floor before hiding, but that only forces the explosion straight up. Panic immediately spreads throughout the crowds, just as Jaizon intended. Jaizon gets up and attempts to move towards Jason, the candidate. Alfred, seeing this as what may be their last chance to stop Jaizon from jump starting his takeover, follows him through the panicked crowd. Matthew comes out from the rubble and attempts to reorient himself, and begins moving towards the candidates as well. He spots Alfred chasing someone, and quickly follows after him. Alfred follows Jaizon, and knocks him from one floor to another before following him downstairs. He attempts to confront Jaizon, who plays the victim to a very quickly growing crowd. Jaizon shoots Alfred, who he proclaims is the person orchestrating the attack, and Matthew leaps down in an attempt to intervene. Alfred takes the nightshade before Jaizon notices he is still alive, and allows himself to pass out. Jaizon has his security forces arrest Matthew for conspiracy to commit murder and terrorism, and Matthew is carted away.

    Later on, Alfred is woken by their mortician in the police department, and narrowly escapes Jaizon’s detection. Alfred has the mortician burn another persons body, but includes several of his own teeth to have the body identified as his. The reasoning they use in defense of the false cremation is that Alfred’s dead body quickly began turning (shifting from human to novae/alien biology), and that he was attempting to prevent further exposure inside the city.

    *-Jaizon’s plan here is to cause enough fear, paranoia, and destruction that he can attempt to “help the presidential candidate” to safety. In this, he’d also be creating proxies around the Jason, the current popular candidate. Later on, these proxies would stage a separate attack against Jason, after which they would escort him to the safety of Jaizon’s arms. Alfred and Matthew, after analyzing various links related to Jason’s campaign, realize that Jaizon is attempting to gain Jason power…they just don’t know exactly why.

    **- Alfred works with Jason, as a sort of personal guard/assistant. Jaizon initially inhabitied the body of another of Jason’s secretaries before jumping to the body of a military leader. During Jaizon’s tenure with Alfred and Jason, links to the withdrawal of other candidates and deaths of two were made to someone in Jason’s campaign. Due to all of this, and from a past association, Matthew asked Alfred for help in finding out who the possible threat to candidates was, and why they were doing what they were.

  50. B. McKenzieon 02 Dec 2015 at 8:14 am

    Are there separate characters named Jaizon and Jason?

  51. Vixis Shiar'Deluson 02 Dec 2015 at 9:52 am

    There are, but Jason Vernes, the primary presidential candidate, usually goes by Mr. Vernes. I feel that that alleviates some of the weirdness of their names being similar, which will help readers and characters transition once he does possess Jason.

  52. B. McKenzieon 04 Dec 2015 at 1:38 am

    Generally, I wouldn’t recommend highly similar names unless there’s a benefit somewhere. Jason and Jaizon are probably the most similar pair I’ve ever seen, so hopefully you have a REALLY strong benefit in mind.



    If the character is only referred to as Jason a few times, there’d probably be less potential for confusion. However, I think there’d still be a cost from not being able to use the character’s first name as freely/naturally as you would for other characters — e.g. in dialogue tags, I think heavy usage of “Vernes said” or especially “Mr. Vernes said*” would probably feel helluva stiff compared to “Jason said.” (A potential workaround: mixing in professional titles like “General Jones” or “the doctor”).

    Thought experiment: Some characters (e.g. Agent Smith) don’t have first names given. Would it be viable to remove Jason’s first name altogether? If your immediate reaction was “no, that’s crazy, he NEEDS a first name,” you’ll probably benefit if Jason had a first name that you could use freely without fear of confusing readers. If Jason’s first name is so minor that it can be removed, removing it would probably be more intuitive to me than giving two major character names that look and sound virtually identical.

    *Unless the character is a schoolteacher or in another context where “Mr. Surname” is commonplace.

  53. Vixis Shiar'Deluson 04 Dec 2015 at 10:05 am

    Both of their names are generally supposed to carry a weight of uncertainty. Jason is a fairly common name, but one that has elicited many good and bad characters…though the most well known is primarily an antagonistic force. Jason is a good guy in this story, for all intents and purposes. He skews a little towards the bad side at times, but the uncertainty in his naming comes from actions he has made towards people with abilities in the past (these are referenced by himself and other characters). However, that is not his only role in the story, as he is a congressional member aspiring for presidency. He needed a good, strong last name that would go well with that, but also one that wouldn’t sound out of place for his son, Xander. So I chose Vernes, one that sounds fairly honorable and strong.

    Jaizon is fairly close to Jason, something I realized after going through some of the same reasons I chose that name for Jason. I changed the spelling to make it seem a little more strange and mysterious, given the fact that he is an alien that can place his consciousness inside the body of others, and to express a little more menace than the regular spelling.

    If I’m going to change either one, I’ll probably change Jason’s name. Either Jacob Vernes or Jefferson (Jeff) Vernes. Both sound fairly strong, though the second one sounds more…honorable than the first.

    Did the scene re-write sound decent, or is there more in there that would bug you?

  54. B. McKenzieon 04 Dec 2015 at 5:08 pm

    “If I’m going to change either one, I’ll probably change Jason’s name. Either Jacob Vernes or Jefferson (Jeff) Vernes. Both sound fairly strong, though the second one sounds more…honorable than the first.” I think either would be very easy to work with, and personally I have a slight preference for Jacob.



    I really liked tying in the supernatural explanation (the body supposedly starting to “turn”) as a reason to stage a fake cremation to conceal the non-death. I anticipate that the hero’s escape will make the hero look impressive without making the villain look incompetent, which feels promising. The leadup to that, I was not able to follow very easily. The scene as written will probably be longer and more gradually drawn out, so it’ll probably be easier to follow in context, I think.

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