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Exercising the craft—May 15, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: Your old villain quit over creative differences, so you’ve put yourself in charge of hiring a new villain for your novel. What questions do you ask? What does the new villain’s resume say? Write this scene as if it were a job interview.

http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts/hiring-new-villain

*****

I rubbed my eyes with my fingers and then remembered the article I read online about how rubbing the eye area increases the likelihood of wrinkles. At this point I didn’t care. I’d end up with a face full of wrinkles and a whole head of white hair if I didn’t find someone for my novel soon. The fact that I’d spent about eight hours just today interviewing villains who were completely wrong for the story didn’t help.

It started out as a fairy tale. Plain and simple. I needed a character who could embody the perfect foil to my hero, the young boy who would save the kingdom and learn a little something about himself along the way. And the wizard fit the bill, perfectly. He was sinister, he was old, he was hunched over, and he had a huge chip on his shoulder from dealing with the king and what the wizard perceived as ill treatment.

The perfect foil—until one day the wizard marched in and announced he was quitting.

“What do you mean, you’re quitting?” I asked, after I got my jaw working again. I mean, I was about 45,000 words deep into the book. Not exactly in the plotting stages here.

“I mean, I’m sick and tired of filling an idiotic fairy tale trope, and I want out,” the wizard said, folding his arms.

I tried to ignore the magic wand he held in one hand, but it fizzled and sparkled at the tip. I’d created that wand. I knew what it could do. I was just afraid it would do it to me.

“Well…what if I, I don’t know, made you younger or something?” I asked, the first spiders of panic crawling up my legs. “Would that help?”

The wizard scoffed. “Right, as if changing my age is going to do anything. I’m. Done.”

And before I could argue any more points, before I could even beg for a second chance, he vanished. Poof. Into thin air.

And I’d spent the last month interviewing other villains.

To say it was exhausting was an understatement. I talked to serial killers, people with weird fetishes, selfish siblings. In all honesty, I’d thought about abandoning the whole novel for now, but I was afraid if I did the entire cast would go on strike. Then I’d have to interview a whole group of people, and just the thought of that made me sift through another stack of resumes.

That brought me to today. When I was rubbing my eyes. And wondering whether I could convert my writing skills into a career correcting store signs and the spam that kept promising a million dollars from a Nigerian prince.

Just then someone knocked on the door to my studio.

“Come in.”

One of the supporting characters ducked his head into the studio but didn’t come all the way inside.

“Can we talk?”

I groaned. “Okay, but make it fast. I’ve still got to find someone for the book. I’m on target to talk to…”—I picked up the resume on the top of the stack—“…a troll? Really? Since when do trolls have enough clout to become full-fledged villains? There’s no way I could get the publisher to take that seriously. My editor will keep asking why I needed the extra comic relief.”

My character stepped inside and took a moment to look around the studio. “So…this is where it all happens, huh?”

I blinked a few times. “Please don’t tell me that’s why you came in here. I’ll seriously cut your part back to a stock character.”

He shook his head and waved his hands then glanced at my easy chair in the corner of the room. “Can I sit?”

I leaned back in my desk chair. “Do you have to?”

He sat anyway. “Look, a bunch of us were talking, and we’re starting to get worried about you. And the book. We want you to finish it, because we want to know what happens to all of us, but we also know how hard these last few months have been, what with…”

He didn’t have to say it. Everyone within a 10-mile radius knew about the breakup. The characters had borne the brunt of it, though. I’d put them and their love lives through every awful situation imaginable just to work through my own dismay.

“Anyway,” he went on, “we got together and started doing a little brainstorming of our own, and we thought it might be fun if one of us became the villain. You know, a sort of cloak-and-dagger kind of thing.”

I just stared at him.

“The readers’ll never see it coming.”

I changed the tilt of my head.

“It’ll give you the chance to stretch yourself, write out of the comfort zone of the well-defined ‘good’ guys and ‘bad’ guys. And this way you don’t have to give up—”

“Qualifications?”

He paused. “What?”

“I’m assuming,” I said, pulling out my clipboard and a pen, “that if you’re here you want to apply for the job. Do you have any qualifications that you feel make you uniquely capable for this position?”

He grinned. “I’ve been a part of this story from the beginning and know the other characters really well, so my turning into a villain will be an easy transition. Plus they’ll never see it coming.”

“And how long have you been in the antagonist business?”

“Truthfully, this’ll be my first time. But I was in close proximity to the previous antagonist, and I knew where he was going with his next move. So I can just as easily pick up from where he left off.”

“And do you think you could commit to a long-term project like this? Especially if this turns into a multi-book position?”

He nodded. “Actually, I think my skills offer you the ability to take this project to the next level. I’m a firm believer in putting ninety-nine point nine percent down now and saving that point-one percent to convert to currency for the future.”

“What?” I asked, skeptical. “What does that even mean?”

He blushed, the color of his face almost matching his hair. “Sorry, it just popped into my head. I don’t really have a clue what that means.”

I couldn’t help it; I laughed at his honesty. It’s one of the reasons I’d so thoroughly enjoyed his role in the book in the first place. He could be upfront with the others in the story in a self-deprecating sort of way that I hoped readers found charming.

I shuffled some papers on my desk so he couldn’t see my excitement starting to churn at the idea he’d presented.

“Well, I do have some others to interview, but please go back and tell everyone else not to worry. I’ll have a decision by the time the week is out.”

He grinned back. “You got it. Boss.”

I shooed him out of the studio. “Go on, I’ve got work to do.”

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