I’ll admit that I’m cheating a bit with Writing Rule #16.
It’s not that it isn’t 100% true. It’s that I’m crossing from the realm of villains into that of dialogue. And dialogue doesn’t come around until the week of Writing Rule #19.
Even so, since dialogue is such an exceptionally broad and detailed topic, I don’t know if I’ll be able to properly address this issue anywhere else. And it’s a must-know detail if you’re trying to retain your dignity while constructing a story line.
Don’t doubt me when I say that longwinded, overly detailed villainous dialogues are rarely a good idea.
Yes, I bolded it. I also considered underlining it, italicizing it and capitalizing it. Writing Rule #16 is that important.
When I say “longwinded, overly detailed villainous dialogues,” what I mean are those cheesy wrap-ups too many bad guys are prone to make. You know the part in cartoons where the villain chortles maniacally while he brags about the diabolical details of his plan?
Something along the lines of: “Mwa ha ha! I had you fooled all along, you silly hero, you. You thought I was after Tanja the whole time when I was actually after her twin sister, Talia. And the reason why is because Talia gets better grades in chemistry, which will better help me take over the world, starting with Woodsfield, Ohio, where I’ve built my secret lab!”
Why Woodsfield, Ohio? Mainly because I just got a telemarketer call from there and felt like throwing it in. But it’s also to further illustrate how ridiculous and random villainous dialogues can be.
There are big-name, successful authors out there who employ them, which is unacceptable. I’m sorry to be harsh here, but there’s only one excuse for employing this writing practice, and that’s if you’re making fun of it.
It’s cheesy, unrealistic and, really, you’re better than that.
Consider this: In real life, how often do you hear a bad guy spouting his entire evil plan in one sitting? Does the schoolyard bully really tell her victim, “I’m being a jerk to you to impress my crew and distract myself from the physical abuse I get from my mother?” right before she shoves him to the ground?
When does a criminal mastermind actually have time to get into a twenty-minute conversation with his hapless nemesis about the nefarious plans he’s been implementing – down to the last detail?
And does the evil politician honestly sit around her card table with her politician buddies, swigging gin while she cackles over defrauding the citizenry yet again?
Okay, that last one might be more realistic than I care to consider. But even then, there would be a natural flow to it. She wouldn’t just reveal her entire plan in one giant chunk of dialogue like, “Yes, I made sure to pass that bill to set up a vote for a new piece of legislation that will give me a straight shot to the presidency, not to mention millions of dollars’ worth of crony capitalist deals in the next three weeks.”
First of all, her buddies should already know that she’s going to make a mint off the American taxpayer. After all, they helped her pass the law because they expect to get rewarded too.
Besides, nobody actually talks that way. It would be more like, “Yeah, that vote will set me up for life.” or “Let’s just say that, in five year’s time, you’ll be calling me Mrs. President.”
While dialogue can legitimately be used to establish, clarify or push along the plot, it’s not supposed to explain everything that’s gone on for the past two hundred or more pages. The last two hundred or more pages should be able to explain themselves well enough that the conclusion can fall into place with just another few details added.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have some vivid interactions between the hero and villain. And by all means, let the bad guy brag a bit. There’s nothing wrong with the antagonist displaying some good old-fashioned arrogance while the protagonist is chained up in the dungeon or bound in the cellar or stored in the shed.
You’re not automatically at risk when the villain starts speaking in those kinds of settings along these lines:
“Looks like I won, huh?” Her smile was chilling. “You do know you’ve lost the monarchy now. Right?”
“Sweetheart,” he purred. “That’s adorable you think you’ve figured me out.”
“I sent you down that path on purpose, you poor, deluded child.” The woman’s eyes were as hard as sapphires. “You’re so predictable.”
But then let your bad guy retain his or her dignity by sweeping out of the room. And give your heroes some credit in allowing them to put two and two together from there.
Some henchman can come along to fill in the missing pieces if need be. But it’s not the bad guy’s job to fit all the plot pieces together.
It’s your job. And I know you can do it.