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The Anti-Villain (and what the heck that is)

The Anti-Villain (and what the heck that is) I loved a post last year in the Writer’s Digest blog titled “How to Create an Antihero That Readers Love.” It got me to thinking (a dangerous undertaking, according to my husband) about what the perfect anti-villain would be, and I immediately identified a classic example. Did you say Severus Snape? Oh yeah. You are right on. Severus Snape is an antagonistic character in the epic Harry Potter series, no doubt about it. He and Harry are far from bosom buddies, and for good reason. Not only does Professor Snape think Harry is an arrogant ignoramus too much like his father, but even better, Severus once had a thing for Harry’s mum. Yeah…complicated. SPOILER ALERT (I mean, seriously, if you haven’t read the whole HP series, why are you reading blogs about children’s writing…?): Severus is not the evil thing he’s made out to be, and his performance in the seventh book will simply break your heart. Yeah, a good anti-villain does that. They are redeemable. You hate to love them, but in the end, you almost do. So here, in no particular order, are four more anti-villain categories worth considering in any YA or MG novel… The parent/child conflict (Twisted). So yeah, we all fought with our parents at least a little in our formative years (if you didn’t, writing authentic young adult or middle grade fiction will be a challenge). One of my favorite representations of this conflict, with a very flawed parental character, is the father-son relationship in Laurie Halse Anderson’s In the novel, we do not like Tyler’s dad. No we do not. He behaves like a complete a**hole. He proves that any mom or dad can be as much a bad guy as any bully or evil government. But in the explosive ending, we see a shred of hope for the relationship and how the love of a parent toward a child will often keep him or her from being completely irredeemable.   The evil government (The Legend trilogy). Since I brought up the concept of evil government, I might as well comment on it. I love the character of Elector Anden in Marie Lu’s Legend, Prodigy, and Champion. Anden is the son of the evil predecessor, and main character June has all the reason in the world to hate him. But even though he leads a corrupt government and is in direct opposition to the... read more

Stepping Beyond the Flaws: Favorite Picture Book Characters

Every young child loves heroes of the big screen……Spiderman, Big Hero 6, even villain-turned-hero, Gru. These characters look the part and possess extraordinary abilities. But I would suggest that favorite picture book characters make a choice to step beyond their flaws, taking readers on a journey that redefines possible. Lincoln Peirce (author of Big Nate books) agrees in a Today Show interview. “A character whose responses to hardship, crisis, or danger we’d like to think ourselves capable of.” (March 15, 2014) Ladybug Girl (Ladybug Girl at the Beach, Somar and Davis) claims she’s ready for wild ocean waves on her first visit to the beach. Pretending to change her mind, Ladybug Girl masks her fear with sand castle building and kite flying. Even a double-dip ice cream cone can’t replace her real desire –splashing in the waves like everyone else. Only when her treasures, a sand bucket filled with beautiful shells, are carried away by the tide does Ladybug Girl reach deep within herself for courage waiting to be released.  Ladybug Girl races into the water without hesitation, rescuing her treasures and discovering big, bad waves aren’t that scary. “Ladybug Girl isn’t afraid of anything!” Who can’t relate to fear in unfamiliar territory? And most raise a protective shield so no one will see it. Only in crisis are we forced to drop our shield and step over the fear. Children love walking beside Ladybug Girl as she discovers newly-found, exhilarating courage. In contrast, Pout-Pout Fish (The Pout-Pout Fish by D. Diesen) settles for a grumpy, dreary, sulking persona. The clam, jellyfish, squid and octopus suggest he lighten up but he only makes excuses. “With a mouth like mine I am destined to be glum,” he tells the octopus. When a shimmery fish plants a kiss on his pouty mouth, Pout-Pout Fish is transformed. The unexpected turns his frown right-side-up, proving he really IS able to change how he feels. With a new name, Kiss-Kiss Fish trades his drearies for cheeries at last. Excuses can become a protective shield for attitudes that need renovation. Do circumstances determine our destiny? Readers of every age can relate, even pull for a twist of fate. In the Pout-Pout to Kiss-Kiss transformation, children learn possible trumps impossible when they believe. Deborah Ellis, author of Moon at Nine, also stands on the premise that favorite characters step beyond their flaws: “They are kids who believe they are lacking in something others have, yet they... read more

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