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05/09/2008 - BOOK REVIEW: THE POWER OF THE DARK SIDE ? How to Write From the Shadows

Author: Pamela Jaye Smith
Book Review by Matthew Terry
Published by: Michael Wiese Productions
ISBN: 978-1932907438

Someone once said that "All art comes from within your soul." At least I think someone said it. Someone SHOULD have said it. Okay, I've said it. Let's move on.

If art comes from the soul, YOUR soul, how do you justify or relate to those characters that are dark and, well, possibly evil? Where DO these people/creatures/characters come from? Your soul?

Through all my years of teaching and reading and writing, a common theme has floated to the surface: To have a good protagonist, you must have a great ANTAGONIST. If there's no Darth Vader, what of Luke? If there's no Goldfinger, what of Bond? If there's no Witch, what of Dorothy? If there's no Scut Farkus, what of Ralphie?

The problem with most books and classes, etc. is that they have a tendency to focus on the "sweetness and light" - the journey of your hero. And then they do a mediocre nod to the villain. I know that I do. It's so much fun to place your hero on their journey but who wants to deal with the evil one, the Sauron to Frodo?

Pamela Jaye Smith is the one who wants to deal with "the evil one." The Antagonist. The villain upon which our hero must stand against.

But who are your villains? Are they easily recognizable? Ms. Smith does a great job defining all sorts of villains from the evil witch to the corrupt politician. From the dictator to the teenage clique. If you haven't even begun to think of your villain (and their underlings or toadies) then this book is for you. If you've got a villain but the worst thing they do is rip the tags off of mattresses, then this book is for you. Ms. Smith takes you there, to the dark side, in a very readable way.

Is your story "technology gone awry?" Is it "average Joe" against the "establishment." Is it "you" versus "the world?" In all these scenarios you will need a villain or, most likely, villains. Even if that villain is yourself (and, yes, she writes about self destruction, too).

But just when you think this is a book all about those to whom your character cannot win - she also writes about the tools your hero needs TO win.

She also includes an excellent bibliography, list of websites and a glossary to help you delve a little deeper.

My only real issue with the book is that, though she gives hundreds of little examples through all sorts of genres, I would have liked a step-by-step focus on one particular film and how the hero (or heroes) battles and overcomes the villain (or villains). "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy would have been an excellent example as it deals with all sorts of villains (from Sauron to Saruman, to Frodo's inner voice craving the power of the ring, to Gollem the "Hobbit gone bad") and heroes (Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, etc. and their own internal and external struggles).

Years ago I was reading a student's script. He had a very strong protagonist but nothing resembling an antagonist. When a crisis happened later in the script I casually suggested to him that maybe the hero was the one who actually instigated the crisis. He would not hear it at all. His protagonist had to be pure and wonderful and beautiful - he did not want shades of gray. The script suffered because of it.

Pamela Jaye Smith's great book helps you find those shades of gray and, if you're looking for it, the deep darkness, too.


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