Book reviews characters fantasy gay romance Musings My Books paranormal reading romance strength urban fantasy writing

Doubt and Silver Linings

This year has proven to be a hard year. You’re all thinking, “Duh, the year of the pandemic!” but I’m talking about something totally unrelated to it; I’m referring to my writing career. Let me explain.

I spent the whole of 2019 writing a paranormal romance series. My original intention was to write an urban fantasy but I was told my story didn’t fit in those parameters (have I mentioned lately how much I hate those little boxes?). My second intention was to write a series with a plot and character arc in an enemies to lovers trope. This is a hard trope for me to write and that’s why I chose it, to challenge myself.

I was not sure I would be able to stick to it but my two main characters (and quite a few of the others) surprised and bewitched me to the point of turning 2019 into the first ever year I wrote in only one genre without getting bored. Since I’ve been accused often of being “too sweet”, I was worried I would not put enough sourness in the MCs’ relationship. I have also been accused in the past of writing flat characters so I put my whole into creating very imperfect characters who would grow throughout the series one layer at a time. I think this worried me more than anything else. When I finished the whole series I was very pleased with the results; both my characters and the story had developed slowly but steadily, and with each book, different layers were revealed.

The first book was published this February. Yes, I have great timing (insert sarcasm here). All my betas had loved the story so I was pretty certain this was a reader’s pleaser. Then the first reviews started rolling in and I was crushed. They were not all bad, quite a few were just confusing; I couldn’t really tell whether the reader had loved or hated it. In some cases it looked as if they did both. There were more good reviews than bad ones but I’m not going to lie, after spending a full year writing this series, those first bad reviews sucked up all of my writing mojo. I have been going through my first ever writing slump where I pretty much doubt every word, every character, every situation I write. Which of course has also erased every bit of joy and stress release I get from writing.

Yesterday, as I sat staring at my laptop screen, frozen by all these doubts (I make myself sit and write no matter how painful it has become) I came across a message from my local RWA branch about a workshop held over the weekend which I managed to miss, as usual. It was a live online webinar/workshop on how to become a better writer in quarantine by Tiffany Yates Martin. Thankfully it was recorded so I gave myself a break and watched it throughout the day in between working with my students, day job meetings and other duties. It was the best thing I could have done.

It didn’t remove all these nagging doubts, but it certainly offered me a new way of looking at what I write and what people think about it. There were several ah-ahs but I think the main one–maybe because that is one that bothers me the most–was about my characters. In this series the story is narrated in first person by Aiden, a man with obvious latent powers who refuses to accept that side of himself. There is a reason why he does that which is revealed one layer at a time throughout the first and consequent books (there are three altogether). He’s not the simple idiot he likes people to think he is; he struggles with a part of him that he doesn’t understand and he doesn’t like himself very much. After all he was abandoned as a child and brought up in the system, being tossed around like a hot potato from one house to another. Naël is a merman, a loner who is bringing up his sister by himself. He’s cantankerous and blunt, an alpha-hole–at least at first sight. He’s also not as simple as he looks, and his personality develops throughout not just the first book but all three.

The reviews about these two characters are so divergent it’s unreal. Some hated Aiden; he is weak, dumb, annoying, indecisive, even–according to one reviewer–a bigot (which he was a bit in the beginning). Others hated Naël; he is an a**hole, how could Aiden be attracted to him, he is rude, obnoxious, etc. Funny how authors take criticism about their characters; I was destroyed. My hard work and love for these two characters seemed to have been widely misunderstood and disliked.

Tiffany Yates Martin showed us how to analyze any piece of fiction, be it a book, a movie, or a show on TV. The one talking point that most hit the spot was about characters. That’s when a light went on for me; I realized that these wildly diverse opinions about Aiden and Naël are actually proof I have succeeded in creating multifaceted well-developed characters. In fact, they are so well-developed that, just like in real life, they stirred up strong feelings from readers. Whether I like it or not, that’s actually a good thing.

What do you think? Am I just fooling myself with the silver linings I believe I found, or do you think there is at least a grain of truth to it?

Despite this “revelation” I’m still struggling. The rest of this series is in limbo with no idea when or even if it will be published, which in itself is a heartache. Every time I write a sentence or two, I hear the voices saying, “that character is crap”, “the plot is too slow,” “the story is not interesting”, “the writing is clunky”, “no one will like this character,” … and on and on and on.

How do you fight this level of doubt?

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