Show Me Your Worst

ShowMeYourWorst

Getting comfortable with discomfort is one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a writer, and it’s a work in progress. When I first started writing, I never left my comfort zone for any reason. Which meant, no matter how hard I tried to make my characters as epic as the ones I was reading, it wasn’t happening. I was able to get uncomfortable for my antagonists, because I didn’t have to spend any more time with them than that and I certainly didn’t need them to be likable. A completely different issue for main characters, and it took me awhile to realize that my cozy corner was their biggest enemy. Sometimes, I’m a slow learner. But eventually, I had to face the fact that I was the one robbing my protagonists of the greatness they deserved.

As most writers can attest, the ease in which we’re able to explore the emotional and psychological range of a protagonist, really depends on the character. There are the vibrant personality types that can be completely fleshed out within minutes – and, then there are the characters who aren’t nearly as forthcoming. When we decide to draw our character’s flaws to the surface and pick at them, it starts getting a little uncomfortable, because we love them and we want our readers to love them, too. But a hero or heroine who is flawless is both unrealistic and flat. Not epic. Imagine how forgettable Frodo Baggins would’ve been, if he’d never struggled with and overcame the temptation of the ring’s power.

Show me your worst. I want to see how deep the pit in your soul goes. Or do I?

It’s one thing to tell a writer: “You have to leave your comfort zone to write well.” Quite another for that writer to decide just how far to plunge into the dark unknown. Again, I think this depends a lot on the character. By my guesstimation, there are 3 basic degrees of Bad Guy/Girl protagonists.

1) The circumstantial bad: They’re bad due to horrible circumstances, tragedy, childhood trauma, etc. but really good at heart and easily redeemable.

2) The lost soul bad: They’ve spiraled so far into the darkness of revenge, tragedy, addiction, bad luck, etc. they’re barely hanging onto the edge of no return and it’s going to take more than just a quick genuflection and three Hail Mary’s to pull them out of it.

3) The unapologetic bad: They have fully embraced their dark side and have no qualms using it to their every advantage, yet there’s still a spark of good in them that allows them to love and be loved. They’re not on a quest for redemption, but to find that last missing piece that would make them feel whole.

The thing I try to consider when I’m working with option 1 or 2, is just how much work I can feasibly put into it. The deeper your character’s flaws, the steeper the climb to redemption, and to show one side in great detail without the other getting equal attention is the fastest way to disappoint readers. Sometimes, it’s a natural trajectory and I’m just following the character’s lead and then realize – Oh, snap! Now I have to dig them out of this mess. Ugh! Not just out of the mess, but within the confines of a word-count limit.

This is why I write a lot of series, that’s the naked truth of it. Word count caps and I, we’re not friends. You can laugh, but 100,000 words is rarely enough for this writer. With a series, I can let my characters get into all the messes they want and then dig them out little by little over a few books.

When it comes to option 3, there’s both an easier flow to it and more of a challenge. First, you have to convince (and frequently remind) yourself that your character has no boundaries except the ones you’re placing on them via yourself. The other side of that is figuring out where to draw the lines for your audience’s sake. Knowing your character is 100% okay with being bad frees up moral restrictions and can be extremely fun to take beyond your comfort zone – If you don’t get carried away! It’s not a good idea to make them so outrageously bad that they lack any and all qualities your readers would want to root for – especially, in a typical romance genre.

Last year, I started exploring the realm of Dark Erotica where the rules are completely different and pushing boundaries is not only expected, the lack of it will stir up the wrath of the villagers. I went beyond some of my comfort zones with the Avarice trilogy, but not to the point where I was squirming and sweating in my seat…much. A lot of Dark Erotica fans probably wouldn’t even label those books as such, but since it has triggers in religion, demonology and R.A.C.K. (Risk Awareness Consensual Kink) – which is the sadistic side of BDSM – I wanted to make sure my readers were more targeted and expectant (accepting?) of those kind of situations.

Compared to some of the Dark Erotica novels I’ve read, it’s quite tame. Definitely in the mild end of the spectrum. That just means I should push myself farther away from my comfort zones for the rest of the series. More truthfully, I want to. I want the challenge of it, to see just how far I can go while still writing read-worthy material with characters my readers want to see win in the end. Though, Dark Erotica doesn’t demand a HEA, it is my personal preference.

Writing about things you would never do in real life is not the same as writing outside of your comfort zone. I would never go skydiving, because I’m terrified of open heights. But it wouldn’t stress me in the least to have one of my main characters do it. Actually, that would be kind of fun. One of the joys of both reading and writing is to have adventures, right? But, having your main character do something that makes you feel physically or emotionally drained when your through- that’s writing outside of your comfort zone!

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced so far, is having an ‘unapologetic bad’ protagonist show up for an established series that’s NOT labeled dark – and by his own admission, he is one sadistic f**k. When he first appeared, I was faced with the choice of either staying true to his character or true to the genre, because I can’t really do both without sacrificing something. This is still a WIP, but I’ve decided to stay true to my character, mainly because I know it can be done. I’ve seen Nora Roberts push this particular envelope more than once and while fame may be on her side, I’m still a big advocate for characters who are purely themselves and not diluted for genre’s sake. What’s your thoughts on that, as both a reader and a writer?

 I’d love to hear more of your take on this subject: How comfortable are you with discomfort? Do you try to challenge yourself with every new novel, or do you have to wait for the right character to come along? Show me your worst, writers! 🙂

Published by A.C. Melody

Indie Author of Erotic, BDSM,PNR, SciFi/Futuristic, and Dark Romance. I'm from the Pacific Northwest, drink far too much coffee, always root for the underdog, anti-heroes and shameless whores, I love hard ass Alphas and the strong women they'll move heaven and earth to claim. You can always find me in my writing cave, but it's not always wise to try and talk to me there, so make sure to sign up for my newsletter, instead!

6 thoughts on “Show Me Your Worst

  1. You’re doing that weird Spock-Kirk mind-meld thingy with me again…quit it! 😀

    At the risk of tarnishing my crown as Queen and Head Cheerleader of-all-things-HEA-related, I feel dark fiction gets a bad rap in general because of the way it’s presented IN ROMANCE.

    The mafia don/Assassin/MC President-enforcer/ruthless billionaire is “changed” by his love for the 18-yo-virgin/19-yo-virgin/21-yo-virgin, blah, blah, blah. She brings ‘light’ to his darkness. Meh. Whatever. If these guys had women who were truly their equals, we’d see what they were really made of.

    Darkness is also not getting kidnapped/raped/abused AND THEN falling in love with your captor. Sorry. Don’t care who writes it or how many bestsellers they have, that’s just asinine. How readers can be appalled by similar situations in the news, only to turn to a book…suspend belief and be swept away by the ‘love affair’ is beyond me.

    While I’m still a novice in BDSM-reads, calling a read dark simply because it’s based in power exchange situations–extreme or otherwise–is wrong

    TO ME, dark fiction goes much deeper than actions, desires, or a persona. There have to be limits for the reader’s (and author’s) sake, but the character may not believe there’s anything ‘wrong’ with themselves or the things they do. The obstacle for the author is to make the reader as accepting as the character without sacrificing either.

    The reader also has to be willing to take the PSYCHOLOGICAL journey without expectations.

    I had to do that with Avarice. It wasn’t just outside of my comfort zone – it was across the galaxy! LOL! 😀

    It made me uncomfortable. It made me squirm because it bucked against beliefs I’d held for years.

    And… it made perfect sense.

    To the author’s credit (AHEM!), Avarice worked because of Kameo Kross. Trying to not add any spoilers here, but the reader learns early in the story who Kami is… to some extent. She had her BDSM kink, but IMHO, Kami’s submission is to Kami. The synopsis of book 2 says it best…running was never an option.

    So the reader takes her journey to get the blanks filled in and questions answered.

    Readers have to trust authors to bring them full circle and tie up (tie up – HA!) loose ends. That may not always mean redemption, but instead resolution. It’s disingenuous to push the envelope all over the dark literary landscape then end a book with a big sigh and an HEA.

    A good example of this is Clarissa Wilds’ Mr. X. It is psychologically twisted and violent, there are no hearts and flowers, and the unicorn never makes an appearance. But, like Avarice, it makes sense. To me, it’s her best book. I’ve been in chats where people drool over the ‘romance’ of the story, and I’m like…”Did we read the same book?” Dude was whack-ass crazy…but Wild did a great job at making the reader understand why. The story ends with hints about the future and the knowledge that perhaps…just maybe…he hasn’t lost all his humanity.

    I admire your determination to stay true to the craft. You go where the characters lead you, not to necessarily what sells. I will be first in the I-told-you-so line when you nab your first best-seller! 😀

    I have a few dark characters roaming around…rolling their eyes at me. But, it is not their time yet. I’ll get there. I have good examples to follow!

    😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey, the Spock-Kirk mind meld is epic for a reason! And tie up – good one – but I’m beginning to wonder if these little word plays are as coincidental as you’d like us to think! 😂 LMAO

      I completely agree with you, declaring something as a HEA does not make it so. You know I just recently had that issue with the last series I reviewed – I’m not the kind of reader that accepts a handwritten note with the words HEA scribbled on it – you’ve gotta prove it. Give it some guts and heart, and make me believe it is. I’ve read Dark Paranormal Erotica that didn’t even have a HEA and I still BELIEVED in the love/romance that began to blossom between the main character and her love interest (before he was killed), so if you can’t convince me of real love when all the characters are still standing in the end, something is seriously wrong.

      I try to avoid the whole bad guy/virgin set up, it has to be a special scenario to catch my interest. I do enjoy the equally effed up characters, but, I’ve also read some where it’s obvious the distinction between ‘dark romance’ and ‘psychological thriller / true crime’ got lost along the way. It’s hard for me to think about romance when a plot reads like a cold case files episode.

      What you said about Kami’s submission being to herself, that is perfection, thank you! 🙂 I don’t want to add spoilers either, but you nailed it and I agree, the Avarice trilogy is very much driven by her. If she were any other personality type, it never would’ve happened. She’s also a hard act to follow… but that’s a whole other post! LOL

      I’m going to have to check out Mr. X, I don’t think it’s in my library yet – shocker, I know! 😀

      Oooh, I can’t wait to see what you do with dark characters – or what they do with you! LMAO That’s bound (oh look another bondage innuendo) to be extremely interesting! 😂 Thanks for the praise and sharing your take, Fle! ♥

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “It’s hard for me to think about romance when a plot reads like a cold case files episode.”

        BWAHAHAHAHA! Exactly! 😀 😀 😀

        Please read Mr. X. I’m dying to know your take on it. Like Avarice, it’s not an easy read and you will have to put it down from time to time, but the payoff is so worth it.

        Wait, what? Word plays? What word plays? I only submitted the argument readers have to trust the bond they have with authors. Nothing more.

        I’m leaving now.

        😀 😀 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Good post! 😀 Yes, we writers should definitely get out of our comfort zones and write about things that scare us and make us uncomfortable. It’s not easy – I’m definitely tempted to slip back to writing nice and sweet characters who never do anything wrong – but pushing the limits results in such interesting stories. But damn. One of my current WIPs is giving me major self-doubt because the male character is a bit unusual type of crazy. I’m asking myself if it was a good idea and if I can actually pull this thing off. I had to put the WIP on hold and work on something easier while I think about it.

    Good luck with your WIP with the “unapologetic bad” protagonist! 😀 As a reader, I tend to be okay with all kinds of surprises as long as the characters draw me in, so I would encourage you to follow your character.

    Liked by 1 person

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