Don’t be afraid to let your characters be dark.

So there are a few times during the writing process when my characters do something unexpected. Or they do something expected, but in a completely different way, usually making them WAAAAY darker than I thought they were.

And this isn’t a bad thing.

We all know that a great story begins and ends with a well-developed, fully rounded character. Sometimes, we feel the urge to downplay their flaws and their demons. DON’T!

I recently read the first four books of Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, and her MC, Celaena Sardothien, is far from being a perfect human being. In fact, Celaena has some of the darkest-rooted demons of any MC I’ve read to date and that’s what makes her so terrifyingly awesome.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Throne of Glass is about a teenage assassin who is brought out of slavery to work for a corrupt king, thrusting her into the middle of a conspiracy that could tear the kingdom and her world apart.

There are distinct moments where Maas lets Celaena loose on the people who have harmed her or her loved ones, and each one is darker and more terrifying than the last. Which makes sense, because Celaena is a freaking ASSASSIN (also so many other things, but I refuse to spoil it for you).

Maas offsets Celaena’s demons with how fiercely she loves and how deeply she feels the repercussions of her own actions.

It’s okay that your characters are dark. It’s okay that your characters do things that terrify you. Just be sure that everything each character does derives from his/her core. Terrifying moments of character darkness shouldn’t be there for shock value, but should be a pivotal and necessary moment in that character’s development.

Happy Writing!

If you haven’t started the Throne of Glass series, DO IT! Then email me and we’ll discuss. 🙂 It’s my new favorite series and there’s still two books left! I’m dying in anticipation, but we’re still at least two years from a resolution. Sigh.

Trust me, you want a beta reader.

So last Tuesday I jumped onto Google Hangouts and discussed my current WIP with the four poor saps I convinced to beta read it. I cannot begin to express how eternally grateful I am to these wonderful people for taking the time to review my work. Their notes were everything I needed them to be and so much more. To repeat what I’ve said to two of the four (because this is the only phrase that comes to mind to describe how I feel): I feel like I’ve just won the expansion pack to my favorite card game.

But seriously, if I’m able to pull off what I’m aiming for, I am beyond excited to read the next finished draft. Granted, I may be a walking, talking zombie when it’s finished, BUT [I hope] it will all be worth it.

I know that the concept of having your first novel read from someone other than yourself is a very exciting, stressful, albeit terrifying notion. But I’m here to tell you it’s not as scary as you might think. You just have to go in with a gracious heart and an open mind. Honestly, the scariest part for me was pressing “send” and the minutes leading up to the critique. Once we were in the flow of the conversation, I bounced with excitement and my mind raced with ideas.

Now I’m not saying you should just throw caution to the wind and send your MS to just anybody. You should definitely vet your betas. My four betas covered a wide range of genres/audiences, which provided a really well-rounded review of the piece. All four were also novelists (don’t know how I got so lucky), which helped identify why some things were/weren’t working.

Below is a list of things I need to improve:

  1. World Building. The problem with creating a complex world with it’s own political/social structure is that sometimes you forget to clarify the rules of said world because your focus is on your protagonist. Your fictional world has to come across as vibrantly on the page as it does in your mind.
  2. Round out Secondary Characters. So this is one of those “DUH” moments where I knew the complexities of the characters, but the reader didn’t. As the writer, it is vital to communicate the intricacies of the characters important to the MC’s story. Otherwise, they fall flat against the backdrop, which is no good. Show the reader how awesome your cast of characters are! (Yes, I did scribble that on my notepad during the crit session.)
  3. Making the wrong promises. One of the podcasts I listen to, Writing Excuses, discussed the importance of the beginning narrative making the right promises to the reader. In the beta draft, the beginning narrative focused more on the MC’s trauma than how her current actions are driven by it. Focusing on the trauma set up the story to be a Who-Done-It, which was not what the novel was about.

Here’s the deal, the above list really isn’t that daunting. Sure, it means more work, BUT the MS will be so much better for it. I’m already knee-deep in revisions and I can already say I am loving the changes. Mind you, I’m saying this now at the forefront of the new draft, I could easily turn into a raging revision troll if left to my own devises.

Happy Writing!