Changing the Story
Now that I've gotten a bit of distance from my residency, I want to take some time to talk about something I had to process. Let me start this by saying that I am very much a planner, not only in my writing, but in other aspects of my life. I can sometimes be a plantser with writing as I do deviate from my original outline as new ideas for scenes come to me. That said, the basic framework remains the same.
When I first started in my program, my tutorial instructor was quick to point out that, aside from my male main character, I didn't really have any likeable male characters in my story. After some discussion about a side character or two that didn't have a lot of time on the pages, he suggested that I needed to make one of the more prominent male characters more likeable. As a result, I decided to give this character a redemption storyline.
The problem is, the redemption storyline has softened, if not obliterated, the big black moment in my romance. When I changed the story to allow for his redemption, I didn't really alter some of the details, and when my new instructor read these chapters, she couldn't understand why the characters were reacting the way they were. It dawned on me that while I had changed one character's storyline, I hadn't significantly altered how the other characters behaved. Their behavior and reactions didn't make sense anymore now that the one character was being redeemed.
My story no longer works within the original framework I had created. So, I have a choice to make: do I alter the rest of the characters so that their reactions fit the new storyline, and if so, how do I work those reactions into the big black moment? Do I go back to my original storyline and maybe add in a few male characters to bring better balance? I could go back to the original storyline and just say to hell with my first instructor's concerns about the lack of relatable male characters beyond the main one, but I don't want to alienate potential readers. I also removed some of the original storyline because I felt like it was too much of a twist to be believable, and I am happier without that twist.
However, at the same time, one of the problems I have had with the instructors in my program is that none of them write or read in romance. For example, many of the comments I received during this residency didn't take into account some of the nuances of my genre. I took a romance writing class at my local community college right before I applied to my MFA program and one of the things discussed was the importance of "scene and sequel" in the story. Here's a direct quote from the material we received: "While a scene shows your character in action, confronted with a conflict, a sequel is the deep breath your character takes before heading back into the fray to deal with the consequences of the disaster. It's the opportunity to analyze the situation, consider options, and express emotions." It continues: "In the sequel, the reader gets a better picture of the character's inner thoughts, motivations, and feelings—all things romance readers want to be in touch with."
My instructor kept pointing out how much "musing" my characters do between scenes, especially my male character, who is a former marine. I was trying to break free of a stereotype or caricature of military men with this character. He's not the strong, stoic, silent type who is struggling with PTSD. I'm well aware that there are actual military men (and women) who suffer from PTSD. I also know there are men who do fit into a strong, silent depiction, and that these types of men are often used as romantic leads. However, that is not the person I'm writing. My character is extroverted, funny, and open with his emotions/feelings. Some of that is due to his work to repair his relationship with his estranged sister. His sister is a therapist, and I'm sure some of his "musing" comes from her influence. But even if he was a more stoic type, I would expect at least some of a reaction or processing from him after upsetting scenes with the female lead.
So, there's some concern that I'm not receiving the best feedback for my genre. I think overall, the feedback has been helpful to improve my writing, specifically the use of the same words over and over again (my first instructor would have a field day with the number of times I've used the word "character" in this post alone). But I wonder if I should try out the different versions of my story on romance beta readers and see if it works for them. And maybe through the process of trying out multiple versions, I could bring in additional male characters to balance the cast a bit more.
Honestly, there's a part of me that is ready to scrap the story altogether because it just doesn't work the same with the changes I've made. My second manuscript has a much more diverse cast of characters and is coming along well. I hate the idea of stopping my progress on it to try to salvage the first manuscript. At the same time, I'm not ready to completely give up on the first story.
Thankfully, it's not something I have to decide right away. I'm taking a break from my first manuscript this week to focus on my new job (yay!) and continue working on my WIP. Hopefully by the weekend I'll be ready to revisit the first one to see where I want to go with editing.
Have you ever had feedback that, if accepted, would have completely changed your story? Did you do it? Why or why not? Sound off in the comments!
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Book reviews, random thoughts, and writing samples from an aspiring author.