The Right Girl

angel-2890670_640I’ve finally reached the point where I can devote my full attention to Book 4 of my Shadows in Sanctuary series—Uriale’s Redemption. I have to say, it is the one book I have been both looking forward to, and dreading. Uriale is a complex character that doesn’t fit any of the traditional “romance” molds. He began life in my books as a villain, and a despicable one at that. In the early drafts of Lilith’s Fall, he was almost cartoonishly bad, his only positive feature being his incredible looks.

The original concept behind the entire series was to flip the angel/demon paradigm on its head. I wanted my angels to be monsters, and my demons to be complex, free-willed beings, capable of choosing their own path, whether it be good or evil—instead of being inherently evil. One of the core ideas was to challenge the concept that looks (or any aspect of ourselves that we cannot control) define our character.

The angelic beings—the adurians—are creatures of light. They have golden skin and pure white wings. They are beautiful, powerful, and worshipped by humans as the epitome of virtue.

In contrast, the umbrose are creatures of darkness and shadows. They hide from the light, and are demonic in appearance, with bat-like wings, all-black eyes, and horned spurs on their elbows. They are viewed by humans as the representatives of all the dark temptations that lead them into corruption.

I’m a sucker for a monster that turns out to be a good guy. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog how much I reject the notion that Ugly is Bad (like the wicked stepsisters in Cinderella), and the same holds true for “monstrous” being inherently evil. Thus, this concept followed naturally from that desire to upend the traditional narrative (and the shortage of books, movies, and video games that explore such a theme).

However, I didn’t want to fall into the trap of going to the opposite extreme, with the umbrose being the “good” guys, and the adurians being the “bad” guys. For one thing, these kinds of one-dimensional characters are just not interesting. Instead, I tried to add nuance to the characters of my umbrose heroes. They are individuals whose values might be shaped by their culture, but who make also make choices based upon their own personal desires, experiences, and traumas. Not all of those choices are virtuous or good either.

I had my heroes worked out. I knew who they were, and how I wanted them to be. My villains were less clear at first. Since I was working against a preconception of virtue based on their angelic appearance, I thought I had to counter that with repulsive behavior, and to a certain extent, I did. However, since the adurians are free-willed as much as the umbrose are, I needed a reason for them to be as they were. After all, I don’t believe evil happens in a vacuum, and the whole point in this series was that evil was not actually inherent. So there would be no more reason for Uriale to be evil than there would be for Ranove, or Balfor to be so.

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The adurians were a primary antagonist in Lilith’s Fall, but I didn’t get to spend as much time in their perspective as I might have liked, simply because this wasn’t a book about them. In the second book, we see a bit more of Uriale, but only a bit, and we learn a bit more about Anata’s madness. But only a bit. However, by this time, I had a much deeper grasp on these two characters and the forces that had shaped their villainy. Anata—as monstrous and sadistic as she is—is a tragic figure from a deeply tormented background. Uriale, proud, arrogant, and certain that there was no challenge he could not win, thought to save her from her own spiral into madness by claiming her as his and bonding his mind with hers. Rather than save her, the bond pulled him deep into her corruption.

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By the time the third book rolled around, I was left with the broken pieces of a potential hero, still wearing the fragments of his villainy like the feathers molting off his shattered wings. I have a long row to hoe, because I’d painted him in such a bad light from the beginning, and by the end, his hatred had only made him more antagonistic to those I had made into heroes.

When I initially plotted out his story, last year, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to pair him with. I love a good contrast, so I was picturing Uriale—who had become undeniably evil—with someone who was unquestionably virtuous. This contrast would be even more pronounced when I took into account the difference between this new person and Anata, who had become so sadistic and cruel. In fact, I wanted the exact antithesis to Anata—the opposite of a fierce, mad warrior-woman who thought only of herself, because she’d been convinced at a young age that survival meant always looking out for number one.

Then, I sat down to write said story. And immediately hit writer’s block. The romance just wasn’t happening.

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And that’s when I started getting worried.

You see, I had convinced myself that I could treat Uriale like any other romance hero. I could give him a good woman and let her change him from a bad boy into the kind of guy the girls sigh over. But I’d been wrong.

Uriale happens to be a royal pain in the rear. He just wasn’t interested in this new woman. She was too good. Too virtuous. She didn’t understand him—and on her end, she couldn’t get over his past, while still being true to her character.

So, I went back to the drawing board and reread all the books in the series to get everything fresh in my mind. It occurred to me that a character I’d been saving for another book might be just the thing for him. She is probably one of my favorite characters in the entire series, and I knew her story would be interesting… but as I got about 6000 words into it—before I even introduced Uriale—I realized that she wasn’t for him either. She’s got her own story, and a very special hero in the future.

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Once again, I went back to the drawing board, and by now, I was starting to panic. In a powwow over pizza with my daughter (who has never read any of these books since she is quite a bit too young) I laid out the general story (glossing over the darker and more salacious bits, obviously) and asked her what kind of character sounded right for my hero.

Her immediate suggestion made complete sense (in the “emperor has no clothes” way that kids make sense), and I wanted to smack my forehead for not thinking of it before. It was a mistake to try and create a wholly virtuous character from a loving background, with a supportive family. I needed a misfit with a troubled past. Someone who could at least begin to understand Uriale, and who was not so above reproach herself that she couldn’t forgive him.

In a few hours, I’d knocked out six thousand words, because that’s how driven I now am by this character and the story. I still have a long way to go, and it’s still possible that I will hit another roadblock, and make another overhaul, but for the first time since I plotted out Uriale’s story, the characters feel right, and I’m back to being excited about writing this book.

I have to admit that I consider this book one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever taken on in my writing. Because of how difficult it is to write his story, Uriale has become my nemesis as much as he is to the umbrose, but I’m also a bit in love with him. 😉 I always had weakness for villains, to be honest. Especially when they’re gorgeous!

Have you ever taken on a challenge in your writing that you’re not sure you can handle? Do you think I can turn a villain into a hero? If not, what do think would be the biggest hurdle to overcome? Is there a point where a character is simply too evil to change? I’d love to hear your feedback on this, and I sincerely thank you for checking out my blog.

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