When you enter a contest, you are specifically asking for feedback. The judges basically get to say whatever they want. I've been critiquing and judging for years. Doesn't always make me right, doesn't always make me wrong.
I'm thrilled when I get good feedback. I want to be told I'm a total genius. Of course I do. Because, obvs, I am a genius. *Ahem* Sense of modesty, you can step in any time now. The point I'm trying to make here is, I entered the Weta Nichols writing contest. With full intentions of blowing everyone away. And happily, I made it to the final round because what I wrote was brilliant. Actually, it was a little horrifying and gruesome and the hero is a total @$$hat. He's definitely anti-hero material. Dark, dangerous, cocky, and slick as waterproof canvas. Everything rolls right off of him. My first round judges loved it.
My final round judge didn't see a sympathetic side to him. His development needed work, she said. Apparently she wasn't impressed with the way he stepped in front of a bullet to save a small child because the kid reminded him of his little brother. My characterization only came through for her as "average". I didn't score anything above "good".
Not that good is bad.
But me, being me (it's a dark and scary place in my mind, kids), I readied a pep talk for myself. It went a little something like this:
Now, you're not everyone's cup of tea. You're a special brand of crazy. Your judge, she likes paranormal, but you've wandered completely off the reservation. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's a good story. It's gritty and dark and Wilder isn't your average hero. He's not supposed to be average, because he's one level away from burning in Hell. Good guys don't deserve to go to Purgatory. Of course he's kind of a bad guy. It's your job to redeem him. You're not just writing romance here. You're writing dark romance. Make those characters earn that happily-ever-after. You can't make everyone happy. There are a lot of people in the world who just don't "get" what you're doing here. You're fine. Everything is fine. The hanging scene is not too gruesome. No one who knows you is going to put that book down. She might put it down, but who cares? You want to change everything you've done to please one single person? No. Relax.
Scary place. Really.
I was worried there was too much swearing in it. I dropped the F-bomb, something I rarely do (ha, in books, not anywhere else). It was appropriately placed. I don't think the swearing got me in the hot seat.
It's funny how three judges can each state they were drawn into the story with realistic thoughts, setting, and unique characters. And how one doesn't see any of that the same way. It's funny how humans have different perspectives on one story. But it would probably be a weird world if we all liked the same things. I see us all going "Oooo" like the Martian toys in Toy Story. Frightening. But to tell you a story, I judged an entry I didn't care for. I found out later another judge didn't care for it either. And there was one judge who did. There you have it. We're all weird.
You can't be everyone's cupcake. And that's okay. Don't let it stop you from banging your own drum. I'm gonna write weird westerns. You write whatever you're writing. Paint blobs and call it art. Sing off key, do whatever makes you happy, just learn the rules so you can break them in a way that improves whatever you're doing.
Me, I'm gonna write romance novels that don't start with romance right out of the gate. I'm gonna make you love an @$$hole anti-hero. Or at least be curious enough to wonder what his deal really is. Or maybe you won't.
And that's okay.