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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Writing the Paranormal -- Esri Rose

Paranormal covers a lot of ground these days. Werewolves, vampires, spaceships, time-travel, psychics, witches, ghosts, and my own favorite…elves. Like someone accepting an Oscar, I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone. It’s a hot market, so you won’t have to worry about there not being enough entries for the category. Instead, worry about entering pronto.

The Golden Heart guidelines merely specify that the paranormal elements are an integral part of the plot. In fact, paranormal is so inclusive, it’s easier to tell you what doesn’t make for a good paranormal romance than what does.

Flaccid World Building

Why do people read paranormal? Because it’s surprising. There are plenty of vampire books out there, but they all have their twists. It’s the twists that keep us coming back for more vampires (that, and all that…penetration). Ideally, you write paranormal because you enjoy the exotic details of dress, custom and physical differences, or because you think guys with pronounced canines are dead sexy, or because you enjoy seeing how an ad exec deals with Regency men.

Debra Holland, another Noodler finalist in paranormal, has this to say: “I suggest keeping a file or notebook containing the words you made up, the types of plants, animals, transportation, aliens, and anything else you'll need to keep track of. Sometimes you'll find yourself unexpectedly writing a series, and that notebook will come in handy!”

Make it detailed, and make it consistent. The same rules that help your heroine should also hinder her. Magic is all well and good, but it shouldn’t serve as a plot crutch. If you pull a new paranormal trick out of the bag whenever your heroine gets in a tight spot, your readers won’t believe she’s really in trouble, and narrative tension will fly out the window like a cute lil’ dragon. Which brings us to…

Deus ex machina

If a book goes along with nary a special effect, only to have an angel/talking dog/magic necklace solve the problem at the very last, that’s not a paranormal book. That’s a bad book.

Too Little Romance

Paranormal probably has more leeway than most GH romance categories in this respect. Still, Michael Crichton probably wouldn’t win a pretty necklace. Noodler and paranormal finalist Theresa Ragan has this to say: “I personally would not consider a time-travel with a mere kiss at the end to be a romance. If the hero and heroine haven’t met within the first 50 pages or one of the main characters disappears for a few chapters, I’m not going to be a happy camper.”

And Noodler Colleen Gleason, author of the Gardella Vampire Chronicles, says, “If the paranormal element is an integral part of the plot, it can go in the paranormal category--but it doesn't have to. My books would be in the SRE category, even though they are paranormal.” Like other romance categories, paranormal still requires a happily-ever-after ending for your two protagonists.

15 Comments:

At 1:50 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I think paranormal and historical share some things in common- the world building. In historical, the world is built for you and in paranormal, YOU build the world.

I like the idea of keeping a notebook. Then, when you get famous, you can have it come out as a book too!

 
At 3:48 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

I agree, Diane. Both of my finaling paranormal entries were medieval time travels. Both prologues are set in medieval times, but my first chapters are set in the modern day. I never considered entering my books in any category other than paranormal since both stories include plots whereby the characters journey into the past or future. Although 95% of both stories occur in medieval times, I don’t believe historical judges would have been receptive to reading an entry that starts out in contemporary times.

I enjoy writing time-travel romances because they allow me to introduce a strong modern-day heroine to an even stronger alpha male.

Time travels also have that built-in conflict that I find intriguing: how will he/she get back to his/her own time?

Great post, Esri. Lots of room for discussion.

 
At 4:49 PM, Blogger banksofmillbrook said...

I like big, dramatic struggles against E-vil and lots of external conflict -- which is why I love paranormals. ;-)

I'm having fun with worldbuilding (maybe too much fun, lol) and I've invented my own brand of supernatural warrior. I think I have the external conflict down pretty well in my story, but last week I got my golden pen contest results back and I was clobbered for...well, gee...for a lot of things (boo-hoo)...but mostly for not providing more insight into my hero's "inner conflict."

Any tips on how to introduce a big bad evil external conflict and internal struggles in the first 50 pages?

Sorry, this is probably an impossible question to answer. I'm having one of those weeks where I just want to throw my ms on the fire.

 
At 5:02 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Banks, were you only clobbered by one judge? If so, I wouldn't worry. Some folks reeeaaaally want that intimate, internal monologue stuff and others (like moi) prefer a pretty rigorous show-don't-tell approach.

Of course, if he obviously doesn't feel bubkes about what's happening around him, you got problems.

 
At 5:09 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Banksofmillbrook,
Is there an opportunity to have your hero think about whatever relates to his internal conflict? But you probably thought of that already.

 
At 5:23 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

banksofmillbrook,

When looking for internal conflict, I always delve into the character's back story. What brought them to where they are today? What about their past poses a problem for them now? These are just a few questions to ask that might help finding that internal conflict.

 
At 6:13 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Banks, what are your hero and heroine's inner conflict(s)? Do you agree with the judge(s)? Did you sprinkle a little hint here and there as to what makes your characters do what they do?

Gosh, a lot of questions for you. Sorry about that. :)

 
At 7:13 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

I love the world building in paranormals -- both when I read it and when I write it. Fiction writers make stuff up, but paranormal can make up even more! :) And I think it's fantastic that the paranormal market is much wide than it used to be. In fact, editors are looking to widen it more. They are looking for new types of paranormal stories, something more than vampires and werewolves, even though there are fantastic books in both of those areas.

 
At 8:02 PM, Blogger banksofmillbrook said...

Thanks for the provoking questions/comments everyone!

I think maybe one of my big issues is where I begin the story. The hero has rejected his supernatural heritage (because he believes his powers caused the death of his parents) and he's trying hard to be "normal." Then, at the end of the third chapter a crisis occurs which makes him confront his heritage and use his supernatural gifts. So he's mostly avoiding and trying hard not to react to his world in the first 50 pp. And he's got some issues. He's hot, but not "alpha." It's the heroine who spurs him into action. Maybe I should move my beginning and start right AFTER the first big turning point...a section where he's really gunning for answers/revenge/blood.

And, Esri, the comments were pretty much across the board, although there were VERY diverse opinions about other stuff, lol.

The whole thing kinda freaks me out because this entry was a chapter contest winner last year (the editor chose it as first place but she didn't give comments or request the full). I tweaked it a little and sent it off to the GP to get vamped for the GH...and, wow!..all the GP folks really had some negative reactions.

Don't know what to do now. Maybe I'll just concentrate on my SRE entry...

 
At 9:22 PM, Anonymous gaill said...

I like the idea of keeping a notebook, not just in paranormal world building but in all world buildings, because isn't that what we do no matter what we write? I know that I am world building when I write my YA, because it isn't a world anyone else has lived. At the same time, I know it is a kiss of death to treat readers like they are stupid. Like maybe including a glossary of words that mean the same thing in our real world and our built word.

 
At 9:24 PM, Anonymous gaill said...

that would be built world, not built word. Dang- I write for a living?

 
At 10:05 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I agree with Diane. Paranormals and historicals DO have a lot in common. I have a notebook outlining a trio of Regency set novels with paranormal elements almost in the line of the old Gothic romances. I have kept a notebook on my WIP as well. It helps me to keep track of servants' names, house designs, garden designs, room decor, etc. After historical, paranormal is my favorite thing to read. Our local bookseller asks me to read each of the new paranormal authors that come out to see if I think they will fly. A big turnoff for me is too much emphasis on dumping world info on me and very little on the emphasis. And errors that are a result of someone not keeping track of their own world will have me telling her "don't bother" in a heartbeat!

 
At 10:42 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Banks: It sounds like you have a handle on what could benefit your story. It is a shock to have one contest love it and the next sling mud, but it totally happens.

You could do a quick-and-dirty chop on the beginning, start it in the new place and submit it in the GH that way. With the smaller minimum word requirements, that wouldn't be a problem, and if you got a request from it, it wouldn't take too much to whip it into shape. It'd be a good test.

 
At 8:40 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Banks, your hero's inner conflict is good. He is rejecting his supernatural powers. Now you just need to make sure that's clear in your first 50 pages. Sounds like a great story.

 
At 8:58 AM, Blogger TiffinaC said...

I love my world building. As the writer you make the rules. I use the basic lore for werewolves, but a lot of it I made up for my stories. And I really LOVE alpha men, who better to play that then Alpha werewolves?

I can't see myself writing anything but werewolves, and I do realize people want other para creatures, but those wolves stole my heart from a young age...

I don't keep a notebook, I've been thinking about my characters for a long time that I think some of their names have become second nature to me, when spellcheck tried to correct me, I'm like WHAT? It's a work, I know it's a word.
I do keep a book of French phrases (my characters are from post-revolutionary France) cause I can never remember them -- coughs -- let's pretend I didn't take French for ten years *w*

 

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