Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Only Rule for Writing Paranormal

Whenever we write, we're creating within a framework of existing storiesall the fiction that came before us and that influences and shapes our writing.

Even if you want to create the most fresh and original story possible, you still want to create a story that people enjoy, so that means obeying basic laws of writing: narrative flow, conflict, dialogue, the story building up and increasing in tension before reaching a resolution, etc.

The vast majority of writers know the genre they're writing in, and that means expectations you need to take into account. It's hard to satisfy readers with a crime novel if the crime's not solved by the end of the book, people will be disappointed in a horror that's not scary, and so forth.
Another Earth, 2011, is rare for a successful science fiction film in that it deliberately breaks the expectations of science fiction and steps away from the fantastic.
When we write stories about the paranormal, we're not just working within story structure and genre conventions, we're also working with what people know and expect from our paranormal creatures. Because vampires and shapeshifters don't exist, there's no set definition of how they actually work.

Readers would be confused if you wrote about talking cats in a book that wasn't labelled as 'fantasy', because we've all experienced cats and never seen them talk. But with non-existing creatures, we get to decide how they'll function in our story.
Drunk is still my favorite Ed Sheeran song.
But that doesn't mean we can completely ignore reader expectations. If we're stepping too far from the accepted parameters of our paranormal creature, it can be better to call them something else. The zombies in 28 Days Later or I Am Legend are called 'virals' because they're not true zombiesre-animated corpsesbut also because they don't fit the slow, shambling, totally mindless expectation of zombies.

I've heard more than one person complaining that Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series featured vampires too far out of expectations, then praising The Vampire Chronicles without caring that Anne Rice's vampires are far from Bram Stoker's or even the vampires from folklore. You don't have to like Twilight (I'm personally uncomfortable seeing abusive relationships romanticized, I dream of a world where healthy and fulfilling relationships are romanticized and I try to create my own romance novels accordingly), but it seems contradictory to criticize one book for changing vampire myths then praising another one which also breaks vampire myths.
What We Do in the Shadows, 2014, as a comedy can get away with featuring many different and conflicting kinds of vampires.
As you might have noticed from the Meyers rant, I don't like people policing what's 'real' or 'true' with non-real creatures. As long as your story stays true to itself, I don't care how you deal with the paranormal. The whole point of paranormal creatures is that they're not normal – they're not something we can see every day, like a cat, so there is no one set of rules for how they should behave.

When we write paranormal, just like when we write genre or any narrative story, we get to decide which expected elements we'll pay attention to and which we'll ignore. And that means being aware of the conventions of paranormal in the genre we write. Meyers vampires aren't horror vampires, but they fit within the expectations of romance vampireslike the Vampire Diaries series of YA romance novels by L. J. Smith.
You can tell they're romantic leads because they all look gorgeous.
I've never written vampires, but I do write werewolves in my Jagged Rock series. They're romance novels so the werewolves are romance werewolvesall about strength and power and beauty, rather than the terror and mystery associated with horror werewolves.

The thing is, I've often heard fans of horror werewolves saying what a shame it is that werewolves never got turned into romantic leads the way vampires have. And I want to tell them, they have! You're just reading the wrong genre!
Whitley Strieber's The Wolfen. Not a romance.
You could write a horror werewolf as a romantic lead, but it would be quite a different story than most werewolf/shifter romance readers are expecting. As with any kind of reversal of expectationslike a sci-fi that drags the camera away from its sci-fi elementsyou need to be aware of the expectations so you know when you're subverting them. Because, at the end of the day, you can write anything you want; but if you want to satisfy your readers then you need to be honest with them and know what they'll expect from your genre and paranormal creatures.

I've never written vampires, but I do have a series of free werewolf romances called Jagged Rock. The second one, Omega Blues, is a weekly serial on Wattpad and you can find the fifth chapter here.

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