Tuesday, August 24, 2010

So you think you want to write paranormal romance...

Did you feel that?  I just virtually slapped you.  What are you thinking?  You must be nuts!

Ok, who's still here?

I wanted to get rid of the real softies first.  You see the thing about writing paranormal anything these days is that its a fad.  Now some of you are thinking, but mine is different!  I have a vampire-werewolf-fairy love triangle, and my protagonist is really different - she's strong with blue hair and a fashion sense!

Paranormal romance has exploded in the marketplace.  Now I'm not saying everyone's trying to cash in on the Twilight craze.  I think its more that a lot of people really enjoyed Twilight (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?) and/or they want to attract an already established market.  The problem, of course, is that for every 10 Twilight fans there are out there, one of them is writing a paranormal romance for teens, and considering you can buy Twilight themed toilet paper these days, thats a lot of fans and a heck of a lot of writers.

So what do you do?  Grab an entire chocolate cream pie, dig in and hit the delete button?

NO!  There's good news!

If you really stop to think about it, there are only about eight plotlines, the rest are all derivatives.  In other words, you can't reinvent the wheel, but you can make a better, shinier, faster wheel.  The question is how and the answer is obvious.  You have to set yourself apart.  But, Jenn!  I already told you about my strong, blue-haired protagonist fairy who is in love with a vampire and a werewolf!  

Ok, be honest, with yourself...are you really writing something new and different?
It's not enough to use a new and exciting mythological creature, because all those other writers are out there are pouring over cryptozoology websites too.  Even if you find a magical creature that isn't in a book at the moment, you can bet someone else is writing about it right now.  The hook has to be more than that.  Originality is more than switching out a vampire for a Sphinx.

In Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maas talks about taking storylines in new and interesting directions.  I'd like to try that now.  Please note if this storyline kicks-ass, I so call dibs.  If not, let's just let it fester here.  My son is prattling on about time machines and super heroes in his high chair, so let's start there.

We have a time machine and some sort of plot to save something.
Obvious direction: Boy invents time machine and travels back in time to save girl, parents, planet, etc
How can we make this new?
Well, let's switch boy to girl (seriously, why do only boys get to build time machines)
And let's make her mission less apocalyptic:
1.  She wants to take back something she said or save herself from a huge embarrassment (bit vague but promising)
2.  She wants to stop her parents divorce (bit depressing and how do you work in the romance aspect?)

Let's go with #1 - She wants to take back something she said or save herself from a huge embarrassment

What did she say or do?
Obvious direction: She's alienated a friend with her actions or ruined her chances with her dream boy
How do we spin this?
1.  How about she said something to her teacher and he/she quit her job?
2.  Se missed her kid brother's birthday party/soccer game/school play
3. She got really drunk and did something she can't remember at a school function, which has earned her the reputation of Wild Thing

I like #3, it can be made fun and edgy and be something teens can relate to without having to be cliche.

Now stop for a second, none of the aspects of the plot - time travel, wanting to undo a mistake, making a scene of yourself, avoiding humiliation - are new.  It's the combination of them that is key.

But what about the love interest?
Obvious direction: She thinks he will like her better if she can undo or her bad reputation or conversely, he winds up liking her better for being herself

How can we intro an entirely new paranormal love experience?
1. She misfires and winds up in a different time and he helps her get back to the future (wait, isn't that a Michael J. Fox movie?  Don't worry about it, if it was made before they were born)
2. Her best friend stows away to save her from changing the past, because he loves her the way she is (ok, its not great, but maybe)
3.  A boy she never noticed before realizes she has come back to change things, begins helping her, and boom - love is in the air (let's go with this)

So ultimately she...
Obvious direction: decides she's found love and doesn't need to change her past.

How about no.
Instead she changes the past, which has disastrous consequences.  It's not entirely new, but it opens up possibilities.  Much more than if she learns her lesson and lives happily ever after.

So hey, what do you think of our story so far?  I may call dibs on this one.


  1. Seriously, tissue paper? haha, I haven't heard of that one yet.
    Great post!

  2. Ha! Thanks for the reality check. I'd love to read a story about a blue-haired fairy thats in love with a vamp and werewolf :)

    can they all get in a time machine and go after Mr. Darcy? Then, they morph into zombies and end up in a dystopic earth where they have to all fight one another to the death.

  3. that would be original if Mr. Darcy wasn't so played out...change it to Wickham :)