Paranormal romance has caught a bad rap. It’s really sad because I absolutely adore it. I’m in the process of reading through my manuscript after I’ve put it aside. Putting aside your writing is crucial to the writing process because it allows you to look at your work more objectively when you return to it. There are some bad habits supernatural writers can fall prey to in their writing. Some of these I’ve committed upon occasion myself. Here are seven writing issues to watch out for when writing paranormal romance:
By A.C. James
1) Info Dumps: A surefire reason a manuscript will be rejected is by starting your story with a large info dump of world building or backstory. Nothing turns me off faster than picking up a book that starts off with a long narrative explaining the story world. Info dumps are lazy and they’re bad form. The story world should come to light as the story progresses, in layers, immersing the reader in the experience. My recommendation to paranormal romance writers is to read well written fantasy and take a look at how world building occurs over the arc of the story. Brandon Sanderson is remarkable. Take a good look at the first thirty pages of your story. How much action is there? Or are you simply explaining to the reader in narrative form?
2) Overuse and fetishism of the supernatural: This is one that I’m guilty of in my own writing. Paranormal romance writers have a tendency to fetishize the supernatural elements, just as science fiction writers sometimes fetishize the gadgets in their worlds. That your character is a vampire or a werewolf isn’t all that interesting in and of itself. Not being a furry fanatic, I’m not turned on by long descriptions of silver coats. While your protagonist may be able to identify anything with their heightened sense of smell which adds to their qualities and brings authenticity to your world, it isn’t actually characterization. Today I inwardly cringed as I read through one of my sex scenes and can only imagine the comments my editor will send me. Obsessing on the blood sucking, the ability to leap to the tops of tall buildings, or other magical abilities may appeal to some readers. But it isn’t storytelling and is better left to fan fiction. There has to be substance that holds the book together rather than just a list of really cool superpowers. Don’t use paranormal as a crutch. I see the same tendency in epic fantasy with the generic overuse of dragons and don’t get me wrong—I do love dragons.
3) Boring Dialog Meant to Convey Realism: Creative writing teachers everywhere tell aspiring authors to listen to real dialog and use it as a model for what their characters should say. This is true but it only gets you so far. In real life, people wander off on tangents. I’m especially guilty of rambling on randomly and don’t get me started if it pertains to books or movies. In real speech people pause and there are awkward silences. People gaze off into the distance as they tune out someone who is boring them half to death. That’s how dialogue is in real life. Why would you want to bore your reader with everyday dialogue? Paranormal romance characters live fascinating lives in fantasy worlds. We don’t have to hear them talk about doing the dishes or what they’re going to eat for breakfast unless it has some bearing on the plot, or it conveys something about their character, or it’s an amusing detail used knowingly and sparingly. Real life conversations can ramble on for hours. Do that over a bottle of wine for a night with the girls, not in your fiction writing. Conversations in fiction need to be tight!
4) Overuse of Speculative Elements: Paranormal romance takes the world as we know it, or the past as we imagine it, and twists a few key elements. Poorly written paranormal romance turns itself into a circus for every myth, magic, or phenomenon in the cosmos. In the worst scenarios it happens when writers throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Goblins inexplicably venture on a quest with a pack of werewolves to fight space aliens threatening to invade the human race through intermarriage to the aswade species. The aswade species of course being half-blood alien bounty hunters whose interstellar licenses were revoked due to poor job performance and failure to obey Lilith, the alien queen. It can become fan fiction run amok. And in a world where everything is possible, is anything really at stake?
5) Violence: I tend to mix a lot of horror into paranormal romance and this is where I struggle to find a balance. Most paranormal romance follows the trend of urban fantasy to put existential concerns at its core. It’s the fate of the whole world, city, species, pack, or clan at stake. Of course it has to be bloody as hell too—a struggle for survival. The category is romance and it should focus primarily on developing interpersonal conflicts that focus on a budding relationship, rather than danger and violence.
6) A Glossary of Terms: I’ll start this by stating that at the moment I’m reading a book that begins with a glossary of terms and while I’m rather enjoying this renowned author, I don’t feel this addition was necessary for me to understand the story. This section I skimmed through without fully reading and everything listed became apparent through the narrative. Ok, if you want to put a glossary of terms at the back of the book for curious readers to look up terms as they arise—I say go for it. Shoving it at the front of your story indicates to me that you think the reader needs to look it up instead of being able to figure it out in context. All this accomplished was to irritate the piss out of me as I continued to hit the page button on my Kindle until I finally reached the story.
7) Blonde Bombshell Syndrome: Personally, I think real women, women with curves, are sexy as hell. Sure, we all want to be six-foot blonde bombshells that can kick ass in high heels, slay evildoers, and capture the heart of the sexiest half demon/half fey to ever return from the underworld. But real heroines can’t be all wish fulfillment, never afraid, never at a loss for words, and always right. Why is it not only perfectly acceptable but almost expected for the hero to be a total bastard? Yet heroines had to be perfect. Why can’t they be bad girls? A reader can’t relate to her or love her if she’s perfect. She needs to have some chinks in her armor and give the hero a run for his money. He has to be her match and call her on her bullshit from time to time. That’s the reality of real world relationships.
I wish everyone a Happy Memorial Day! Please check out my Sizzling, Hot, Memorial Day Giveaway which ends today for your last chance to win free e-books and cool prizes.