Pick Your Paranormal Parameters

Densie Webb_2013~ By Densie Webb

Tell someone that your novel is paranormal. Go ahead, I dare you. Stand back and watch their reaction as they try to process what exactly that means. Are we talking witches and warlocks, werewolves and shape shifters, evil spirits and poltergeists, angels and demons, zombies and vampires? Are there warring factions, lords of the underworld, are there good vampires or bad and are they pitted against one another? Is it creepy? Does it keep you up at night? Is it gory and gross? Is it funny? Is it a love story? Hey, even ghouls need love, as evidenced in Issac Marion’s, Warm Bodies. Or is it an epic apocalyptic tale such as Guillermo Del Toro’s and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain or Justin Cronin’s, The Passage? Or perhaps it’s a Darynda Jones’ novel, such as First Grave on the Right, which deals with the undead in riotous ways  (the son of Satan is actually a pretty nice guy) and without a single vampire in sight.

Is it an older society that believes with a religious conviction that the undead exist, so they always carry crosses or are they armed with silver bullets? Or maybe they have town séances, exorcisms or the story involves Tarot-card-reading gypsies? Or is it an unsuspecting modern city that pooh-poohs the idea of the supernatural? All of these parameters define what your paranormal novel is and how your characters react to the realization that the things that go bump in the night are all too real. I bring all this up because my current WIP is a paranormal romance, and the topic of what exactly should make up a paranormal story has been weighing heavily on my mind.

My story is about vampires. Okay, what was your initial reaction? Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire? Stephanie Myer’s Twilight?  Charlaine Harris’ True Blood?  One is dead serious (no pun intended); one is over-the-top romantic, yet chaste; and one has more than a dash of humor mixed in with the sex and gore. They’re all paranormal stories and they’re all about vampires, but they’re unlikely to attract the same group of readers.

My story happens to be contemporary, takes place in New York and involves twenty-something characters. Okay, one of them has been twenty-something “for a while,” but you get my point. It’s romantic, yes, but I’m attempting to relate it to modern-day relationship issues. A challenge, I admit, but one I’m having fun with. Just the fact that it takes place in present-day New York, creates a whole different mental picture of what the story is about. I’ve eliminated creepy castles, marauding villagers wielding torches, capes and bats. There are no coffins, no bodies rising from the grave to seek revenge in the night. There are no spells or stakes to the heart. And I’ve taken it upon myself to not once utter the word “vampire.” Partly because it’s reached clichéd territory, thanks to Twilight, and because it’s perfectly clear what they are, without saying it “out loud.” My hope is that it will draw readers in, as the MC is drawn in as she tries to accept her predicament and attempts to figure out how it all might possibly fit into to her very modern life.

When you pen paranormal, you can take your story to the limit of credulity, have your creatures cracking jokes or tightly rein it all in so it feels suffocatingly, frighteningly real. The bottom line is, to say you’re writing a “paranormal novel” is like saying you’re writing women’s fiction or romance. It’s a broad umbrella that covers acres and acres of fiction territory. You’re the author; it’s your call which spot under the umbrella you choose to stand.

Densie Webb (that’s Densie, not Denise) has spent a long career as a freelance nonfiction writer and editor, specializing in health and nutrition, and has published several books and tons of articles on the topic over the years. Her debut novel “You’ll Be Thinking of Me” was released by Soul Mate Publishing in January 2015 as an ebook. It is also available in paperback and as an audiobook.. She grew up in Louisiana, spent 13 years in New York, and settled in Austin, TX, where it’s summer nine months out of the year.  She is an avid walker (not of the dead variety, though she loves anything to do with zombies, vampires or post-apocalyptic worlds), drinks too much coffee and has a small “devil dog” that keeps her on her toes. She is currently working on a second novel.

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