Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Seven Deadly Sins of Paranormal Romance

My new story, The Stelton Legacy: Mine Forever (working title, at least the Mine Forever part), is about a family’s quest and the seven deadly sins. I came across a great article, The Seven Deadly Sins in Paranormal Romance, written by friend and author Stephanie Draven.
 Stephanie's list identifies the things not to do in paranormal writing and matches them to THE seven deadly sins. Paranormal or not, the information is virtuous. Taken into consideration, the angels will sing with your results. I know, get off my harp!
 Here is my interpretation of her seven sins.
  1. Sloth: Too much world building at the beginning. Let it reveal slowly
  2. Lust: Too much of a good thing. Description of weird stuff is good but it’s a great story that hangs it all together.
  3. Gluttony: Make dialog sound real but keep it short, we bore easily
  4. Greed: Too much of a good thing. Paranormal based on reality with only a few things maneuvered lend reality and hold the reader’s attention
  5. Wrath: Too much violence
  6. Pride: Make it challenging but don’t make the reader need a glossary
  7. Envy: Heroes and Heroines may be perfect in our dreams but they need a touch of reality and something to strive for.

Her full post is copied in below with her permission. Thanks Stephanie. Stephanie will be reprising her workshop, Love, Monsters & Mythology at the NJRW Conference October 12-13.  
SLOTH: Info Dumps. Nothing turns me off faster than a book that starts off with a long narrative explaining all the world building. Info dumps are lazy. They’re bad form. The details of your world should come to light slowly, layer upon layer, immersing the reader in the experience. For hints on how to do this, paranormal romance writers should study the best written fantasy.
LUST: Fetishism of the Supernatural. There’s a tendency for paranormal romance writers to fetishize the supernatural elements in the same way that science fiction writers sometimes fetishize the buttons and gadgets of their worlds. That your character is a werewolf isn’t all that interesting in and of itself. Not being a furry, I’m not turned on by long descriptions of fangs and silver-grey coats. And while the fact that your hero can identify anything with his superior sense of smell lends flavor to his persona and reality to your world, it’s not actually characterization. Obsessing on the blood sucking, the mysterious brotherhood, and the magical abilities may appeal to other readers who share this fetish–but it isn’t storytelling. There has to be more to hold the book together than a collection of neato cool superpowers. Paranormal has a place, but don’t use it as a crutch.
GLUTTONY: Big Chunks of Boring Dialog Meant to Convey Realism. Writing teachers everywhere tell budding young authors to listen to real dialog and use it as a model for what their characters should say. This only gets you so far. In real life, people wander off on tangents. They pause and hem and haw. In short, they bore the pants off one another. Why would you want to do that to your reader? Paranormal romance characters live extraordinary lives. We don’t have to hear them talk about their car trouble or what kind of ice cream they’re going to eat unless this has some bearing on the plot, or conveys something about their character, or is a delightful little detail sparingly tossed into the mix. Real life conversations can go on for hours. Conversations in fiction need to be tight and lean! Never overindulge.
GREED: Too Many Speculative Elements. The best paranormal romance takes the world as we know it, or the past as we imagine it, and twists one or two crucial elements, following the repercussions from those changes like ripples on a pond. The worst paranormal romance turns itself into a carnival for every strange and unexplained myth, magic, and phenomenon in the cosmos. Elves and vampires, mining together on Epsilon 4 with space aliens who are ruled by the Wicked Witch of the West in a kingdom called Oz…readers need to be able to focus. In a world where everything is possible, what is truly at stake? (A perfect example of how too much of a good thing can ruin a series, is the beautiful television series LOST which started out with an intriguing premise, but eventually piled so many new paranormal elements onto the stack that the whole thing collapsed under its own weight, bleeding viewers and disappointing fans.)
WRATH: Violence Overload. Most paranormal romance follows the trend of urban fantasy to put existential concerns at the forefront. It’s the fate of the whole world, country, city, species, brotherhood, or pack at stake. It’s gotta be bloody, too. A struggle for survival. Just once, I’d like to see a good secret baby vampire romance or a simple mistaken identity story between witches, or a marriage of convenience between werewolves. At the very least, I’d like to see interpersonal conflicts that focus on a developing relationship at the center of the book, rather than the danger and violence.
PRIDE: A Glossy of Terms. Look, 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, go for it. But putting it at the front of your story signals to me that you think you’re just too special to weave your special special language into your special special special book. It says that artful exposition is something paeans must use, but you are too good for it. You will make your readers actually look it up instead of being able to figure it out in context.
ENVY: Mary Sue Characters. We all want to be six foot bombshells who can kick butt in high heels, smite evildoers, and capture the heart of the sexiest angel ever to fall from heaven. But such heroines can’t be all wish fulfillment, quick-witted, never afraid, never at a loss for a words, and always right. It’s held as a given in paranormal romance circles that your hero can be a bastard but your heroine can’t be a bad girl. However, a reader can’t love her if she’s perfect. Put some dents in her armor and let the hero call her on her bullshit once in a while.

Monday, August 20, 2012

5 Step Approach to Self-Editing

My edits arrived from my awesome editor Denise at Carina Press. She prepared me for them in her cover letter. First was the acknowledged improvement from my first manuscript-a reduction in split commas and improvement with point-of-view. (Please be impressed that there is an em dash-validation that I know my split commas.)
A look at the edits in the manuscript could have been daunting but I found them categorize into: character development and information flows. I noticed that some parts of the story were well developed and others were not. I tried to understand why.
I came across an article in Writer’s Digest about the 5 Step Approach to Self-Editing that made me understand the inconsistency. It’s written by James Scott Bell. He likens the process to the geyser, La Bufadora in Mexico. It’s a natural blowhole. The tide rolls in to the underwater cave, the pressure builds, and blasts a geyser to the surface. Some are loud and spectacular and others are quiet and barely visible. The water calms and waits for the next one. He compares that to the creative writing process. 
He said that sometimes we turn off our imaginations during the quiet periods. For me it explained why some of my character development and information flows were spectacular and others barely visible. The power is in the details.
Mr. Bell goes to describe the issues as deriving from left-brain, right-brain activity-creativity vs analysis. He ends his article with four steps for self-editing.
  1. Identify a highly charged moment in your book.
  2. Make a list of possible actions, gestures, or setting descriptions that might further reflect the scene to make it stronger.
  3. List at least 20-25 possibilities, as fast as you can.
  4. Craft a paragraph using the best details for your list then edit the text until is sings.

I hope you read his article and find it as helpful as I did.
How do you approach the doldrums of creativity when that analysis takes over? How do you get re-inspired?   

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why I Love Research

I was catching up on my reading and came across Jo-Ann Carson’s blog.  I found her post, Three Reasons Why I Love Research, thought provoking. Her reasons included:
  1. finding new and exciting things she wasn't not really looking for
  2. grounds her story and lets her imagination fly
  3. research gives her story depth.

I agree with all of her points. Her first point, ‘finding new and exciting things you’re not looking for’ really resonates with me.
I do most of my research while I'm outlining the story although there are times, more than I can count, when I'm writing that something strikes me and I'm off on a hunt. Last week I found myself researching sword fights on YouTube. Two hours later I had watched fighting scenes in Scaramouch, The Three Musketeers, and my favorite The Princess Bride. That's in addition to training videos by Bob Anderson and William Hobbs. Both are great sword choreographers for the screen.   

Here are some other cool things I’ve found while researching:
  • The town of Avery, England is built around the ancient standing stones and is very accessible.
  • In ancient Egypt, priests plucked every hair from their body, every hair!
  • The city of Londinium (which later became London) was established by the Romans in 43 AD. The capital however was Colchester. London became the capital of England in 100 AD.

Why do you love (or not love) research? What are some of the things you’ve found?