Writing Paranormal Romance

free pnrIn 2016 I’m concentrating on my paranormal romance series, The Collegium, and have an ambitious publishing schedule up for all the world to see on the front page of this site. Focussing on one project, if multiple different stand-alone novels, builds its own momentum. I live and breathe paranormal romance, and this post falls out of that obsession.

What does a paranormal romance novel need?

In writing, there’s probably no rule that shouldn’t be broken, if you know why you’re breaking it. That’s definitely true for paranormal romance, but…you really do need to honour readers’ expectations. But what are they? As a long-time paranormal romance reader, this is what I look for and what makes a book a re-read:

  1. fundamentally hopeful
  2. some banter/engaging dialogue
  3. curious world that somehow critiques real world
  4. alpha male hero
  5. strong heroine
  6. charm

Every reader’s list will be different. And how do you measure (or write) charm?

Writing a paranormal romance novel

There are four key things to concentrate on when writing your paranormal romance: characters, conflict, plot and world building. Your writing style is also crucial, but you’ll develop your voice your own way. I think dialogue is vital, and working on crafting it so that the hero and heroine’s style are distinct is important to me.

Characters – The hero and the heroine are the focus of the novel and must have bold developmental arcs. Paranormal romances are fantasies, and most fantasies are quests. Quest tales set characters on an external journey, and an inner, personal one–and sometimes the two mirror each other. Readers have to be committed to the quest, and part of this is forging an emotional connection with the characters. Make the characters’ motivation for their quests irresistible, give them quirks (flaws as well as strengths) and remember that fictional characters are larger than life. Draw them slightly oversize and they’ll ring true for readers.

Conflict – Paranormal romance, being part of the romance genre, has to have an emotional plot as well as an adventure one. The characters have to fight to change, to grow and to achieve their quests. The tension really ramps up if the hero and heroine have opposing goals where one will have to sacrifice their absolutely essential goal for the other to achieve theirs. Force the stakes as high as you can go, then double them!

Plot – I tend to think of paranormal romance novels as quest stories, but sometimes they’re quests for truth, as with mysteries, or quests for identity, as with trying to get home, find a family member, or attain knowledge. The important point is to put your characters on a journey. There should be successes and failures that hit hard. Each unresolved issue should ramp up the tension till it’s excruciating at the disaster point that hits just before everything is happy ever after. Be aware of any dangling plot threads. Paranormal romance readers demand a satisfying happy ever after (or at a minimum, happy for now). Anything that doesn’t drive towards that memorable ending–well, why is it in the book?

World Building – Work on your world building. Be imaginative! Readers crave new ways of seeing the world–or escaping it. But make sure it’s coherent. What is the theme of the world you’re building? Dystopian? Arcadian? Industrial? The world should support and intensify your characters’ quests. Add in small details–remember the charm I was talking about earlier? You want to make your world special, and one that readers want to invite other readers to enter, and to return to themselves. It can–and arguably, should–challenge readers. After all, in re-imagining the world we are implicitly critiquing it. Think about adding a touch of humour to lighten things, even dark irony. Humour builds a relationship with the reader. It draws us together, bound by our shared recognition of life’s absurdity.

No matter how unique the constructed world of paranormal romance is, the emotions keep it real.

Enjoy the fairytale

Paranormal romance novels are modern fairytales, stories we tell and retell about surviving the tough times and risking everything for love.