Friday, August 14, 2009

Talking Paranormal Here

I often describe paranormal in th same way I describe sci-fi and fantasy. It is your job as a reader to take us into a world that does not exist to us. This is really a tough thing to do, but one that can be really rewarding if you can do it successfully. The thing I find most often disappointing, however, are writers who submit stories that leave me sitting on the sidelines. I read the words, I see the plot but in the end, I just don't get it. This stems from that world building element that is so crucial in all of these lines. Today, however, I want to strictly work on the paranormal genre.

First of all, if you look up the definition of paranormal (this one came from you understand will see some of the barriers we have to work with as a writer.

–adjective - of or pertaining to the claimed occurrence of an event or perception without scientific explanation, as psychokinesis, extrasensory perception, or other purportedly supernatural phenomena.

Let's work with the first part. "an occurrence of an event or perception without scientific explanation." If there is no explanation for it, it is up to the writer to create an explanation that is not only believable but one that a reader with no knowledge of the subject can understand. Remember, this world only exists in your head and it is up to you to transfer that idea into the head of the reader through words.

To do this takes time. You can not just throw out a term and hope the reader gets it. You have to use context clues along the way to give the reader a chance to piece it together. These might be actual definitions, synonyms, explanations or antonyms. Give us something.

Let's deal with the second part of the defintion now, "puportedly supernatural phenomena". In this case, we look at the word "supernatural" and understanding prefixes, super means above or beyond. That being the case, it is up to the reader to fully immerse the reader into understanding how this is somehow outside of the boundaries of what we would know as natural.

Do you see that in both cases, it is up to the reader to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown. You know the material and the reader doesn't.

There is a theory out there in communications known as theory Sapir-Whorf Theory that says something can only exist in our world if we can name it (in the simplist of terms). In other words, if we have not experienced it, it doesn't exist to us. For paranormal writers (and yes the sci-fi and fantasy writers) you are working in a world that for many, we have not experienced. For that reason we will not understand it and, in the end, the story and the plot will be completely lost to the reader.

Solution: When you are working with critique partners, find someone that does not read your genre. If they don't get it, fix it.



  1. Great post! I'm curious. As far as genre, where would you draw the line between paranormal and fantasy?

  2. World building is important, but for paranormal stories, it's essential.

    In my own experience, it's take me years--yes years--to construct the paranormal worlds for my trilogy with Lyrical Press.

    And you're right, if my crit partner doesn't "get it' from page one, then I need to do something different to change it.