Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Paranormals and world building

This one is for all of you writing those wonderful paranormals out there.

World building is one of the key elements that has to happen and be more than effective in this genre. Sure, world building is important in all other genres, but since we are working with things out of the normal, the stronger the world building, the better the connection you can make with your reader.

I am often reminded of both Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings on this one. One of the challenges the movie makers had with movies like this is to make sure that the world and characters they created are just as strong as what the writer envisioned. I am sure you have all gone to a movie and seen a character, only to scream, "that isn't what he looked like!" If the writer does a great job of this, the movie maker has a better chance of succeeding. In both of the movies I mentioned, the author did just that.

With that said, I often see writers submit projects that have a fantastic premise, but for someone who has not lived with the project for the amount of time the writer has, the weak world building is the one element that results in that disconnect between the reader and the book.

I always like to think of the idea that a writer has to assume the reader has never been there or done something before. They haven't met the characters, they don't understand the language and they certainly have not experienced what the character is going through.Your job is to translate that.

I was recently reading a paranormal with some strong fantasy like elements that really struggled to do this. The writer had the characters referring to each other like they would normally do in real life. The problem was that I had never experienced it. I didn't understand the language, I didn't understand the references they made to things that were very common in their world. The end result? I was lost.

Fixing issues like this is relatively easy. Use contextual definitions. Give the reader something that we would understand about the language or the event. I like to describe Tom Clancy on this one. When he describes some of the weaponry, he uses the technical terms however, by adding the characters actually using the weapon, we know instantly it is a really bad gun. from that pont on, we get it when he uses the term.

So, for your work this week you paranormal writers, make sure to read your story as if you are someone who is seeing it for the first time and probably don't even read your genre. Woudl they get it?



  1. Clear and informative as always, Scott. This is a particularly valuable post for me. Thank you.

  2. I know as a writer, I have this beautiful world imagined. I see my characters doing what they should do. Then I try to put it on paper. Only thing, what comes out doesn't always produce the same mental picture for the reader. That's why I love critters. They ask the questions I assume are just understood. They're great at telling me what doesn't make sense.

    It's rather difficult for me to see my work through the eyes of a reader. One thing which does help is taking breaks from my work and returning with a fresh viewpoint.

  3. When it is done well, it is a pleasure to read.
    I just finished reading "Dime Store Magic" (Kelley Armstrong) The heroine comes in conflict with a totally unfamiliar aspect of the society, so the necessary world building is revealed as she learns and/or is told about these deviations.In fact the world building does double duty.

  4. Awesome post, Scott! Very informative.

  5. Liked what you had to say. I'm engaged in a bit of world building with my current WIP, so this post is great for me. Thanks!

  6. I work hard at world building. If it doesn't flow, or isn't clear without seamlessly flowing into the story, then... it goes.
    I don't like my readers to get lost (okay, right now the readers are my crit partners.) and if they do -- then obviously I didn't write it well enough. And it... goes. :) (Or gets changed / clarified, until it fits and works, without having to have a glossary of terms.)
    It's easy to get lost and forget, because the world is alive in your mind. But the reader doesn't know.
    Also, it has to be plausible. I don't like deus ex machina type things, because it doesn't feel right.

  7. Good advice, one question thought; what if you 'ghostly' character is normal in every sense? Example, he has no special powers, etc.