Let us begin by saying:
MMMWWAAAAAHAHAhahahahaha!! Welcome to our Spooktacular Show!
We all grow up loving a good ghost story. Even as little kids, even when it’s scary, there’s something absolutely magnetic about the paranormal. And we keep loving those stories our whole lives. Something about supernatural stories of big, mysterious, other-worldy realms out there that we can’t see is endlessly appealing.
Vampires, werewolves, angels, ghosts, dragons…hell, even leprechauns–fiction taps into something deep in our human nature when it uses these paranormal and supernatural elements.
In this show, Fiction School gets spooky and talks all about writing good paranormal fiction. We speak of our own experiences, since we all three use paranormal elements in our writing, but in very different ways. How do you research for paranormal writing? What’s the secret to really scaring your readers on the page? How do you make paranormal writing resonate powerfully with readers? We scare up answers to all these and more on this episode of Fiction School. Listen, if you dare! Mwaaaahahaha!
SHOW NOTES FOR EPISODE 9: THE SPOOKY SHOW! PARANORMAL WRITING
- To start, we try to understand why paranormal writing follows such strong trends. In other words, why are zombies so damn popular?? They’re not sexy, they’re not athletic, they don’t even smell good, but people aspire to be them…
- Alas, trends in paranormal writing are unpredictable at best. But it doesn’t matter what paranormal element you use (zombies, vampires, ghosts, witches, dragons…) as long as you write with a deeper understanding behind the paranormal stuff.
- it’s all about the metaphor: zombies for working stiffs, vampires for the old evil that’s smarter than us. It’s the power behind the metaphor that keeps readers coming back.
- But some elements like witches are more interesting because there are practicing witches in the world. It’s not quite as imagination-based as dragons or zombies.
- Jody says, “Nobody out there is a practicing zombie,” but Baker mentions the zombie pub crawl in Minneapolis. And Tommy knows a kid who wants to be a zombie ballerina for Halloween. (See? People want to be the zombie! WTF??)
- Jody explains how she does research on witches, since there are practicing witches
- When writing with paranormal elements, it’s important to be working with one that feels natural or comfortable
- in fiction, we get to exaggerate paranormal traits and make them even more powerful and magical. But it’s a balance–we’re not worrying about sticking too close to the truth, but the worry is offending others’ understandings or practices
- Stephanie Meyer used vampires without doing so much research that it hindered her; she made up her own rules (sparkling skin, out in daylight) and used them to her advantage
- In other words, paranormal stories have to be your own story, but there’s a history that comes with the paranormal element; sometimes you have to follow the rules, sometimes you have to make up your own rules, but usually it’s a mix of both
- And the biggest trick is to get the reader to believe in the paranormal element within the book
- We discuss the element of hiding and the power of the off-page element in paranormal writing: the scary thing doesn’t have to be on every page, but its presence lurking somewhere makes all the scenes be infused with it.
- In Jody’s Audrey’s Guides series, though, the narrator is a witch, so the paranormal element is always on the page because of first person POV. The character, however, has real-life issues, as a snarky teenager with teenage problems, in conjunction with having to master witchcraft, so the paranormal stuff works in tandem with common tensions.
- Can you combine paranormal and horror with humor? We discuss the expectations of readers of the paranormal genre.
- There’s a difference between werewolves and vampires, which people probably don’t really believe in, and ghosts, witches and angels, which lots of people do have faith in and believe exist.
- Tommy banks his whole future on the upcoming popularity of leprechauns
- We try to pin down some important questions: Who is the audience of paranormal writing? What are the differences between older and younger readers of paranormal writing?
- For paranormal writing, the key is good character, because that’s the foundation of what we relate to as readers. That’s how we learn more about ourselves and how the world works, to be able to relate to characters (even if they’re leprechauns).
- There’s got to be some connection to regular human beings when writing paranormal, because we’re reading to care about those people.
- And that’s also the key to what makes a story scary. Fiction is at its most scary when it utilizes dramatic irony, which is when the reader knows something the characters don’t.
- In horror films, the element of the soundtrack adds to the tension and fear, but as fiction writers we have to create that soundtrack through dramatic irony and the timing of revelations to readers and characters
- In the publishing industry, Jody guesses that agents and editors are probably sick of paranormal fiction, but the market seems insatiable.
- Readers of paranormal used to be marginalized, but now its more mainstream
- What are some classic examples of good paranormal or horror writing? Baker loves Red Moon by Benjamin Percy, about a werewolf version of 9/11; Tommy recommends Poe’s “Mask of the Red Death,” and praises Poe as the master of dramatic irony; Jody nominates the classic Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde–though the pacing might be too slow for modern audiences at times, the scary scenes are still so scary because of their tone and the way they are timed in the narrative.