Wednesday, August 10, 2011
BOOK REVIEW: Writing the Paranormal Novel: Techniques and Exercises for Weaving Supernatural Elements into Your Story
Author: Steven Harper
Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books
Release Date: 2011
Paranormal novels (those with ghosts, telepaths, vampires, werewolves, fairies, witches and more) for adult and young-adult readers continue to top bestseller lists, but, until now, no resource exists to help writers craft these stories. This book shows how to successfully introduce supernatural and paranormal elements into your stories, create engaging and relatable characters and craft plots where even the most unusual twists are not only possible, they are believable.
About the Author
Steven Harper is the author of several SF books, including In the Company of Mind, Corporate Mentality and The Silent Empire series. He's also written books based on Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and The Ghost Whisperer, as well as the movie novelization for Identity. His numerous short stories have appeared, among other places, in Esther Friesner's Chicks in Chainmail anthologies.
While the focus of this book is writing for the paranormal, a lot of what the book covers can be applied to just about any genre. This book guides you through the process of writing not just a paranormal novel, but even a whole series without locking you into any real specifics about the genre in question (at no point does the author say things like vampires cannot have reflections or werewolves must change in the full moon). The last few chapters deal with getting your work published, with anecdotes of what not to do, and real world advice on what to do.
The chapters cover a significant amount of ground, but some of the most helpful parts discuss the problems of cliché, maintaining realism, and developing a series from a single idea without "superhero creep" or other problems that can derail the world created by the author. He also looks at sources for the paranormal storyline, the various types of protagonist and antagonist, and how to avoid many of the two-dimensional repetitive characters that appear in books over and over.
I think it’s an interesting and informative guide, and right at the beginning, Harper writes about “supernatural people”. You know vampires, demons, zombies, shape-shifters, malevolent monsters… There’s lots about world building and developing character histories, plot, pacing, point of view… there are exercises you can try and checklists to use, but the closest Harper gets to the H-word is a mention of The Talisman, co-authored by Peter Straub and Stephen King. Now, obviously there are many types of books that use the classic monsters of the horror genre for their own ends (and the term “paranormal” covers a broad swath of literature), which is fine, but COME ON! Is the horror genre so invisible that you don’t notice it even when you are writing about writing about its tropes, creatures, and clichés?