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The Elements of a Paranormal Romance - A Writer's Guide
The Elements of a Paranormal Romance
There is no hard and fast recipe for writing the perfect paranormal romance novel, but there are some elements that must be included to ensure that your book falls into the paranormal romance genre.
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While the paranormal genre's roots lie undeniably in the gothic past, the themes can touch on the same ones found in science fiction, horror, and fantasy. They do not have to, but they can.

Paranormal romances, by definition, blend the real with the fantastic. You can choose to work other genres into your story, such as mystery, horror, historical romance, etc. You will weave the fantastic elements of your story into a version of our "realistic world."

Many paranormal romances blend the supernatural with American contemporary life, focusing on romance.

Today's mainstream paranormal romances often have characters such as vampires, werewolves, ghosts, demons, and shape-shifters or lycans. Again, this is not mandatory, but characters that one can include. Elements of the occult also are very popular in today's paranormal romances. Witches can be sexy, and often are.

The Paranormal Romance Genre

It is true that the romance genre is actually one of the most popular in all of fiction. What is even better for someone who wants to write a paranormal romance is that at the moment the paranormal romance genre has reached its highest popularity ever. This means that many publishing companies and agents out there are looking for novels in this genre, but there is also a lot more competition. Everyone wants to write one of these hot novels!

Over the years, the genre has become more and more recognized. In fact, in 1992, the Romance Writers of America added a "Futuristic/Fantasy/Paranormal" category to its RITA (Romance Is Treasured Always) Awards.

Therefore, before you write your first word, other than jotting down ideas, go to a bookstore or the Internet and find out what is being written in the genre and what is actually selling. You should read as much as possible but come up with your own ideas. Remember, when you go to your local bookstore, do not be surprised when you do not find a "paranormal romance" section. These books are often housed in "romance," "science fiction," "horror," "suspense," "fantasy," or who knows where, so be prepared to spend some time looking.

Some of the top paranormal romances to date are Stephanie Meyer'sTwilight series, Karen Marie Moning's Highlander series, and books by Devyn Quinn, Donna Lee Simpson, and Anya Bast, just to name a few. Author Nora Roberts, a Pearl Award winner, also has popular books in this genre.

Originality Is the Key

You want to be original. That is not always completely possible; for example, the werewolf has been written about millions of times, as have vampires. However, coming up with a new twist is always ideal. These new twists and new ways of looking at things are what your agent and publishers want to see.

The Elements of the Paranormal Romance

What do you need to do next? First and foremost, focus on these elements: a creative story, a mythology that is believable to your readers, and a cast of strong characters that have conflicts that are not only believable but carry your plot along.

The elements of a paranormal romance include a solid mythology. What does that mean? It is basically your character or characters' backstory.

If you are writing about a character such as a vampire or werewolf that everyone is already familiar with, there are some elements that are understood. A silver bullet will kill the werewolf. A stake through the heart will kill the vampire. You can, however, come up with great new twists on an age-old theme (while the movie Teen Wolf is not exactly a paranormal romance, there is a twist). Stephanie Meyer did that with her vampire stories. She only touched on the tried and true ideas of the vampire, while adding her own ideas and updating the stories.

Anne Rice kept a more traditional outlook on her vampires, while still throwing in her own special blend.

But it does not matter if your story centers on witches, ghosts, vampires, or whatever, you need to keep a log, a file, or a database of the characters' backgrounds.

What do you need to know? What do your readers want to know? Here are some basics:

Where were they born?

Are they religious? Or perhaps in a paranormal romance, are they affected by religious symbols?

What are their strength and weaknesses?

Do they have a supernatural power?

Do they have their own personal "kryptonite" or potentially fatal threat?

Do they have a code or set of laws that they live by?

Are they seen by humans?

What sort of society do they live in?

What has made them into who they are? This could be complex or as simple as a vampire being created because he was bitten. It could be that he or she was created when another spirit inhabited his or her body. We could be talking emotionally, as when someone hurts another person badly, resulting in your character. You decide!
You may not need to answer all of these questions, but you get the drift. Find out what you need to know, or what you would want to know, about your characters and write it down. Figure it out so your readers will not be wondering.

All of these questions have answers that only you can come up with. As you flesh out these answers, you will find yourself adding layer upon layer to your writing. Again, you can keep these answers and questions just in a database for your own information, or you might find that this leads you to some juicy elements of your plot that you can include as you write. Either way, it is a very integral piece of your writing process and should not be overlooked. Also make sure you consult this database again and again as you write, so that you keep yourself honest and consistent.

Thinking about the Big Picture
Now that you have done your homework and you know what is out there on the shelves and what is actually selling, and you know what sort of mythology you have to build for your characters, let us look at the big picture.

The big picture is not the plot, the conflict, the hero, or the heroine. It is all of these things and none of them. That makes no sense, right? Hang on, it will.

The big picture is all about setting a goal and deciding what you must do next in order to accomplish that goal. For many writers, the Snowflake Method is quite helpful in writing their books, and this definitely is a "big picture method."

What Is the Big Picture?

Back to that novel and your big picture. Yes, you must have a plotline, and yes, you must have conflict and a hero or a heroine; but before you even put pen to paper, you need to look at all the elements that make up a good paranormal romance and think about what your particular "big picture" will be.

Will you have a happy ending? Will you write a series title or a single title? Do you see this saga going on and on, or do you want to wrap it up in one? If you have taken a romance writing class, you know that a series title is shorter, around 55,000 words compared with the 90,000 to 100,000 words in a single title. However, your character can continue on. Now that is not to say you could not change your mind after writing a single title and bring the character or characters back; it is done all the time these days. Generally, however, you should know going in what you might like to write; i.e., your big picture.

Back to the happy ending question: Will you or won't you? There is no rule that says you have to have one. In fact, many paranormal works do not have an ending that is all tied up in a pretty bow. The characters lend themselves to messiness, to unhappiness, to a sad ending that leaves us upset that the paranormal hero cannot be with the human heroine, for example.

Even so, you are writing a romance novel here. Most romance novels have a happy ending. They just do. This is not really up for argument. If you would like to stick to the elements of a romance, then you are probably going to want to resolve things happily, despite the fact that your characters are of the "unexplained" variety.

Just as in a more typical romance, you will need to have your characters overcome hardships and get it together by the end of the novel. If you are going for a series title, you also have the option of leaving a bit of a cliffhanger, so that the reader knows there is another book to follow. Keeping the readers guessing and interested is your biggest task at hand in this scenario, as you want them to be on the edge of their seats, ready for your next book, wondering what the future will bring for your hero or heroine and his or her love interest.

Looking at the big picture, then, you want to settle these questions before you begin. What type of novel and what type of ending will you have? Then you will want to think of the other big picture items, the ones that are less fun, such as setting up a writing schedule and time line.

You need to treat your writing just like a job. Schedule it. Make time for it. This is not just some silly little whim you have come up with! You are a writer. You have an idea; you have thought about the big picture. Now treat it seriously.

Successful writers all agree. You must sit down daily to write. Even if you come up with absolutely nothing of value that day and have to throw out every single word you have written down, it does not matter. It had value. It got you thinking; it got you saying, "No, this is not what I want but maybe if I tweak it, it will be."

No matter what, you must write to be a writer!

Now think about when and where you will write. Find a place you will be uninterrupted, a place with no phones, no television, and no kids, unless you need noise to think. Lots of people do! Find your "happy place" for writing and go there. Decide now when you will have time, when you will make time. Get up earlier, go to bed later, give up an hour of television or Internet a day. Figure it out for yourself. What works for you?

Then decide on a time line. Do you want to be finished in six months? A year? Three months? Whatever it is, write it down, and hold yourself accountable. You are the only one who can, and that is the only way this works!

And finally, a note on word count...how long should your novel be?

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