A house in Northern California

How to Normalize the Paranormal

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked by other writers is how I make my paranormal stories believable. This is a great question because we writers of the paranormal have to do double duty with our writing. We not only have to transport readers into the fantasy world of fiction, we also must induce readers to suspend their belief structures at times. If we do this gently and logically, we can pull it off.

The Key is Empowerment
The key to normalizing the paranormal, specifically the dark heroes as we call them, is directly related to something I heard Susan Elizabeth Phillips say a few years ago in her keynote speech at a national RWA conference. She said the reason we all love romances so much is because they empower us. Romances take a macho alpha male and gradually transform him into a sensitive caring man, while at the same time they take a spirited headstrong ingenue and transform her into a more accomplished focused woman. In the perfect romance, each gender learns to value and tap into the other sides of their personalities, making them strong, richer human beings.

We can apply this theory to our dark heroes. We can take a tortured, afflicted dangerous dark hero, give him a dose of true love and watch him grow and change until he can step into the light of day as a new man. But he can only do this by earning the love of our special heroine. While at the same time, our heroine must learn to understand the peculiar makeup of the dark hero and help him overcome his problems or curse.

Hinge the Hero's Success on the Heroine's Trust
Both characters must open themselves to strange new beliefs and learn to work together in order for the transformation of the dark hero to occur. But we must hinge the hero's success on the heroine's love and trust of him. This gives the heroine tremendous power. And when she conquers the dark hero, it gives the reader tremendous satisfaction, because the heroine has become empowered, which is something we all need to feel about ourselves.

So how do we get our heroines to accept, help, and fall in love with our dark heroes? One way is to create an immediate vested interest in the dark hero on the part of the heroine. The dark hero can save her life. Or he can make her an offer that she simply can't resist because of the circumstances in her current life. Or he can believe in her when no one else does. All such situations put the heroine in a position where she "owes" the dark hero her loyalty, at least for a while. And in that time we can start the romance rolling while she is still off guard.

The other way is conceal the dark hero's special "something" form the heroine until she is already pretty much in love with him. And when he finally reveals the truth to her, she has to be so in love that she needs and wants to believe him. He must present his case to her in logical terms and with as little weirdness as possible. We can't give the reader too much to swallow all at once.

Create a Normal, Logical World
The more quietly you can slip in the facts, the better. If we present our heroine as a no-nonsense level-headed miss and she accepts the paranormal aspects of her lover, chances are that the reader will go along with the reasoning of the point of view character and accept the story, too. It also helps to make all the other aspects of the dark hero's life as normal as possible so that he isn't too far out in left field.

Another serious problem for paranormal writers is creating non human heroes--such as werewolves and vampires--and then figuring out how to create a happy ending with such leading men. Let's face it--it's difficult to visualize the Vampire Lestat at a PTA meeting, isn't it? We have to cure these men of the weirdness or their families are going to have a tough go of it.

My teenage daughter thinks I'm weird because I sing in public sometimes. Just imagine what she'd think if I drank A-positive instead of double tall Americanos! Readers don't like weirdness anymore than teenagers do.

Cure the Beast
So in order for our books to have happy endings, we must cure or conquer the paranormalcy of our dark heroes. We not only have to change these guys into sensitive males, we have to give them normal human bodies. How can we manage that? Well, it depends on the type of hero you've got on your hands. If he's a ghost, he can solve the problem that keeps him bound to earth, which might allow him to show up as a different man in the future, where he can be reunited with the heroine. A ghost can also take over the body of a person who is physically alive but is not longer spiritually there--such as someone in a coma.

I've used all kinds of solutions, such as tribal rituals, Druidic potions, computer wizardry, the lifting of ancient curses, and the integration of collective memory. If all else fails, the heroine as well as the reader can be convinced to simply accept the diversity of the man, even if it involves parameters much wider than the ones we are accustomed to.

For instance, I have yet to see a vampire actually be "cured." In order for the lovers to be together, the heroine would have to become a vampire herself or accept the fact that her lover will never have a day job.

Who can describe the concept of normal, anyway? Normalcy is defined purely by the individual in his particular society. If you can get your heroine to work through the reasons she can accept the love of a paranormal man, chances are that the reader will accept him as well.

Remember, love is extremely powerful. It can conquer just about any difficulty you can dream up. In paranormal romance, love can overcome time, other dimensions, other planets, and even death.

© 2003 Patricia Simpson