Writing about Magic in your Paranormal Romance, Part One
By LISA WHITEFERN
Paranormal romance novels have been consistently popular since around the year 2000. So why is paranormal romance so popular? Most romance novels are in essence fantasy. Magic and paranormal elements can add to a reader’s pleasurable illusion of stepping into a completely different world. Paranormal and fantasy stories give us that freedom to pretend we are the people who can read minds, we can ride that magic carpet, we can fight that dragon. I also have a theory that paranormal romance is popular in the twenty first century because it allows those sexy alpha heroes to seem less like jerks in our modern age. They have a good excuse for being domineering, wild and a little sexist, since they aren’t fully human and their magic or supernatural powers make these fantasy men even more exciting.
So what is important when writing about magic in your romance novel? Logic and consistency are important. There is a famous quote by Anton Chekhov about a gun. He commented that if you put a gun on stage in the first act, it must be fired in a later act; otherwise the gun should not be there in the first place.
The primary point of Chekhov’s advice was to caution against including unnecessary elements in a story. I think this is especially true and important when adding magic or paranormal elements. When I was writing my paranormal erotic romance Wicked Wonderland form (Samhain Publishing ISBN: 978-1-61921-213-8) I knew my half-fae characters could shift into a form with wings, but that this shifting was very painful for them. I thought to myself if they have wings that cause them pain and that they do not like to use, then it is essential that I include a scene where they are forced to fly using their wings because of an emergency at some time in the story. If you add any kind of magic element to your story it must serve a purpose.
Another element that can be particularly challenging when writing fantasy or paranormal romance is making magic relevant to your story, and a meaningful part of the conflict within the characters.
My new critique partner Renee Wildes, who writes fantasy with romantic elements for Samhain Publishing, quotes science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke as saying “Magic is just science undiscovered.” Wildes says this resonated with her inner geek and she decided to make it her mantra that the magic in her stories would be “concrete” with rules and boundaries and limitations. The more “real” and the less “magical” the more feasible the magic would become to the reader and the less they would have to suspend their disbelief.
There are various schools of thought about how you should approach writing about magic. One school of thought is that you can write whatever you want, however you want. If you want to have a science fiction character that can squeeze her eyes tightly and blow up the earth by simply imagining destruction, then so be it. The character has this ability – consequence free.
Other writers like Wildes believe that any magic powers your characters have must come at a cost. The magic in your story should be a plot driven. The problem with consequence free magic is that it can tempt an author to solve story problems with magic. Reading about easily solved problems is boring and disappointing for a reader who wants an intense build up of conflict that will create an emotional punch.
The Latin phrase deus ex machina or “God from the machine” comes from a practice by The playwright Euripides who when finding his plots had become too complicated would send an actor onto the stage in some kind of contraption, the actor dressed as God would come out of the machine and fix all the problems with a wave of his hands. This was immensely unpopular with the audience and is equally unpopular today. People read to see characters work themselves out of situations. Readers need to relate.
Dianne Gabaldon author of the best selling time travel novel OutlanderDell ( ISBN-100440212561) agrees. In her article for the Romance Writers of America about Paranormal Romance she states “you can invent worlds and situations to suit yourself in your paranormal romance, but you’ll have to deal with the consequences.” The example she gives is that if you’ve announced somewhere that your heroine time travels when she looks in a mirror, you cannot let her do it later by snapping her fingers and whistling Dixie Backwards. In other words, Gabaldon says “making things up does not exclude you from the obligation to make sense.”
In Harry Potter (Scholastic ISBN-10: 0439064872) for example there are a set of rules in place that tell him he cannot use magic outside of his wizard’s school. There are many situations Harry finds himself in during his school holidays with the Dursley’s where he would love to use magic. However, if he were to use magic, he would risk expulsion from school and have to live permanently with people who hate him.. Magic comes at a cost to him. At other times when he is allowed to use magic he uses it against wizards and creatures who are as powerful as himself so that the reader cannot be too certain who will win.
Likewise in the The Lord of the Rings Mariner Books (ISBN-10:0544003411), Frodo has a magic ring, but the more he uses its powers the more he becomes enslaved to it.
As you are pondering how magic will work in your story, consider what is important to your character, and associate the cost of using the power with this important thing. In the examples above, Frodo can’t risk being consumed by the ring. He has to destroy it, or it will destroy him like it did Golumn. Harry Potter feels his true home is at Hogwarts, and to be expelled due to some careless act would be terrible as it would consign him to a life with the dull and cruel Dursleys. These powers come at high risk thereby causing compelling conflict.
What does this mean for your writing? Simply put, there is an established pattern for magic systems in successful writing. If you want to make your writing magical, you will follow them.
So, what are the writing rules for magic systems?
Look for Part 2 of Writing about Magic
LISA WHITEFERN had her first short story published in the New Zealand Herald at age 10. She has a Masters Degree (hons) in English Literature and is a member of Romance Writers of New Zealand. She has had several short stories published and has a novella WAKING THE WITCH available from Freya’s Bower.
Follow Lisa on Twitter @LisaWhitefern