Monday, December 17, 2012

Vanishing Cheap Tricks

One of the challenges I’m having in writing "The Whirlwomen Trilogy" urban fantasy novels is NOT making every moment magical. Falling back on the paranormal to explain or progress too many plot points in a story set in modern-day makes what should be the exception predictable and mundane. Readers want their imagination stretched, not bombarded with so many mystical interventions and newly discovered powers that they lose sight of, well, reality.
Here are three guidelines I’m using during the first-draft rewrite of “Flicker” to weed out paranormal overkill:
-One of my main characters is still discovering the extent of her powers and I'm itching to give her magical abilities infinite rein. But I can't unless she's evolving into a superhero, which she is not. So, I'm checking to make sure that I maintain a 70/30 balance between obstacles that are overcome with normal human capabilities and those that are surmounted with discovery of a new power or extension of a known one. 
-Another character in "Flicker" is a shapeshifter. She leans towards shifting into cats and birds, but her ability is unlimited. She's a perfect scout in situations dangerous for humans, which is fine, as long as she doesn't become the hound dog of the group just because she can. To avoid this character rut, I'm limiting her shapeshifting to fight or flight situation and having another character who is a skilled tracker (in this world and beyond) flex his keen ability when the need arises.
-Finally, the biggest challenge is not being cliché. That's true with any kind of writing, but in fantasy, sci-fi and paranormal fiction, where the author is limited only by her/his imagination, I think it's critical. That's not to say I can't use magical/paranormal device that have been used before. I do, however, have to showcase my character's more traditional abilities in unique scenarios or have them used in a new way. A great example is the way J.K. Rowling gave the magic wand and flying broom stick a modern-day makeover in the Harry Potter series.
These are only loose guidelines that are specific to my work, but they do reflect observations made while reading popular fantasy and sci-fi works by well-known authors. Much of learning the craft of good writing is in good reading. 
Wishing everyone some Happy Holiday Reading!