While I’m sure I’ve committed one or two of these myself, if I were the goddess of the paranormal romance universe, I would decree the following seven deadly sins:
SLOTH: Info Dumps. Nothing turns me off faster than a book that starts off with a long narrative explaining all the world building. Info dumps are lazy. They’re bad form. The details of your world should come to light slowly, layer upon layer, immersing the reader in the experience. For hints on how to do this, paranormal romance writers should study the best written fantasy.
Guest column by Stephanie Draven, writer of
paranormal romance. Her latest title is Poisoned Kisses
(Harlequin Nocturne, Oct. 2010), book three of her
Mythica Series. See all her Mythica titles and news of
her fourth book (Jan. 2011) on her author website.
Stephanie also writes historical fiction as "Stephanie
Dray" and has a forthcoming series at Berkley Books
about Cleopatra’s daughter. She lives in
Baltimore and tweets.
LUST: Fetishism of the Supernatural. There’s a tendency for paranormal romance writers to fetishize the supernatural elements in the same way that science fiction writers sometimes fetishize the buttons and gadgets of their worlds. That your character is a werewolf isn’t all that interesting in and of itself. Not being a furry, I’m not turned on by long descriptions of fangs and silver-grey coats. And while the fact that your hero can identify anything with his superior sense of smell lends flavor to his persona and reality to your world, it’s not actually characterization. Obsessing on the blood sucking, the mysterious brotherhood, and the magical abilities may appeal to other readers who share this fetish–but it isn’t storytelling. There has to be more to hold the book together than a collection of neato cool superpowers. Paranormal has a place, but don’t use it as a crutch.
GLUTTONY: Big Chunks of Boring Dialog Meant to Convey Realism. Writing teachers everywhere tell budding young authors to listen to real dialog and use it as a model for what their characters should say. This only gets you so far. In real life, people wander off on tangents. They pause and hem and haw. In short, they bore the pants off one another. Why would you want to do that to your reader? Paranormal romance characters live extraordinary lives. We don’t have to hear them talk about their car trouble or what kind of ice cream they’re going to eat unless this has some bearing on the plot, or conveys something about their character, or is a delightful little detail sparingly tossed into the mix. Real life conversations can go on for hours. Conversations in fiction need to be tight and lean! Never overindulge.
GREED: Too Many Speculative Elements. The best paranormal romance takes the world as we know it, or the past as we imagine it, and twists one or two crucial elements, following the repercussions from those changes like ripples on a pond. The worst paranormal romance turns itself into a carnival for every strange and unexplained myth, magic, and phenomenon in the cosmos. Elves and vampires, mining together on Epsilon 4 with space aliens who are ruled by the Wicked Witch of the West in a kingdom called Oz … readers need to be able to focus. In a world where everything is possible, what is truly at stake? (A perfect example of how too much of a good thing can ruin a series, is the television series "Lost," which started out with an intriguing premise, but eventually piled so many new paranormal elements onto the stack that the whole thing collapsed under its own weight, bleeding viewers and disappointing fans.)
WRATH: Violence Overload. Most paranormal romance follows the trend of urban fantasy to put existential concerns at the forefront. It’s the fate of the whole world, country, city, species, brotherhood, or pack at stake. It’s gotta be bloody, too. A struggle for survival. Just once, I’d like to see a good secret baby vampire romance or a simple mistaken identity story between witches, or a marriage of convenience between werewolves. At the very least, I’d like to see interpersonal conflicts that focus on a developing relationship at the center of the book, rather than the danger and violence.
PRIDE: A Glossy of Terms. Look, if you want to put a glossary of terms at the back of the book for curious readers to look up terms as they arise, go for it. But putting it at the front of your story signals to me that you think you’re just too special to weave your special special language into the book. It says that artful exposition is something paeans must use, but you are too good for it. You will make your readers actually look it up instead of being able to figure it out in context.
ENVY: Mary Sue Characters. We all want to be six-foot bombshells who can kick butt in high heels, smite evildoers, and capture the heart of the sexiest angel ever to fall from heaven. But such heroines can’t be all wish fulfillment, quick-witted, never afraid, never at a loss for a words, and always right. It’s held as a given in paranormal romance circles that your hero can be a bastard but your heroine can’t be a bad girl. However, a reader can’t love her if she’s perfect. Put some dents in her armor and let the hero call her on her bullshit once in a while.