Originally posted as part of my blog tour on August 2nd at Mythical Books
One of the most exciting and creative part of writing a book in the Supernatural genre [witches, vampires, werewolves, ghosts etc] is that it’s generally an opportunity for a significant amount of world building. Most authors are excited to put their own spin on lore and tropes, and it’s always fun to play around and see what you can come up with.
It can also be nerve-wracking and difficult. Deciding on the ‘rules’ for the ‘universe’ of your book [or series as the case may be] can end up defining a lot of your plot and character limitations. In my own writing, I try to stick to a few easy rules:
1. Be Consistent. I find fans are willing to accept almost anything with respect to rules and world building, as long as you’re consistent. Ideally you want to make sense AND be consistent, but fans will even forgive logic flaws if you’re consistent. We’ve all read books that set up clearly defined rules and limitations for the supernatural elements only to find those rules and limitations broken or ignored later on. As a reader, it’s incredibly frustrating. You’ve spent all this time investing in this world and when the rules are broken, especially when it seems as though they are broken for convenience, it feels like a big cheat from the author. I feel betrayed when this happens. I feel like I can’t trust the author now, because anything they say may be tossed out the window later on when it’s convenient for them. I guarantee if you break your rules, your readers will want to lynch you. LYNCH YOU.
2. Build in kryptonite for both protagonists and antagonists. We all want our heroes/heroines to be powerful in some way. Similarly, we all want the ‘bad guys’ to be powerful and to be worthy opponents. But, heroes and villains without limits are boring and dangerous. Why would anyone oppose them? How can anyone oppose them? If your hero or heroine has no faults and/or no limits, there’s no suspense. He/she cannot fail. Without the suspense, why is the reader reading? Look at the classic TV show MacGyver. We all know MacGyver will make it out, he’s our hero! But there’s always that small chance he won’t. Because he’s human. Because he uses his brain and he only has what’s in front of him. That tiny suspicion of his weaknesses, his fallibility, keeps us on the edge of our seat. What if he doesn’t have what he needs? What if he doesn’t know everything he needs to know to get himself out? Similarly, we need our villains to have a weakness. If they’re all powerful, how can they be defeated? And as a tie in from above, if the hero breaks our world-building rules to defeat the villain because there’s no built in kryptonite, the reader will feel cheated.
3. Add elements of the real world. In my book, I consider using magic like doing gymnastics. Sure, my characters can do a backflip. Do they do one EVERYDAY EVERY TIME they go to the store? No. Because real life isn’t like that. People don’t do the things they are capable of every day. Why? Because it takes effort or it’s tiring or it gives them a headache or they need special tools or it’s ‘not allowed’ – whatever it is, if you can make it like the ‘regular world’, your reader is familiar with it and will probably accept it. We all have special skills and abilities we don’t use everyday. Tell me why your characters don’t and I’ll probably believe you. If you fail to tell me why though, every time someone’s in peril, I’m going to be asking, “Well, why don’t they just use BLAH BLAH BLAH to get themselves out?”
4. Write the rules down. Okay you don’t physically have to write the rules down, but having them laid out sure can make your life easier later on. If you have them written down, you’re more likely to follow them. Also, this leads to number 5….
5. KISS – Keep it Simple, Stupid – Ah, yes, the KISS rule that so many of us learned in school. It’s true. KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID – this is where writing your rules down helps. If you can write them down, chances are they’re pretty simple to follow. If you CAN’T articulate them, is it that they’re too hard? Remember, you want your reader to focus on your characters and your plot – you don’t want them so caught up in the rules that they lose interest in your book! Keeping it simple makes it easier for the reader (and you!) to remember.
Nothing in the above means you can’t be outlandish or take risks. You shouldn’t feel hemmed in. It’s your world, BUILD IT. In the immortal words of “Field of Dreams” (the movie) – “If you build it, they will come.” But you also want people to enjoy your world and, in my humble opinion, by following the above guidelines, they will!