[Zetta’s Reference Desk] – Writing the Paranormal Novel by Steven Harper

writing the paranormal novelTitle: Writing the Paranormal Novel: Techniques and Exercises for Weaving Supernatural Elements Into Your Story.

Author(s): Steven Harper

Year Published: 2011

Pages: 266

Do you love reading scary/creepy/titillating stories involving things that go “bump” in the night? Do you love writing such stories or want to learn how?

You need to get this book.

My previous post features the book How to Write Erotic Fiction and Sex Scenes, a book that teaches the essential parts of an entire genre and makes it accessible to writers. It’s not just a bunch of musings and opinions coming from an author of the genre. It has illustrative examples, exercises, and practical advice for you to use.

So is the case with Steven Harper’s Writing the Paranormal Novel: Techniques and Exercises for Weaving Supernatural Elements Into Your Story.
. It is perhaps the most comprehensive reference on the genre and gets high praise from me because it does what I’ve explained above. Not only does Harper give you the nitty gritty, his writing style is personable and pulls you along, encouraging you to continue—like any good book should. Throughout the book he offers exercises and checklists to help you apply what you’ve just read and organize your thoughts.

The book is divided into four parts: developing your paranormal elements, developing your characters, developing your story, and finally, seeking publication.

According to Harper, if you want to write a paranormal novel, you better make sure the paranormal is a vital part of the story and not just thrown in as an afterthought to take advantage of the genre’s popularity.

“You need some element of magic or the supernatural that’s so deeply integral to the story that the entire novel would collapse if you removed it.”

What are these “elements?” Harper gives a list to get you started but warns that this is hardly comprehensive and just a sample of what is out there. As you delve into the genre, you will discover more. His “elements” of paranormal writing includes:

  • Supernatural objects
  • Supernatural people
  • Supernatural creatures
  • Supernatural worlds

Where is all of this going to take place? Is it going to happen in the “real” world, or are you going to create your own paranormal world? Harper walks you through various topics to consider: culture, food, economy, government, family—and more. Over the top? I don’t think so. Most if not all these things can and will affect your character at some time, and you better know how they react to or feed into it.

When it comes to character development, how are your characters ( human or not) going to be treated with regard to the rest of the community/world at large? Will they be treated as equals, or as monsters, or as superior beings? Get help creating your protagonists and antagonists from finding their names to developing their powers and personalities.

You’ve gone this far and you’ve decided to write a paranormal novel. Big deal. What makes your story different from the hundreds of others being churned out every day? Well, Harper devotes an entire chapter to the pros and cons of clichés found in paranormal fiction. Not only does he want you to recognize them, he suggests ways you can use them to your advantage AND move away from them.

Finally, Harper gives his advice on what to do after you’ve finished your novel and how to build your writing career. He instructs how to write a short treatment (I call it a synopsis), how to find and query agents, editors, and publishers, and how to deal with rejection. He even gives a little space to self publishing.

One section entitled “How to Destroy Your Career Like Magic” should be drilled into the head of every writer, in my opinion. Speaking as an editor and a publisher, more authors fall for these traps than not. Even major NY Times best-selling authors have been guilty of these mistakes. But he follows up with “How to Build Your Career With  a Little Hard Work.”

In the end, Harper closes offering words of inspiration:

“Never give up. Never quit. Persist. And one day your book will be done. Like magic.”

There is much more to discover in this book. I’ve only touched on some of the highlights. But when it comes to reference books on how to write in a certain genre, Writing the Paranormal Novel is one of the best genre-specific how-to books I’ve read in a long time.


©2015. Zetta Brown. All Rights Reserved.

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