Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday Discussion 19: The Paranormal Conundrum

My friend and I were recently talking about a book she'd just finished reading and how we both were a little disappointed with it. It wasn't a terrible novel but we expected more. We're both creative writers and when we talk books, we also talk craft. Where this led to was a discussion on what I like to call...

The Paranormal Conundrum (though in all honesty, it could be for more than paranormal)

What this is to me is, in a very broad sense, the hardest thing to get right when writing a book about something supernatural. The Paranormal Conundrum is the fact that the character is in a story about their life and something paranormal is happening to them. Which is really broad but I'm going to go into the meat and bones now so hang in there!

I hate when I hear someone complain about things being "way too obvious" and that they "can't believe the character didn't get the clue". The reason I hate this is because I feel like the reader didn't truly put themselves in the situation to gain the full prospective. As a reader, you know you are sitting down to read a book about someone else's life. But to the character in that book, it's their real life like we live everyday.

For instance, you are minding your own dang business one day and then some guy that sparkles in the sunlight appears and tells you he's a vampire. You're world is pretty much turned upside down by this because it doesn't happen in real life (and if it does, I want to know about it). As the main character in paranormal novel, the characters are in that exact same boat. They don't know they are in a paranormal novel. They only know that they go to school, put their pants on one leg at a time like everyone else and have a sister that steals their favorite hairbrush. If the author has done their job right then that's how it should be.

When the reader sits down with a paranormal novel, they know to expect something paranormal so it's so blaring obvious to us that new guy with the really hairy back is a werewolf because we're looking for that. But in my every day life, I don't go searching for werewolves among the crowd so my mind would automatically jump to Mr. Furry being a mooner. It's not the natural response. And if I did happen to every see a ghost or something, I'm going to deny, deny, deny. That's the natural response.So why should a character, who is suppose to be flesh and blood, do anything different?

Another thing about similar to this is when a character doesn't always make the right choices and people get angry with them. Again, if you apply this to real life then it makes so much since. How many times have you listened to a friend say something like "this girl at work is just really mean to me" and you give her/him good advice and they don't take it, instead doing something really dumb. It's because when you are actually stuck in the situation, the answer is almost never clear. So while a reader is on the outside looking it, it's very easy to pick the right answer (like with your friend) but if it's happening to you, well, you've got your feelings to deal with too.

That being said, there are definitely cases where The Paranormal Conundrum doesn't excuse things:

  • After the character see said paranormal thing do something, well, paranormal and still refuses to believe them. I get really angry when a main character refuses to believe in the paranormal after witnessing several very clearly paranormal things.
  • The character makes dumb choice while admitting there is a better option.
  • The character makes the same dumb mistake over and over and over.
Here are a few books that I think handle this Paranormal Conundrum well:

Granted, this is with Shay but he still reacts well to the fact that Calla is a guardian. He sees proof of her guardianhood (I'm not sure what else to call it here) and instead of running and screaming, he rationalize it out and asks Calla about the parts her doesn't understand.

Normally, I'd call for the character to question things a bit more but I say, good for you Kat. She takes to the Stork society like a pro because it's happening to her and there is nothing she can do about it. She questions things as they come at her.
Grace accepts what Sam is with some questions but she doesn't refuse to believe in the paranormal even though she's a perfect rational girl.

 So that's my piece but I'd be interested to hear what you think about this topic!


  1. Ok...I understand your feelings on this. I agree we dont understand cause we are not in that person's shoes. BUT..I also hate the paranormal books where, usually the heroine meets the (insert mythical creature here) and finds out he is whatever and just says " Oh well..I can live with biggie" Come on..if a (insert mythical creature here) and I were on a date and he told me he was this or that, I would look at him and high tale it out of there, cause I would think he be Kray Kray. Especially in the books where there doesnt seem to be alot of paranormal things happening to this girl..just this one time..and she excepts it easily. She is either more trusting than I am OR she is a bit unstable LOL

  2. I've never read a paranormal/fantasy where a character absolutely refused to believe because if they don't come around eventually there's no story (unless it's a minor character that doesn't effect the plot).

    I have read where they deny, deny, deny-they most often do- and that makes complete sense to me. They may think they're going insane, or their mind just will not allow them to accept what they see because it would cause a mental breakdown. A protective mechanism essentially. If suddenly there were vamps and weres and I encountered one, if they let me live, I'd totally deny it, because it would rock the foundation of my reality, my truth. I'd have to be eased into it, and I expect the same of characters in books. If they accept too easily, I'm disappointed in them. It's a fine balance of denial/acceptance. This is where skill in the craft is essential and an author can truly shine.

    People make dumb decisions all the time. If characters choose badly, I always ask why, examine the character. I wonder at the theme, the message, the reason for the story. Every story, whether we realize it or not, has a theme. What does the author want us to take away from this? Yes, some are for entertainment and are not high brow literature, but there is still an underlying message if the reader wants to delve into it. Books allow us to learn from others mistakes. Another place for an author to shine.

    Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is the definition of mental illness.

    Since I study writing, and have taken many writing courses (I'm in no way exceptional, just learning, not bragging) I often pick up on things as I read very much like you.

    What book was it?

    Recently I read a book where the main character becomes frighten of shadows and noise while walking at dusk and decides to run to her destination when she can't take it anymore. In the next chapter, she is attacked by a zombie and WALKS home after someone helps her. She didn't know what was going on, she didn't have the chance to process the situation and suddenly accept it. It was dark, she was alone and there were zombies in town. This irritated me! AAAHHHH!!!

  3. I agree. The only time I remember typing in my review "I don't understand why the character didn't get it" was with Bloodlines by Richelle Mead. This character grew up in the paranormal world, was taught about it and knew all about it. Was supposed to be the super smart character, and yet missed all the signs to something. So that really bugged me....LOL.


Thinking of writing something below? Well, that's why you are awesome! I always love feedback!

This blog is an award free zone. With the demand of a full time job, blogging time is becoming much more precious and I just don't have the time to meet the demands of awards. Thanks so much for thinking of me anyway!

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Blog Design by Use Your Imagination Designs all images form the Impossible Things kit by Studio Tangie and Rebecca McMeen