Writing my latest novel, FREQUENCY, was a blast. The book is a YA retelling of the Pied Piper fairy tale that’s steeped in music—hard rock and EDM, primarily—so it gave me a chance to get weird and imaginative with how different forms of music affect different people in a supernatural way (plus, any chance to reference Motörhead in a novel is a gift from the universe).
But one obstacle I kept encountering is that paranormal stuff allows for laziness. How does the hero escape the clutches of the villain? Magic! How does the villain know about the well-laid scheme against them? Werewolf! You get the idea. All these tricks are easy and played out, and as a reader, I hate books where paranormal elements were conveniently placed because the author obviously wanted to knock off early for lunch.
So if you’re writing paranormal literature, here are a few questions to ask yourself to keep your writing challenging, entertaining, and grounded in just enough in reality to create real conflict.
1. “What if there was no magic?”
The most important question. Back when I was brainstorming worlds for a sci-fi publishing imprint, I had a colleague who asked this all the time, and it always made our ideas more interesting. What if the paranormal elements didn’t exist? What if this all happened between people, in the real world? What would take the place of spells and monsters? Technology? Crime? Take a moment to pull the rug out from under yourself, and then go back and cherry-pick which parts you want to keep speculative.
2. “Is this an easy out?”
This is an offshoot of the question above. In FREQUENCY, a DJ called the Pit Viper rids a town of club rats and partiers. Which then begged a question: where’d they go? Early on, I came up with all sorts of quick paranormal answers—A pocket dimension! They’re trapped in a gem! He ate them! All of which were easy outs I’d come up with so I could just get on with the book. If you find yourself coming up with a paranormal element about which you shrug and say, “Yeah, that’ll work”, then it’s too easy. You’re better than that.
3. “Is God real?”
HEAVY, right? Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to question your faith. In this case, “God” can be any over-arching moral entity (for example, The Force). My point is, in your world, do paranormal elements operate according to traditional religious laws of Good and Evil? Do crosses repel your demons, or are they Lovecraftian-type beings that operate according to semi-science? This can allow you to come up with weird rules and creatures that don’t operate by existing belief infrastructures.
4. “But who IS my paranormal character?”
Look, I get it: I love writing about wizards and banshees and all that stuff. But sometimes, you find yourself writing a cliché character just so you can have them be paranormal. Why make a character a satyr if they’re just going to prance and drink like every other satyr? Why write a fairy if she’s just Tinkerbelle 2? A character trope isn’t a personality. Take your time and do the hard work of building a character, not just a creature class.
5. “How big are we talking here?”
FREQUENCY takes place in Hamm, a suburban town in Ohio. At no point does the fate of the world hang in the balance. And I loved that—keeping my paranormal elements close to the ground, not trying to make everyone a Thanos. If you want your magic system and paranormal characters to threaten the very fabric of reality, cool, but that needs to be a conscious decision, and that means taking the time to plot it out. If you want to focus primarily on characters within a small community, localize your crisis.
Nine years ago, Fiona was just a kid. But everything changed the night
the Pit Viper came to town. Sure, he rid the quiet, idyllic suburb of
Hamm of its darkest problems. But Fiona witnessed something much,
much worse from Hamm’s adults when they drove him away.
And now, the Pit Viper is back.
Fiona’s not just a kid anymore. She can handle the darkness she sees in
the Pit Viper, a DJ whose wicked tattoos, quiet anger, and hypnotic
music seem to speak to every teen in town…except her. She can handle
watching as each of her friends seems to be overcome, nearly
possessed by the music. She can even handle her unnerving suspicion
that the DJ is hell-bent on revenge.
But she’s not sure she can handle falling in love with him.
About Christopher Krovatin
Christopher Krovatin is the author of several young adult and middle-grade novels, as well as one non-fiction book about the history of heavy metal. Chris (you can call him Chris) has also written for publications and sites including MetalSucks.net (as Emperor Rhombus), Noisey, Revolver, Invisible Oranges (as Scab Casserole), Rolling Stone, and Boulder Weekly.