Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Building the Paranormal Character

Building the Paranormal Character

Hello everyone and welcome to Building the Paranormal Character.

Thank you for stopping by Muse It Up Publishing and more specifically for attending my workshop.  

What is paranormal? Wikipedia explains it as: Anything that lies outside ‘the range of normal experience or scientific explanation’ like: ghosts, fairies, elementals, witches, wizards, werewolves, shifters, vampires, zombies, mermaids…you get the idea.

*Examples used today are from my upcoming LIIA (Lycan International Investigation Agency) series. So, let’s get started.

Like any other story, it begins with an idea...

            “A fifty-five year old widowed woman who possesses a psychic ability with animals collides with a Lycan. He’s not just any werewolf. She’s his soul mate and he’s hers – human to werewolf.”

My story is a romance, so I will focus on that once my paranormal aspects are built. Your story could be an epic adventure, YA urban fantasy, erotic romance, or a tween tale.  In other words, this should work for all Paranormal Characters, no matter the genre or sub-genre.

Once your idea is established your characters naturally begin taking shape. This is the time you will brainstorm your paranormal character into life, inside his world and hopefully into the human world also (if it includes the human world).

Getting your character’s details down, inside and out, will be a major factor in how he/she functions in his world/race/species and in the human world and society. A lot of your plot may be influenced or affected by your Paranormal’s characteristics/traits, so hold off on plotting until you’ve got a good grasp of who your character is.

A good way to get primed and focused for the upcoming paranormal character questions is by stepping into your Paranormal’s skin, slap it on tight, and acclimate into his senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and emotionally feeling matters of the heart.  

I attended a Paranormal Writing workshop by Harry and Susan Squires, both highly successful paranormal authors and instructors. Four things they listed for a compelling character (which is good to have at the forefront while creating your paranormal character):

            Complex – enough to hold a readers interest

            Extreme – must be more than average

            Sympathetic characteristics – reasons to care, connect

            Internally consistent – once you’ve pegged him, don’t allow him to flounder

(unless it’s part of the story line, outside his normal story arc)

Okay, now what?

This is the fun part, you get to go crazy with making a paranormal, his world, how it relates to a human world, and visa/versa. Easy as pie…well, it is if you make the rules. LOL

EX: Chance heads a covert LIIA pack. Certain areas of the human government are aware of Lycan and give them jurisdiction of their own kind. Lycan criminal justice is dealt with through the Council of Lycan Elders located in France. Chance and his pack live off grid to the average human, in an underground operations facility and living quarters in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

There is a catch to making your own Paranormal’s rules and laws. They have to remain permanent.  Your characters, human and paranormal, must consistently abide by them in order to carry your readers on a plausible journey.  It takes a lot of thought to pull one over on a reader. They want something they can relate with: humanize, empathize, sympathize, which can be easy if you do it right.

NOTE: I have pooled these questions from authors, writing instructors, books, and workshops. In the process, I also came up with a few of my own. Use what works for you – most likely you won’t need every question, some characters only require a few of these questions to fully develop. My motto: Use what works.

You’ll want to answer these questions with clear and concise details – understand that if it doesn’t make sense to you it will certainly stop a reader in his tracks.

Questions for Paranormal Main Characters – Okay, suit up, slap your Paranormal’s skin on tight, here we go…

1.       Character name? Gender? Age? (Does he age differently) What is the non-human? (Witch, vampire, werewolf, shifter, ghost, mermaid, etc.)

2.      Physical appearance? All of it – in human form/paranormal form. (Hair, body type, eye color, pointed ears, wings, fur, scales, etc.)

3.      What makes them different from humans, what makes them the same? Listing is good here.

4.      What are your characters main traits, like: shy, intelligent, confident, reckless, quick to anger, laid-back, assertive, gentle, etc. (At least one of them an opposite) EX: Chance, my Lycan Alpha, is loyal to his pack, reliable, puts other’s needs first, has a high admiration and regard for Lycan Elders Council Laws – ‘his opposite’ he’s vulnerable where Olivia, his primal-mate, is concerned.

5.      What kind of environment does your Paranormals live in? On Earth, another planet, another plane, dimension, or alternate reality, jungle, water, forest, desert, human society? How do they acclimate to heat/cold weather?

6.      How does this character dress? Business? Leisure? Stores they shop at?

7.      What does your character carry in his pocket or hide in a drawer?

8.     Education – what kind? Best/worst subjects according to their kind/species?

9.      How do they live with others of their kind? How do they live with humans? Secret society? Where was he born, where did he grow up?

10.  How is their society structured? Packs, tribes, covens, Democracy, hierarchy, power, birthright, royalty?

11.   Family history – what is his relationship with parents, siblings?

12.  What is your Paranormals job? Is he good at it? Why did he choose it?

13.  How do they reproduce? Do they convert others? Do they mate monogamously, polygamously, multiple males or females? Do they fight for mates, take by force, court and seduce? Do they marry? EX: Only Primal-mates can procreate, but if female is human – must go through shift (become Lycan) in order to procreate. It only happens with primal-mates and only after they’ve mated in wolf form.

14.  What of children or older Paranormals, what place do they have in society? Do they age?

15.   How do they communicate with each other, telepathy, pheromone signals, body language, vocalizing, or multiple modes?

16.  Belief system, do they have religion, belief beyond themselves, Gods, deities, etc.?

17.   What’s their legal system? Law enforcement? Criminal actions?

18.  How do they handle death? If they are a secret society, do they incorporate a clean-up crew?

Deeper Into the Character:

1.       Important major events in his life – list at least two that impacted him on who he is today. (This is his story behind his story)  EX: Chance’s mother died in his childbirth, Chance’s older brother never forgave him, Chance’s Father never recovered from the death of his mate.

2.      What is his worst fear? EX: Not keeping Lycan criminal matters under the human society radar – especially with this latest pack of rogues.

3.      What is his greatest want? EX: Keeping Lycan community and humans safe from each other, like when Chance discovered the murderous rogue pack settled on Olivia’s property. Under a human guise, Chance protected her.

4.      What would your paranormal NEVER do? Name three things. (You’ll be surprised how much depth this pulls into your character and follows him through his story) EX: Never leave a pack member behind; Never neglect his duty in upholding the Elder Council Laws; Never mate and end up like his father.

5.      One thing he’s ashamed of having done? EX: Chance turned his back on his older brother, Savage, and didn’t break through his brother’s hate.

6.      A personal characteristic he isn’t proud of? EX: Chance never actively searches for a mate, as an Alpha, it is one of his duties.

7.      What is his plan? EX: Same as Chance’s ‘want’

8.     What are your characters habits? (These can be humanizing, like: narrows eyes or crinkles brows when thinking, bites a nail, covers mouth when laughing, talks with animated arm movements, etc.)

Once you’ve fleshed out your character, his powers, abilities, and traits, make sure you understand his dynamics between other species/races/genders.  Don’t be afraid to brainstorm with others for their opinions, it helps in understanding your paranormal characters concepts and how it will stand up to a reader.

A few books you might consider for reference:

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature edited by Philip Martin

How to Build Story People by Dwight V. Swain

Well – that’s a wrap.

You’re armed with the goods and should be ready to suit up. I’ve enjoyed my time with everyone and hope you’ll walk away with something new and useful. Please, feel free to share your wisdom – if you’ve got a good question for developing a Paranormal, let’s have it.  I’d love to add it to my list.

Good luck in your character building, and I wish you many successes.

Kay Dee Royal

While you’re here please take a moment to check out the site and also our bookstore.


Unknown said...

Very clever. I was curious how you planned your charcter's world. Pretty much like I do with contemporary romance but much more liberties with imagination and certainly more discipline with details. Thank you for is an education.

JerryR said...

Thanks for sharing this Kaydee. you did a wonderful job with all your info. I'm saving this for future use.

Anonymous said...

Hello Karen - thank you for commenting - it is a lot like any character, but the paranormal part really needs to be set clearly with their own laws, abilities, and rules of the species. I'm glad you stopped by.

Hi Jerry - I'm glad you feel it's worthy of saving. I know what works for me, but it certainly doesn't mean it's something that will work for another. I appreciate you stopping by.

Jenna Storm said...

Nice job Kay Dee. You certainly gave me more questions to ask my characters. One of the joys of paranormal (for me, at least) is creating the 'world' they live in. Thanks for the deeper questions.

Roseanne Dowell said...

Interesting. I have a paranormal coming out next month, but it deals with the mind, called Connection of the Minds. I've also written a couple that involve ghosts.

Charlie said...

What a great list of questions. Am putting them in with my notes for my sequels to The Secret of the Stones...lots of paranormal characters in them...naughty ones and nice ones. Great workshop. Thanks for sharing!
C.K. Volnek

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Oh Wow. Am bookmarking this for when I ever have time to get back to writing. Many thanks,

Anonymous said...

Hi Jenna, like you, I find joy in creating the world my paranormals live in. I'm glad you found something useful - thank you for stopping by.

Hi Rosanne - I'll need to check out your paranormal books. I have a couple of your romances.

Charlie - I appreciated your workshop yesterday - good stuff. I'm glad you found something useful in mine. Nice to see you here.

Anonymous said...

Hello Annie, I know what you mean about having time to write. There are so many other things to do in the name of writing, with the exception of manuscript writing itself. LOL I'm glad you stopped by and find this useful enough to bookmark.

Arlene said...

Some excellent ideas and ways to flesh out the supernatural. Thanks for all the detail and time you put into this, Kay Dee.

Heather Haven said...

Wow! This is fascinating. I thought I was dancing on the edge by trying to get into the head of Tugger, the cat in my Alvarez series. Lots of good tips, Kay Dee.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Hello Arlene and Heather - I'm so glad you both stopped by and that there's something you've found useful.
You've given me a wonderful reason to smile.
I was so nervous about posting how I come up with my paranormal characters. I'm glad it turns out there are some people finding benefit in it.

Sara Durham Writer ~ Author said...

Kay Dee, excellent workshop, and important checklists! I've been struggling with the rules of my release coming up (for sequels) and for my WIP, so this is very helpful in keeping it 'tight':)

Thank you again for sharing!


Rosalie Skinner said...

Great article Kay Dee, Terrific check list. Somehow creating each character's history for me, is as much fun as writing any character into the story. Having a checklist like this will be very useful.
They don't have to be paranormal to need a good background. Then again, most of my characters come from strange and exotic cultures, so although not regular 'paranormals' they have their own peculiar cultures and histories.
This article is another 'keeper'. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sara. So glad you popped in. We share a lot of common paranormals. LOL I'm glad you found something useful here.

Hello Rosalie. Glad you liked the post - and I'm in total agreement, these questions can be used for regular characters...even strange and exotic cultures (smile).

Cellophane Queen said...

I was just talking to my husband about the difference between paranormal and fantasy. What we discovered is that there's LOTS of cross-over.

Good ideas on character building.

Lisa Blackwood said...

Hi, as usual I'm late to the show, but I just wanted to say I really like your post. I'm in the early stages of outlining my new wip. This method of character development sounds useful. I think I give in a try. Some of the questions I've used before, but there are other ones I've over looked.

Good stuff. Thanks for sharing.