Thursday, August 2, 2012

Building the Paranormal Character by Kay Dee Royal

Building the Paranormal Character
By Kay Dee Royal

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

About Kay Dee Royal:

Kay Dee Royal writes paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary erotic romancemaybe because it's also her favorite genres to read! She pens tales with wild, rugged heroes and confident, intelligent heroines. She'll give them both a few shadowy secrets, making her stories intriguing and fun. Blogging and promoting other authors feeds her passion and muse.
She resides in Southern Michigan with her family (her dogs, her cats, her caged husband... you get the idea)
If you’d like to find out more about Kay Dee Royal and her work:
Her Books: Big Girls Don’t Cry Wolf (Paranormal erotica romance); Seducing the Myth (Fantasy Anthology); One Plus One (Contemporary erotica romance); Staring Into the Eyes of Chance (Paranormal Erotica Romance – 1st book in LIIA series)


Unknown said...

Awesome article, Kay. I agree 100%. You need to get to know your characters fully before progressing forward with the plot. It's a tremendous amount of work up front, but soooooo worth it in the end. Again...great article. :)

Wendy said...

Very useful article for writers, Kay Dee. Fleshing out the characters strengths and abilities is so important. This is the point that stands out most to me because I usually play on my characters' weaknesses, so I have no problem getting them into trouble but a have a huge struggle getting them out. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by Diana - it is some work up front, but once done, the story-stars tell their own story:)

Hi Wendy - you make me laugh, but then...I'm having that same difficulty with the villain in my story...he's not cooperating, wants the story to go his own way and we've been nose to nose over it for a good while. Thanks so much for commenting:)

Unknown said...

I write some light paranormal. But thank you for the list. This will come in very handy for me.

Anonymous said...

Hello Lorrie - thanks so much for stopping by - glad you can use the list:)

Marie Laval said...

Great article, exhaustive and informative. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hello Marie ... so nice of you to stop by. Glad you found it informative:)

Maggie Toussaint said...

These are great suggestions. They work well for sketching characters.

I enjoyed reading your article. Best wishes

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Maggie. I'm glad you enjoyed the article:)

Unknown said...

You have no IDEA how much this helped me!!!