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Saturday, May 22, 2010

What's My Take on Paranormals?

Oh, this is a complex, even loaded, question for me. I'm really, really picky about paranormal. It (along with sci-fi and fantasy) has never been my favorite flavor of reading. I don't like made up names and critters that I have to stop and think about while I'm reading because I like a thread of reality to weave throughout what I'm reading to serve as a touchstone.

But here's the irony: I really love a lot of the paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy that you find in television and film. I guess it's because I'm so highly visual, I relate better to it when I can see it. But again, it's somewhat loaded because I don't like the fanged/furry/scary just for the sake of having a Critter of the Week—my favorite kind of paranormal has psychological underpinnings that can then be related back to the "real" world.

Take the television show Angel for example: it wasn't just a show about a vampire. It was a vampire cursed by Gypsies with a soul. Talk about implications. Having to fight the baser nature of the beast within. And because Joss Whedon is a mean SOB this way, he then added the twist that if Angel ever consummated a relationship with his soulmate, said soul went bye-bye and he reverted back to being Angelus, badass vampire extraordinaire. (Who was more fun than earnest, brooding Angel, but that's another post altogether...) The fun of Angel wasn't in the critter of the week, but rather in how he navigated this return to the land of the living after nearly a century of keeping himself isolated from people.

More recently, I was hooked on the now-cancelled Flash Forward. (Really ABC? You thought lizard-people were more interesting and worth bringing back for a second season? Feh.) I mean, think about that concept: a mysterious group engineers a global blackout whereupon people flash forward to their future selves and what they see (or don't) drives the plot forward and triggers character development. This is the type of show that's far more in keeping with what I love about the genre—the meaty psychological stuff that really messes with the characters because I am all about the character torture.

Jericho, Miracles, Farscape, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes—all shows I love where humanity and character development are at the core. It's no mistake that my favorite overall season of the revamped Doctor Who was 4, with Donna as the Companion—she humanized The Doctor in ways we'd not seen to that point.

I'm also a fan of a lot of anime that has paranormal elements—Witch Hunter Robin is my favorite of these. It has phenomenal character development and tremendous storytelling that starts out feeling like it's episodic in nature, but then, about halfway through the series, you realize it's developed into this huge arc and things that felt like little throwaway lines and gestures actually have deep-seated implications. That's my kind of storytelling. Simple concept that evolves into something bigger, but in such a gorgeous, organic manner, you don't even realize it until you're completely sucked in and strapped down for the entirety of the ride.

However, coming back to books, it just seems that in the current flood of paranormal, very little of it engages me as a reader on those fundamental psychological and emotional levels. It, unfortunately, feels kind of superficial and it leaves me feeling... like I want more.

As a writer, you can imagine that I would find the idea of taking on a paranormal as monumentally intimidating. If I can't find what I want in what's already out there, what makes me think I could come up with something that would satisfy my lofty standards as a reader? That doesn't depend on a creature of the week or a fancy, made up vocabulary?

But... isn't that why a lot of us started writing? Because we wanted to create the kinds of stories we want to read?

And on a far, far more shallow level—another reason I've never taken on writing paranormal is because in today's market, paranormal is almost synonymous with series and the thought of taking on a series makes me want to curl up in a corner, sucking my thumb. I know myself as a writer—the idea of being roped into a series for however long it would go on makes my rebellious soul stamp its feet and shake its wee fists at the heavens. Not to mention, the world building—even if you set a story within the "real" world, you have to establish rules for why things are the way they are in your version of it and... and...

Well, you get where I'm going, right?

But the Girls in the Basement (you know, the ones who sit in the background and chatter and give you more ideas than you know what to do with?) they have a twisted sense of humor where I'm concerned. They don't care that the idea of a paranormal fills me with dread.

They gave me one anyway. More Urban Fantasy than anything else and it's really, really cool. But still—

*insert heartfelt whine here*

It's slow going, because I feel like I'm learning how to write all over again, but the Girls, they won't shut up until I at least give it a try.

Wish me luck.


Moira Rogers - Bree said...

My favorite paranormals (and I read a LOT of them) are the ones where the heroes & heroines have a very human connection. Where they can have supernatural powers and supernatural problems but they still have family trouble and bills to pay and romance that doesn't come easy.

In fact, I love all speculative fiction because I like seeing the common thread of humanity in the wildest and most outlandish circumstances. It's the familiar emotions that you find not just in spite of the setting, but sometimes because of it too.

Not all spec fic is like that, of course. But that's what I read it for. :D

Jan Blazanin said...

Good luck with your new endeavor, Barbara! I'm taking a crack at a sort-of-paranormal, too. It's fun, but definitely outside my comfort zone.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Good luck on your urban fantasy, Barb! We are both heading into unfamiliar waters with those but I think it's gonna be fun and I soooo agree with you that we need more paranormal with depth out there.

I haven't seen Angel. My brother is just getting me into Buffy now, so I'll watch that and then Angel next!