Do Your Research: 7 Things to Do Before Writing Paranormal Urban Fantasy

So you want to be a paranormal urban fantasy writer. All you need is an imagination and a laptop, right? While a boundless imagination and a resilient laptop are your sword and shield in the battle to write awesome paranormal fiction, there are 7 steps you can take before you write a word that will make your adventure that much better

1. Get to know your folklore.  It’s fun when paranormal urban fantasy writers make up their own rules (sparkling vampires, anyone?), but you should know the ins and outs of the original folklore before you start inventing your own. Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes is a good place to start, but it depends on what you are writing. Background knowledge will add richness to your story. Your readers probably know the original lore, and so should you.

2. Consult the archetypes. Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth is one good place to start a foundation in archetypal character-building and the hero’s journey.  James N. Frey’s book The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth is another.  The archetypal hero’s journey is a great framework for any story, especially fantasy.

3. Read widely. We are in an excellent moment right now of traditionally and independently published paranormal urban fantasy. My current favorites are Katherine Wynter, Sharon Bayliss, Francesca Lia Block, and Melissa Marr.  Check out the books on the  Foreword Reviews IndieFab Best Fantasy Book of the Year Award Finalist list. (Well hello there, I’m on it too!) Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Read widely to get a sense of the fantasy scene, of the stories people are telling, of the wild adventure you can create for your readers.

4. Watch television. We are also in an excellent moment of television. Television writing can be brilliant when it comes to cliffhangers that make people have to tune in for the next episode.  They don’t call it binge-watching for nothing.  Novel writers can learn from television writers about raising the stakes, weaving back story artfully into the narrative, and styling chapters that are impossible to put down.

5. Read true scary stories Be careful about following this piece of advice at night, but youtube, Thought Catalog and other sites are filled with scary stories that are supposed to be true. You’ll find that plot and character ideas are everywhere in so-called true stories and urban legends.  Check out this youtube video of 20 Mysterious Photos that Shouldn’t Exist.    These stories are begging for you to write a novel about them.

6. Brush up on science facts  Again, not a nighttime, or certainly mealtime activity, but check out the freaky, awful parasite fungus that kills insects and them re-animates them to do their evil bidding.  Is it really that far-fetched to believe that zombies could be real?  Rooting your plot lines in actual facts will enrich your novel and make your readers buy in to your story.

7. Take a class or read a book on writing If you didn’t major in creative writing in college, or even if you did, consider picking up a class or a book on plot conventions, character-building, and dialogue. Writing is a craft, and the best writers take it seriously as an art form. You don’t have to wait to get started, but it would be fun to learn how to write the best story possible for your witch faery demon-killing goddess  adventure, wouldn’t it

Good luck! I’d love to hear any other tips you might have for writing and researching paranormal urban fantasy. Please leave your comments below!

Check out my latest book IndieFab Finalist THE ARROW, available on Amazon now.

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