Thursday, February 19, 2009

Over, Under, And Outside The Box

Despite my time as an editor for a romance novel publisher, I haven't read a lot of romance novels in my time. I have paid some attention to popular themes in the industry, particularly paranormal (because I really like paranormal writing of all types), and, with the aid of Google searches, that's what I'm going to talk about today.

So, let's say you want to write paranormal romance. Ideally, you'll already have a story in mind, but for the purposes of this exercise, let's say that you don't. How do you decide what paranormal element (or elements) should be in your story?

Vampires are a popular choice. . .extremely popular, with nearly 5 million Google hits in my search (the number dropped only slightly when I narrowed it to include books and movies only). Given that one can't throw a sharpened stake in the paranormal romance world without hitting 8 vampires and a couple Goth kids, it's a pretty crowded field. Perhaps the popularity is understandable; vampires are immortal creatures, cursed never again to walk in daylight and to live on theblood of the innocent to sustain their own miserable existence. . .except that they generally seem to have accumulated great wealth after living for centuries, never have to deal with rush-hour traffic, and have no problem landing insanely hot women. Any sympathy I might have had for a vampire just went out the window. Anyway, an author would have to have either a unique, appealing slant on the vampire mythos or one hell of a story to tell in order to stand out in the field, especially with the current popularity of Twilight no doubt inspiring many people out there to put vampiric-minded pen to innocent paper.

Ghost romances were second most popular in my search. Something about the ethreal nature of them, I suppose; maybe the thrill of a lover that can't make a mess because he can only become solid on rare occasion? There's a lot of room for good storytelling with ghosts, which may also explain it. Who among us has not felt haunted by love at some point? How much better is it to have some actual haunting going?

Witches came up third most popular in my search, falling from broomsticks and landing smack-dab between ghosts and werewolves. While the powers and abilities are admittedly fantastic (and make for great plot devices when things go wrong), bringing originality to the field can be difficult. That said, though, there's a lot of fun to be had with them. Fantastic powers, wacky abilities, misunderstandings and mixups galore - how could hijinks not ensue? It's almost too easy. . .which, for me, is a reason not to write them unless absoultely needed. Plus, they're not underused.

Werewolves aren't as common (I only got 1/3 as many hits for "romance about werewolves" on Google as I did "romance about vampires," but both were still over 1 million), so there's more breathing room in that market. Werewolves have the allure of being just as tortured and cursed as their vampiric counterparts, but they only have to deal with it once a month, as opposed to you know, constantly. Maybe these mythic creatures symbolize the repressed primal nature of all mankind, released in one monthly-ish burst, and the taming of that nature through love is what makes them such popular characters. Or maybe there are a lot of women out there that like really hairy men. Either way, my topic today is "Underused Paranormals," and we can't say that they've been underused at all, so let's move on.

Mermaids are surprisingly popular as well, though not nearly so much as the first three on the list, at least outside of Disney. I blame The Little Mermaid for them being so popular. Less popular (barely 100,000 hits, by Google search) are mermen, for some reason. So, if you're a paranormal author looking for something a little unusual to include in your work, a merman isn't a bad idea. Try not to make too many "longest flipper" jokes and this idea could turn out great. Also, your merman hero should not wear an orange shirt and green pants, unless you're a fan of copyright infringement.

So what's underused?

I haven't seen many paranormal books involving, say, old mythological figures. Aside from Greek and Roman mythologies, there's a plethora of interesting characters from around the world that would fit into romance novels. Take, for example, Amaterasu, the Shinto (Japanese) sun goddess who hid in a cave from her domestically violent spouse (and starred in the cool draw-your-way-to-victory video game Okami) and had to be lured out with a mirror. She's got a bad relationship history and deep vanity as a personality flaw right there, so she's prime heroine material. There's also Celtic goddess Ceridwen, who had a very ugly child. Change "ugly" to "ill-mannered" and you've got a single-mother heroine, with the added conflict of a difficult child, set up right there.

Let's not forget psychics. The first paranormal romances that I remember reading were Kay Hooper's Shadows Trilogy, and they still stand out in my mind for being something I hadn't read much fiction about before. Psychic romances produced around half a million hits on Google before I filtered out psychics advertising readings, and there's plenty of powers to play with: telekinesis, telepathy, precognition, pyrokinesis, remote viewing, even hydrokinesis (thanks, DC Comics!), so there's a lot of toys to play with there.

Zombies. If Simon Pegg can do it in Shaun Of The Dead, you can do it (and that was indeed a romantic comedy with zombies). Not saying one of your main characters has to be a zombie, but the threat of them can certainly throw people together.

Angels and demons are good, but they're approaching "overused" territory. Still, a good twist on the whole angel/demon mythology can make for an excellent read, so why not give it a shot? Bonus points if you can somehow manage to offend a major religion - controversy always generates better sales. Just don't make focus on the controversial aspects too much, lest the book come off feeling like something written specifically to offend an organized religion and the trick will backfire.

Superpowers are always fun (for me). What could more romantic than some person randomly given great power and, therefore, great responsibility? (Okay, so it's more sci-fi than paranormal, unless you have an osbcure god grant the powers.) Remember, for every Clark Kent, there's a Lois Lane, and for every Wonder Woman, there's a legion of drooling fanboys wondering if they can get a Wonder Woman costume onto their spouse/girlfriend/blow-up doll. (The lazy ones just harass Lynda Carter.)

And finally. . .leprechauns. If you can make a romantic story that even remotely involves leprechauns work, I bow to you. If the title doesn't involve the words "lucky," "charms," or any combination of the two, you might earn my unending respect for pulling this one off.

Any other ideas for underused paranormal themes?


4 deadly screams:

Carrie from Wisconsin said...

Hi Pandem,

Nice blog topic. I really appreciate when others do this kind of work.

Due to the popularity of Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and the increasing interest in Japanese Anime, less and less themes seem underused.

If you haven't seen it yet, my favorite Anime is InuYasha. There are a lot of other great manga stories out there that have been made into their own Anime series. Full Metal Alchemist, Ghost in the Shell SAC, 10 Tokyo Warriors and Saiyuki Reload are just a few that come to mind that use paranormal themes, however minor, to some extent.

In terms of books, I'm having a hard time thinking of paranormal themes that could be used more. The only thing that comes to mind, and that's only because I haven't honed my Google researching skills, is the ability to enter cartoon or movie land.

For this type of theme, I only know of very few titles:
1. The Incredible Mr. Limpet
2. Roger Rabbit
3. Cool World

For the reverse, cartoon entering real world:
1. Pete's Dragon (However, I think making Elliot a cartoon was just the only way to not make the movie seem cheesy)
2. Enchanted

If there are others, I'm not aware of them.

Now, when you consider one of the Charmed episodes, there was a demon who had the ability to enter the "movie" realm which was probably one of my favorite episodes. Here, Phoebe gets to meet the man of her dreams, a movie character from a really old movie that she has loved for along time and was even able to let the relationship play out, a little. Of course, their relationship was doomed to failure because of the whole, he has to go back to his movie thing and Phoebe had her "real" life to live.

So, I guess having the ability to jump from a cartoon/anime/movie realm might be interesting too. I can't talk about movie characters crossing over without thinking about the movie, Last Action Hero.

Even the super hero thing is getting played out because of all the comic book character movies and Heroes, which started out really neat, but started getting stupid and I stopped watching. (Okay, some people might still like it...)

And I'd like to state that even though InuYasha crosses time barriers (feudal and present Japan), all the characters are the same medium, so it doesn't count.

If this theme has been in other books, I wouldn't know. If you know of some other books about people and cartoon/anime/movie characters going crossing boundaries, other than the ones I've mentioned here, please tell me because I would like to read them.

Thanks again for a great blog topic!


Sierra Wolfe said...

Great post Pandem! It was very interesting to read which creatures were more popular. I was surprised that werewolves weren't higher on the list. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Sarah Mäkelä said...

Great blog entry, Pandem. Here at The Deadly Vixens... we're all about uncovering underused paranormal themes/creatures. I don't think people should strictly look for other paranormal creatures though, unless they want to use them. They especially shouldn't if they don't know anything about them and just want to be different. =)

Pandem said...


I don't watch much anime, sorry! I do want to finish Cowboy Bebop; I've only seen the first 10 episodes and just never get around to buying the rest of the DVDs. I'm not much for manga either, though I read Tarot Cafe, Devil May Cry, Devil May Cry 3, and Vagabond, the last of which I still read. I do remember reading that manga comprises the majority of graphic novel sales nowadays, but with exmakajillions of manga titles out there, it's a pretty crowded market too. Anytime you want to talk about comic books though, I am definitely down (and I'll find a way to work them into this blog one day, I swear!).

Gracen and Sarah, it was no problem! I wish I had more time to research lesser-known paranormal and more time to write about them. . .*sigh* maybe one day. . .