Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Weaving Worlds

During our World-Building Q&A Nightsmusic asked:

I have a lot of trouble incorporating my paranormal story into a 'real world' setting meaning, I have werewolves in Regency/Victorian England (it's on the cusp) and am working on a contemporary as well, but I find myself either losing track of the paranormal in the midst of the real world setting or vice-versa. So how do I keep things balanced without losing my story?

Whenever you use a real-world setting for an otherworldly story you will have to consider how to weave the two together in a logical fashion. Many authors have secret worlds hidden within real worlds where their stories play out (underground cities that no one on the surface realizes exist is a popular option) but I think with some pre-planning and creative application of your various elements you can meld both into one world.

At the very core of your story there should be an explanation as to why no one in your real world knows about your paranormal elements (in the Darkyn series, everything I built in their world was designed to hide them in plain sight. So I worked out first how vampires would be able to exist in our world without being exposed, which led to the development of the two warring societies, the different jardins disguised as real-world businesses and homes, the mortal tresori sworn to protect their immortal masters, the various powers that allowed the Darkyn to operate under the radar or erase memories of anything that would expose them, etc.)

If you don't care to have your paranormal elements hidden, then you have to tweak the real world to accept that the paranormal is normal. For this alternate reality is the best approach; you present basically the same real world with one or a few significant differences that allow for the existence of the paranormal. With the Disenchanted & Co. books I changed one event in history -- who won the War of Independence -- and redeveloped America to remain part of the British Empire, which gave me the room to build in another direction and develop an alternative 19th century society that accepts magic as part of everyday life. If you don't want to reinvent history, then simply have an event that reveals the paranormal as part of your world and build on that. Charlaine Harris did it in her Southern Vampire series by the invention of synthetic blood, which allowed her vampires to come out of the closet and become part of a real-world society (and the struggle for acceptance of that on both the mortal and immortal sides of the equation basically fueled the plot for all the novels in the series.)

Everything in your story (the characters, settings, plot, etc.) should also have some strong tie to your paranormal elements. They don't have to be paranormal themselves but they do have to be involved in some way with those elements. Fourth, one of the "normal" characters in the Toriana books, starts out as Kit's stalker and eventually becomes her ally. From Fourth's point of view, Kit is simply a lady who works in his office building. He admires her, and even when he stops pursuing her that admiration doesn't evaporate. From that point Fourth is regularly involved in Kit's life, but always in the capacity of a Victorian gentlemen who likes her and believes that, like all the women in his time, she needs his protection. No matter how fantastic Kit's situation is, Fourth will always behave like a regular guy -- and in that sense, he represents the normal world (which in turn provides a wonderful foil for all the abnormal things that happen to Kit.)

Look at the hub of your story as well -- does it in some way show the melding of both worlds? Let's say you want to write about werewolves in Victorian England. Your two primary elements -- the paranormal werewolves and the normal Victorian England -- need a strong connection so they interweave. One possible hub could be that the werewolves need to take mortal mates before their kind die out altogether, and have to obtain them via the traditional avenues available in Victorian English society. Your wolves could have their own ton, hold balls, go on hunts, hold duels, etc. just as the mortals do, but with obvious paranormal spins. There would also be ample room for clashes between the normal and paranormal societies (i.e. I won't allow my daughter to marry a beast in gent's clothing!), new alliances (the Queen decides to grant titles to members of the pack who serve in the armed forces, which persuades the existing nobility to incorporate them into society) or even conspiracies (someone assassinates the Prime Minister and makes it look like a werewolf attack.)

Weeding out elements that don't serve the story is important, too. You may have characters or settings that are important to illustrating your period, but if they have absolutely nothing to do with your paranormal elements they'll distract the reader and/or get in your way. So look at whatever you introduce into the story not as to how it informs the reader, but in how it relates to your paranormal theme. It's wonderful to show the Queen knighting someone, but if he's not a werewolf or a werewolf-hater, or in some other way connected to the werewolves, he's not important to your story.

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