Monday, April 25, 2011

Keeping it Real

No matter how weird and wild paranormals get, it’s always important, but sometimes tricky to remember that you’re always writing about humans.  Even when writing about vampires, shape shifters, elves, witches or any creature, that you’re still writing about humans.  It is also especially important when writing a paranormal romance to remember that both characters must be at least partially human.  Can a human fall in love with something that isn’t even a little human?  Not likely.

Vampires originally started out as mean, nasty, ugly creatures with no shred of humanity.  These desires and needs of this old-fashioned brand of vamps aren’t something that can be understood or felt by readers, especially those paranormal romance readers that need to feel that internal struggle against ones nature for their own happily-ever-after.   

The vampires of the past were the scary one-dimensional monsters that distanced readers and played the stereotypical antagonist role without little to no conflict.  In the last decade, authors gifted vamps with their humanity.  These creatures began to feel attraction, fall in love, feel guilt for their sins, dwell on their past, fight with their internal beasts and so the love affair with the vampire started.  As vampires became more and more human they drifted away from the antagonistic role and now step forward to full-blown protagonists or heroes.  Nowadays its difficult to find a vampire book where the bloodsucker is completely evil.  They become likable once they show human qualities.  Once likable, the reader roots for them and worry if they will achieve their goal.

I read what I write so I am a paranormal romance novel junkie.  My office is filled with bookshelves of paranormal romance novels - mostly vampires.  What specifically attracts me to this genre to read and write is the struggle with the Inner Beast.  All humans fight the Inner Beast - including me.  It’s that voice inside of our heads that sometimes tells us to do bad things, such as cheat, steal, kill, eat that chocolate bar because it would be easier and more enjoyable.

Many supernatural creatures fight the Inner Beast too, but with a more amplified desire or need.  These creatures such as vampires continually deal with hunger that are far more powerful than the ones that humans live with.  I can sympathize with the vampire that craves blood because on a daily basis I struggle with not devouring a bag of Mini Eggs.  Not the same, but I can rationalize and feel the desire and the temptation to devour something that is forbidden.  

One of the strongest links between the reader and the character is the emotions felt.  Not even the darkest, deadliest creature lives without emotions and if they do, I personally wouldn’t want to read about it.  Even our new age villains have emotions, internal struggles and some piece of humanity.  Supernatural creatures need to emote because human readers do.  This forges a connection between your characters and your reader.  In the majority of the books that I read, I notice that at the beginning the hero is dark and distant with very subtle hints of humanity, some show no humanity at all, but as I turn the pages, you see the humanity and their internal struggles.  

My favorite character is J.R Ward’s vampire Zsadist in “Lover Awakened” as he is a true definition of a tortured protagonist that has his human side revealed layer by gut wrenching layer.  While at the beginning of Ward’s book Zsadist displays brutality and savageness, the reader can connect as he searches for Bella.  There is that shred of humanity that you can sense that draws you in to his internal torment.  Then throughout the book you are rooting for him to slay his demons because you feel his pain and by the end, well, I was a sobbing mess. 

Who’s your favourite character and what draws you to them?


Ella Gray said...

I love me some dark heroes too, RJ. I can't say I read a whole lot of vampire fiction, but that inner darkness is still there to varying degrees in some of my favorite characters - Xena, Shadow (from American Gods), and Ivy Tamwood who is definitely at the top of my 'best vamps' list.

But there are certainly other things that can draw me into liking a character and sometimes it can be hard to pin down. Often my initial attraction is immediate and inexplicable (Books had me from the first page of Phoenix Rising), and sometimes it takes a while for them to grow on me (Kelley Armstrong's Paige Winterbourne comes to mind). How and why it happens is one of the fun things we get to try and figure out as writers :-)

Rosi said...

This is a wonderful post, RJ. Very thought provoking. I don't write paranormal and seldom read it, but what you say is also important to the character development of villains, something I struggle with. I read a book today, Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt, that I highly recommend. He has a couple of pretty awful villains in the book (the father and brother), but as he shows us the human side of each, it changes everything, not just for those characters, but for other characters who are affected by the humanity in each of them. Great post.

Melanie said...

I agree about how the monster reveals our own, less deadly, monstrosities. An important concept for me is the idea that the villain believes she is right, as right as the hero. However, I was watching a cartoon, Superman, and the villain said something that really woke me up. He said he wanted to rid the world of chaos. Bring it to complete order.

What does the word "monster" mean?

rj.garside said...


Thanks so much for the post! Also thanks for the recommendation, I will checkout Gary Schmidt's book. I love seeing how authors uncover the human side to even the most cruel monsters.


rj.garside said...


Thanks for posting! I agree that sometimes there is just some strange quality that links us to the character although we can't pinpoint out exactly why.

I think sometimes we are drawn to a character because of a characteristic that perhaps we subconsciously (or consciously) wish for ourselves. They do, act or say things that we would never be able to do.

Thanks for the post!


rj.garside said...


Thanks for the post! I agree that it is an important and realistic concept that both the hero/heroine and the villain both believe that they are right.


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