PARANORMAL RESEARCH TIPS
One of the most interesting things about writing paranormal romance is that you get to make up stuff. However, one of the most frustrating things to readers is making up TOO MUCH stuff. Ultimately, there’s one rule that cannot be broken:
THE READER MUST BELIEVE THE UNBELIEVABLE IS POSSIBLE!
But how does an author make the reader believe that here there be dragons (or vampires, werewolves, aliens and the like)? That’s where research comes in! For example, in our Sazi shapeshifter world, we created moon-based shifters that hide in plain sight in the real world. Naturally, they’d have to have magic that would allow them to create illusions. Likewise, a good bit of magic would be some sort of aversion ability that would make humans not want to come closer. The research involved natural cycles of the moon, existing legends/lore about werewolves and such to see what would work or what we should change, psychology texts that gave us ideas about the ways magic could augment “fight or flight” fears, plus a certain amount of physics (could we change the mass of a 200 lb. human into a wolf the size of a normal wolf, or would the resulting wolf have to be the size of a Shetland pony?)
For this sort of nebulous research (not really knowing what you’re looking for—just a random idea) I like either Google (http://www.google.com ) or MetaCrawler (http://www.metacrawler.com —a search engine that looks on OTHER search engines.) Since there’s no one solid source of information, it’s like playing hangman. You remember that game, right? Pick letters of the alphabet to fill in blank lines before you get all the body parts to fill the noose. Sometimes, a full day of searching will result in a single idea that creates believability . . . causes that momentary lull that allows the reader to sink further into the story.
Likewise, when you’re crafting a paranormal adventure with crimes involved, you have to let the reader believe that cops have smarts. Just like your reader, THEY’RE NOT STUPID! The cop on the scene will NOT ignore wounds and evidence just because it’s inconvenient to your plot. They will NOT let the parties wander off to attend to their crisis (with a variety of deadly weapons) if they have a hint the characters are involved in the crime. The more realistic you are in getting your characters out of trouble, the more likely the reader is to empathize with the plot. So what would a cop do when faced with a paranormal situation? Well, how about asking them? My all-time favorite site for all things “cop-ish” is the “Ask a Cop” forum of Real Police.net. (http://www.realpolice.net/forumdisplay.php?f=112 ) This forum was created by and for working LEOs (law enforcement officers.) The Ask a Cop forum is specifically designed for regular citizens to ask “stupid people questions” of working cops. ONLY working cops are allowed to answer questions, and they have members from parking meter attendants all the way up to FBI, CIA and Border Patrol. In our upcoming October book, I asked a number of questions about how a county sheriff, who is also a werewolf, could sneak out of her duties to attend to the crisis. They gave real life suggestions that included the actual wording she should say over the radio. Wow, was that helpful!
See, one of the things I find most useful in research isn’t the written word. It’s the spoken word. There’s no substitute for real life experience in creating a fake life experience. I belong to a number of author forums where the authors have real life experience in a variety of things. One site where I’m a member took this idea one step further and asked the members to post their specialties in various fields. From firefighters to medieval linguistic experts, opera center directors to cryptanalysts, there’s quite possibly everything under the sun in places you already know! Here are some of my favorite sites to get cool real life research information:
The Absolute Write Story Research Room (you can read without joining, but have to be a member to post a question. It’s free, though.)
The Romance Divas Think Tank (you’ll have to join this forum to read or post, but there’s no fee.)
Writers.net (you can read without joining, but have to be a member to post a question. It’s free.)
Writers BBS (you’ll have to join this forum to read or post, but there’s no fee.)
The devil is in the details, which is my biggest pet peeve about a lot of books. I like to believe that the characters are actually DOING what they claim, so if I find tiny details that are wrong, I get frustrated. So, finding people who have DONE the details can really give your book that authentic touch. It was through a forum that I learned the address of a website with instructors who taught pysanky (Ukrainian egg art.) Once I visited the site, I found an instructor who was only two hours away and (joy O joy!) was giving a demonstration at a charity event just a few days later. I visited, we talked and I got to watch an egg being created. Without that visual data of watching, I wouldn’t have known to create a subplot about making the dyes, or adding tiny tidbits about how old dye can develop a scummy surface (but still work fine.) I wouldn’t have known that my heroine’s fingers will cramp up after hours of holding the kiska (hot wax applicators.) That sort of thing doesn’t show up in books. I learned what element of the creation process would be easiest to turn into a magical event.
Of course, this can backfire. In our August, 2006, book, I used people who lived in a particular European city to get details correct. Unfortunately, I discovered that they had only lived in the region for a short time and several of my details weren’t correct. The reviewers in that city had a field day with me, on the level of the French reviewers of the Da Vinci Code. Yikes! Mea culpa! That just goes back to “check your sources” and apologize profusely if you get it wrong.
Now, sex in paranormal is a whole different ball game! The sky is the limit so long as the body is capable. One of the best sites I’ve found for the history of sex and pregnancy in science fiction and fantasy is Enpsychlopedia, which contains an awesome list of what’s been done to date: ( http://enpsychlopedia.org/psypsych/Pregnancy_in_science_fiction ) I’ve gotten some terrific ideas from “them that came before.” :)
So, that’s my list of tips for the paranormal writers among you. Good luck, and good researching!
Cathy Clamp is 1/2 of the USA Today bestselling author team of C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp. The co-authors have five paranormal romance novels on the shelf for Tor Books, with another six to be released in 2007-2009. Their August, 2005, Sazi shapeshifter novel, Moon’s Web, was the winner of the 2006 RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Werewolf Romance. Captive Moon, their August, 2006, release is a finalist in the same category of this year’s RT award.