Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Writing Magic into a Romance and World-Building

Magic.  We've been charmed by magic in our romantic stories since the fairy tales of childhood.  Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White...these stories are the classics at the core of our love affair with romance. 

The line of whether it is a traditional or paranormal romance is constantly shifting.  Whether we realize it or not, it's often the promise of a classic theme, such as forbidden love, with its roots traced back to fairy tales that draws us to both. We don't have to have talking mice or a fairy godmother with literal magical powers to recognize a Cinderella theme of class barriers and of wishing for a rags-to-rich miracle to change the future. Magic, in a fairy tale, is necessary to break down such a barrier and accomplish the rags-to-riches miracle.

Once we've all grown up, however, we might feel that Cinderella deserved more than magic. This is part of the "what if?" game many writers have done to fill in the "gaps and consequences" of Cinderella's magical romance.  Such as, while we all know she is kind and beautiful, how does the prince know this?  The kindness trait, that is.  Why did the prince love her?  And why should she love him?  Is our need to retell the story (and other fairy tales) partly because we want to prove that magic wasn't necessary?

There have been hundreds of retellings of fairy tales, some with and many without magic.  Without magic, Austen's Pride and Prejudice has been used as an example of a retelling of Cinderella.  Jane Eyre is another, although I hesitate to say it is without magic. With Jane Eyre, if there is such a thing as a paranormal atmosphere then this story has it with the gothic feel of the manor house, Thornfield, and the mystical feel of the moors. Is this not magic?  And while the story is so familiar that I can't not know that the "woman in the attic" is Mr. Rochester's very real wife, I still love the hint of a supernatural possibility. Who or what is in the attic?

Or is it really magic?  In the case of Snow White, there is the magic of the mirror, the magic of the queen shapeshifting into an old woman, the magic of the poisoned apple and the magic of the kiss awakening Snow White. Wrapped up in the magic are themes of the fear of beauty fading, of good defeating evil, or possibly the message of love being more powerful than the strongest of magic. In a modern retelling, or by modern perceptions, the use of poison is understood as a skill or knowledge that can be acquired, and is not necessarily magic. And, to be quite unromantic, Snow White's awakening could be explained by science also. Might the effect of the poison have been temporary and the timing of the kiss a coincidence?

And that mirror.  That's magic, right?  Or in another explanation, is the queen insane, hallucinating, or a little of both.  And might the shapeshifting into the old woman be a clever, but "unmagical" disguise?

This taking away of the magic might be an odd thing for a paranormal writer to contemplate, but I think it's an interesting "exercise" to try with my own story.  What is left behind when magic can be explained?  Are the motives and characters still strong and intelligent without the magic?  How will an ordinary person view the magic?  What will they assume and in what ways might they be wrong?

And then, as much as possible, I want the magic to be real.  I want magic wands and time travel. (I'm undecided on the talking animals.)  But I'll take the illusion too!
Magic is magic if it is unknown or unexplainable to the characters.  With this sort of definition, it's also not too much of a stretch to include the reader in  what she knows ordoesn't know about the magic of the story.  And lastly and most important, magic is not found only in the genre of fantasy. Reading a story that transports us to another time or location is magical, and creating something into existance from our imagination is working magic.

And you thought you weren't a paranormal writer.  *grin*  Okay, perhaps you still aren't tempted to include ghosts, vampires, shapeshifters, wizards, witches, elves, ogres, werewolves, aliens, fairies, angels, or maybe a mad scientist who just thinks he/she has magical powers.  Or maybe you are tempted!  Either way, you'll want to do some world-building.

World-Building. Or is that World Building...or Worldbuilding?  I've found it all three ways, so I'll just pick one and go with World-Building.  What is this anyway and who it for?  We think of world-building with fantasy and paranormal first, but it's also used for historical and contemporary stories. 
Basically, it has a lot to do with the story's setting, that "third character," to make your world interesting and believable to your reader. In paranormal writing, it's also about creating a solid mythology. Think about the stereotypes a reader might have about those mythical creatures in fairy tales and literature and how to go along with expectations or if you break and reinvent the rules. 

Another way to describe it is "setting the stage," which is what set designers do to set the mood and scene. One of my favorite classes by the way led to this post:  The Writer's Perspective:  Making Connections in a Setting.

 Here are some wonderful links on world-building for your magical studies:

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