Thursday, March 01, 2012

How to write a terrible supernatural romance novel. God help me, I've been devouring really crappy supernatural romance (aka 'urban fantasy') fiction lately, to the point where I worry that I am inuring my critical faculties to a better calibre of literature. As Gabourey Sidibe says, "Once you go black Hitler, you never go back Hitler!"

Ahem. Anyway, I was thinking things have got so bad I am almost in the position to pen a how-to guide about writing really awful supernatural romance novels. Here are some of the tips I've picked up along the way:

Everyone always has a really striking eye-hair-skin colour combo. Nobody just has those slate-blue or poo-brown eyes. Oh no, they've got to have enormous piercing sapphire-blue orbs, or sparkling emerald flecked with gold, and hair like spun rubies or black silk or such. For sheer banality, the worst offender on this ground is probably a book called Haunting Violet where the heroine is named Violet and guess what colour her eyes are? GREEN no, fooled you – they're violet!

And the dudes always tend to have either really long silken hair like Tolkien elves, or unruly mops of curls that are always falling in their (extraordinary) eyes, just making you want to brush them back. And everyone has radiant skin – it is always porcelain, or ivory, or alabaster, or golden or honey-coloured or chocolate-coloured. If freckled, only ever a light dusting.

Mouths are cruel, sensual or both. Nobody ever has thin Kenneth Branagh Muppet lips. Everyone has luscious ruby lips that curve upwards in either a cruel way or a sensual way, or both, and they're always "grazing" or "crushing" these lips against people. Also, people have a weird way of speaking into each other's necks in the heat of passion.

People wear the trashiest clothes. You'll be reading a description of someone's outfit, which the author clearly intends to be unbelievably alluring, and you get this sinking feeling that the character looks terrible. It'll be like, "I dressed carefully in my favourite black lace thong, then slipped on a form-fitting burgundy crushed-velvet backless evening dress, held together in the sides with criss-crossed mustard-coloured silk thongs to offer a glimpse of my mother-of-pearl flanks. I slipped into my four-inch gold platform shoe-boots and applied burgundy eye shadow to bring out the sparkle in my violet eyes, and wine-coloured lipstick so dark it almost matched my hair, whose highlights shone navy like the Atlantic on a cold February night."

Nonetheless, all the other characters will goggle and instantly want to 'be on' these tasteless people. "He swaggered into the room in his dove-grey, double-breasted linen suit over an olive-green Spandex muscle shirt, with matching tan loafers worn without socks. The pants were pleated and baggy in front, yet somehow delectably fitted in back. His long spun-silver hair was braided with dozens of gleaming pearls, then wound into a sinuous rope that hung casually over one shoulder. When he saw me, he stopped cold and caught his breath raggedly…"

The heroine turns out to have hidden powwuhs. She has to be human (or at least more comfortable in the 'human world' than the supernatural one) so readers will empathise with her. But she finds out she's really part-human, part-faeriwolvampangel (but all woman), or she's a slayer of faeriwolvampangels, psychokinetelepathic, and/or possesses a personal charm that makes all the faeriwolvampangels lust crazily after her. Not her personality, silly! Some primal quality, like her blood, or her sparkling eyes, or just her general sex appeal.

The heroine loves reading. It's another way she's like you, the reader, who is reading this right now! She just loves to read. This trope is especially effective in period-set novels where even admitting to basic literacy is tantamount to shrivelling ballsacks for miles around. She'll never land a husband with a degenerate reading habit like that!

She is always very plucky and capable, but finds it hard to 'let people get close'. Either she's an obsessive workaholic, or she's worried people will reject her because of her powwuhs, or it's actually a cruel quirk of the powwuhs that she can't touch or be with people. There is usually at least one perfectly acceptable dude who admires and/or desires our heroine but has to pine after her from the margins because she either fails to notice him or he can't approach her, or maybe they've had a 'troubled history', which is usually code for 'he had a chance with me and fucked it up, and I'm too proud/emotionally scarred to allow him a do-over'. He usually hangs around brooding resentfully and cockblocking the hero.

Not everyone likes our heroine. There's usually an antagonist – often another woman, but sometimes a man – who bears a grudge against her for either no good reason at all, or a really unfair reason that she can't help. Often the antagonist considers the heroine a sexual threat, or sees her as an obstacle to getting what they want. They invariably despise the heroine as weak and pathetic, grossly underestimating her powwuhs and general pluck.

Immortals are both really bad and really great at cultural immersion. They still cling to many of the customs, technologies and habits that were around when they were alive, and use the corniest outdated language in implausibly broad original accents, despite having had centuries to get used to our world. Either that, or they instantly master our mortal gadgets like computers, cars and phones. When the heroine catches them in an anachronism, they always get misty and go, "I remember back in [insert really long time ago]…"

Look, there's probably heaps more but I'm sure I can return to this rich terrain in the inevitable 'volume 2' post.

Go for it, I say! Write the first fugly supernatural romance thriller.
What gets me in supernatural novels are normally the names, because I suppose I'm a wordy kind of chap. 'Voldemort', 'Saruman', or other longer ones usually beginning with X or Q or Z and continuing for several syllables. So I once got the idea for a fantasy story in which everyone is called 'Smith'. You know,

The High King, Head of the Majestic Church of the Real, Lord Protector of All He Surveyed, He Who Must Be Obeyed, Smith, was somewhat dissatisfied...

I gave it a go but got bored after a while.
If you can get a copy of them - from the Sticky Institute or by mailing the author - these zines, 'Galactic Regency Vampire Pirates' and 'How to Write a Mills & Boon-esque Bodice Ripper Novel' are a hoot.
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