Writing

5 Rules for Keeping Fantasy Fiction Realistic

Image © Shutterstock

Editor's Note:

Christine Feehan lives in Northern California and loves hiking, whale watching and being outdoors. She is surrounded by her family, her beloved grandchildren, and her pack of dogs.

Consider vampires. You likely already have ideas or beliefs about the rules of writing vampires.  They must drink blood to survive.  They must stay out of the sunlight.  They are immortal.  We all have these parameters that we feel make up what vampires can or cannot do.  But when you write fiction, you can make up any rules you like, right?

Yes and no.

You can certainly adjust the rules, ignore them or make up new ones to fit your book.  Some vampires burn in the sunlight, some sparkle.   And if you can make it work, that’s fantastic! But even when you write fiction it’s good to ground yourself in enough reality that people feel they have a place in your world.  They should be able to land in your universe and feel the things you hope you’re making them feel when you write.

I have a few rules that I live by when I’m writing.  Your rules may be different and that’s fine. Here’s what works for me.

Ground Yourself in the Familiar
Whether writing vampires, shapeshifters, witches, or military experiments gone wrong, make your world recognizable. Even if you write epic fantasy, people need to be able to relate and understand where you are taking them and what they are imagining.  Have you ever read a book that had so many made-up words you just gave up reading it? It can happen.

Your characters need to have strength, weaknesses, conflicts, and abilities, and the more people understand what those are, the more they can see themselves in your characters’ shoes.

Know When You’ve Gone Too Far
Some authors have an internal feel for when they’ve taken their story into a direction that’s more fantastical than it should be, and some authors have friends who will critique or review their stories and give them feedback on that kind of detail.  Either way, it’s important that you don’t let the fantasy elements take the reader out of the story.  It’s important that you don’t allow the fantastical to be more important than the characters and plot.

Balance Yourself
Readers of paranormal fiction love those special elements in your story.  I write romance, but that romantic story has paranormal elements within.  Some series demand more of the fantastical than others.  Know how to balance fiction and reality proportionate to what the story needs and what readers will want or what they expect from you.  For example, my Carpathian stories are about an ancient race of vampire hunters, vampires, mages, shapeshifters, and dragons.  I can include more fantasy elements in this series than, say, my Ghostwalker series, which mixes real science with paranormal elements with military-experiments-gone-wrong.  I need people to feel as though my psychically enhanced heroes and heroines could actually be real.  So ask yourself how much of the fantastical your story calls for.

Know Your Readers
There’s a time and a place for adding more fantasy/paranormal to your series or story.  If you feel your readers love the paranormal element and would love to see more of it, trust your gut.  But be thoughtful in how you add it in.  Do you need one big catalyst to push you into more paranormal or is it better to make small steps and lead your readers into accepting where you want to go with your series or book?  It’s important to write the book you want to write, but it’s also important to consider your readers who have invested time, money, and heart into your stories.  Readers feel invested.  Trust your relationship with your readers.  Stay in touch with them on social media, your website, and newsletter.  Mostly, trust yourself.  If you can’t enjoy the writing, it’s tough to complete a book.

Paranormal and Sex
Whether you’re writing paranormal romance, supernatural suspense, fantasy, or any other genre that contains a fantastical element, it’s likely sex will factor in along the way.  For romance this is nearly a certainty. I’m not one to judge when it comes to the kind of sex people want to put in their book. That said, however, there are some books I don’t read because I’m not into the kind of sex they incorporate. And you know what? That’s fine.  Sometimes I’ll pick up a book because it looks like it’s sexy and appeals to me. For the most part, there’s no right or wrong as long as it’s consensual and the characters are age-appropriate.  But like anything else, I try to keep the sex grounded in reality.  Can characters float in the clouds as they have sex? Sure.  Can they be ghosts? Yes.  But, you want to be sure your readers understand what’s going on and that the sex fits the story.  Sex should never take a reader out of the story, so whatever rules you have for your world, you need to extend that into the sex.

Your world, your book, your series, your rules.  This is your story and you want to enjoy writing it. Rules give readers parameters so they understand and trust that they can feel they are part of the story unfolding.  Rules help define your brand in a way.  Readers know what to expect and that’s why they keep coming back for more.  Now, tell me what rules you feel can be broken or what rules should never be broken!

Want more on writing? Download Signature’s 2017 Ultimate Writing Guide