Crystallizing Your Book Idea . . . for Paranormal or Any Genre
By Debbie Herbert
I love paranormal romance because the possibility of magic tingles my creative drive and curiosity. The speculation that there might be something more to reality than can be perceived through our senses provides a natural “what if” environment writers need to create stories.
Plus – I’ve never outgrown my love of fairytales and mythology!
Not only do I write paranormal romance, my subject matter isn’t of the popular vampire or werewolf variety. I chose to write about mermaids. I’d completed three other novels (as yet still unpublished) before switching to mermaids and landing multiple contracts with Harlequin Nocturne for a series.
It all started with a dream. I was swimming in a deep body of water when I noticed a man dumping something from the side of a boat. Curious, I swam over. The man noticed me and his expression was so evil that it frightened me and I woke up. Like a typical writer, I started asking those ‘what if” questions: what if he were a killer? what if he was dumping a dead body? what if I were a mermaid and he caught me?
And from that one dream, I created a world in which a clan of mermaids secretly lived deep in an Alabama bayou.
Okay, great ideas are had by all writers. How do you begin the whole unwieldy process of stringing together thousands of words into an interesting, coherent story?
We all have our own process. I’m sharing mine today in the hopes it may spur you to try something different that might make it all a little easier or clearer.
My starting point is answering these three questions:
1. What is the HOOK or PREMISE? What makes your book unique? What’s it about? Just write one sentence – the shorter the better.
2. What is the GOOD VERSUS EVIL in my world? I think for paranormal writers, this is important. Are your supernatural beings seeking power or dominance over humans or other creatures? For mystery writers, it may be an evil killer versus potential victims that provides this conflict.
3. What are the STAKES? The stakes are huge in paranormal worlds – it is often no less than world upheaval or human subjugation to supernatural beings.
If I can grasp these, I can go on to develop character and romance ARCS and external and internal conflicts. The questions form my logline and blurb. This is how I start every book. It’s how my brain works. Here are some examples from my books:
1. CHARMS – How can a teenage witch help an immortal on the run from another enemy immortal? Note: In Immortal legends there is already a strong, built-in good versus evil theme. The hook was combining the worlds of witchcraft and immortals. Stakes: Control of immortals and humans by an evil warlock clan.
2. CHANGELING –What happens to a child kidnapped by fairies and raised by them? Good versus Evil is between two warring fairy worlds. Hook is the reverse fairy tale. Stakes – if bad fairies win upcoming battle with good fairies, humans will suffer from bad fairies.
3. FAMILIAR MAGIC – How can a magical cat help an outcast middle grade girl? The evil are the bullies. The Hook is that the book is written from a cat POV. Stakes: character and animal’s happiness and survival in MG school world.
4. SIREN’S SECRET – Hook: What would happen if a mermaid saw a serial killer dumping a body at sea? Good versus Evil – serial killer versus cops. Stakes: Killer could expose mermaid world and endanger their species.
5. SIREN’S TREASURE – What would happen if a mermaid was captured by modern-day pirates? Hook – treasure hunt. Good versus evil – kidnappers versus law enforcement. Stakes: Missing H-bomb captured by American enemies. Stakes: World peace.
6. SIREN’S CALL – What would happen if a siren met a man not affected by her magic? Hook – hidden world of Okwa Nahallo – (Choctaw legend of mermaids in the bayou) and Indian lore. Good versus Evil: Female stalker versus cops. Stakes: Main character’s life and happiness of hero – prevention of future murders.
Once you’ve answered these questions you can go about the nitty gritty details of plotting your book. I’m pretty low tech. I get a posterboard and divide it into 20 sections which represent each chapter. I fill in the turning points and any scenes that have come to mind. I don’t worry about filling every square, I just fill in what I have and GO.
How do you begin your novels? I’d love to hear your process as well!
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Debbie Herbert writes paranormal romance novels reflecting her belief that love, like magic, casts its own spell of enchantment. She’s always been fascinated by magic, romance and gothic stories.
Married and living in Alabama, she roots for the Crimson Tide football team. Unlike the mermaid characters in Siren’s Secret, and Siren’s Treasure, she loves cats and has two spoiled feline companions. When not working on her upcoming books, Debbie enjoys recumbent bicycling with her husband as well as spending time with her two adult sons.
A past Maggie finalist in both Young Adult & Paranormal Romance, she’s a member of the Georgia Romance Writers of America. Debbie has a degree in English (Berry College, GA) and a master’s in Library Studies (University of Alabama).
Connect with Debbie on social media or learn more about her books.
http://goo.gl/cdgxFT – buy link for Siren’s Secret
http://goo.gl/ymsQdL – buy link for Siren’s Treasure
Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Debbie-Herbert-Author/151793451695632 Debbie Herbert Author
0 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Debbie Herbert – Crystallizing Your Book Idea … for Paranormal or Any Genre”
Hi Debbie, Love the premise of your books! I also write about mermaids and am looking forward to reading the Siren series. Best of luck with sales. Joanne 🙂
Replied to you in wrong place Joanne. 🙂 thanks for coming by and for the tweet!
Thanks for stopping by Joanne…..I think you will enjoy reading and contrasting your two different mermaid series.
Oh my word, you are so ORGANIZED! I think I would cry if I tried to map out of story like that. I guess I am more organic in my approach to it and I’m not sure I can explain it. I just start writing and see where it goes. Often, I have no idea and it’s the twists and surprises that I love. I play out possible scenes in my mind and listen and watch for how my character handles it. Nevertheless, I do ask those questions–what is the hook, what are the stakes, who are the bad guys, or where are the conflict/tensions going to arise? I just don’t always have the answers up front.
Left you a comment T.K. – but in the wrong place. 🙂 LOL Thanks for coming by.
Interesting to contrast your two writing styles especially since the results are both polished and well written manuscripts that include all of the same elements.
And I’m jealous of YOU T.K. Thorne! Your way sounds more fun. Even though I outline, I still get surprised and never strictly follow it.
Joanne – Mermaids rock! I’d love to hear about your mermaid books.
Reblogged this on debherbertblog and commented:
Crystallizing yYour Book Idea
Appreciate the reblog….and the initial blog above. You really nailed the analysis and process that works so well for you and that is a good outline for many of us to try to follow.
Thanks, Debra. It’s a pleasure!
Interesting… as you know, Debbie, I’m suffering from a writing anxiety which has cost me my PhD (in a field almost entirely unrelated to mermaids), and even (especially?) all this planning stuff makes me panic. Maybe it’s just about breaking things down and doing it one step at a time?
I am so sorry to hear that. I think as writers we put way too much pressure on ourselves – and I’m guilty of it as well. Absolutely break it down and take it slow enough that it becomes fun – or at least not anxiety producing. Try different things – experiment with methods, collaborate with friends, or switch to writing something different like poems or short stories or journals. Best of luck – you can do this!!
I have to agree with Debbie that as writers, we put too much pressure on ourselves — fear of ideas, organization, process, writing….and yet, we all have a creative force that will take over if we let it. I believe in the approach of breaking things down into small pieces because when each is accomplished, suddenly the whole is done. I also believe that sometimes we can’t accomplish what we want to write (we’re too overcome with planning it), but need to try something else to let the words begin to flow. I’m not a big believer in typing … I don’t know what to write on a piece of paper repeatedly, but I do believe in leaving a big project to work on something that is smaller (perhaps flash fiction) and that I can see and feel accomplishment from quickly. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…
thanks both of you. Sometimes we have to learn through failing big, I suppose!
My goodness, Debbie, I had no idea you were so accomplished or well-published. Kudos to you, my dear friend! Thank you for delineating your process. This is very helpful. And I’m sure I can use part of your idea in future. The new book looks great too 🙂
Thanks Yvette but I’ m just a fellow scribbler. Only 3 of those books are published but I’m working on the YAs. My unsold middle grade book is one of my favorites. Maybe one day! and I’ll know I’m accomplished when I can do newsletters and videos 🙂 Thanks for coming by!