Your book, your rules

Vampires sparkle. Or they don’t. You have to cut their heads off; they can’t be killed with a wooden stake. Or not. They’re sexy. Or repulsive. Wizards use wands. Or their minds. Werewolves are only dangerous to humans. Or to all creatures.

Regardless of your view, you can find a vampire/wizard/werewolf book to suit your reading needs. And when you’re the one writing about them, that’s when you get to have the most fun. The great thing about writing speculative fiction is that there are legends, but ultimately the rules of your legends are yours to control.

But with great power comes great responsibility.

I have been known to pass on more than one query because the writer talked about supernatural creatures (not just vampires), without giving me a good idea of why they were important to the story, what the rules were for their existence, or how they affected the human world, if such a thing even existed. I think just about all of us are influenced the most by our earliest encounters with legends of supernatural creatures. So it’s not that I don’t believe that vampires can walk in the daylight, but I had a near obsession with The Lost Boys when I was a kid, so that’s where my personal rules for what vampires can and cannot do came from. I’m willing to set my rules aside in favor of another writer’s, of course, as long as that writer makes it clear that in their world, vampires do x, y, and z instead of a, b, and c.

Some of the points I check for, when reading a book with paranormal creatures, are:

  • Are the origins of this species explained?
  • How do they live among humans, if at all, without being noticed?
  • How do their rules shape their interactions with the main character, if the main character is human?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What kind of a world do they come from?
  • Why have they bothered to appear on-screen in this book?

You cannot assume that readers, be they your agent, your editor, your critique partners, or your customers, will have any idea of your personal views on the supernatural when they open your book. Maybe you’re writing about a creature they’d never heard of. I didn’t know what wendigos were until I started watching Supernatural, but I had no trouble picking up on the lore because the writers of that particular episode made it clear. Maybe I’ll pick up a book tomorrow that tells an entirely different story of what wendigos are and how they came to be, one that contradicts everything in that episode of Supernatural. Either way, I’m fine with it as long as the writer lets me know the rules.


2 thoughts on “Your book, your rules

  1. I agree: clearly defined rules are important. Great examples of supernatural villains well-explained: the Prowlers series by Christopher Golden and the Midnighters series by Scott Westerfeld.

    Also, there’s a wendigo in The Secret Journeys of Jack London: The Wild by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon – and the second book has a great character that resembles Olivia Wilde. Or is it just me?

  2. Pingback: A dire dingo ate my baby. How DO you create a fantasy world, anyway? | Write on the World

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