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Tips for Entering the Golden Heart: Paranormal

Almost every paranormal, urban fantasy, urban fantasy romance, time travel, steampunk, sci-fi romance, space opera, fantasy, or vaguely speculative manuscript entered in the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart contest competes in a single, hyper-competitive category: Paranormal.  

Yeah. You might want to read that again.  It’s an understatement to say that the competition is fierce, y’all. And if the competition wasn’t already fierce enough…the romance sub-genre lines continue to blur. Within the last year, I’ve judged some great paranormal contest entries which could just as easily have been entered in the YA or Historical categories. 

So…a great paranormal romance, like any romance, has some big shoes to fill: you have to tell a great story, have an interesting plot, feature a kick-ass yet relatable heroine and a hot, worthy hero (and maybe a hot, worthy villain!), offer intriguing internal and external goals, motivations and conflicts, supply believable characterization and delicious love scenes, offer an unusual setting, use fresh descriptions, provide a judicious dollop of backstory, possess a masterful command of craft and pace, and exhibit an authorial voice that sparks off the page. Finally, after pulling the hero and heroine naked and backwards through fire, thorns, and a refreshing ammonia bath after vanquishing the Big Bad, we need to give our now thoroughly worn-out couple the happily-ever-after ending they so clearly deserve. 

That’s all.  😉   

So how do you make your paranormal Golden Heart entry break away from the pack? (Heh heh. Werewolf joke.)   

In my view, the thing that sets the paranormal sub-genre apart from the others is the world building. Though all fiction writers build worlds to some degree, paranormals exhibit world building on steroids because the world, by the sub-genre’s very definition, isn’t normal. It’s PARAnormal. It’s unusual, unique, extraordinary, and yet it must be rendered in such a way that readers believe it could exist – or at least happily suspend their disbelief long enough for you to take them on a wild ride.  Writing-wise, this can be a very tall order, and I’d have to say that world building is the craft area where most unpublished paranormals I’ve had the opportunity to read or judge fall a bit short. 

Some things to keep in mind about paranormal world building:

  • World building must start on Page One – but subtly. If your book is set in a paranormal world, the reader needs some indication of this very early on. World building cues can be embedded in prose, descriptions, dialogue, setting, internal monologue…in almost any craft element.  (More on this below.)
  • Paranormal elements must be integral to your story. Making your hero a vampire just because vampires are selling right now just won’t cut it.
  • The world building needs to be believable, logical, and consistent within the framework you establish. And once you establish Your Rules, you have to follow them.  A lack of internal consistency is the kiss of death. 
  • Deviations from familiar paranormal mythology or tropes must be accounted for – for example, if your werewolves DON’T shift with the full moon, or your vampires DON’T drink blood or have to avoid the sun, you have to tip the reader off,  the earlier the better. To accomplish this, it’s helpful to know which paranormal tropes exist in the first place. What came before? What’s being published now?  Here’s your excuse to READ!!
  • Building a world means developing a culture people actually live in.  What do family systems and bond relationships look like in your world? The justice and legal system? The belief system(s), if any? Are any particular death rites observed? What are the culture’s prevailing sexual mores, and is there a price to be paid for flouting them? Does your world have its own history? Does it have unique geographic features? Do you need to {{shudder}} develop language? Which shall then be used {{shudder}} very, very sparingly? 

Dive deep. Create a vivid, fully-realized world for your characters to navigate.  

As a reader and a contest judge, nothing makes me bounce up and down in my tennies like a little girl than when world building is oh-so-casually, and oh-so-effectively, embedded in the prose. Here are a few examples: 

For the second time in her life, Kaderin the Coldhearted hesitated to kill a vampire. 

— Kresley Cole, “No Rest for the Wicked” (Immortals After Dark Book Two)

Look at what this sentence accomplishes in a mere fifteen words: it telegraphs, unmistakably, that this is a paranormal world. Is there a kick-ass heroine? Check – and this Valkyrie warrior even has a title – Kaderin the Coldhearted – which supplies characterization.  And…”For the second time in her life…” Might this be…backstory? Sneaky, subtle backstory? For the second time?  Kresley. Dude. What happened to Kaderin the first time? 

Are you as intrigued as I am? FYI, this is the first sentence of Chapter One,  and it’s sheer, bloody genius.  Is it any wonder that Kresley Cole is not only a multiple RITA finalist, but a NYT best-seller?

Another example of very effective early world building comes from Nalini Singh, whose Guild Hunter series features archangels, vampires and humans: 

When Elena told people she was a vampire hunter, their first reaction was an inevitable gasp, followed by, “You go around sticking those sharp stakes in their evil putrid hearts?”

Okay, maybe the actual words varied but the feel was the same. It made her want to track down and exterminate the idiot fifteenth-century storyteller who made up that tale in the first place.

— Nalini Singh, “Angels’ Blood” (Guild Hunters Book One)

What does Nalini accomplish with the first two paragraphs of her book? Paranormal? Check. Kick-ass heroine? Check. A tip-off that the typical vampire tropes don’t necessarily apply? Yup.  And notice her word choice. Readers should take a serious tone cue from the heroine’s use of the words ‘putrid’ and ‘exterminate’.  Singh’s Guild Hunter world is brutal and violent, but rendered using some of the most exquisite sensory language I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Why this NYT Best selling author hasn’t finaled in the RITA yet, much less won, is a mystery for the ages.

And finally, from our own Darynda Jones, who won the 2009 Paranormal Golden Heart for “First Grave On the Right” which was released to great acclaim (and yes, much tennie bouncing!) by St. Martin’s Press earlier this year: 

Better to see dead than be dead.

— Charlotte Jean Davidson, Grim Reaper

Clever, clever girl! This opening of Chapter One clearly establishes the genre, the book’s humorous, effervescent tone, and also provides essential characterization about the kick-ass heroine: namely, that Charlotte – Charley – is the Grim Reaper.   

So, paranormal readers and writers: what are your tips for breaking away from the paranormal pack? Any pleasures or pet peeves?  Do you have any questions for us? Let ‘er rip.

(Though I may have written the post, I think we can all tell who created the banner. WOW, is that gorgeous. Thanks, D!)  

75 responses to “Tips for Entering the Golden Heart: Paranormal”

  1. Excellent tips on world-building, Tammy. I think the key in making a paranormal world believable is to nut out all the details of that world, even if they don’t make it into the final draft.

    And, my, that’s a gorgeous banner, Ms D! Great job, Paranormal sisters!

    The paranormal market, from where I’m sitting, is still going strong–and that’s the way I like it! By the way, at Nationals, some editors mentioned they were weary of seeing vamp submissions, but they would still buy a vamp book if it absolutely sparkled. (Pardon the Twilight pun.)

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Morning, Vanessa! Hey, it’s always a good time for a Twilight pun!

      Yes, I heard the same thing you did about vamp submissions – agents and editors are getting a little jaded seeing the same ol, same ol. Great writing and a unique take on the trope will make a vamp manuscript…RESIST RESIST RESIST…okay, I can’t… sparkle like Edward Cullen in the sunshine. 😉

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      • Amanda Brice says:

        Take Kristen Painter. She finaled in the GH in 2005 and 2007, both times in Paranormal. Wrote for years, with a whole host of fantasy and paranormal creatures and themes.

        She finally sold to Orbit, and it was the only vampire book she’d ever written, despite the fact that vampire books were supposedly “over.” But it’s because it was a wildly unique take and the writing is fantastic. (If you haven’t read BLOOD RIGHTS, the first in her House of Comarre series, it was just released last week, and it ROCKS!)

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    • LOL on the Twilight pun!!! Hahaha. Thanks so much, Vanessa, and you are absolutely right on the sprinkling in tidbits of your world. Nothing is more annoying than having to read pages of text before anything happens just to try to understand the world a character lives in.

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  2. Amanda Brice says:

    GREAT tips, Tammy! This was awesome!!!!

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    • Wasn’t this great? Such a great writer, that Tammy.

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    • Tina Joyce says:

      Yep, this was wonderful. I loved seeing those first lines and the explanation of what they tell us about the main character! Good thing to keep in mind for my own writing.

      And I have to tell you, I couldn’t write a paranormal to save my life…but I LOVE reading them. So glad there are such talented writers in this genre–more for me to enjoy!

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  3. jbrayweber says:

    As someone who will someday write the paranormal series burning a hole into my brain, but only after my historical pirates release me, I find this post both refreshing and informative. I have my world built and now, with these tips, I’ll better be able to tell the stories. Thanks Tammy and all who contributed.

    Jenn!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Hey Jenn – I, for one, am glad you’re sticking with your historical pirates for awhile longer!

      Can I ask how you recorded the details of the paranormal world you built? I have a half-assed bible of sorts, and a Character spreadsheet, but I’m always looking for better ways to remember My Rules!!

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      • I have one of those too, Tammy-with pics. I’ve read someone kept their notes in expandable file with each section labeled. I guess we have to try all to know what works for us.

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    • I so very much understand this, Jenn! I have so many books floating around in so many genres. They are like Lays chips. lol

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  4. Greta says:

    Great post, Tammy!

    Are all of the finalists on call today? I’m wondering if any of/how many of these stories were written in the first person.

    Also … do you have a sense of how sf mss do in the GH? (=I mean mss with a strong science fiction component, rather than space opera or stories influenced by tv sf–and I say this as a lover of good space opera and a fan of B5, Firefly, etc.)

    Thanks. This is a brilliant idea for the blog. I am really enjoying the posts & comments.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Hi Greta! Though some of the 2009 GH Paranormal finalists are less active Ruby bloggers than others, those who can will stop in throughout the day as they’re able.

      My GH finalist, originally called UNDERBELLY but published by Sourcebooks under the title TASTE ME, was written in deep third person POV. (Other Rubies? Please weigh in!)

      Interestingly enough, when it finaled, UNDERBELLY had a rather strong science fiction component. My world, then and now, features multiple paranormal species whose ancestors were marooned on Earth when their spaceship crashed here thousands of years ago. The first trilogy of my series was acquired by Sourcebooks. The first book was renamed TASTE ME, with the world building remaining the same, but with the book significantly revised to focus more on Lukas and Scarlett’s romantic relationship and less on the SF plot shenanigans. My publisher is a romance publisher, so the romance has to be front and center.

      While I can’t speak to the success of science fiction romance mannuscripts in the GH – anyone else? – I know that author Susan Grant has done well in the RITA (2 noms, 1 win) with her science fiction romances CONTACT and MOONSTRUCK. Which I highly recommend.

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      • Greta says:

        Thanks! I’ll be interested to hear from any of the other Paranormal Rubies if they pop in.

        & congratulations on all those books!

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      • Hi Greta. Thanks for stopping by!

        My series is in first person and it won the GH. I was surprised because, well, it’s in first person. It has since sold to St. Martin’s and the first one came out in Feb, book 2 in Aug, book 3 Feb 2012, and they are doing really well.

        As for science fiction in the GH, I know that at least one of our finalist’s entry was SF (Sharon Fisher). Also, last year I know that AT LEAST 3 finaling entries were SF! I thought that was the coolest thing ever. Two were from a chapter mate of mine, Laurie Green. So they can do and have done well.

        Good luck! ~D~

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    • Three sci-fis were GH finalists in paranormal last year, Greta. Two were by the same author. Thus, I think I can say that they are making a place for themselves, and frankly, I’m thrilled. Not a paranormal fan as such, but I do love me some good Sci-fi!

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    • Hi, Greta –

      I don’t write paranormal, but I often judge it in contests, and I’d have to say it’s rare to see first person POV (in the ones I’ve judged). Personally, I don’t care for first person, but it doesn’t effect how I judge.

      As for sci-fi, I haven’t read many in contests (maybe a couple). Would be great to see more. Seems like, largely, it’s an untapped area.

      Best of luck!

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  5. Kat Cantrell says:

    Hi Ladies! I’m waffling on entering my SFR because well, I’m up against all the other genres you mention. I was so encouraged when three SFR manuscripts finaled last year…but the competition is just…wow. One big hangup I have is that my h and H don’t meet until page 50. How stupid is that for a GH entry? Would I be better off in the Romantic Elements category?

    Thanks for the great tips!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Hey Kat…don’t tell anyone, but in my paranormal GH finalist, which was published under the title TASTE ME, the hero and heroine don’t actually share a scene until Chapter 6!! (The rules can sometimes be broken, if it serves the story.) Conversely, my editor and I are, as we speak, trying to brainstorm ways to bring the hero of my second book, CHASE ME, into the story before Chapter 2. Go figure.

      You might want to assess your story’s balance of SF plot to romance. If it’s more SF than romance, Romantic Elements might be a good place for it. But bottom line, the Golden Heart is a romance writing contest, and the agents and editors serving as final round judges represent and acquire romance.

      My GH finalist was about an equal mix of SF to romance, and I…took a deep breath and decided that I had to see how my manuscript stacked up against my competition, the strongest unpublished paranormal romances out there, come what may. I needed to know where I stood, because the competition only gets tougher from here.

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      • Kat Cantrell says:

        What an excellent point (about the competition in the market). Honestly, I feel like the manuscript is romance with SF elements. Maybe I can cut the first fifty pages and start when they meet, but there is a good chunk of ordinary world and inciting incident stuff that happens prior to…so maybe I can cut half? I’m thinking about it now, which is good, so thanks for the advice!

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    • Hey Kat! Don’t want to worry you, but the competition is always going to be WOW! Yes, in all caps. LOL. Your story sounds great!!! I say go for it. You never know until you try.

      I have to admit, I never in a million years expected to final with my entry, First Grave on the Right. It broke too many rules. I only entered the GH to force myself to finish the darned thing. So when it finaled, no one was more stunned than I.

      You just never know. Especially if you don’t try! Go Kat!

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  6. Elisa Beatty says:

    Fabulous post, Tammy et al!! As a Regency writer, I sometimes think, “Wouldn’t it be sooo much easier to just make up my own world and society like paranormal authors can instead of having to spend eighteen hours ferreting out some tiny detail about the social etiquette of tea-pouring”…..but you’re reminding me here that your jjob is equally as hard or harder in a different way.

    Hats off to you!!

    (And your points about how to communicate something of meaning in a first line are definitely applicable to all of us!!)

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      OMG if you only knew how long I spent crafting my species’ strengths and weaknesses so they’d exacerbate romantic conflict! I think I spent 9 months world building before writing much of anything on my GH manuscript. Yup, I was thinking ‘series’ right out of the gate, before even trying to write word one. Nothing like having small, achievable goals. 😉 What was I thinking!

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    • Greta says:

      Elisa, this made me laugh. Whenever I’m working on one kind of story I think, oh would be so much easier if I were doing that _other_ kind!

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    • I think you definitely have a point, Elisa. At least our worlds are our own. We only get in trouble with readers when we break our own rules. I was once dinged on an entry for my first ms, a Regency-set historical, because I had my heroine use a certain coin (maybe a sovereign?). The judge jumped all over me because in 1915, that coin was not minted until two months AFTER my story took place. She was appalled.

      Yeah, I like my paranormal world. Hahaha. Though, like Tammy said, it does take quite a while to figure out all the deets and then you have to remember them! You don’t know how many times I have to go back to book one or book two to figure out one little detail. Sigh…

      I need a database. 🙂

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      • Sally Eggert says:

        Two months?! Wow, that’s intense. I hate to think what that judge would have thought of my first ms, a historical based on one aspect of women’s legal history that I studied in law school, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I kind of just made up. 😛 Still in drawer, needless to say.

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  7. The most recent RWR shows the rules and regs for the ’12 Golden Heart, and I was disappointed to see that the categories haven’t changed.

    I finaled in it (and am glad I did!), but I do not understand why series romantic suspense/adventure gets its own category while “paranormal” is forced to encompass so much. Likewise with Regency, although at least with that one, people actually enter it in large numbers. The low entry stats of that series romantic suspense category would seem to make RWA think that it’s no longer necessary.

    It’s just math, and the math doesn’t add up.

    Also, every other sub-genre author (like paranormal, historical, inspirational, NASCAR) writing category-length work has to make that difficult choice between placing her manuscript with the longer books in her sub-genre or into the general “category” category. Why shouldn’t the series RS authors have to make that choice, too?

    But I was thinking that maybe it is kept in place because of the Ritas. The categories for one match the other, and maybe the entry numbers of the Ritas warrant a separate category for series RS. I have no idea, but there must be a reason. I actually DO think RWA examines these things very closely and makes no move that isn’t carefully considered, even if I don’t always agree with the outcome. I’m funny like that.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Hi Jamie – I waffle back and forth on the categories thing. On one hand, I wish there was a seemingly more logical breakdown in the categorization. On the other hand, I have no alternate proposal to suggest. It’s a puzzlement.

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    • The same thing happened to me with the RITAs, Jamie. There is paranormal which specifically states it must fit the criteria of romance, or SRE, which does not. So, okay, mine is a series and is borderline urban fantasy. It does not fit the “romance” criteria 100%, so I just stick it in strong romantic elements, right?

      On the loops last year, I remember post after post of writers who had signed up to judge SRE and were complaining at all the paranormal entries they got. They did not consider SRE to be an appropriate place for paranormal entries. Yet where else is it supposed to go??? And just think about all the judges who didn’t write in with their complaints. Some very savvy authors explained to these judges that, yes, paranormal should be in SRE because of the romance element, but I can almost bet you the scores were lower. These women were complaining because they did not like paranormal, which was why they signed up to judge SRE in the first place.

      So, to me, the RITAs need a bit of a revamp as well. I went ahead and entered the SRE category, knowing the odds, because from what I could tell, paranormal entries have finaled, but sadly, not a single paranormal title has ever won that category. I figure my odds were the same either way.

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      • Tamara Hogan says:

        My book is marketed as an urban fantasy romance, so I entered in the paranormal category. (adding…In my series, the overall plot/mystery arc will be resolved over multiple books, but each book resolves a smaller piece ofthe puzzle and provides a happily ever after for one couple.)

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      • Rita Henuber says:

        Perhaps this would make a good blog topic in early January. A reminder to judges. Many of the comments in the RS post were feeling the same way. They have no option but to enter SRE.

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        • This would make a fantastic post!

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        • Darynda, First Grave didn’t have an HEA, right? You’re going to stretch the resolution out over the course of the series, and it’s perfectly appropriate for your story. You’re crafting the sort of delicious emotional and sexual tension that readers expect from a series featuring the same protagonists in each novel. It’s still romantic fiction, in my opinion. But maybe it’s not a classic “romance.”

          And I wonder if we’re asking the Ritas to be something they aren’t designed to be. Right now, the definitions leave out a large chunk of single-title novels that most of us would consider “romances,” simply because those HEAs aren’t taking place in every book.

          Maybe we need to tweak the definitions to accommodate authors with series that will culminate in an HEA, but whose individual books in that series don’t.

          Interestingly, it seems to me that lots of RS authors enter their non-HEA novels into the RS category of the Ritas and do just fine. The JD Robb we were given last year (“Hot Rocks,” I think?) wasn’t a romance to me (they were already together, no romantic tension, no romance at all), but isn’t the most recent Eve/Rourke novel entered into the RS category of the Ritas each year? And doesn’t it usually final? I don’t read them, but unless there are new protags introduced with their own romantic arcs each novel, I don’t see how these books are romances. (Is she a special case? Am I betraying my newbie roots here?)

          A book doesn’t have to be a romance to be awesome! But the Ritas are all about recognizing the best in romance, and if we’re writing books that aren’t romances per the current definition, then it seems that we either need to discuss changing the definition or target our books to other contests.

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          • I agree, and I had a really hard time deciding where to put mine. I didn’t even think about JD Robb’s. You are right. She finals in RS. Interesting. I kind of regret not biting the bullet and just entering mine in paranormal regardless. Oh well. Live and learn.

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          • Tamara Hogan says:

            I think JD Robb is expanding the definition of the genre by exploring how a couple’s committed relationship evolves over time, AFTER the HEA. That’s a tall order.

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          • This might be one of those generational issues, like we were discussing yesterday re: 1st person POV vs. 3rd.

            Maybe over time, as new readers come into the fold, the collective expectations for “romance” will shift to include HEA-for-now or HEA-maybe-in-the-next-book.

            After all, I love TV shows like “Castle” where there’s an unrequited love story alongside the main plot of each episode. And “Alias!” Be still my pitter-pattering heart. If the five-season arc of Alias wasn’t a romance, then I don’t know what is.

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          • Oh my gosh, I love Castle!!! And I have yet to see Alias. I’m just going to have to buy the seasons. Everyone raves about it.

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  8. Jody Wallace says:

    Another trick with the worldbuilding on steroids is to make sure it’s not accompanied by infodumps on steroid :). I’ve judged the para entries in contests for 12 years now, and I often see that happen.

    Good luck to everyone pitching a manuscript in the ring!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Hi Jody – Yes, subtlety is so, so important, isn’t it? No one wants to be banged over the head with world building.

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    • Not to mention the fact that when it is sprinkled throughout the text and inserted when it is NEEDED, it is more meaningful, makes more sense to the reader, and sticks with her longer.

      Thanks for stopping by, Jody!

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    • Jody, as a judge, I totally agree with you. Info dumps in the opening pages slow down the pace. In my mss, I tend to drip-feed/lightly sprinkle details as the story progresses, or even just let the reader figure things out for themselves sometimes. And that’s where I run into trouble with contests. As an entrant, I’ve received feedback saying I don’t have enough world-building. I’m learning that you have to choose your contests wisely. The great thing about the GH is that I can enter far more pages and a full synopsis, not just, say, the first chapter.

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  9. Sally Eggert says:

    FANTASTIC post, you guys!! As I told our YA-writing sisters yesterday, my next ms will be my first attempt at both YA and Fantasy, and it is so, so helpful to have all this stuff explained and illustrated so clearly. Thank you! So glad I got to read this while I’m still in the planning stages!

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    • Oh yay, Sally, and good luck! So glad you got to read Tammy’s post now, while still in the planning stages. Such awesome advice!

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    • How fun to try something new, Sally! Good luck! (I’ve got a contemporary single title started, but I keep going back to work on my RS manuscripts. Someday, though…)

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      • Sally Eggert says:

        I’ve been having trouble choosing between a couple of very different ideas that are nothing like each other or my past mss, and the YA Fantasy just won out, I think. That’s cool that you have a contemporary single title in the works! Sometimes I think it can be refreshing to try something new between working on honing what you know best. Have fun with it!

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  10. liz talley says:

    Love the post, paranormal Rubies! I’ve never written anything remotely paranormal. I once had an idea but it would be much more in the vein of Mary Janice Davidson (Gosh, I think that’s her name) with a more chick-lit, funny style. Think that’s why I like Darynda’s because even though she has plenty of darkness, she often allows her heroine to approach it with humor.

    I’m just not a dark angel, incubus, werewolf kind of reader, but I so admire the genre because it builds such tremendous devotion in its fans. You don’t really see that in Superromance. LOL. Good luck to everyone entering this diverse category.

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    • LOL, but I think that Superromances as a whole have a wonderful following! You are in good company! And I do like me some humor. I was scared to death while even considering trying to “write funny.” I’ve never considered myself particularly funny. But I’ve never been particularly dark either, except for those awkward teenage punk days. hahaha. Your books are so fun and so sexy, I think you’d be great at anything!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      As a writer, home base is dark, edgy and angsty – I don’t think I could write straight contemporary or something light to save my life – but as a reader, I LOVE reading contemporaries, Supers, I’m a longtime Blaze subscriber, and right now I’m gorging on Anna Campbell’s historicals. There’s so much good stuff out there!

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  11. I adore world building—setting the rules, deciding the societal mores, introducing elements unique to the people and places of said world (Can you tell I’m a bit of a control freak?)—but don’t enjoy trying to set it all down in bites. I find it taxing. I want to review the rules, THEN play the game. Makes sense to me, but instead, we must start the game and teach the reader the rules as play progresses.

    Even now, I’m info-dumping a prequel for my historical series. No one will ever see it as it’s currently written, but I required the deeper understanding it insures. Once I have all the puzzle pieces where I can see them, I’ll be writing a more reader amenable version which will, in turn, be distilled into a prologue to tie the three books together.

    My mind is a quagmire. Bringing order to chaos is no small feat.

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    • You know what this reminded me of? When I was at an ASL conference type thing called Silent Week. (You couldn’t talk all week. Had to sign everything.)

      Anyway, they were talking about the difference between hearing and Deaf cultures in how they play games. In hearing culture, we review the rules, then play the game. In Deaf, it is just the opposite. They give you a couple of tips then dive in. The rules are revealed as the game is being played.

      IDK why, your post just reminded me of that, of how much our cultures dictate our ideas and how we relay information. So interesting.

      And I think a lot of writers do what you are doing with your prequel. They have to really understand their characters and their world before they even begin. Dare I say it’s kind of like plotting? NO! No, you’re right. I won’t go there. lol

      And clearly our minds are more alike than we knew! I love that, quagmire. I am so there. It’s like trying to herd cats.

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      • <>

        This always leaves me feeling adrift, yet experience is the best teacher, isn’t it? Sometimes trial and error is much more effective than reading the rule book—the lessons stick better.

        I gotta tell you, the first two books for which I’m writing this prequel are written. They need a little tweaking, but something a contest judge said made me realize, without a prologue, there is no way for the reader to know the instigating factor for the stories since even the characters don’t know until the third book. DUH.

        Writing the prequel is Laurie’s idea—way too much info for a simple prologue, but necessary to build one well. I’ll be posting it (if I’m ever satisfied with the tone) to my web site. Think medieval historical with a healthy dose of magic.

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        • Rita Henuber says:

          I write a synopsis loaded with back story. Only a few sentences of the back story will make it into the book.

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          • Good to know, Rita. I sometimes feel I’m alone in my labyrinthine process. *G*

            I guess I could say my stories are like granny squares; you can use them as a potholder or bib, if you choose, but to cover any territory, you have to stitch them together!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> I’m info-dumping a prequel for my historical series. No one will ever see it as it’s currently written, but I required the deeper understanding it insures.

      This seems very logical and productive to me. I write and throw away all sorts of pages because I need to work out IN WRITING what I’m going to write, if that makes sense.

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      • It does. Getting it down on the page brings order, lays things out so you can fiddle with them. Other than that, they ricochet around in your mind, knocking into each other like atoms in a fusion chamber, changing, morphing, but never holding still long enough to allow you to grasp what they’ve become.

        Oh, yeah. It makes TONS of sense.

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  12. Excellent discussion, ladies. I had every intention of entering my Victorian paranormal mystery/romance in the SRE category this year because of the strong who-done-it thread, but now I’m not so sure. If the premise is Sherlock Holmes/X Men with a female protagonist, hunky inspector, and supernatural villain and the tone is historical . . . where does it fit? (Who will I least offend with the kitchen-sink mix, I guess. LOL)

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    • I’d go Paranormal, but you’ll hear other opinions, I think. It sounds like Amanda Quick’s novels, no? Maybe with a much stronger paranormal vibe, what with the X-Men quotient.

      Do you get your H/h together quickly and establish romantic tension? That’d help…

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      • Oh, Leslie, the story sounds fabulous!

        I agree with Jamie – for me the first question would be how quickly does the reader have a hint of the building romance? If you have enough romance in the opening pages, I would suggest paranormal.

        I’ve judged paranormal and historicals, and while I think I’d be surprised to get a paranormal mixed into the historical pile, I wouldn’t be as surprised to get a historical mixed into my paranormal stack (as long as the paranormal element is clear in those 50 pages). Does that make sense?

        And by surprised, I mean that it isn’t typically seen in the entries I’ve been given in the past. I would hope I’d be the kind of judge who would still score fairly, but it might influence some judges out there. Just sayin’.

        As for SRE, I’ve only judged it once (they’re not my cup of tea, typically), and I would expect the entries to be mostly women’s fiction type manuscripts.

        Again, this is all from my personal judging experience, so take it with a grain of salt. 😉

        Whichever you pick, good luck, Leslie!

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        • Amanda Brice says:

          I usually judge SRE in the GH (although sometimes I’ll judge a different category in a different contest) and to be honest, I’ve only gotten a very few women’s fiction type mss. That category is nothing if not BROAD, and it encompasses chick lit, WF, cozies, thrillers, RS (where the romance is less central), historicals (where the romance is less central or the focus is more squarely on either the hero or the heroine than on a couple — think THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL)…really anything where the romance is important to the story, but is not the plot.

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          • Amanda Brice says:

            Ooops, hit REPLY too quickly. I meant to say I’ve seen many paranormals in SRE.

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          • Sally Eggert says:

            Okay, this is making me realize that my latest (creepy gothic love story) is not SRE after all. I’ve been thinking of it that way because it has some elements that are not usually found in romance, but the love story really is at the center of the plot. Hmmm… Rethinking contest category.

            Thanks for that explanation of SRE, Amanda! That really cleared something up for me.

            And Leslie, this story sounds great!

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    • Amanda Brice says:

      Not sure where it would fit, but I definitely want to read it!

      But I agree with Jamie and Anne that I’d pick Paranormal over Historical (I’ve judged some historicals in the paranormal category, but i’ve never read a paranormal in the historical category), but whether it should be SRE or Paranormal would depend on how central the love story is, as well as when in the entry the H/h meet.

      Good luck!

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    • This sounds amazing, Leslie!!! I agree with others. I am thinking paranormal. What a wonderful blend! Mine is similar. Has a little of everything. 🙂

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  13. Elisa Beatty says:

    I don’t think I mentioned how much I love that banner, Darynda!! The spiders are the best!

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  14. […] BRILLIANT post today on the elements of a great paranormal GH entry at www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com […]

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