The Crucible of Creation by Jennifer Carole Lewis
Building a custom world where gods and monsters roam can be both exhilarating and inspiring. It’s thrilling to let all the everyday rules fall to the wayside and entertain all kinds of possibilities. But playing God means paying attention to the details, lest they trip you up as an author and drive your readers to worship at different altars.
Today’s audience demands a great deal of sophistication from authors of the paranormal and speculative fiction. They’re no longer satisfied with hand-waving “and then magic happened” as an explanation. So how can an author be consistent within his or her self-imposed rules without tripping themselves up later on, particularly when writing a series?
The key is to approach the fantastic with a scientist’s eye, making sure that you understand the rules and can apply them consistently. When I submitted my first manuscript, one of the most devastating criticisms was that my characters’ powers were inconsistent, changing to fit the needs of my narrative rather than driving the story. So I sat back down and started over, asking myself the hard questions.
Let’s say a character has enhanced strength. What would be the actual measurements? In Captain America: Civil War, the good Captain prevents a helicopter from taking off with his bare hands. Since the helicopter can lift 3000 pounds, Rogers must be exerting more than that, making his strength 10 times more than even the strongest of humans. Which also means that he must be restraining himself in just about every fight, since his fists would easily be able to shatter a person’s skull with a single punch.
There are a lot of questions to answer once reality becomes just another option. Does your character shoot fire or energy from their fingers or eyes (or other body parts, whatever works for the story)? Where is the energy generated? Is it something internal to them or something they draw on? How far do the flames actually reach? What temperature are they? Let’s say a character can melt metal. A comparable real-world analogue would be a welder’s torch, which is around 3500 degrees centigrade. That’s enough to combust just about anything the character touches and could potentially cause a lot of collateral damage.
Finding the questions to ask can sometimes be tedious, but sometimes it can also open your eyes to possibilities you might not have imagined. In my college years, I wrote a short fan-fiction story where a character discovered her skin was invulnerable because she was trying to get a drunken tattoo. Sharing her increasing frustration and confusion was a lot of fun, not to mention the perplexed reaction of the tattoo artist as his needles broke and the ink smeared. That humorous incident quickly developed into something more serious as she explored her abilities and eventually used them to protect her friends from a campus shooter.
Readers don’t need to know all the details of how things work, but doing the homework to ensure consistency can be an invaluable tool for a writer, adding weight to the fantastical. These days I tend to work backwards from my central crisis to figure out the limits. If I know I want a shape-shifting character to be able transform in a heartbeat, then I can’t have her struggling to shift at another time without a compelling underlying reason. If it’s important that a villain take two or three minutes to use his mesmerizing abilities to take over a person’s mind, then I need to describe and emphasize the challenges before we get to the confrontation with my heroes.
Playing with the laws of reality and walking with gods and monsters is what makes any speculative genre fiction satisfying for both readers and writers. It opens up the mind to look beyond what we know, or what we think we know, and pushes us beyond our comfort zones. It gives us the hope that anything is possible: that rings can be magic, heroes can leap over buildings and that true love is only a first kiss away.
About the Author
Jennifer Carole Lewis is a full-time mom, a full-time administrator and a full-time writer of paranormal romance, which means she is very much interested in speaking to anyone who comes up with any form of functional time-travel devices or practical cloning methods. Meanwhile, she spends her most of her time alternating between organizing and typing.
She is a member of the Ottawa Romance Writers’ Association and the Romance Writers of America. Without them, she would still be dreaming about being a writer rather than sharing her books with readers. She believes in conspiracy theories and happily-ever-afters, which makes for some interesting dinner time conversations.
She is a devoted comic book geek and Marvel movie enthusiast. She spends far too much of her precious free time watching TV, especially police procedural dramas. Her enthusiasm outstrips her talent in karaoke, cross-stitch and jigsaw puzzles. She is a voracious reader of a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction and always enjoys seeking out new suggestions.
For more information about her lalassu series, you can go to www.jclewis.ca or find Jennifer on Facebook or Goodreads. You can also follow her on Twitter at @jclewisupdate or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.