The following article first appeared in RWAA/NYC’s April Keynotes (2014), and was posted on RWA/NYC’s Blog.
Dear Ms. Mac Perry,
Thank you for your submission. I read your manuscript, and then showed it to a friend better versed in this genre. He informed me paranormal is a bit “too long in tooth for any meaningful new entrant,” at the moment. Best of luck to you in your endeavors.
Mr. Agent Man
Long in tooth? Is he delving out fang humor as he rejects me? Oh, ho, ho, ho. I beg to differ mister big, scary, unattainable-and-highly-coveted Agent Man. As long as there is sex, there’ll be Bad Boys. And long as there are Bad Boys, there’ll be vampires, shape shifters, fairies, and the like. Maybe it will go underground, but cult fans are loyal fans, and eventually dominate popular culture again–once the hungry masses crave something “fresh” again.
Small Town Romance and New Adult are the way to go, huh? Did small towns suddenly appear? Have women previously skipped ages eighteen to twenty five, until big publishing decided to slap a label on those formative years?
Dare I point out, the only reason the label exists is because TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER fans have gone and grown up. And have you ever seen a Small Town Romance gain the kind of following either of those two franchises command? Not to mention Paranormal’s siblings, Fantasy and Science Fiction. Did you know yet another Star Wars movie is in production? Never mind Star Trek’s recent and successful resurrection. No. Paranormal is here to stay, and I’ll tell you why.
Sex is libido, our primary motivating source of energy. Libido comes from your unconscious impulses, your instinctual bodily awareness. A Bad Boy is a symbol, or what Carl Jung would call, an “archetype,” of unfulfilled erotic desire. He’s “bad” because he cannot be obtained (or integrated). He represents the unknowable or repressed parts of ourselves, which we have repressed for one various reasons, also known as, “the Shadow Self.”
But certainly, unattainability doesn’t stop us from wanting our Bad Boy. Fantasizing about him. Creating him over and over again in various forms, such as vampires and inter-galactic species. In fact, archetypes were discovered through a story of unrequited longing. Carl Jung first discovered the collective unconscious and archetypes when examining the fantasies of Miss Frank Miller– a single woman in love with a man, but unable to act upon her erotic interest. Jung researched myths, fairy tales, and religious motifs from remote corners of the world, to interpret Miss Miller’s images. He found striking parallels and determined it evidence of the collective unconscious, which influences all of us through archetypes and instincts.
Archetypes and instincts exist within every human being, from the moment of birth, connecting us all through the collective unconscious–best accessed through dreams and meditative states. Your waking mind struggles “against being swallowed up by primitivity and unconscious instinctuality” on the one hand, but also “resists complete possession of spiritual forces,” on the other. But when they are coordinated, the archetype provides meaning to the instinct, and instinct provides the raw physical energy necessary for archetypes to help man realize his spiritual goals. As a writer and storyteller, this would translate into https://www.blogger.com/nullfulfilling the “promise of the premise” of your story (to learn more, read Blake Snyder’s, SAVE THE CAT).
Joseph Campbell hopped on this gravy train and took it one step further in his book, THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, which examines archetypes cross-culturally and illuminates The Hero’s Journey. Christopher Vogler, in his infinite wisdom, reduced and simplified Campbell’s theories in his book, THE WRITER’S JOURNEY: MYTHIC STRUCTURE FOR STORYTELLERS AND SCREENWRITERS, so we plebs could understand what Campbell was talking about without referencing the dictionary every other word.
Vogler provides a cheat sheet for essential archetypal roles:
- Trickster-Embodies mischief and desire
- Ally- Companionship, conscience, or comic relief
- Shadow-The unexpected, unexpressed, and rejected aspects of ourselves
- Shape shifter-Brings doubt and suspense to the story, embodies ambiguity
- Herald-Issues a challenge and announces the coming of significant change
- Threshold Guardian- A lesser thug, represents our everyday fears
- Mentor-Represents the higher self, teaches and gives gifts
- Hero-Represents the ego’s search for identity and wholeness
According to Cowden, LaFever, & Viders, authors of, THE COMPLETE WRITER’S GUIDE TO HEROES & HEROINES: SIXTEEN MASTER ARCHETYPES, there are three types of commonly understood characters or archetypes: core, evolving, and layered. The core character thinks and acts consistently to the very end. The evolving character starts as one archetype and evolves into another. And the layered character has a single archetypal core at his emotional base, but is layered with attributes from other archetypes.
Let’s take GONE WITH THE WIND, for a romantic example. Rhett Butler is a layered archetype, a Chief to the world, but a Bad Boy at his core. Scarlett O’Hara is a Seductress at her core. A Chief and Seductress are both strong and stubborn and struggle for power. He takes control, while she seduces it back. However, they both admire each other’s focus, are good in a crisis, and know how to negotiate. Their character’s grow and change when the Seductress surprises the Chief in showing him he can be wrong and still powerful. In the Chief, the Seductress has finally met a man who sees her for who she is, and is free to be herself without fear of abandonment.
Bear with me, I’m going to get existential on you; Paranormal, Fantasy, and Science Fiction are all genres that represent archetypes in their purest form. Super-human characters with magical powers are a distortion from physical reality, and are thus flexible in their representation, allowing us to project onto them our own personal experiences. Why is that important? Because if you can more easily project your own personal experiences onto an imaginary character, that character becomes more meaningful to you than another character confined by the trappings of a more “realistic” representation.
For example, “Oh, I can’t watch that show. The bossy character reminds me too much of my supervisor. ” So the viewer refuses to engage with the character, and loses out on what he might gain from exploring what that character might teach him, or the catharsis of watching a bossy character get his comeuppance (and all storytelling is about vicarious learning and catharsis, right?). But if similar archetypal traits were represented by, say, a vampire, than perhaps the viewer might be more willing to engage, because it is enough outside his reality so that he is able to escape into the story.
Star Wars, Star Trek , and anything vampire continue to be popular, because they represent a time and place that has never been grounded in real experience, and appeal to the bad boy archetype in all of us . Thus, we can continue to project our collectively unconscious fantasies upon the characters, unfettered, from the 1970’s all the way up to 2014. That equals popularity, longevity, and (say it with me) money! I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be rolling in it.
So, here is what I have to say to all the naysayers of the Paranormal genre:
Dear Mr. Agent Man,
Thank you for your prompt response, as well as your willingness to review my manuscript. I truly appreciate your time and effort in reviewing my work, and I look forward to proving your friend wrong about the size and length of my bite.