The 15 Rules to Writing Young Adult Paranormal/Urban Fantasy
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  • Posted:
  • May 13, 2011


While I freely admit that I love all these Young Adult Paranormal/Urban Fantasy it does get a bit formulaic… and I have figured out the formula. Below are the exact steps it takes to write a bestselling YAPUF. So, without further adieu, stop me if you have heard this one before.

1. Introduce Protagonist. Imbue character with a complicated mix of sense, style, and humour; just enough so that the reader can identify. We always need the “That is so me!” everyday hero/heroine. Let’s face it, nine times out of ten it’s a heroine.

2. Define setting, usually in the form of a “normal” high school in a relatively “normal” place; unless said “normal” place is in the south, New England, the mountains, the desert, the forests, or coastal. These so-called “normal places” are perfect settings for paranormal activity, rife with allure for the preternatural.

3. Establish the circle of friends – because every Protagonist needs complications, and comedic effect. Best friends are a sneaky literary trick to throw in everything the Protagonist wants to say but is too sensible/shy/aloof to be able to phrase. Number of friends can be as many or as few as you want to be able to expand upon the main character‘s strengths and weaknesses… also, one should be an attractive opposite sex type to imply the sexual tension/frustration/unrequited love aspect that will become necessary later in the plotting.

Note: This rule can be obliterated/lessened if the main character is an outcast.

4. Enter the Object of Desire. On the edge of the friends periphery there is always the shining one, the token object of real desire who sits across the classroom or lunchroom/passes across the hall with a group of local gods (likely football heroes and the populazzi). But luckily though the majority of the shining ones are halfwits and Neanderthals said OOD is sensitive… and caring… and treats all people as worthy human beings no matter what their social standing in the high school caste system is.

Note: This rule can be obliterated/lessened if the OOD is an outcast. Then he (it’s always a he) is dangerous… and sexy…And everyone really wants him. Even the boys.

5. Plan a party/event, because every stressed out/repressed teenager needs to let go, particularly the Protagonist. The party can happen anywhere from 35 – 100 pages in the story but it is crucial to have this because the Protagonist needs to have a few downtime moments of “normalcy” before the conflict is hammered down. During this party it is necessary to place a few moments of flirtatious exchanges with a local hottie (possibly pre-established in the friends circle rule) to heighten the relationship dramas.

6. Enter conflict – something is going down in the town and the Protagonist is going to get to the bottom of it whether it’s the last thing they do. Because someone was murdered, injured, or disappeared from the party, and while that was going on the main character experienced a moment of enhanced strength, charged emotions, or a debilitating surge of lighting and pyrotechnics that nearly took out a circle of trees on the edge of the property; likely in front of a love interest, isolated from the others… and the love interest may or may not be acting a fool at the time…and may or may not be the main OOD.

Note: This element can be introduced earlier in the story to give the character plenty of time to muse as to what the hell is going on. This reworking allows the writer to give the character plenty of depth. And internal monologues.

Note: In adult Paranormal/Urban Fantasy books the conflict is almost always a group/corporation/exceedingly rich person of sorts. The situation presented here always seems insurmountable or hopeless, but a determined Protagonist never gives up.

7. Build up and reveal – After internal monologues a’plenty the character finally discovers what is up with them. They have inherited some weird supernatural quirk/ability/prophecy that allows them to perform magic/change shape/kick paranormal ass. They must learn to use this ability for good, because there is a group of baddies around doing (insert conflict here) and Protagonist is the only thing that will be able to stop them.

Note: If there is a Master/teacher/Mr. Miyagi character to introduce it may be done here as the person delivering the reveal. It may possibly be someone the Protagonist saw doing something dodgy at an earlier point in the book.

8. Train like there’s no tomorrow, because every reader needs to have Eye of the Tiger running through their brain at some point in the book. Also, try to hide how wonderful you are from everyone, even though a love interest or OOD might have caught on. After a period of not catching on the character suddenly has everything clarified in one intense supernatural moment. Ensue self-confidence.

9. First mission gets effed up through over-confident negligence. Retrain like the devil after an appropriate amount of self-deprecating dialogues and ego-boosting from someone on the in, like another paranormalist…or Mr. Miyagi/teacher…Or the OOD, but not about the paranomalcies.

10. Intersperse supernatural fight/chase scenes with character building moments, specifically within the OOD realm. Because as a writer you have to remind your reader that the main character is human too. Unless she’s not (it’s always a her). Maybe a low-key date is in order; like an ice cream parlour, a casual diner, a park, or a walk on the boardwalk.

11. …Which is the perfect place for another supernatural attack, and also the perfect time to prove to the OOD how desirable you should be to him/her. (It’s always a him). During this scene you need to drop some evidence to make the Protagonist changes his/her investigative tricks. (It’s always a her).

Note: The first kiss with the OOD maybe happen anywhere in rule 10, 11, or 12. But it’s usually best between 10 and 11, because the baddie attack makes a great punctuation mark (or interruption) for it.

12. Reintroduce character dynamics. Make main Protagonist rethink/question loyalties/suspects. Generally throw a monkey wrench into whatever direction the Protagonist was heading. Character must be completely widdershins from where they were before. Also, if there is to be a second love interest this is where they will reveal themselves, much to the Protagonist’s disgust/dismay/annoyance/regret. A big dramatic Declaration of Love scene will usually occur, possibly punctuated with “you’re making a mistake choosing him over me ” (it’s always a him) or “I will make you see me” (it’s always a him) or some such drivel. It should be raining. Or foggy. Or misty. Or lightning. Or thundering. Some inclement weather must be apparent.

13. Someone important must die/get injured, whether it’s a friend, a love interest, or Mr. Miyagi. Someone must be harmed in order to make the Protagonist angry and vow to take down the baddie. There needs to be a vengeance element introduced here or the dynamics won’t work later. If there is a mystery surrounding the baddie’s identity this is where it will be revealed, and not usually who the Protagonist thought it was up to this point.

14. Isolate and defeat the book baddie, usually in a very over wrought, dramatic way; in a warehouse, or a mountain top, or a beach front, or a volcano top (damn tops!)… somewhere where the outer elements can be used at the Protagonist’s disposal. Before the climatic end the Protagonist has to discover that there is something bigger going on, usually while the baddie lies in anguish dying. Generally the OOD is present and possibly someone else, an unnecessary friend (who might have talked once to the Protagonist) or the teacher. If the death scene did not happen in rule 13 it will happen here, but it will be the less crucial one.. Not the OOD. And possibly as the baddie dies.

Note: The unnecessary friend may also be someone who the Protagonist previously rescued from harm, but is almost always someone minimal. The Protagonist will take the death personally, accept responsibility, and vow to avenge… despite barely knowing said person.

15. It’s the end, but it’s not. Things are resolved, but not at all. Give just enough resolve to not tie up anything and make the readers want more. Doing this allows for a more complete exploration of the characters, the conflict, and the drama… in a sequel! Possibly the second of a trilogy, because everything is a trilogy now. (By the by, F*!K trilogies!)

Doing these things in this order will ensure that millions of potential readers will, in no doubt, gobble up your books like the slathering horde of sheep we are. Good luck, and bestseller status to you all!

– BP

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