My top two tips for genre writing apply to both paranormal and historical writing, I think, and truthfully I suspect they’d apply to science fiction and fantasy too.
1. Make your setting specific. Transport your reader there. Whether your book takes place in a world where magic exists or a hundred years in the past, we want to feel like we’re right there alongside the main character. What does her house look like – and better yet, what does it smell like? What does she hear on the street outside? The young writers I work with (ages 8-11) often forget to include other senses besides sight, but they can help bring your world more fully alive. One of my favorite notes from my editor was that she wanted me to “ruffle my corsets” more, i.e. add more description about the world of the Cahill sisters. I did loads of research into the late Victorian era to find out what the dresses looked like, what the interior design was like, and what technology existed at that time. Since Cate’s a passionate gardener, I also did lots of research into different flowers and plants. Even though it’s an alternate history where witches first settled New England and the country is now ruled by a group of patriarchal priests, I wanted readers to feel transported back to 1896, to get caught up in the sensuousness of a time of candles and carriages and corsets.
2. Make sure your main character’s emotional wants and fears are relatable. No matter whether she’s a girl who lived during the Renaissance or a fairy queen, she’s probably got the same things driving her as you or I. The exterior plot may be different – for instance, Cate’s a witch who’s promised her mother that she’ll keep her magic and that of her sisters a secret. If the Brotherhood finds out they’re witches, they could be sentenced to a prison ship or an insane asylum – or worse. That probably isn’t a predicament that you or I have ever faced. But on the emotional level, Cate is worried that she isn’t enough. She’s been trying to mother and protect her sisters since she was twelve. She knows she can’t replace their mother; she knows sometimes she goes about it all wrong. I think we can probably all relate to feeling that way sometimes. She’s also feeling very torn about her future. Should she marry for security, to the friend she’s grown up with but who would take her away from her sisters? Should she marry for love, even if it means turning the Brothers’ attention toward her? Or should she embrace her magic and try to help other girls like her, even if it means casting her lot with some unscrupulous people she doesn’t trust? Everyone is telling her what she should do, which she finds incredibly frustrating. Again, I think (hope?) a lot of modern girls can relate, even if we aren’t (thankfully) forced to choose husbands by age 17.
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