Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Strange and Unusual

Among the many writing tips I’ve come across, one that has stuck in my mind is to incorporate an element of the strange and unusual in your book. My debut Urban Fantasy series involves a necromancer, zombies, and demons. It doesn’t get much more unusual than that, but I guess it depends on how you look at it :).

We all have odd things that happen to us in our day-to-day lives. Things we shrug or laugh at, then keep shopping or walking. A friend once told me of a homeless man who entered the bus she was riding, holding one of those red viewfinder toys, empty of a picture wheel. (Talk about the strange and unusual. The pictures in those wheels could be downright weird.) He rode the bus and pointed the viewfinder at riders, clicking away, as if taking pictures. He was harmless, and the passengers, including my friend, found it amusing…and strange.

The story made an impression on me, obviously. I wrote a sequel with my necromancer heroine riding the subway when a homeless man steps on with a viewfinder toy, observing people through the toy. Of course, I upped the creepy factor, and it gave an edge to the sequel. It played up how my heroine was feeling insecure after a particularly stressful scene where she learns important, but disturbing things about her past.

I also like incorporating unusual settings. One of my scenes takes place at the Mechanical Museum in San Francisco. The museum harkens back to the days of old carnivals and beachside boardwalks, housing a collection of antique arcade machines, some dating back to the 1800s, all in working condition. If you’re ever visited it, it’s one of those unique places you don’t often find. If you haven’t, check it out!  It’s so much fun. My heroine meets with an old friend at the museum, and the weird kookiness of the exhibits serves as a great backdrop to show how my heroine’s life has just crossed the normal boundary from which she will never return. And then I end it with her playing a guillotine game…

With Urban Fantasy or Paranormal, the story and characters are strange and unusual, so what’s the point? Even though the characters are supernatural and deal with supernatural problems, they still live in the ordinary world and cope with ordinary life issues: death, love, acceptance, loyalty, and friendship. Not so strange after all. So, as we may sometimes experience for ourselves, when the lines separating the normal and abnormal, natural and preternatural become blurred, it can provide a moment for the character to question how they chose to cope with their power, or question their very sanity, which is always fun.

Or, the strange and unusual can actually ground the story in reality, which seems contradictory, but we all have those, what the…? moments, where truth is stranger than fiction, and when a book stumbles upon such a moment, the reader can sometimes relate more to the oddity than the sword wielding demon. (Of course, nothing wrong with sexy, sword wielding demons!)

As with all things in writing, anything can be overdone, and throwing things in that don’t relate to the overall conflict or theme will take the reader out of the story, but incorporating a small moment of strange and unusual can add power, provide a weird juxtaposition or fun moment, test your characters, highlight a character strength or flaw, or add humor. Does anyone have any strange happenings or examples from their books or life to share?

Mimi Sebastian

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