I watched the World Cup Soccer Championship game with Ned on Sunday. Ned and I are soccer neophytes. We know virtually nothing about the game, but we wanted to be part of the 1 billion who watched. The problem is that not one of the announcers took the opportunity to explain much about the game. We didn’t know what effect the yellow card had. We didn’t know what offsides meant. We didn’t know why penalties were called. We didn’t understand the timing thing. World Cup is an opportunity to sell those who don’t ordinarily watch the sport on the sport but the broadcasters at ABC did nothing to enhance the viewing and Ned and I spent most of our time asking each other what was going on and not being very engaged.
I feel that way about some romance authors who are putting out paranormal books. It’s as if the world building is an afterthought. They just plop down a vampire or a werewolf into a normal setting (either modern or historical) without much other explanation as to how it is normal for those creatures to exist in this alternative reality story. They allow the story to play on, much like the soccer match without explanation for why the vampire exists, how the vampire exists, how many vampires exist, whether there are other paranormal creatures, whether vampires co exist with humans or have a parallel existence. How long have they existed and so on.
Kate Elliott has a good phrase for this: “fully realized.” Has the author fully realized her world? Ms. Elliott writes that authors must ask themselves the right questions. This, I interpret to mean, ask the questions the reader is going to ask when reading the book and then answer them. Otherwise, the reader will assume you are writing a half assed story featuring a paranormal creature for the sole purpose of selling to the hot market, not because you are actually writing a paranormal. When you are inserting a character that is non human, the rules of the existence must be defined else the character is simply human and so is the world you’ve created.
So many times I see these “crossover” authors plonk down a vampire as if he is just another character. To borrow another Kate Elliott phrase, these books are “suburban mindsets in fancy clothing” or in the case of TM and KS, they are historical mindsets in vampire clothing. Because the world is undefined and nebulous, the whole story lacks substance. Without actually providing an accurate backdrop, a fully realized world, one that matches the idea of the story, there is nothing paranormal about the book.
Ned and I needed much more detail during the WCS match to engage us. Without a full understanding of how everything worked, it was hard to stay interested. Similarly, in paranormal romances, I need a lot more explanation for the hows, whys, and wherefores of the paranormal world. Just having one character be non human doesn’t make the story a paranormal. It just makes it a regular old romance with trite themes and boring characters, one of which just happens to not be human.
To me JR Ward, Lynn Viehl, and Kresley Cole have fully realized fantasy worlds. Loretta Chase, Julia Quinn, and Jo Beverly have fully realized historical settings. Theresa Medeiros and Kathryn Smith do not have fully realized fantasy worlds. (Probably the worst offender of this “fully realized” theory was not a paranormal but Mary Jo Putney’s China Bride. *shudder*) Who are some authors/books that get it right and the others who are posers?