For many of us who write romance and erotica, paranormal is the most enticing of the sub-sub-genres, offering many ways to increase sexual tension. World-building allows us to create our own erotic settings, invent sexier creatures than those who exist on our planet, traipse through time to find or lose lovers... We can bend reality any way we choose. We can invent supernatural beings both virtuous and villainous while investing the corners of our new world with quirks that facilitate the thrills and spills that make a great read.
The paranormal encompasses so many sub-sub-genres! A partial listing: futuristic, including science fiction; steampunk; time travel; fantasy, which encompasses "creature" stories with vampires, weres, the fae, dragons, zombies and the like. Magic and witchcraft is also a subgenre of fantasy. All of these can be mixed into any story brew you please.
World-building 101: Take the basic elements of any book and consider how they may be made paranormal, i.e., beyond the normal.
Characters and conflicts: There's a natural tension in a romance between a paranormal entity and a human, and you can exploit this to your advantage and to the betterment of your book. Vampires are a great example. How can there be a "happily ever after" ending to a romance between an immortal, virtually invulnerable being and someone who will, inevitably, die? Would any sensible vampire dare to open his or her heart to a fragile human? And how can a human trust in the love of an immortal? We who age must fear the loss of an immortal's love.
Vampires, being denizens of the night, are intrinsically mysterious. Powerful predators, vamps step easily into villainous roles, but lately we've been reading about heroic vampires. With their extraordinary senses, vampires can make extraordinary heroes. The vampire laird in Temptation in Tartan is a great example.
There's also natural tension in a relationship between different supernatural beings. Werewolves and vampires are both dominating creatures. The males often figure as alphas in many an erotic romance. What happens when territories overlap? Clashes are inevitable, and the sex is awesome.
Many writers have created supernatural beings whose abilities amplify each others. For example, Jayne Castle (Jayne Ann Krentz) created different types of psychics in what I call her flower trilogy (Amaryllis, Orchid, and Zinnia); the differing talents need each other in order to effectively focus and use their powers. Often one of the dyad was female and the other male. Thus, they'd have to work together to solve the mystery and trap the villain. But the sexual tension and conflict were maintained using this device, for the female would wonder if the male truly loved her for her qualities other than her ability to focus his energies.
Others create creatures made for sex. Succubi and incubi, supernatural demons who use humans for sex and seed, have become popular. Some writers have invented aliens which can extrude body parts and insert them into their human subjects for pleasure and pain.
Setting: Setting is an often overlooked aspect of our novels. As an editor, I have read several stories that are completely non-specific as to setting. As a reader, I like to be grounded in a story. I like to know where and when the story's taking place. I don't believe that I suffer from terminal uniqueness, so as a writer, I let the reader know where and when the story's taking place, even if the both are completely imaginary, i.e., "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." In a paranormal, it is fatal to overlook setting.
More positively, some settings are so compelling that they will earn your book a spot on many a reader's keeper shelf. Fans return again and again to the Harry Potter books and to Tolkien not only because of the intriguing characters, compelling conflicts and universal themes, but because they want to spend more time at Hogwarts and exploring Middle Earth. Orson Scott Card calls fiction dependent upon a particular setting milieu fiction, and gives Tolkien's Ring Trilogy as an example. Of course you may create any setting that compels you, but when you do so, consider how your setting will facilitate or block mystery and romance.
When world-building for a paranormal erotic romance, I like to factor in elements that will facilitate sexy situations. In Queen of Shadow, a paranormal erotic thriller, I postulated a planet with an extremely low birthrate. Babies were rare and prized. Thus, sex was encouraged—including public sex—which enabled me to include numerous sex scenes, while the dearth of normal births encouraged the characters to find other reproductive methods. These added to the suspense subplot (I don't want to say more without providing a spoiler alert).
|With The Moon Maiden's Mate|
Settings need not be exotic and magic need not be arcane, invented from whole cloth. You can use what you already know. I drew upon my teenage interests in tarot reading and Wicca to write Gypsy Witch, an erotic short story set in my hometown of Sacramento, California during the dog days of late summer. A character used witchcraft to bring to life the stone statues of knights set at the doorway of the downtown Masonic Temple, bringing magic to an otherwise mundane setting. The romantic conflict ended in a ménage—a different kind of magic.
Theme: Also overlooked, but as intrinsically a part of our stories as words themselves. Many paranormals feature the clash of good against evil. Paranormals employing figures out of religious traditions, such as angels, devils, demons and the like, will inevitably dabble in moral questions whether or not the author is aware that s/he is doing so. Raising such questions is older than Faust, older even than the Bible.
Coming of age stories are also common. In erotica, we often read the induction of a virgin into the pleasures of sex. One of my erotic short stories, The Moon Maiden's Mate, was about an arranged marriage on a lunar colony. Another popular theme is the BDSM newbie learning about the joy of kink.
My Highland Vampires series, which I'm reissuing independently, combines many of these aspects of writing. The vampire Clan Kilborn is founded in Viking in Tartan, a medieval short story, and the saga continues in Temptation in Tartan. Desire in Tartan, Lovers in Tartan and Rakes in Tartan will follow later this year.
The message? Erotic romance isn’t only about sex. Write a good story with explicit sex and you’ll have a really good story. Put it on another planet and you’ll have a great story. Paranormal content is a great way to engage the reader.