I attended several excellent panels on YA literature yesterday as part of the NYC Teen Author Festival. The panel of paranormal authors* didn't have time for audience questions, but below are some questions I would have liked to ask, along with some of my own thoughts on them:
--If you write the kind of
paranormal book where an afterlife is revealed to living characters,
then how does their knowledge of the afterlife change the characters'
views of life and death? Do they lose all fear of death, and if not, why
not? If they no longer fear death, then what is there for them to fear;
what are the stakes? And how does the knowledge of this afterlife
change the way they live?
It seems to me that so much of how we
decide to live depends on the two things we can say for sure about
death: that it is inevitable, and that the exact nature of "afterward"
is unknown. We have beliefs about what comes next, but we don't know for
sure. If we did know--if we could see with our own eyes exactly what
happens--it would certainly affect how we handle this life.
Shusterman handled this well in his Skinjackers trilogy. While some of
an afterlife was revealed, there was much that the characters did not
know about other parts of the afterlife--much that they never knew. And
in one of the books, Shusterman introduced the idea of a fate worse than
death, which gave the characters something new to fear.
write the kind of paranormal book where characters have special powers,
what limits do you place on those powers? Since books are usually about
a main character wanting something and not being certain s/he will get
it, how do you get around the fact that a too-powerful character can
control people and situations and just get what s/he wants through
Some possible limits include:
uncertainty: for example, a spell might not work all the time, or might work in unintended ways;
for example, the character can only affect certain kinds of people or
events, or can only work within time or distance limits, or does not
have sufficient power to enact the outcome s/he wants;
opposing forces: as the main character exerts magic in one direction, others exert it in the opposite direction;
vulnerability: powers could have gaps or points of vulnerability, such as Superman's kryptonite or Achilles's heel;
the price of using the magic might be high (as in, for example, Holly
Black's Curse Workers series, where the use of a memory curse also
affects the memory of the curse worker).
If we change the rules
of our world, then those rule changes have ripple effects. If we remove
our normal human limitations, then there must be other (plausible)
limitations, or else the story becomes boring because there is no risk
and no uncertainty. It would be unrealistic to have characters treating
their magical worlds the same way we treat our own nonmagical world.
(For example, if you could fly, why would you ever sit in traffic again?)
which I mean authors of novels about paranormal phenomena. The authors
themselves do not claim to have paranormal powers. As far as I know.