Deborah Cooke has always been fascinated with dragons, although she has never understood why they have to be the bad guys. She has an honours degree in history, with a focus on medieval studies. She is an avid reader of medieval vernacular literature, fairy tales and fantasy novels, and has written over forty romance novels and novellas. She has also been published under the names Claire Cross and Claire Delacroix.
By Deborah Cooke
One of the challenges of writing paranormal romance is ensuring that the reader suspends disbelief and can not only enjoy the story but engage with the characters. There are people who believe that angels and shapeshifters and vampires exist, but most of us recognize that these are fantasy elements. How do we as writers make the unreal seem not just possible but plausible – or even real?
My books, for example, feature heroes who are dragon shapeshifters. Not only do these guys need to seem real, but my Dragonfire books are romances – that means that the reader (as well as the heroine) needs to fall in love with a dragon shape shifter hero. That’s not necessarily a gimme, so here are some ideas for making the unreal real.
1/ Tangible Details.
The most obvious way to make a fantasy element seem real is to describe it in very tangible terms. My dragon aren’t just big and powerful – the heroine will feel the wind generated by the beating of their wings. The villain will feel himself be scorched by the dragonfire they breathe. When they fight, the ground vibrates beneath the heroine’s feet and she feels the impact of them body-slamming each other into walls and buildings. The experience of being in the company of dragons is described in concrete terms. That makes it seem more real.
The dragons themselves are also described in vivid and tangible detail. Early on, I began by describing the dragons as if they were made of precious gems and metals. So, their scales might appear to be made of lapis lazuli, edged in silver, or carved out of garnets and tipped with gold. These colourful descriptions linked to actual stones and metals convey a sense the dragons being real and solid – as well as beautiful.
2/ Emotional Truth
Another way to make a fantasy creature seem more real – or more human – is to give him very human conflicts and concerns. My shape shifting dragon heroes are caught up in a battle against the evil shape shifting dragons for the control of the earth. They are concerned with right and wrong on a large scale, but they also have concerns and conflicts that come out of their personalities. Rafferty, the hero of my current Dragonfire release, DARKFIRE KISS, is a great romantic. He yearns to find the woman who is destined to be his mate and partner, and is determined to win the heart of that woman when he finds her. He is also very loyal to his fellow dragons, so when Melissa appears to be both his destined mate and the woman who may lead to the destruction of his kind, he has to choose between his romantic notion of the future and his loyalty to his own. That’s a very human conflict – to play for yourself or for the team – and it makes him more real to us as readers. Even though he can become a dragon at will.
3/ Identify the Fantasy
The last big part of making a fantasy character seem real or plausible as a hero in a romance novel is identifying exactly what it is that makes this kind of creature appealing. When it comes to dragons, readers seem to identify most strongly with the protective element of a dragon’s nature, as well as his ability to fight. The one element that might be unexpected is the appeal of being able to fly. Many many readers connect with this, perhaps because of a notion of freedom. So, it’s important to incorporate the key fantasy elements of the particular kind of character in order to ensure that he or she is most appealing to readers.
The dragon shifters are also all different from each other. Rafferty, for example, is the first romantic of the bunch. The others have been less interested in making a permanent relationship with their mate (striving for that HEA) or have simply thought that it wasn’t in the cards. Some are loners. Some would give everything for the team. Some are impulsive and others are more thoughtful. That they are all distinct from each other, not just in terms of colouring or appearance but also in terms of their nature, makes them seem more like a group of human guys.
Being dragons, my dragon shifters tend to be a bit volatile and vehement in expressing their opinions. So, there is often dissent within the group as to how to proceed, especially when they’re faced with a challenge (and they’re faced with at least one in every book). This is contrasted with their loyalty to each other and the way they come to each other’s aid. That they interact like this makes them seem more real.
They’re also more real because they have relationships even beyond those with each other. We’re now up to book #6 in this series, which means that five romances have concluded in HEA’s – and in the world of Dragonfire – with the conception of children. So we have five dragon shifters who have partners and babies, and this complicates both their ability to drop everything for a fight, and the management of the various details of their lives. I think their desire to defend their immediate family while still help their extended group of dragons and keep everything in balance is a conflict faced by many humans with young children. Again, it makes their situation more familiar to us, and thus more real.
My spin-off YA series that launches in June with FLYING BLIND actually derives from the question of these kids. In the world of Dragonfire, there is only one female dragon shifter at a time, called the Wyvern, and she has special powers. The current Wyvern died in KISS OF FATE (Dragonfire #3) and the child conceived in that book was a girl. The Dragon Diaries is a trilogy about Zoë coming into her powers as the Wyvern and learning to control them – while surviving high school, challenges with friends, and the mystery of boys.