Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Poetic Justice In Paranormal Romance Novels Part 1

We've been focusing on the plausibility (in real life) of the Happily Ever After ending, employing Astrology and every other philosophical tool we can find to explore how such a wish-fulfillment fantasy can actually be "real."

We added 2 posts on astrology just for writers, part 10 and part 11, to the collection in the last few months, finding ways a Paranormal Romance book can be constructed without ever mentioning astrology or Tarot.

I wrote:
The key the writer needs to grasp is how a character's free will choices combine with the prevailing influence in her life to produce events which, though decades apart in time and place, nevertheless are related poetically.

Two foundation concepts that make the Happily Ever After (HEA) ending plausible are Free Will and the Uniqueness of the Individual.

In the fishbowl analogy:

we discussed how souls can meld while lives remain separate, though reflective and in harmony.

Now we need to consider how these 2 premises, Free Will and Uniqueness, apply specifically to the Paranormal Romance novel.

The most concrete manifestation I have yet found of how these two human properties combine to produce the Happily Ever After in real life is often called Poetic Justice.

Literature teachers sometimes demand that a "book review" written by students to prove they read the novel in question should point out how the ending demonstrates poetic justice. Old classic novels all had this element, though it's harder to find in recently published SF Fantasy or Romance.

If your education hasn't supplied that drill for finding the poetic justice in a novel, I suggest you adopt it as a regimen for a few years. It will give you a handle on the subconscious beliefs of the largest audiences.

Today's Paranormal Romance novels don't all demonstrate poetic justice.

The reason may be that the writers and editors aren't sensitive to it, or that they don't think the intended audience understands it, or wants it in life, or fantasizes about it, or yearns for it. Since finding Poetic Justice in fiction may not be taught in all High Schools as it once was, those writers and editors might be correct.

So the new writer's job becomes bigger and much harder. To break into the field of Paranormal Romance novel writing, you may need to explain what poetic justice is, where it comes from, how to recognize it in "real" life, and then blindside the reader with a revelation at the ending that will leave them gasping, in tears, or maybe even with a religious experience.

Yes, I said religious -- an encounter with God that brings the reality of the Eternal Soul out of Religion and into real life.

As I've said in this blog, one of the premises of Romance novels in general, but particularly the Paranormal Romance novel, is that the Soul is real.

The Soul may not be tangible, or even subject to definition in words, but it's real, just like gravity and Kepler's Equations are real.

Very often, an individual human's first awareness, first loss of virginity, is in the first blush of Love. The idea of Love At First Sight is based on that kind of touch to the Soul by another Soul.

Think about that. If nothing touches your Soul, you don't know your Soul is there, can't feel it as yourself, your Identity.

If your whole inner world is untouched by anything, anyone, outside you, you don't know you have an inner world at all.

Here's a theory of Soul. Souls are like candle flames. A family is a group of Souls that all have been ignited from one, ancestral, candle. Parents ignite your soul, you then ignite your children's souls. These are not the same flame. Each is individual, each dances in the breeze differently, each candle burns down at a different rate, slanting this way and that according to the substance of the candle and wick. But there is an underlying similarity, a commonality among Souls ignited by the same Flame.

The first Soul, Adam, was ignited by God's breath. We all have been ignited from Adam.

Think about the Soul conflagration that engulfs the whole Earth.

We are one flame, but each is a unique individual.

A child, among family, doesn't feel that "individual" until puberty when the be-all of existence is to separate from The Mother and become an independent individual.

When that sense of individuality is established, the first thing it does is reach out to TOUCH another Soul. Puppy love. Teen crushes.

When the reach is returned, the newly individualized Soul finally gets a sense of having a Soul by being touched by another Soul.

That's the first loss of virginity, something very special that never happens again in a lifetime -- until the actual Soul Mate touches and unites in that special way.

Finding a Soul Mate does not guarantee a Happily Ever After. But it awakens the yearning for it.

That's the yearning the Romance Novel can fulfill. By painting that vision vividly and with depth of detail, the Romance Novel writer can touch the reader's soul and open doors into possible futures. The inspiration can sustain a reader through the search for a real life Happily Ever After.

The Paranormal Romance novel can open bigger doors into a bigger world, just as the Science Fiction Romance Novel can ignite a curiosity about science and the role of science in Love.

The Science Fiction Romance novel deals with the adventures of a Soul in the single, shallow, layer of "reality" that science addresses.

For more on what part of reality science addresses, see my posts on Tarot. 20 posts on Tarot are listed in these posts, but we keep coming back to this subject as we do to astrology and religion.



The Paranormal Romance Novel deals with the other dimensions of reality portrayed in my Tarot posts.

The Paranormal deals with that which is above, beyond or maybe beneath the "normal."

The assumption is that what we ordinarily see as "reality" is actually only a thin film, a crust, or a "user interface" like the "skin" you can "download" to decorate your Yahoo page.

As in the Potterverse, the "muggles" or normal people, just have no clue what's really out there.

In Horror genre, what's "out there" is truly ugly and a serious threat of which most people must be kept ignorant. There's no way to conquer it at all. The most you can do is closet it away for future generations to deal with (think enchanted chains on the Vampire's coffin, sealed with the Seal of Solomon and magical sigils of angels.)

In Paranormal Romance novels, what's "out there" is scary at first, but with the strength of Love, it can be conquered and perhaps even turned to Good.

Love Conquers All is an assumption of all Romance, but truly vital in the Paranormal Romance story.

So a Paranormal Romance worldbuilder must include at least some axioms about such topics as:

1) Free Will
2) The Reality of the Soul (otherwise no Soul Mates)
3) Uniqueness of the Individual
4) Love Conquers All
5) Happily Ever After is possible though not guaranteed
6) Poetic Justice is real

Different writers can use different axioms to cover these elements, but failing to cover these elements and make all the components of the worldbuilding behind the story conform to whatever axioms you use will cause readers to respond that the story is "contrived" or "unrealistic" or the villains are cardboard or the hero and heroine are idiots not worth reading about.  Yeah, that's the level of worldbuilding in SF or Paranormal or Fantasy novels that causes willing suspension of disbelief.

The reader doesn't have to believe in God, or find God real in their own life.  The reader just has to be able to relate to the position of the characters on these subjects -- without any single word ever making these philosophical abstractions explicit in the novel.  

If you miss any one of those elements, the Happily Ever After ending will seem more implausible to more readers than you might guess. 

So let's see if we can find a poetic justice definition that can work for authors of Paranormal Romance. It's one thing to unravel a Romance story to find the poetic justice inside, and quite a different thing to portray poetic justice in your romance story. The one process is not the opposite of the other.

Now think about this: God is a paranormal element.

I don't think religion is a paranormal element. Religion is a word we use to designate an organization, or a belief system, more than a law of the universe. Religion is what other people tell you about God. So religion is a different subject that belongs to anthropology and culture, two other aspects of worldbuilding.

Here we're looking for the universal, underlying, principles of reality that can make a Paranormal Romance world seem utterly real to the readers for whom The Paranormal is ridiculous in daily life. The point of the exercise is to find a way to present and explain Poetic Justice to readers, editors, and the general public that adds to their sense of how real a fictional universe is.

Science Fiction writers specialize in imagining a universe where what we absolutely know for a fact turns out to be not at all true.  Happily Ever After is in that category for a lot of readers, the same category as intelligent life on other planets.  

We have to show not tell that the Happily Ever After with a Soul Mate is actually Poetic Justice, even though Happily Ever After is a ridiculous premise in real life.  

If you just slap Poetic Justice into your Paranormal world, it will be one more thing readers have to suspend disbelief about. If you grow your version of Poetic Justice from the core premise of your world, it becomes one of the elements that convince readers your world is real.

So we have to find out what justice is and what poetry is, and why people in all cultures the world over cherish these notions while they only yearn for a Soul Mate and Happily Ever After and call those silly wishfulfillment fantasy.

Do you need God in your worldbuilding as an axiom? A postulate? A premise? Do you need God as an element in your fiction in order to portray Justice in the world?

Does "Justice" come from outside or inside "reality?"

What exactly is justice and how do you tell if it has manifested (yet)?

If you know enough mythology, you have many gods to choose from, fickle ones, ones that come from dysfunctional families, benign ones, neutral ones, bribable ones. You also have a cast of thousands of demons, elves, pixies, trolls, and a plethora of supernatural creatures to include or exclude from your world.

You can use (though you might not be able to sell it right now) Islam and the Prophet, or any Islamic concept of Justice and how it can be arrived at. All of those beliefs belong to the paranormal, and can be inventoried in a Paranormal Romance novel's worldbuilding.

You can study the era of the Prophets in Judaism -- theory is that at one time, during the days of the Temple, nearly everyone received Prophecy from God, but only a few got prophetic visions that pertained to the future history of Judaism, visions that were worth preserving. Most people got information about ordinary things or matters of personal concern. As far as I know, no Paranormal Romances have been set in that time and place -- could blow the whole Paranormal Romance publishing industry to the top of the charts.

Theory in Judaism, particularly Kabbalah, is that today people get real "prophetic" visions in dreams -- personally applicable information, on a routine basis. "Prophetic" doesn't necessarily mean "about the future" -- but it can mean just deep insight into the true meaning, the Paranormal meaning, of what's happening on the surface of events today.

So Prophecy is a Paranormal element that can be used in Romance worldbuilding, and has been. Many stories begin with a dream of the One who will be the Soul Mate.

Fantasy Romance is routinely lumped in under Paranormal Romance. But most people associate the word Fantasy with "impossible" or "unreal" -- or even consider it unhealthy to dwell on, mentally or emotionally.

That's why "wish fulfillment fantasy" is a pejorative.

Paranormal, however, is often associated with "crazy."

Which brings us to the question: Is Justice a figment of the imagination? Or is it a property of Reality?

Is Justice real? Does it exist? Or is it imaginary?

Then there's the problem of what exactly is poetry? Does it mean rhyme?

Maybe the term "poetic justice" is an oxymoron?

We'll explore this a little more next week in Part 2 of Poetic Justice in Paranormal Romance novels.

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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