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Examples for Building a Supernatural Mystery or Paranormal Mystery
Saying a mystery is about something unknown takes on a new meaning when it comes to supernatural and paranormal mysteries.
Supernatural means anything beyond our natural world, beyond our planet, our time, our dimension. Our ken, as a 17th century Highlander might say, which means out of our range of knowledge.
What does a big, brawny red-headed guy in a kilt, who’s wielding a claymore have to do with a paranormal mystery?
He’s a murder suspect in modern day New York City. Detective Sergeant Angie Bako of the NYPD has him cornered in an alley. The beheaded corpse at his feet was Sonny Lorenzo, a low-level mob guy and police informant. The Highlander admits to killing him. When Angie asks why, he says Sonny stuck a hand up his kilt.
Angie can’t believe the Scotsman is a time traveler, but there he is, right in front of her. I have yet to come up with a name for him that I like. Yes, this is my idea, so paws off, please. I plucked it out of my idea file to show you how to put together a supernatural mystery.
Let’s call him Scotty—I think Angie might call him that, just to irritate him—and let’s say he’s been sent on a quest by the chieftain of his clan, who is also a wizard.
A demon captured the chieftain’s daughter and spirited her away through a portal. Scotty was sent through the portal to bring her back. He thought he spied the demon slipping into the alley and followed him. Angie entered the alley to meet Sonny, who has information pertaining to the case she’s working.
Let’s say that while Angie and Scotty are arguing over Sonny’s remains, his corpse begins to morph into a different shape. The eyes on his severed head open, and—you get the idea.
This is a combination time travel/paranormal police procedural. For a combo story to work, and most supernatural mysteries are combo stories, the parts must be equal. I don’t mean the first half of the book is paranormal and time travel and the second half is police procedural. You develop them together, weave them together, so they feed into and out of each other. I learned that writing romantic suspense.
A surefire way to achieve plot parity is to give your main characters an equal stake in solving the mystery. That keeps them together, initially to keep an eye on each other, and then to help each other, which makes it much easier to tell both stories at the same time.
What possible parity could there be between Angie and Scotty?
Think about it while I tell you a couple of other things.
You can do a lot with setting in a supernatural mystery. Transport readers to another planet, another time. It’s fun to make up the future and other worlds, but the past will likely require research. Don’t guess at it, get it right.
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The setting can be an accent to your story, or a contrast. A brooding manse on a deserted moor built over a gateway to hell. A vampire being pursued across the desert. New York City could be a metaphor of the Highlands for Scotty. Or the skyscrapers could terrify him. And there you go—you’ve given him a new internal conflict. I’m sure he came through the portal with at least a couple.
Verisimilitude, the appearance of being real or true, and suspension of disbelief—that’s trust between writer and reader—is critical in any type of supernatural or paranormal story.
How will I convince readers that Scotty is real? I won’t even try.
But I can make them believe Angie is real, and sympathetic, which means likeable. In the half chapter or so before she meets Scotty, I’ll show her sense of humor, maybe in texts with her sister. She’s kind; finishing up an overtime shift so her relief can spend an extra hour with his wife and newborn son.
Then Sonny calls. They must meet, now, tonight; he’s on his way out of town. It’s late, it’s cold, and Angie forgot her gloves. But she says okay and heads up the alley, hands in her pockets, teeth chattering, hoping her Yorkie Winston can hold it for the extra twenty minutes it will take her to get home.
Those are small everyday things that most of us have experienced, thoughts we’ve all had—then Sonny cries out, and Angie hears steel sing as Scotty draws his sword. She pulls her service weapon and flashlight, turns it on and runs up the alley.
If you believe in Angie, even just a little, you’ll believe what she sees: Sonny crumpled on the dirty, frozen concrete, his severed head in a pool of blood. Scotty standing over him (in his I’m-not-sure-what-color-yet kilt, depends on his clan). He says: “Dinna come closer with your devil’s tools, witch, or I’ll send ye to hell wi’this one.”
Definitely not a meet-cute. The Highlander is huge, well over six feet, with fiery red hair past his shoulders, a full beard—and a big sword dripping blood. Angie closes her eyes, maybe rushes through a Hail Mary under her breath, and opens her eyes. He’s still there. Now what?
Here’s the plot parity between them: The demon that took the laird’s daughter was using Sonny’s body. It survives the beheading and finds another body, which Angie and Scotty figure out later. Angie is working a missing person case attached to a homicide. She shows Scotty a photo of the girl she’s looking for—the laird’s daughter.
This idea might make a good series. Be mindful as you’re creating your mystery, supernatural or not—mystery editors and readers love series.
I’ve included several URL’s where you can find out more about writing mysteries. Two of them include lists of new supernatural mysteries. I want to read them all!
Happy Halloween, happy reading, and most of all, happy writing!
Lynne Smith, aka Lynn Michaels, is the author of two novellas and sixteen novels, three of which were nominated for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA award, the Oscar of romance writing. She won two awards from Romantic Times Magazine, for best romantic suspense and best contemporary romance. Her only complaint about writing is that it really cuts into her reading time. She lives in Missouri with her husband, two sons, three grandsons, and one granddaughter, born on Lynne’s birthday. Lynne is also an IFW instructor. She teaches “Breaking into Print” and “Shape, Write and Sell Your Novel.”