Posted by Jay Montville at 7:34 AM
A while ago, now, Maggie Stiefvater had yet another great post on Fangs, Fur & Fey about writing stories with supernatural elements, and the reactions of the characters to those supernatural elements. This is what she says:
But in urban fantasy, we ask our characters to believe in the incredible in every book. We need them to believe before the end of the book, because in most cases, the plot sort of relies on the fact that they start dealing with the supernatural crapola that's going on instead of running to see a therapist.Once again, I totally agree with Maggie.* If a book is set in the "real world" and that "real world" is then infiltrated by, or discovered to have, various supernatural elements (be those vampires, or fey, or zombies, or whatever), the characters simultaneously need to react realistically, but also need to just accept that this is how things work now, and get to the plot already. It's a fine line. Too far on the "I don't believe this" side, and the reader gets bored or annoyed.** But if the characters are all just "oh, werewolves? Okay! Let's go to the prom!" then the verisimilitude is lost. Because real people finding out that werewolves are real? Would be a little freaked out, at least for a little while.
One of the ways to speed things up, is to have the supernatural element affect the main character. That way, the character must believe, because it's happening to her and she can feel it.
Another way is to amp the danger, which is what typically happens in zombie movies. Almost every good zombie movie (and most of the bad ones) starts with people freaking the eff out, and then getting down to the business of zombie killing. If they don't, they'll soon be getting down to the business of being zombie food.
Plus, without a little bit of skepticism, there wouldn't be any chance for the characters to get explanations of things. Without the "OMG, you're a VAMPIRE", it would be hard to have the main character understand and come to love vampires.***
But I'm ultimately with Maggie--after a brief nod to "real life" skepticism about what's going on, I want the characters to accept the fact that something freaky is going on and get to doing something about it.
* You're shocked, aren't you? I know.
** Those of you who are old and/or cool enough may remember The X-Files, wherein Agent Scully still did not believe in aliens even after she was totally impregnated by one and watched a giant spaceship rise up out of an iceberg. To coin a tired phrase: bish, please.
*** Note, of course, that if you're writing a horror story, you don't need the explanations, except of how to kill the supernatural element. In 'Salem's Lot, for example, Stephen King doesn't need to spend a lot of time explaining vampires. He just needs to have them killing some people and the other characters are like "OKAY! We get it! Vampires!" Because it's a horror novel and not an urban fantasy, vampires aren't going to be cool, or funny, or sexy. They're just going to be damn scary. And, in fact, the less explanation of something that's meant to be scary, the better.