How to write magic in the real world
Updated: Oct 24
Paranormal romance and urban fantasy are my favorite genres to write in. The two genres are similar in many ways. The difference between the two being that paranormal romance focuses on romantic stakes, and urban fantasy focuses on external stakes (like preventing the end of the world).
Both incorporate magic into the real world, and in this blog post I’m going to talk about 6 things I like to think about when I’m writing either of these genres.
1. Who are your supernatural beings?
If you’re writing an urban fantasy or paranormal romance, you’re going to need to bring magic to the ordinary world. So, what supernatural being(s) are you writing about? Vampires? Werewolves? Fae? Or something less common? The first thing you want to determine is what magical beings your book is going to center around.
2. Working out the magic system
Just like in a high fantasy novel, your world needs a magic system and rules for how it works. You can include lots of crazy magical things in your world, but the magic needs to make sense to the reader for it to feel realistic. So, what magic can your supernatural beings access? And what rules are they are bound by?
In Cupid’s Match, for example, the cupids have access to three different types of magic arrow. They are each bound to a contract with the Cupids Matchmaking Service, though, that renders falling in love forbidden (and comes with a terrible consequence). Although they’re immortal, they can die if hit by a certain arrow.
3. Is your paranormal world secret?
Your urban fantasy / paranormal romance is going to have a whole magical world sitting inside the normal world. So, how do the magical beings fit in with the rest of society? Is magic a secret? How is it hidden?
4. The paranormal vs. the normal
Your main character is going to be living in two worlds; the paranormal and the normal. How is your main character going to balance these aspects of their life? If they’re at high school, for example, how does this fit in with the magical things that are happening? If they have to go off to fight some mystical creatures, do they need to hide this from their friends and family?
One way that I like to integrate the two worlds is by bringing the best friend on board at some point (usually within the second act of the book). This allows me to build a bridge between the two worlds. It gives the main character a comrade who can talk to them about normal things like homework as well as help them deal with the magical things, and it makes it less frustrating for the reader (the mc no longer has to hide things all the time).
In Cupid’s Match, Lila’s best friend is hit with a cupid arrow at the end of act one – which soon brings her in on the action. And in Devils Inc. Rachel’s best friend Josie ends up accepting a job behind the bar of a club run by the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.
5. Suspension of Disbelief
If your main character doesn’t already know about this magical world at the start of the novel you need to introduce them to the magic.
One of the tricky aspects of this is getting the balance right between a realistic reaction to being told that something magical exists (which would be disbelief), and it not being frustrating for the reader. The reader knows that the magic is real from the beginning, it’s why they picked up the book, so you don’t want to drag on the disbelief for too long.
To solve this problem I like to add an event fairly early on in the book in which the main character is confronted head on with something magical that they can’t dismiss. This event will bring them 95% on board with the supernatural world.
In Cupid’s Match, for example, Lila is shown a video recording of a cupid matching her parents twenty years previously. In Devils Inc. Rachel is attacked by a group of people who are very clearly dead.
I’ve written about the use of location in a couple of my other blog posts (like this post about pacing, and this post about pantsing a novel) and this is something I definitely like to think about when writing urban fantasy / paranormal romance, too.
Having a few key locations helps to anchor your action and allows the readers to become familiar with these places. So, where are your characters going to hang out? Where are they going to train / gain knowledge about the supernatural world?
I like to give my paranormal beings a base – somewhere where they work/train/gain knowledge (like The Institute in ShadowHunters, or The Cupids Matchmaking Service in my book, Cupid’s Match). I also like to create a bar/café where my characters can hang out – which I’ll tend to give a similar theme to the book (In Cupid’s Match the characters hang out at a fictional bar called ‘The Love Shack’).
These are some of the things I like to think about when I’m writing a urban fantasy/paranormal romance novel.
What do you like to include in your urban fantasy/paranormal romance books? Let me know in the comments!
LAUREN PALPHREYMAN is a writer based in London. She is best known for her supernatural teen romance series, Cupid's Match, which has accumulated over 60 million hits online and was published by Wattpad Books / Penguin Random House, October 2019. Her new book, Devils Inc. comes out Friday 13th November 2020. Find her on Instagram @LaurenPalphreyman and on Twitter @LEPalphreyman.
Get hold of her debut, Cupid's Match, here!