The Implicit Promise of Genre

Have you ever read a book or a story in which, halfway through, there’s suddenly a ghost? There you are, reading what you think is a perfectly ordinary, mainstream suspense, mystery, or romance, when suddenly Boo! Out pops a random spirit. You may think this is far-fetched, but I’ve seen it in books written by bestselling authors. And far from the ghosts frightening me, they typically make me cast a book down in disgust.

I love fantasy. You know I love fantasy. I’ve spent the past few years of my life immersed in the genre as I wrote Cassie Scot and her sequels. But loving fantasy does not mean I want to see it everywhere. I want to read a fantasy if, and only if, the implicit promise of the book involves magic or the paranormal.

What’s an implicit promise, you ask? Well, an implicit promise is the promise an author makes during the setup of a story, in which we are given to understand more or less what the story is about. Hero stumbles over dead body, gets accused of the crime, and has to figure out who did it so he won’t go to jail — mystery! Lonely young woman meets handsome young man and sparks (figuratively) fly — romance! ¬†Queen of the fae comes to strike a bargain with our protagonists — fantasy!

Yes, that is a rather pat description. No, I don’t expect everyone’s creativity to fit neatly into a box. Maybe in that mystery a ghost killed the guy. I’m not telling you that if you don’t show us something paranormal in chapter one, you can’t go there, but if you do, it has to be with that implicit promise in mind. Normal guy. Normal world. Normal mystery. You have to give us clues. You have to foreshadow. You have to tell the story in such a way that when the ghost does appear, we may or may not be expecting it, but we can think, “Ohhhh! Now I see where you were going when he kept finding all his stuff had been moved around in an apparently locked room.”

If you do decide you want to do that, know it’s tough, and some people still won’t like it because they’ll feel cheated out of their implicit promise.

But most of all, magic isn’t a solution to every problem. That’s not what it is in true fantasy and it DEFINITELY shouldn’t be what it is in stories that are supposedly (and initially) set in the real world.

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