Big stakes make for big excitement.
How do you start building a rich paranormal world from scratch? Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The external plot or the characters?
For me personally, I start with the kind of creatures I want to populate my world. Do I need vampires? Mages? Demons?
I ask myself who will be their natural enemies. For this, I might accept common lore (Hollywood or myth) to start my list.
Then I choose my hero or heroine’s particular paranormal persuasion, starting with the main protagonist of the story. Whatever he or she is, I look for the one thing they shouldn’t fall in love with. Think about a vampire who falls in love with her natural enemy, a werewolf, for opposites. A mage-priest who falls in love with a demon.
If I know my character well enough at the start of my planning/dreaming, I might choose a being that should be compatible, but use the same sorts of “human” conflicts to build their opposition. A Born vampire who won’t let herself fall in love with her “turned” lover because she’s already faced devastating personal loss. Because even an immortal lover might be killed.
Then I crawl inside their skins for a while and see the world through their eyes. What’s their every day life like? Where do they live? What do they eat? What do they need to exist? Blood? Sex? Psychic energy?
How might their lives be challenged? Their existence threatened? If they are colonists on a new world who think they’ve found Eden, what’s the worst that could happen? Is there a serpent in the forest? A dragon in a cave that preys on them at night? A Hell Mouth opening to release demons?
Paint the world you build with details of their ordinary lives as well as the extraordinary sights and experiences.
Create a Legend.
Paranormal stories, whether erotic or vanilla-flavored romances, that stand the test of time often have a legend behind the core of the external plot.
Think of Buffy and her “In every generation, there is only one…” slayer legend.
Or how about the legend of the Aztec Gold in the first Pirates of the Caribbean?
One legend was presented at the start of every episode of Buffy through the first couple of seasons, then dropped because every one knew it by then.
The other was presented throughout Pirates, a piece at a time to intrigue the audience.
Both set the stage for how the story would unfold.
I don’t think every paranormal story has to have a legend, but if it fits with the type of tale (especially any quest story or a coming-into-powers story), it can make your novel that much richer.
If you are a true plotter, you will want to nail your legend up front to make sure it resonates throughout. If you are a pantser, you may discover your legend as you write. At some point, if you will use a legend as a plot device, you will want to articulate it.
What should a legend include? An element of fated duty, a hint of some horrible apocalypse if the journey is never started, or a reward when the quest is won.
LEGEND IS NOT HISTORY. So don’t confuse the evolution of your creatures or the apocalypse that forced your aliens to flee their home world with any legend.
How do you come up with your own legend?
You can steal. Think of the “In every generation there is only one” legend and make your heroine The One who guards the portal to another dimension rather than a slayer.
Or as the events in your book begin to unfold, think about what a bard might say to some future generation listening to the tale of your quest. What elements might be put into the legend groove?