There are so many YA Paranormal books out there which, for the sake of getting through the ‘boring’ part of the novel to get to the juicy romance part, skip over the interesting emotions of a character as they discover a Mythical world exists alongside everything they’ve always known. Some books have characters so blasé about it, it really doesn’t ring true.
Now, I consider myself an open-minded person, and a fanatic about anything the least bit mystical. But, I’m fairly sure if someone came up to me and said, ‘Hi, I’m a Vampire!’ my first reaction would probably be along the lines of, ‘Yeah, forget to take your medication this morning?’
If said hypothetical vampire then said, ‘No, really, look…’ Fangs, flying, compelling people, chowing down on neck follows. Then, I think my reaction would be, ‘ARGH! RUN AWAY!’
Categorically not, ‘Okay, awesome, let’s snog.’
The same goes for induction into parallel universes, mythical planes of existence. Yes, I would be curious. But curiosity only tends to come after the wet-yourself terror. Once you’ve had a chance to calm down.
There’s this theory about the Five Stages of Grief, known as the Kübler-Ross Model. It basically says that each person dealing with grief, or any life-changing news, goes through four stages of processing before they reach the fifth and final stage, acceptance. Since learning that Vampire’s exist would be pretty life changing, I figured the model would apply to characters learning about a Mythical world for the first time.
The Kübler-Ross Model for Introduction to a Mythical World
Stage 1 – Denial
So the world is suddenly a much bigger place than you thought it was? Just as you were finally getting everything figured out, someone goes and dumps a whole new Mythical world on you! Yeah, your first stage is definitely going to be denial.
Imagine it – you’re roughly 16, as most characters are in these novels. At 16 I thought I knew everything. You’re finally a grown up, you have a sense of where everything is going, how it’s all going to pan out, and at the same time that childish belief that no, you can’t possibly be wrong about anything. Suddenly learning that there’s a magical element to the world you’ve put into comfortable boxes is going to throw you a little off-kilter.
Lots of characters go through this denial phase. Meghan in The Iron King sees loads of weird stuff and just dismisses it. Creepy critter sitting on the computer? Nah, figment of her imagination. It’s only when her brother is kidnapped that she finally begins to look past that denial and move towards acceptance. Because she has to. Because his life is at stake.
Even Harry Potter, who has weird things happen to him all his life, is all, ‘Nah, you’ve got the wrong guy, you surely can’t mean me?’ when he’s told he’s a wizard. It’s a natural reaction that should be especially prevalent among all these YA heroines who we’re supposed to believe are self-deprecating and lacking self-esteem. They deny that the hot boy could fancy them frequently.
Stage 2 – Anger
Bella going through a bit of this would have made Twilight such a better book. MY ONE TRUE LOVE IS A BLOOD SUCKING MONSTER?? FML.
It’s not deliberate, but pertinent that Google came up with a Star Wars picture for this one. I believe it was Episode I in which Yoda said something along the lines of ‘Fear leads to anger.’ If we consider anger and fear to be semi-interchangeable here, I think this stage rings true for acceptance of a Mythical world.
So, your denials have proved fruitless and you have to admit to yourself that everything you’ve every known is false and there is a whole Mythical world out there. The next thought that flows on naturally from that statement is not, ‘Cool, let’s go explore and mingle with super powerful supernatural creatures that could snap my neck with their MIND POWERS!’
If you’re not hiding under the covers like a five-year-old, you’re going to be angry-scared. ‘Why did you have to tell me about this? Ignorance is bliss! Now every time I walk down the street at night I’m going to be waiting for something inhuman to jump out of the shadows and EAT ME!’
Of course, you can be afraid of something, angry about it, and still be curious. It’s like when you got to the creepy-crawly petting zoo when you’re a kid and though you are close to running screaming in terror, you can’t help getting a little bit closer to that snake the attendant is holding, wondering what it would be like to touch it…
But such curiosity has to come in spite of, or after processing the feelings of fear and anger. Otherwise your character comes off like a sociopath. Or a moron.
Stage 3 – Bargaining
So, you’ve got past the denial, beat the anger and fear – or at least mastered it enough to continue; the next stage is bargaining.
‘Okay, if you let me survive this next encounter with the vicious werewolf pack, I’ll be a really good girl all my life and I won’t submit to my feelings for the totally inappropriate bad boy and will instead choose the nice young man who would make my parents happy.’
To hark back to The Iron King again, bargaining is a huge part of the plot. Okay, a lot of it is in making faery deals, which isn’t exactly relevant to this model, but Meghan certainly has a sort of suicidal thought process regarding the faery world and her acceptance of it. She’s prepared to do anything, as long as her brother is rescued. Her bargain here is accepting the faery world and its power in return for her brother’s safety.
We all make little deals with ourselves. Mine today is, ‘I’ll just finish this blog post, then I’ll do the washing up.’ It would be fairly natural in extreme circumstances to extend that bargaining to a higher power.
Stage 4 – Depression
‘OMG, to add to all the real life trauma I’m experiencing, there’s a whole load of supernatural drama way outside my control. I don’t understand enough to change anything for the better and I just want things to be back to normal! … Plus, you know, I’m like, 16. A bad hair day makes me super depressed.’
Come on, you know it’s true. All these super self-deprecating, low self-esteemed characters are going to be suckers for the old feelings of ‘I’m not strong enough/good enough to do this.’ And that was before adding the supernatural factor. Depression doesn’t have to be a huge feature on the character’s journey to accepting the paranormal (because that would be very dull and, er, depressing) but that creeping sense of self-doubt ought to be there to make the character empathetic and believable.
Harry Potter (because clearly I have no imagination for examples today) doubts himself right up until the last, even though he defeats Voldemort and his cronies multiple times. Everything he does, he sort of does because no one else will, because of the burden of prophecy and everyone else’s belief in him. But just because everyone else believed he could do it doesn’t mean he did. And thank goodness, because he would have been unbearably big-headed otherwise.
Stage 5 – Acceptance
And finally… Acceptance.
The character has to get there eventually. Whether it’s at the end of the novel, or fairly close to the beginning, if the character can’t accept the Mythical world, well they haven’t grown as a character, and that would make the book… well, suck.
Acceptance doesn’t have to be total, ‘I want to live here, this place is awesome!’ acceptance. It could be agreeing to persevere at a relationship, even though your boyfriend is a vampire and half the time wants to eat you. It’s worth it for those golden moments, right?
Acceptance could be the character discovering that they feel more at home in the Mythical world, or that their experiences have made them a happier, better person. Whatever form it takes, and whenever in the scheme of the novel it arrives, the character accepting the life changing experiences they’ve had and moving onwards can only realistically come after experiencing some, if not all of the previous stages. How quickly it happens depends on how sudden the immersion of the character into the Mythical world is, their strength of character, personality traits, who they’ve got to help them through it.