Harry Potter and Vladimir Tod: How to write a YA fantasy novel series in 7 steps

A few years ago I read the YA series “Chronicles of Vladimir Tod” by Heather Brewer. While no JK Rowling, the books nevertheless have many eerie parallels to the magical world of Hogwarts – except that the secret society of magical people are vampires, not witches.

I’m not accusing Brewer of plagiarism; she’s simply using some very common and effective cookie-cutter templates for writing a popular young adult paranormal fiction series… themes that can even be traced back to the early days of science fiction writing.

The Seven Golden Rules for Writing Paranormal Fiction

Ps) I’ll use “he” to refer to the protagonist because I have Harry Potter or Vladimir Tod in mind, but these could work equally well for girl heroes; just switch around the gender identifiers.

1) Make the hero an orphan. Their parents died a long time ago (or maybe recently). It was a tragic accident. The hero is conflicted about who he is – he feels all alone.

2) The hero is introduced to a mysterious uncle-type role model who is secretly watching out for him. At first he thinks it’s an enemy trying to kill him, but then he realizes it’s a close friend of his father’s (creating a psychological closeness through which he can “get to know” his absent father).

3) The hero has a very close friend, who isn’t heroic or magical, but is loyal and stands up for him. But sometimes they have fights and stop speaking to each other, usually because the hero blows up and gets angry and rude for no reason. (Plots are driven by conflict – if there is none, writer’s have to put it there by making the protagonist overly emotional).

4) The hero is developing supernatural abilities – his dad was also really good at these, but the young hero outshines him and everybody else, ever. His powers come accidentally and he can’t really control them. There is a prophecy about a world ruler/savior and many people think it’s about him (finally, we find out that it is).

5) The hero is opposed by a powerful wizard/vampire that is always trying to kill him, because of the prophecy. The nemesis sends his minions, and finally comes himself, but the hero is always able to fend him off, usually on accident.

6) The hero has low self-esteem, doesn’t think he’s good enough, sometimes thinks he’s evil or a monster. Is worried about what kind of person he’s growing into. He has these terrible urges to be violent and he enjoys giving into them, but is always trying to control himself. (This works a little easier in vampire stories, because it’s easy to portray a blood-sucker’s need and desire for blood).

7) The hero has a crush on a girl, but doesn’t know how to approach her or what to say. Eventually they get together and make out a lot, but it’s a superficial relationship. The hero may suddenly break it off with her because he wants to protect her from himself (not so much in Harry Potter, but this has been used in Twilight and many other paranormal books). Alternatively, his friend/another guy starts seeing the girl he likes; there’s another girl who likes him but he doesn’t like her back in the same way; he likes two girls and is torn between them (also something we often see reversed, as in Twilight).

The key to writing fiction is having a lot of characters who all want different things, and lots and lots of failure to communicate openly and honestly. There should be lots of hurt feelings and lots of kept secrets.