Plotting the Paranormal: An Alchemical Solution
True confession: I have alchemy on the brain. Renaissance alchemy is a mystical process – a blend of magic, philosophy, and chemistry. And while writing the second Riga Hayworth mystery, The Alchemical Detective, everything seemed to have an alchemical connection – from knitting to chocolate to plotting itself.
In the classical storytelling plot, things grow more and more difficult for our heroine, with little gasps of relief to keep the heroine, and the reader, moving forward. You can break this structure into five stages:
- Exposition: the problem is presented;
- Rising action: conflict is generated, the plot thickens, the tension rises;
- Climax: a fateful decision is made which sets the heroine on her course;
- Falling action: the bad guy has the upper hand, all appears dark; and
- Resolution: the final conflict between the heroine and the bad guy.
The alchemical process works much the same way – a series of revolutions where the ego or metal is burned and broken down, then revived, until finally, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the spirit rises to perfection. Since I was writing about alchemy, it seemed “right” to hang my plot structure on the alchemical process. I don’t want to give too much away, spoiling the ending. But in broad strokes, this is how the alchemical stages flow:
- Calcination: A burning of the self to ash, often due to a trauma. Metaphyiscal detective, Riga Hayworth, has lost her magic and come to Lake Tahoe to recover and spend quality time with her new love. But a psychic’s been murdered, and the police believe Riga has a connection to the crime. Worse, she has reason to believe she may be the next victim.
- Dissolution: Water is added to the ash. Fears and old wounds rise to the surface, threatening to swamp Riga’s equilibrium.
- Separation: The police aren’t equipped to deal with a magical killer. Riga realizes she must deal with the murderer on her own to protect the people she loves.
- Conjunction: Riga begins to glimpse the truth about her magic and the killer. She takes action based upon her vision/beliefs, setting things into motion.
- Putrefaction: The situation festers, gets worse. Riga battles the demons inside and outside of herself.
- Distillation: Riga fights to reclaim her magic and catch the killer. This is the make or break moment – she either rises to the occasion and triumphs over her inner and outer demons, or all is lost.
- Coagulation: Balance and harmony are restored.
I know, I said I wouldn’t give away the ending, but since there’s a sequel, it’s no mystery that Riga gets her man.
Excerpt from The Alchemical Detective:
The egg quivered, then rolled, seemingly of its own accord, to the edge of the counter.
Riga stared at it, her violet-colored eyes narrowed in concentration. Magic, she reminded herself, was a matter of will and she had that in spades. However, it was also a matter of focus and in this area, she was lacking.
The egg trembled, then slowly rose into the air; one inch, two inches, five.
“Yes,” Brigitte said encouragingly, her voice a French-accented Lauren Bacall. Her stone claws tensed, gouging tracks in the linoleum countertop.
The egg exploded, splattering the gargoyle with shell and yolk.
Brigitte shrieked, the sound of rocks scraping against each together. “Faugh! Water! Bring ze water!”
Riga hurried to the sink and turned on the tap, frustration wrinkling her brow. She grabbed a dishtowel and soaked it in warm water. Her hands trembled and Riga swore under her breath. Two months ago, this would have been easy.
At first she’d thought her magic was gone. Now Riga knew it had gone haywire and her rehab attempts weren’t working. If anything, her magic had become more unpredictable, more dangerous. She only dared practice with Brigitte because the centuries-old gargoyle was made of stone. But even Brigitte wasn’t indestructible.
Someone beat upon the front door and Riga whipped around, startled. She should have sensed whoever was coming up the steps. Another small failure. More pounding; the cheap wooden door vibrated beneath the blows.
“Police! Open the door!”
Gargoyle and woman looked at each other. Woman acted first. Riga tossed the towel in the sink.
“Don’t move,” she said to Brigitte.
“But ze egg. It dries like cement,” Brigitte wailed.
“Later.” Riga hurried to the door and flung it open. A chilly blast of pine-scented air swept inside, tossing Riga’s auburn hair and stinging her skin.
Two sheriffs stood before her in wide brimmed hats and heavy dark brown parkas. Riga might have taken them for rangers had it not been for their belts, strapped with weapons, slung low on their hips. The older one had his fist raised for another round of door pummeling. He lowered it with what looked like regret. He was bulky, bearlike, with steel blue eyes, and she imagined he enjoyed making the door shiver beneath his fist. The tag under his badge read: Sheriff John King. The badge itself: El Dorado County.
“I heard a woman scream,” King said.
“I banged my shin on the coffee table,” Riga said.
“Are you alone?” He peered over Riga’s shoulder. It wasn’t hard – Riga was five foot six, and he stood well over six feet tall, imposing in every direction.
“Yes. Can I help you?” Riga didn’t budge, unwilling to let them in. It wasn’t that Riga didn’t like cops; she was friends with plenty of them, when they were out of uniform.
“It was quite a scream,” he said.
She quirked her lips. “Now you’re just embarrassing me.”
Kirsten Weiss is the author of two paranormal mysteries available on the Kindle: the urban fantasy, The Metaphysical Detective, and The Alchemical Detective. The latter will be FREE over the 4th of July week. She is hard at work on the sequel, The Shamanic Detective. Follow her on Twitter @RigaHayworth or keep up with her paranormal blog at: http://kirstenweiss.com