P is for Paranormal

And here we are for another day of the A to Z Blog Challenge! I’ve been extremely busy recently and almost had to call it quits on the daily posts, but I’m really trying to push through. Today, let’s take a brief look at the paranormal fiction genre as a whole.

I’m going to cheat a little since I discussed this a few days ago under the letter M (for “monsters” and I clarified some differences between paranormal, supernatural, and the fantasy genres) and put those thoughts here:

“Technically, paranormal fiction (PF) is a subgenre of the fantasy genre—if you go to Amazon, you’ll have to go to the Science Fiction & Fantasy label to find it. The easiest way to differentiate fantasy from PF is that fantasy usually takes place in a different world/reality (think Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings) and frequently involves magic. PF has fantastical beings/elements that usually exist in our natural world (for example: Interview With a Vampire or The Walking Dead).

Another fact that’s confusing to some is that supernatural fiction (“SF” for the sake of this post) is different from paranormal fiction. SF is where you’ll find beings related to Heaven/Hell, God(s)/Satan. PF is home to most of the other creatures that you’ll often find in fairy tales and folklore. One reason the differences between SF and PF are so confusing is because there are many things that can overlap. So they are frequently lumped into one category for convenience in listing and locating books.

But ask ten different people about these categories and you might get ten different (though related) answers. And don’t even get me started on urban fantasy!”

While there are plenty of stories that are solidly based in a single genre, there are also many that combine two (or more, though that gets very risky) genres. But just because a story utilizes some elements of other genres does not make it a true blend, and a lot of authors get stumped here.

For example, if you are writing a suspense novel, and there are characters who have a little romance in play, it isn’t necessarily a romantic suspense novel. If one genre gets way more page time, you will most often use the dominant genre as your category. But if there are two equally important plots (that should rely on each other), then your book is of two genres.

Romance is the easiest example to explain this with because it is a subplot in so many books/movies/etc. The simplest way to look at your story to determine if it’s a thriller or a romantic thriller is by imaging the romance element gone. Does the plot still work out fine and can the characters still get to the end if there was no relationship in the balance? If so, you’re writing a thriller—it just happens to carry a romantic element.

But if the answer is no, and by removing the romance you eliminate a critical part of the story that stunts progress can’t conclude properly without it, then the element is strong enough that you would have a romantic thriller—each genre is vital to the story.

Another way to illustrate this is by looking at your favorite books and movies and doing the same experiment.

The Harry Potter franchise is a good example that most people know. These stories fall firmly into the fantasy category because of the mystical, magical elements. If the magic was removed from the stories, everything would be broken and it wouldn’t work. They also fall into the adventure category, because without the adventures, nothing in these books would be of any interest.

However, while there are bits of romance that develop between some of the characters, the books/movies do not fall under the romance genre. If you took the romantic relationship elements out of the stories, you would still have complete plots. Because the romance isn’t critical to these stories, they aren’t romances.

Additionally, trying to blend too many genres evenly is a recipe for disaster. Cramming enough content and exposition into a romantic mystery comedy fairytale retelling is likely to end up in a long-winded, chaotic nightmare. Not to mention the challenge you’ll have trying to market it to the right audience. You can certainly combine several genres elements into one story, but they should take a backseat and merely compliment the one or two main genres. Harry Potter does this beautifully. Supporting the adventure-fantasy genre combination, they have dashes of romance, a bit of horror, some sprinkles of mystery, and a splash of drama.

I think that, like romance, paranormal blends wonderfully with many other genres—and it blends especially well with romance. But besides simply being fun to write, I love the freedom paranormal fiction allows me. For example, I like writing mysteries, but there are a lot of limits to what you can do. When I add paranormal to the mix, it opens up all new avenues. I can create beings and rules that make even more interesting crimes able to happen, and that extends to any other genre.

Paranormal horror? Firestarter by Stephen King, anyone?

Love it or hate it, Twilight is a classic example of paranormal romance.

And look no further than the show, Carnival Row, for a paranormal crime drama.

Again, some may be labeled as “fantasy” because the overarching genre is easier to market and describe, but when you look to their subgenres, they clearly fit into paranormal as well.


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