Monday, December 20, 2010

Fantasy or Paranormal Romance?

Posted by: Unknown

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the categories within the fantasy and paranormal romance genres. I told my husband that and he gave me a blank stare. He did ask. So okay, maybe I’m a dork but I do think a lot about things like this.
As a writer I want to get my book into the hands of the people who are out there looking for a book just like the one I’m writing, who will take it to a good home and snuggle with it under the covers. So I do think that labels are important and necessary. I just want to get it right. And so I thought - what better place to explore this than here with a group of authors who write from one end of the spectrum to the other? Especially since Carina is publishing both straight fantasy and romantic ones.
So here’s my understanding of the breakdown. (I intended this as a basic list but even here I find myself combining terms.)

  • High/Epic Fantasy. Alternate world. (Lord of the Rings)
  • Contemporary/Urban fantasy. Real World. Contemporary times. Jim Butcher (Dresden Files) or Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson series)
  • Historical Fantasy/Alternate History. Real world. Historical Time Period. Emma Bull (Territory), Naomi Novik (Temeraire series)
  • Dark Fantasy – Horror + Fantasy. Stephen King (Dark Tower series)
  • Paranormal romance. – Contemporary fantasy + Romance
  • Fantasy romance. Usually High fantasy + Romance
  • Geesh I almost forgot Steampunk which so far as I can tell is one part Historical Fantasy and two parts SciFi with a twist of zombie.

I think that the difficulty is that when PNR (paranormal romance) was at its frenzied peak of popularity, everything was slapped with a PNR label. Now that people are saying they’re starting to burn out on PNR, maybe some refinement is in order so that the shifter and vamp stories still get into the hands of the people who love them. (Like me. Because I always will.) And people who are looking for something maybe a little bit different can find that too.
Now for a specific question and a large part of the reason I’ve been thinking about this lately…
I’ve been working on a story that without the romantic element would be firmly in the contemporary fantasy category. It draws heavily on Norse mythology and is about a quiet Midwestern town called Ragnarok populated by descendants of the AEsir (tribe of pagan gods). The town stands on a fault line between worlds. The townspeople are the grandchildren of refugees who escaped from Asgard when their world was overrun by fire demons. They guard the portal between worlds and over the course of the story the main characters do cross between dimensions.
This is a romance.
I’m getting this ready for submission right now and trying to figure out how to query it. So my fantastical readers and writers…how would you label this one?
Is it a Paranormal romance?
A Fantasy romance?
And while you’re thinking about that, feel free to argue my categories because really, where would be the fun in all this if you didn’t?

Thanks for stopping by and helping me out!

Eleri Stone


  1. Stumped by the labels. But the story sounds intriguing!

  2. The story does sound intriguing, and I'd place it squarely in fantasy romance as a genre. You have the world building going on there that isn't necessarily an ingredient when it comes to paranormal. It's probably a combination, but more a high fantasy concept.

  3. @Taryn - Me too and thanks!
    @Barbara- I can see your point if by world-building you're talking about the alt. dimension. Otherwise I think PNR world-building can be as complex as fantasy, don't you?

  4. Wonderful post!! Your story sounds amazing but I also wouldn't know how to label it. Maybe both?? I tend to only use the term paranormal romance even though my stories contain fantasy elements.

  5. Great post, Eleri! I'm going to go with Fantasy Romance myself, more because of the fantastical alternate world than anything. Paranormal beings are often found in Fantasy (they exist in Eragon, LOTR, Harry Potter etc. which all still fall neatly into the Fantasy genre).

    I do see what you're saying about PNR and elaborate world-building, but I think Epic Fantasy tends to take it to a whole other level (than anything created in PNR, that I've ever seen, at any rate). The world JK Rowling created for Harry Potter is bigger than any one character in the series. It's just breathtaking and a character unto itself. I don't see that in Twilight or even in the more complex world of J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood.

    That's the great thing about Carina, though. It's okay to create a hybrid and sort of mix and match as long as you tell a great story. And you know how much I loved Mercy, so I can't wait to read whatever it is you come up with!

  6. Awesome story concept! My suggestion? Let your publisher decide on the label. Odds are they will anyway, despite what you think it is. ;-)

    Thanks for being the first to post on our shiny new blog!

  7. @Nicole - I've been calling pretty much any contemporary fantasy with romance a paranormal too. I've just recently begun to question that...or maybe it's more that I've been wondering if that label needs to evolve a little. PNR as a genre has split its seams I think.
    @Christine - Good point...If the world is compelling in a fantasy I don't necessarily need to like the characters. Not so in a paranormal.
    @Cindy LOL You've been doing this too long!!!

  8. Goodreads is where I have the great label debate with me, myself and I. One that keeps me confused is whether paranormal romance can be historical, like Zoe Archer's Blades of the Rose series? Somehow, I've gotten it into my mind that PNR is contemporary -- but then, what of steampunk? It has paranormal and SF and history elements (plus adventure and, I prefer, a dash of humour).

    Eleri, your question could keep my brain circling for days! I love the premise of the story.

  9. I think fantasy romance would be a safe bet. But I am strongly tempted by Paranormal Romance as well. In any case, no one would spank you for calling it a fantasy romance.

    I was really surprised when my fairy tale retelling was classified as a historical fantasy. I didn't know they classified fairy tale retellings that way!

  10. @Jenny-the Blades of the Rose series is another good ex. I'd go w/ historical fantasy but because it's also a romance it fits w/ PNR too. @Tia-I've always thought of fairy tale retellings as a category of their own but historical fantasy makes sense.

  11. Wonderful post, Eleri, and interesting story idea. The concept sounds like a Fantasy Romance to me since your characters cross between dimensions/other worlds. I would label it as such in a query letter. Ultimately, the publisher will decide what marketing label will help sell it the best.

  12. Great post.
    I love your definition of steampunk.
    The WIP sounds intriguing. Look forward to reading it no matter what it's categorised as.

  13. I agree that the publisher will ultimately make the decision, but fantasy romance is a safe bet to query with. And I agree with the others who said your story sounds interesting :)

  14. Thanks! It looks like I have a few more votes for fantasy romance than PNR. Looking forward to getting to know everyone here in our little corner!!

  15. Loved the post and the story you've described sounds great. Since it is set in present day but has a mythological element the only term that comes to mind is Urban Fantasy. I'm looking forward to reading it, whatever they choose to call it:-)

  16. Thanks Paris : )I always think of urban fantasy as PNR without the R. But then I really only like the ones that have a strong romantic subplot. LOL.

  17. For me, it would depend on where most of the story takes place. If it's in our world, I'd label it paranormal romance. If the other world, fantasy romance. But with it starting in our world, I'd lean toward PNR.

  18. Well, the majority of the story does take place in our world. Hopefully it will appeal to readers of both fantasy and PNR. Sometimes I wonder how many readers of fantasy also read PNR and vice versa.

  19. Sorry for jumping in late; I'm catching up on my blog reader. {Smile}

    I'm not sure how to classify that story; Fantasy Romance sounds as good as anything. {Smile}

    However, the description reminds me of Ilona Andrews' The Edge series. I don't know how similar they actually are, of course. Still, when you're ready to query, that series could be a point of comparison, especially if the tones aren't entirely different. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  20. Oooh,that's a really good suggestion. Thanks Anne! It looks like Amazon has The Edge slotted as contemporary fantasy. Hmmm....

  21. I thought that might be useful. I'm glad I could help. {SMILE}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin


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