Defining the genres: Shades of paranormal

I primarily talk about 3 different types of paranormal fiction: paranormal mystery, paranormal romance, and just plain paranormal.

Paranormal, by itself, refers to things outside the ordinary. Okay, well, that obviously includes pretty much everything in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and all the variations thereof. So what makes paranormal fiction different?

It’s normally set in the modern world, but can take place anywhere, not just in a big city. (See my earlier post on urban fantasy for more on big cities, mysteries, and things out of the ordinary.) Paranormal stories can include telepaths, witches, vampires, empaths, and just about any other “not quite a normal human” character you can think of. The Mayan book I was working on last year, Touching Time, falls into this category — the main character uses psychometry to learn about objects, and time travel is involved.

Paranormal mysteries have such a setting, with a mystery involved. Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books are paranormal mystery — in fact, the official series title is The Southern Vampire Mysteries. They take place in rural Louisiana, and they feature a telepath, vampires (obviously), and shapeshifters. I haven’t read any of these books, mostly because I’m not big on vampires, but I know Harris writes excellent mysteries — I loved her Aurora Teagarden books.

Paranormal romance has the characteristics of paranormal fiction plus those of category romance — happily ever after and all. I write straight paranormal romance in my Elementalist Romances — the typical boy meets girl, girl wants to smack boy for being so condescending, boy and girl make peace with each other and defeat whatever danger they’re facing sort of romance. However, M/M, F/F, M/M/F, M/F/F, and other combinations exist. The defining portion of these books is the relationship; that’s the core of the story.

Of these three categories, paranormal romance is the one you’ll hear most commonly, and that’s not just because romance is such a large percentage of the fiction market. Paranormal was very popular in the ’90s, but then took a nosedive, which led to authors rebranding themselves or simply vanishing. Paranormal mystery, although an accurate term, is used less frequently than urban fantasy (even when there is no urban setting involved). If I had to redefine boundaries in ten years, I might not use any of these terms; they’re all flexible.

Your turn: what’s your favorite paranormal genre? Do you have a favorite author, series, or book?

A completely unrelated bonus for you — the opening paragraphs of the epic fantasy I started this morning for Camp NaNoWriMo:

The wild red enclosure sat back from the main Night Cargo wagons. This was the only caravan that ever traded in the small equines — not quite a horse, with the horn buds on their forehead, but sturdier and more reliable than deer or antelope, more suited to riding than eating. Alaryn knew that a single red could sell for hundreds of coins, thousands if he found the right buyer. Certainly enough to pay his sister’s dowry to the church.

He edged through the shadows, one eye on the people talking in front of the fire. There were rumors about the people who belonged to the Night Cargo crew — they used magic to tame the reds, they were immortal, they ate the dead, they ate offerings left for the dead, they were the dead. Dead people didn’t drink wine, and the meat roasting over the fire smelled like mutton. Alaryn wasn’t ruling out magic, though.

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  1. Favorite paranormal series…do I dare say the Twilight Saga, or is that still a general point of contention on the internet? People are entitled to their opinion, but Meyer created a unique mythos, compelling characters, and writes so deeply embedded in her main character that you can’t help but keep turning the pages until the end.

    Assuming you like vampires and such. And, on a bonus note, the books touch, to some extent, on standard paranormal, paranormal romance, and even paranormal mystery at times.


    • Of course you can say that! I know that many (many, many) people enjoyed both books and movies, whether they are to my taste or not. This means Meyer connected with her audience, which is something every author wants to do!

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Compelling start on your fantasy!
    I enjoy writing paranormal romance. It gives a kick that contempory romance doesn’t have…for me. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks! Glad you like it.

      I have to admit I haven’t read a plain contemporary romance since high school. πŸ˜‰ Clearly, I agree with you.

  3. Very hook-y opening paragraphs!

    • Thanks! I’ll admit, when I first wrote them, I thought they were rather mundane and boring. I forget that we always find our own voices dull because always hear them.

  4. Ooo! The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris, yup! I’ve read most all those books — I think I have the newest one to catch up on though. I like her writing style but I have noticed inconsistencies in the story line between each book, so that kind of threw me off a bit. But I will say that each book was a fun read, like, I eagerly looked forward to each installment. πŸ™‚ I haven’t checked out her Aurora Teagarden series, but after seeing how much you liked them I may have to add them to my to-read list! πŸ˜€

    and OMGOSH! I *love* the intro to your epic fantasy! 😎

    • I have watched a few episodes of True Blood (Netflix), and the characters certainly are compelling. If you do check put Aurora Teagarden, let me know what you think!

      Thanks so much for the enthusiastic words!

  5. Sandman Slim knocked my socks off. But is that more urban fantasy or paranormal? I just read your post on urban fantasy and I’m still a bit confused between the two.

    • I’d count Sandman Slim as urban fantasy, not just because it takes place in L.A., but also because it’s got that noir hard-boiled detective feel to it. Sandman Slim reminds me of Sam Spade — not in the same way that Harry Dresden does, but definitely in the no allegiance to either Heaven or Hell; he’s on no one’s side but his own.

      So what’s the difference between paranormal mystery and urban fantasy? Ummm. Well, aside from the big city, there might not be a difference. I think it’s a question of where you personally want to draw the lines.

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