Sunday, September 5, 2010

Urban Fantasy Versus Paranormal Romance: What is the difference?

Throughout my life, I have been an avid reader. Once, during my 4th grade summer, a local librarian actually tried to stop me from borrowing my selected books because “there is no way you can read all of those in 2 weeks.” My Mom stepped in and assured her that I would indeed read them all…and I imagine that I did. Growing up, I read what I guess I’ll call “general fiction” (i.e. where the story completely reflects the real world in real time), horror, romance, and even some non-fiction. Despite the sheer number of books I absorbed, only a very few stick out in my mind. A few of the romances (fairly shocking stuff for a 14 year old-- my eagle eyed parents somehow missed those) and the ones that were fantasy in nature.

Why is it that these stories stick out in my mind and the more “general fiction” does not? I personally believe it’s because the genre stories forced my imagination to work. They transported me into other worlds, possibilities, and geared my thoughts to places that would have remained unknown to me otherwise.

My first introduction to the Paranormal Romance (PR) genre came during a writing class about 4 years ago. My teacher, also a PR writer, told us that this genre was the “up and coming” and for us to be watching for the public to really start paying attention to this type of story. However, she did not describe many general characteristics of this genre which left my imagination to wander aimlessly. In my clueless state, I distinctly remember trying to picture a story about a girl falling in love with an alien. I now understand that the “paranormal” aspect generally means that one or more of the main characters is out of the ordinary (beyond the range of science), living in our world, and can consist of whatever creature the author chooses.

I have now been exposed to the PR genre through books such as Sherrilyn Kenyon’s The League Series, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series, and more recently, Zoe Winter’s novella Kept. I also stumbled upon Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments Series. However, while reading the first novel in The Mortal Instruments, City of Bones, I quickly realized that something was different about this story from the Paranormal Romances I had read. First, it had many, many creatures (e.g. fairies, demons, warlocks, vampires, weres, etc.). Second, there was a romance involved, but it was a subplot only. The focus was primarily on rapid paced action, and quite frankly, was a little scary at times. I realize now, that what I had actually stumbled upon was Urban Fantasy (UF).

Researching these two genres has been both interesting and eye opening. First, I could hardly believe just how many genres (and subgenres) are in existence. This list was one of the more comprehensive and helpful that I found. It also became clear to me that although the writers and readers know the difference between PR and UF, those advertising and critiquing these books may not. Often, when looking through information about a certain series or author, the same set of books would be characterized as PR in one area and UF in another. One example is the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. I have read all of these books and in my opinion they are much more Urban Fantasy than Paranormal Romance.

The bottom line is that these two genres are very different from one another.
Some of the primary differences include:
1) The most obvious: PR is a subgenre of the Romance genre and UF is a subgenre of the Fantasy genre.
2) The level of importance of a romantic relationship. This relationship is much more the focus of a PR novel and is in the backdrop in a UF.
3) Often, but not always, the UF novel is written in first person while PR is written in third person.
4) Urban Fantasy creatures, such as vampires, tend to hold to their more traditional reputations rather than being vegetarian and/or romantic as they are in PR.

This is a fairly hot topic on the web and during my research, I ran into numerous blog posts that debated the differences between these two genres. See here for one of the better ones. Overall, just the fact that people are talking about these types of stories further confirms how popular they have become. Now that I fully understand the difference between these two genres, I am excited to find out just what it is about them that people love. Fortunately, I happen to be in touch with a group of people who are familiar with both genres and are avid readers of each. For my next post, I plan to interview them and find out about not only what keeps them coming back for more but what they would like to see from these genre’s authors in the future.

4 comments:

Tina Folsom said...

Algrea, thanks so much for clarifying this. Even after writing several books, I was never quite sure what some of the critiquers meant by saying "you could bring this more into the urban fantasy genre". Now I really do know what they mean - in my case: tone down the romance and ramp up the action.
So, definitely my novels are paranormal romance, even though some of the ones I've planned are more veering toward UF as the plots become darker and more involved.

Great post!

Tina Folsom
http://www.tinawritesromance.com

Algrea said...

Awesome! I'm glad it was helpful. I've enjoyed reading both genres, but it is nice to have an idea of what to expect.

cletsey said...

I agree to Algreait is really helpful good that you shared so informative.

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