Genre 101: Urban Fantasy vs. Paranormal

Genre confusion is everywhere these days, especially in a world where few clear genre definitions exist and where so many authors are popping up with genre-crossing or -defying works.  Two of the genres I see most often confused are Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy.  Often this confusion arises because of not understanding what separates a romance from just a fantasy, but also from a confusion over the differences between Paranormal Fantasy and Urban Fantasy.

#28 Paranormal vs Urban


Urban Fantasy:

a) fantasy centered in a city
b) fantasy set in our world but with magic added  [Refer to last week’s post for an in-depth discussion of this genre.]

Paranormal (Fantasy):
Books  with a paranormal setting or characters with paranormal abilities such as clairvoyance or telekinesis.

Technically a sub-genre of fantasy, but you’ll often see it called ‘Paranormal fiction’ or ‘Supernatural fiction’.  (I’ll revisit this topic in a later blog post.)

Paranormal Romance:
Love story between a human and an ‘other’: ghosts, vampires, witches, psychics, etc.
(Comprises the bulk of Paranormal Fantasy books.)

As mentioned last week, sometimes the common use of a genre varies from its technical definition.

Thus, in common usage, you’ll often find Paranormal Fiction/Fantasy used specifically for books dealing with ghosts or humans with psychic abilities; whereas books centering on folkloric creatures such as vampires and werewolves are often classed under Urban Fantasy. I know, so crystal clear, right? *eye-roll* [Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. I didn’t guide the evolution of genres. If I had, I would have laid it out much more logically.]

Romance or Not Romance?
Chiefly, the difference between Paranormal Romance and Paranormal, Supernatural, or Urban Fantasy is the driving theme of the story. Paranormal Romance is, as the name suggests (what a novel idea), ROMANCE. There is often an unusual catalyst that ignites the plot or some fantastical world setting, but the focus is the love story between a human and a paranormal or two paranormals.

In an Urban Fantasy, Supernatural, or Paranormal Fantasy book, romance is often a subplot, but it is not the main theme of the story. The main plot is something like… saving a city from a group of rabid vampires and the romance is an aside, even if it plays into the twists of the story in a big way.

Twilight is technically Paranormal Romance, not Urban Fantasy.  The romance is the main focus of the books. (Put away your stakes, Twihards, I’m not bashing, I’m just stating a fact.  There isn’t much else for plot aside from looooove.)

What now?
Well, that’s pretty much it! When trying to decide if your story is Fantasy or Paranormal Romance, ask yourself, ‘can I remove the romance and still have a good story?’ If the answer is no, your story is romance.

When deciding if your story is Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Fantasy, ask yourself what the main elements are. If it’s centered in a city, it’s Urban Fantasy. If it contains ghosts, it’s primarily Paranormal Fantasy even if also Urban Fantasy or Low Fantasy or etc. (If it has vampires and werewolves, weeeeell, good luck, you’re going to need to dig a little deeper to decide that classification.)

Do you read Paranormal Fiction? If so, what are some of your favorite books?

Next week we’ll delve into the differences between Supernatural Fantasy and Paranormal Fantasy… and whether there really IS a difference or if it issssss….. *whispers* That One Incident when genre gremlins escaped from their cages at midnight precisely and wreaked massive havoc.

Stay tuned….

Until then, Merry Writing!


2 thoughts on “Genre 101: Urban Fantasy vs. Paranormal

  1. Christine says:

    THANK YOU!!! This really helped clear things up for me. These genres hurt my brain sometimes. Although…I can never really see myself writing either (definitely not paranormal romance *gags*), I still want to be able to classify between them.

    Your posts are so informative! Thank you again!

    Liked by 1 person

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