Genre 101: Supernatural Fiction vs. Paranormal Fiction

It was a dark and stormy night… and the genre cages had been securely locked the last time the Guardians checked. But the wind was so fierce that night that the night guards had retreated inside their tower to watch out the windows. Which is why they did not immediately notice when, on a prearranged signal by the Urban Fantasy tribe, the cage doors flew open and all of the gremlins escaped.

By the time the guards sorted out the cavorting, mischief-wreaking mass, the gremlins were so filthy with mud that it was hard to distinguish many of them. And since some of them were already nearly identical, some of the guards were never positive that they had sorted them into the correct cages.

For the simple fact that the accident had occurred during their watch , those guards were shifted to another post the next day. The new guards were never aware of any potential mix-ups and life continued on merrily… except for authors.

#29b Supernatural vs Paranormal

Fairy tales aside, let’s cut to the heart of the question you’re all asking: IS there a difference between paranormal and supernatural fiction?

Short answer: no.
Long answer: yes.

Definitions:
[courtesy of the New Oxford American Dictionary]

Paranormal:
phenomena that are beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding

Supernatural:
a force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature

In Common Use:
What this means in actual fiction is that anything ghost, psychic, or folkloric is often defined as paranormal.  Also, aliens are always paranormal.

Angels, demons, and gods are usually classified supernatural (though depending on the setting, these can also be considered mythological).  But ghost stories are often defined as supernatural as well.

Thanks, Arielle, that’s super helpful, you say.  Believe me, I feel the frustration.

Supernatural as a literary genre label is being used less and less because it’s so hard to define. It crosses over with a wide variety of other genres, and can itself be a subgenre of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and thriller.

For example, let’s look at the American TV shows: Supernatural, The X-Files, and The Vampire Diaries.

All are considered supernatural shows. But, The Vampire Diaries is also considered: urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and fantasy.  Supernatural is also classified: horror, fantasy, and mystery.  The X-Files is also labeled: science-fiction, horror, thriller, and paranormal.

Now, let’s narrow the genre focus to the primary theme in each. When we do this, we can see that The Vampire Diaries is primarily what is considered paranormal romance. What kind of a show would it have been without the off-and-on love triangle of Damon/Elena/Stefan?

Whereas The X-Files is primarily paranormal. That’s the whole premise of the show: finding out if seemingly paranormal happenings had a rational explanation or not, including aliens– which are definitively a paranormal element.

Supernatural actually IS a supernatural drama– exploring angels, demons, monsters, and divine powers.

From what I understand, the Literary Marketing Powers That Be prefer to use the supernatural label only on ‘works that DON’T already fall into another chief genre’. Which leaves very few works that can be classed strictly as ‘supernatural’.

Conclusion:
We need a United League of Genres?

Levity aside, if you’re having trouble deciding between supernatural or paranormal, think about a) your main theme and b) all of the elements.

TIP: if you can find a more specific classification of genre or subgenre for your novel besides ‘supernatural’ or even ‘paranormal’, use it to avoid confusion and because specifics are always handier than generalities.

Merry Writing… and may all your genre decisions be easy!

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2 thoughts on “Genre 101: Supernatural Fiction vs. Paranormal Fiction

  1. Christine says:

    I 1000% believe that the fairytale at the beginning is exactly how all this mess started. Golden. XDDD

    But seriously, what a mess! It hurts my wee brain. I love how you broke down each TV show to different classifications. I think that’s the best way to figure out what your novel really IS. Look at all the elements, and the main theme, and break it down until you’ve figured out the specific genre. With ANY genre, not just these confusing ones. I’ll definitely keep that handy tip in mind!

    Thanks so much, Lody! ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

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