I’m back at it and I think I may be more confused than ever trying to figure out what is what in the Romance sub-genres of Paranormal vs Contemporary Fantasy.
Last week I asked readers for input in helping with definitions (Paranormal vs Contemporary Fantasy: What’s in a Genre ).
In hindsight, and not realizing how many new people would be stopping by the blog, I neglected to state two things.
- I am a romance writer. When I wrote my post I was looking at definitions of these genres as ‘sub-genres’ within a romance story.
- I was searching for a definitions to help me know what publishers and agents are looking for when ‘calls’ for submissions come out, as well as how to describe a story when submitting a pitch or query. Creating new categories will not, unfortunately, help me figure this out.
Commenter Barb Mazzuca made me realize I’d neglected to point out my lack of stating a main genre. She commented:
But let’s approach this in a different way, instead of looking at it as Contemporary vs. Paranormal. Have you considered main genre and sub-genres? Because Contemporary would be considered the “Main Genre” and after that, paranormal, romance, suspense/thrillers, sci-fi, urban fantasy and so on would all be considered sub-genres or sub-plots. And for obvious reason you would never have Historical and Contemporary together. Unless you were writing a story about time travel, in which case time travel would be the sub-genre, not historical.
Let me make clear that these sub-plots/genres are not independent of the main plot or themselves. But weave throughout the story to cause conflict and to deepen the emotional level.
Which made me think, but my main genre is romance! which led to the d’oh! moment when I realized I had not stated that in the original post. However, she has excellent points, including the very last line: genres are not merely labels but indicative of a crucial element of the plot.
Because I neglected to mention I was looking at the genre labels through the ‘glasses’ of romance (or, as noted above, with romance being my main genre) as well as not mentioning I was looking for a definition so I’d understand ‘industry lingo’, several of the more detailed comments unfortunately didn’t resonate with what I was searching for when defining genres (not characters).
For instance two people, GL Drummond herself and a follower, pointed to a blog post Drummond had done back in 2010 discussing a similar quandary over genre labels. While I like her breakdown of beings:
- Paranormal – Ghosts, spirits and psychic phenomena.
- Supernatural – Demons, angels, miracles, unexplainable by science religiously related stuff.
- Preternatural – Vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters and other not human sort of critters.
I’m not sure that, for submissions and queries, this list is useful much as I like the elegance of these terms over ‘contemporary fantasy’ which casts a very wide net. And my purpose wasn’t to *create* new definitions, it was to figure out what the heck people were asking for when they said they wanted romances that were ‘contemporary fantasy’ and not ‘paranormal’.
The Romanceaholic raised an interesting point:
See, now I think it’s the SETTING not the types of characters that define the genre. Everything you mentioned, if in an alternate, contemporary “earth” is paranormal to me. Contemporary Fantasy to me is more stuff that has characters traveling through different realms or dimensions (think, Stephen King’s “Talisman”).
I’d never really considered it from the standpoint of different character species, though that definitely makes a lot of sense. My biggest problem with that, though, is that there’s often times a blending of those types of characters — Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega series for example have shifters, vampires, AND fae.
Now, see, I’ve been looking at characters, while here the emphasis in on location. Hmm, so for this the definition would be Paranormal being an ‘alternate’ contemporary earth, while stories set in a contemporary earth, but one which contains magical or ‘fantastical’ elements would be Contemporary Fantasy. Although, I should email and ask if shifters are considered an alternate reality creature or a fantastical one. I’d lean toward alternate reality. Hmm….
As for the examples, again my bad that I neglected to say I was looking for Romance sub-genres, because Mercy Thompson doesn’t fit at all in the Romance genre (each book does not have a romantic story arc which is concluded in that book). The Alpha and Omega series, from what I recall, the first two books are romance, while the rest the become more urban fantasy as the previous characters continue their adventures.
But I digress. Let’s take Romanceaholic’s definition and see how some of the more popular romance books and series play out.
And here I need your help, because a) it’s been a while since I’ve read some of these series and b) there are several very popular series I have not read.
So, let’s pick few:
Black Dagger Brotherhood:
Romanceaholic: Paranormal Romance Me: Paranormal Romance
Shelly Laurenston Pack/Pride Series:
Romanceaholic: Paranormal Romance Me: Contemporary Fantasy Romance
Uh, I must be brain dead from the final edits on my manuscript because I can’t come up with something which we both might call Contemporary Fantasy Romance. Help?!
Plus, if you know an agent or publisher who might be willing to weigh in, I’d appreciate that too, since that’s whose mind I am trying to decipher. (Yes, I do know they are not one big amorphous brain! However, every little bit helps)
Thanks for all the comments! I like both of these definitions, but I think my ‘contemporary fantasy’ may be too large, while Romanceaholic’s may be too narrow. Heck, I’m not even sure this is ‘one’ answer to this, I’m just trying to figure one a general guideline to work with going forward.