Paranormal vs Contemporary Fantasy: Sub-Genres Pt 2

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


11 thoughts on “Paranormal vs Contemporary Fantasy: Sub-Genres Pt 2

  1. Pingback: Paranormal vs Contemporary Fantasy: What’s in a Genre? « Ellie Writes 2

  2. Hello again. As a reviewer the question I’m asked most is what is Mainstream Romance? I had to be honest and admit I really only had a grasp of what it (Mainstream) as a genre involved pertaining to romance. So I went searching for the answer. I found it in an article written by Carmel Thomaston a.k.a Fay Robinson.

    In which a part I used to answer in your last post.
    Now though I think it would be a good idea to read the whole article. I think it’s a very interesting and helps clear up a lot of the questions you ask. Here is the link to that article. Hope you enjoy it!

  3. Pingback: Romance sub-genres, blogging and a huge thanks! « Ellie Writes 2

  4. That made me vaguely dizzy 😛

    Honestly, and you’ll likely want to brain me with a brick for saying this, but I consider Urban Fantasy to absolutely be a sub-genre of romance. PNR and Urban Fantasy to me are basically kissing cousins, with the main difference being that PNR has a single “couple” per book, while UF has a main protagonist whose journey towards a HEA takes place over the course of several books. Granted, there are SOME Urban Fantasies that do not have any romantic subplot, but they’re few and far between in my experience (in fact, I can only think of one off the top of my head?). Perhaps there are bajillions more out there that I simply haven’t been exposed to (which is ENTIRELY possible), but I’ve read tons and tons of UF that does indeed have a romantic arc across the series.

    So while Mercy may not have been the best example, I still say the basic argument holds — when there are so many books that have BOTH “paranormal characters” as you’ve defined previously as angels, demons, zombies, and vampires, AND “fantasy characters”, as you defined in your last post as elves, witches, biogenetically altered humans, and shapeshifters.

    (RE: shifters, In your last article you said “Does this then mean that contemporary fantasy is then creatures who retain their humanity – their human body functions for the most part as a human body is designed to do? Which, I think, would then place shifters in this category/genre. That does work.”)

    However, one of THE most popular rivalries in PNR/CF is Vampires vs Werewolves. So if Vampires are “paranormal” and Werewolves (shifters) are “fantasy”, then which genre would would be correct?

    This is why I say it’s setting, not character type in general that determines the sub-genre.

    If those vampires and werewolves are in modern day Forks, WA *cough*, then by my definition it would be “paranormal romance”.

    If those vampires and werewolves are instead on modern day Earth and then cross over into other dimensions like in Rhyannon Byrd’s Primal Instinct series, or Rosalie Lario’s Demons of Infernum series, then that would be Contemporary Fantasy Romance, regardless of the character species.

    I think technically with your original definition, books such as The Fallen Queen would be considered “paranormal” since the main characters are angels and demons in a contemporary setting. However, for me, it was VERY firmly in the “contemporary fantasy” genre mainly because there was a quite a bit of travel between Earth an other (fantasy) realms.

    Let’s see, something I think we’d agree to be Contemporary Fantasy Romance… Perhaps Thea Harrison’s Elder Races series, as it involves travel to other realms? Since it consists of mostly fae and shapeshifters (wyr), it would seem that you would categorize it similarly?

    Or maybe The Last Slayer by Nadia Lee — it consists of demi-gods and dragon-shifters and moves back and forth between a contemporary setting to an alternate dimension where the dragons (and I want to say possibly some fae, but it’s been a while since I read it) rule.

    Now, to be fair, I’m a book reviewer and not by any means an author or a publisher, so I haven’t the foggiest idea how “The Industry” categorizes such books when it comes to submissions and queries — this is merely how my bookshelves are organized on my blog 😉 So what may work for me may make you a laughing stock with different publishers. No matter how much my twisted logic may work for me with my own organization, if it doesn’t work for publishers, then I freely acknowledge that it’s completely invalid in the publishing world. 😉


  5. Pingback: What is Paranormal Romance – Fantasy Romance – Urban Fantasy? Or, let’s name that genre! « Nicolette Reed

  6. I have been bouncing around a blog post of my own on this for a few weeks. Glad to know I am not the only one who struggles with this. I feel like my story simultaneously fits into paranormal romance, fantasy romance, and urban fantasy. What is a writer to do?

  7. Ohhhhh. I see. Maybe this will help?

    Paranormal romance: “Common hallmarks are romantic relationships between humans and vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, and other entities of a fantastic or otherworldly nature.

    Beyond the more prevalent themes involving vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, or time travel, paranormal romances can also include books featuring characters with psychic abilities, like telekinesis or telepathy.” –

    Contemporary fantasy: “Used to describe stories set in the putative real world (often referred to as consensus reality) in contemporary times, in which magic and magical creatures exist, either living in the interstices of our world or leaking over from alternate worlds.” – Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt. 😉

    I did read somewhere that any romance involving magic, and/or non-human beings would be considered ‘paranormal romance’. I think it was on some agent or publisher site.

  8. lol I had no idea.

    I responded to the last post – I said I thought of all of those as urban fantasy – because I was thinking paranormal and contemporary fantasy and when I would separate them from urban fantasy. Which is pretty much never. Even if they take place in a small town instead of a more urban setting.

    I write mainly fantasy, by the way. Which is probably why I was comparing them to urban fantasy in my own head. I never actually considered them sub genres of romance. And if they are romance sub-genres of romance, I am not how to differentiate them.

    I have read some of the black dagger books and some of the other series, too. I would have called all of them paranormal romance. Also Nalini Singh and Lara Adrian and Gena Showalter and Kresley Cole and Sherrilyn Kenyon and lots of others. As a reader, I really wouldn’t have differentiated them like that.

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