- by Chris Marie Green
I decided to blog today about a question that I’ve been hearing more and more during signings and online interviews. What’s the difference between “paranormal romance” and “urban fantasy”? I thought it’d be worthwhile to ask other authors for their opinions, too, and if you have anything to add, I hope you’ll respond in the comments section!
The first difference seems pretty obvious–there’s a different focus on romance. In paranormal romance, the highest stakes element is the romance itself while in urban fantasy, the highest stakes element is saving the world. Both categories can contain either element, but there’s a different emphasis.
Also, urban fantasy usually has a more acerbic voice, and most of the time it uses first-person point of view, although this isn’t always the case. For instance, my Vampire Babylon series utilizes third-person POV for the heroine, and the vampires plus other characters get POVs, also. Paranormal romance generally seems to maintain a third-person POV balance between the hero, the heroine, and perhaps a villain or subplot character(s).
Some other differences? Urban fantasy can contain more graphic, grittier violence while paranormal romance usually has a lower level of it. (Maybe that’s why urban fantasy can be shelved in the horror section. To date, I haven’t seen paranormal romance alongside RED DRAGON or a Stephen King book.) Also, for urban fantasy, the supernatural element is ominous, whereas in paranormal romance, the supernatural can be more intriguing and alluring. (Think the original, ruthless DRACULA compared to Edward in TWILIGHT.) However, urban fantasy does contain its share of the alluring, as well. I suppose that’s why people ask what the difference is between the labels.
I’d never really considered these differences before. Truthfully, when I first started writing urban fantasy, I had no idea I was doing it. I only wanted to write about a female Van Helsing who faces down survival-minded vampires. There was no question that the romantic element would support the plot, action, and character growth of my heroine, and I never targeted Vampire Babylon to fit into any particular category. That was liberating. However, as I continued with the second book in the series, a sense of expectation did settle in, but it wasn’t because I was trying to shoehorn my work into the urban fantasy category. It’s just that, after the first book in any series, there are things you’ve got to live up to with each story, no matter how the book is labeled. It feels like you, in effect, become your own category, because your readers know you now and have certain expectations. In any event, I suppose labeling affects the way I market my books more than anything.
So here’s a question for you writers out there: how much does “your category” affect what you produce? How much do you really think about it when you’re writing?