Saturday, May 15, 2010

Flashback: Paranormal Romance versus Urban Fantasy

It's a wonderful thing to run around all day and come home to a friendly discussion about paranormal romance versus urban fantasy. Essentially, the core of the debate is what separates the two genres? What makes a story paranormal romance and not urban fantasy? Or the reverse?  I discussed my definition of urban fantasy in mid-July 2009.

Paranormal Romance versus Urban Fantasy

That day, however, I logged onto Twitter (You can find me on twitter at @HVLong, by the way)  to see a question from my fellow writer and very good friend Shirin Dubbin (you may remember me applauding her book the Keeper of the Way last year). She was reading a post that discussed urban fantasy versus paranormal romance.

For many writers, what one author deems to be the definition of UF is not always the definitions others ascribe to it. The key sticking point, it would seem is the issue of sex. For some as for Shirin, urban fantasy is fantasy in a modern setting, usually a city—featuring mythic creatures: elves, dragons whether it comes with romance or not.

For me it's not about the sex (although arguably books with a high sex content lean more towards erotica, which is yet another sub-genre) or whether the characters fall in love: it's whether the goal of the story is about the characters falling in love.  If the goal is for the characters to find love with each other or in spite of each other, then it's paranormal romance.

Twilight is paranormal romance. It has a vampire as the male lead and a human girl as the female. They are both living 'normal' lives and meet each other at 'school.' That the man is a vampire is an important element in the story, but it's about their love story, how they fall in love. So the goal is love, that makes it a paranormal romance.

In Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, Harry is a wizard working in Chicago. He has a P.I. license and works with the Chicago PD. He's getting pulled more and more into the Wizarding world, particularly with his work as a Warden, his apprentice and the war with the Red Court.  Harry also has relationships, he has sex and he has great friendships. But the goal of the Harry stories is not the romance. Most often it's saving the world (or at least Harry's piece of it) before it can all go to hell.  With the supernatural elements, the magic and the modern world, that makes it urban fantasy.

Meeting in the Middle

So what does that make Sherrilyn Kenyon? Her books have a lot of paranormal, supernatural and mythic elements. In nearly every one of her Dark Hunter series, the Dark Hunters fall in love with their true love. Even Acheron eventually does. So are her books paranormal romance or urban fantasy?  I think her books sit firmly on the fence with one leg dangling on either side. But if I were forced to choose -- yep, paranormal romance.

Patricia Briggs Mercedes Thompson series: urban fantasy. Despite the romantic triangle between Sam, Mercy and Adam, the goal of these stories is not where does Mercy's heart lie -- it's where is Mercy's destiny taking her. That may change, but I'm still pretty convinced it's UF.

Kelley Armstrong? Urban fantasy with definite elements of paranormal romance. Why? Because although characters do hook up (Clay and Elena, Paige and Lucas, Jeremy and Jaime), their romances are only part of the overarching mysteries and adventures. With the characters constantly recurring, we keep dropping in on their lives and their adventures, that's more urban fantasy than romance, too.

So tell me, do you have an opinion on what really separates paranormal romance from urban fantasy?

Quick Note:
Be sure to stop by Romancing the Blog for another look at this debate. I'm telling you, it's hot stuff!

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