There seems to be a prevailing belief that paranormal romance is purely a romance involving some kind of supernatural creature, be it vampire, were, angel, demon, or what-have-you. And the sheer numbers of these stories out there help reinforce this conclusion. Many of them are wonderful explorations into what it means to be different, or human, and synthesizing or creating complex myths and worlds.
It’s so pervasive, I can’t tell you the number of times my time travel romance MUST LOVE BREECHES was dinged by a contest judge for “not being a paranormal romance” and so shouldn’t have been entered in that category. But let’s step back. What is the definition of paranormal? If someone hurtling through time is not “beyond the range of scientific explanation [Wikipedia]”, I don’t know what is, LOL.
So what are some other kinds of paranormal romance? The now defunct P.E.A.R.L. awards had the following categories, which I think sum it up pretty well:
- Fantasy/Magical: Story takes place in the natural world but featuring beings [mythical or real] with unnatural abilities. Stories may include visits to other realms. This category also includes ghosts and psychics.
- Futuristic: Stories in this category require the main plot to be set in a time far enough into the future for there to be significant developments (changes) in culture as we know it, or the introduction of an otherworldly culture which affects the contemporary world – plot involves two romantically linked central characters.
- Shapeshifter: Books in this category include beings that have the ability to take on different forms one of which must be human. Werewolves, Selkies, and others.
- Time Travel: Stories in which main character[s] travel to a time period other than their own. Can be historical, contemporary, or futuristic in setting.
- Vampire: Darker and generally more sensual, these stories feature preternatural beings who subsist on human and/or animal blood, or life force (in the case of psychic vampires) often having magical powers and the ability to transform.
- Romantic Fantasy: This category includes traditional Fantasy which is set in wholly imaginary landscapes, and alternate history (a.k.a. historical fantasy). Stories draw imaginatively on speculation in the plot and setting.
- Science Fiction: Stories involve speculations based on current or future science or technology as the plot focus or involve a futuristic setting which is significantly different from the world as we know it.
- Romantic Urban Fantasy: Fantasy in which supernatural elements are introduced into contemporary, real-world, urban settings.
I think this is more inclusive than the definition given by Prof. Sarah S.G. Frantz:
a paranormal romance is a novel focusing on a close relationship in which the primary mundane vs. paranormal tension is explored between the partners in the relationship. So while a story in which both characters know of, understand, and believe in the paranormal elements of the world would technically be “paranormal,” it might not be a paranormal romance because why have a romance with paranormal elements if the mundane/paranormal tension does not effect the relationship? In a paranormal romance, then, by my definition, at least one character must believe they are mundane (whether or not they are) and have to struggle within the relationship with the tension between mundane and paranormal. This definition can be represented in any number of ways, but that’s what I come to when I actually try to parse out my personal understanding of the combination phrase “paranormal romance.” If you think of most of Nora Roberts’ paranormals (I haven’t read the Morrigan’s Cross series, so I can’t speak for those) and Linda Howard’s paranormals, each and every relationship has to get over the “I don’t believe you are a ______/I don’t believe you can do ________” stage. That’s what makes them paranormal, in my opinion.
Which precludes a lot of what was defined by the P.E.A.R.L. Time travel would not be considered paranormal by her, then. One of her main arguments is that, to her, a true paranormal must have the tension between the mundane and the paranormal, but a time travel has that, though she only concedes it straddles the line. I think two mundanes struggling with a paranormal aspect that has suddenly happened to them fits with her definition of having that tension between the mundane and the paranormal, it’s just not the two characters that are representing the paranormal/mundane divide, but rather the situation. However, her definition would definitely not include fantasy, science fiction or steampunk (which I would argue is a subset of paranormal romance, since an alternate history is definitely ‘other-worldly’) as everyone in the story is aware of the otherworldliness.
Perhaps that’s why I really like the name of the RWA special interest chapter “Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal” (FF&P) and a few RWA chapter contests are changing the Paranormal Category to FF&P, so that it can include sci-fi romance and fantasy romance, and the like. To me, I see Paranormal as the big umbrella, with fantasy, futuristic, time travel, reincarnation stories and creature stories as sub-genres. So then Frantz’s definition would be for that particular sub-genre and represents the type of paranormal she is drawn to. But that might just be me.
What do you think? Feel like hashing it out? Do you see paranormal romance in the strict sense like Frantz or more inclusive? Do you consider time travel romance and other non-creature-but-other-worldy stories as sub-genres of paranormal romance like I do? What are some of your fave non-creature paranormals?
- Are non-creature but otherworldly stories paranormal? Is there room for time travel and the like? Stop by @ParaUnbound! (click to tweet)
- There’s More to Paranormal Than Fang and Fur and Wings says @AngelaQuarles on @ParaUnbound, what do you think? (click to tweet)