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Suzanne Johnson and MV Freeman talk Urban Fantasy vs. Paranormal Romance

pub artToday, I’m  chatting with M.V. Freeman, who writes urban fantasy/paranormal romance, about the differences between those two genres. Since I have a foot in both worlds, as myself and as Susannah Sandlin, the two of us have had an ongoing conversation for the past couple of years about what differentiates them. Read on for a giveaway, and weigh in!

 SJ: Do you think there’s much difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance? When you’re writing, are you thinking about where it fits in the genre–or do you just write the story you want to write and then figure out where it best fits?

 MVF:  I do think there is a huge difference in paranormal romance (PNR) and urban fantasy (UF)–PNR focuses on the Romance–there is character arc to it and the primary thing is the relationship–the tropes are similar to what you find in contemporary romance. I know you’ve said here is where the various POV’s are, whereas UF is more focused on single POV, and the plot character arc is important. Plus in UF you don’t have to make a redeemable hero (or at least completely). The adventure is paramount (but this is my perception).

When I write–I tend to write the story and then think of where to put it–but I have to say the more I write I naturally start putting it in a category. But I am blurring the genre’s UF/PNR. I love the adventure, plot, character development, but I adore the romance wrapped in it. I write what I want to read–but that may put me in position making it difficult to place. How about you? Do you prefer to keep the lines delineated between PNR/UF? Do write first and ask questions later?

 SJ: LOL. Well, I got myself in trouble trying to write first and categorize later. Two years ago, I was in that limbo land between signing the contract for my urban fantasy series and when my first book, Royal Street, actually went into production. Book two was already written, so I was bored…which usually gets me in trouble. I’d just blown through JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, reading the first eight books back to back. I love that series–in my mind, there’s no one who can create tortured heroes like her. They’re tortured but (ahem, Bella and Edward) they don’t whine and grow annoying.  

 So I thought, ‘I want to write a multiple POV story that’s a romance but has lots of strong action in it.’ I’d found myself skipping over a lot of the stuff with the Lessening Society in the BDB series to get back to the romance bits, and I wanted a strong enough external plot that it could hold its own with the romance. So I wrote this book called Redemption. My agent pitched it to two editors, both of whom promptly came back with the verdict that while a great story and worldbuilding, it sat on the fence between UF and PNR and they wouldn’t know how to sell it. 

I had the UF series going already, so I decided to swing it toward PNR. But first I had to pull this seven-POV monstrosity apart and figure out how to put it back together as a paranormal romance. That’s when I developed my plotting system. Now, before I ever write a word, or even finish thinking about what the big idea is behind my story, I decide what genre it’s going to be. 

I still think I skirt close to the line. My urban fantasies have romantic elements, and my paranormal romances have very strong external storylines; it’s just that, now, I try to keep PNR proportions about 60-40, with 60 percent of the story skewing toward whatever genre I’m writing. My UF has moved from 60-40 plot-to-relationship to, now, about 70-30. I got a mild negative backlash from some romance readers who were disappointed that the romance bits had been scaled back, and positive feedback from UF readers who were glad to see the series settling firmly into the UF genre.

Do you think about reader expectation when you’re writing? I mean, UF and PNR have a lot of reader overlap, and most of the readers (and authors) are women, so I was surprised that there were so many purists that don’t want to see romance in their UF and don’t want to see too much action in their PNR.

 MVF:  That is a good question–and I’ve struggled with it. Should I write to the expectation of the readers or the story I want? I’ve already gotten reviews that did say both: Too much romance/Not enough romance.  It is my opinion–you’ll always have the mix of reviews, not everyone is going to the like your story and there will be others who do. I’d like to be self-righteous and announce of course I’d write what I prefer–but lets be realistic, if you can’t sell it, there is a problem.  

You  mentioned that you wrote a book the way you wanted it, but had to revise it to fit the right genre. I know I gravitate toward stories which have the blend of UF/Romance. There are three authors who I believe straddle the fine line we are discussing: J..R. Ward, Jeaniene Frost, and Ilona Andrews.  

Do you think it’s possible to straddle the line? Or do you think it’s a losing battle? And do you think that in time the lines will blur further? (Much like it has for suspense etc).

 SJ: I think Jeaniene Frost definitely straddles the line—technically, the Night Huntress series is urban fantasy, but Cat and Bones’ relationship is so much at the heart of the story it would be hard to remove it and have anything approaching the current books. JR Ward is, to me, strictly paranormal romance. The relationship is the whole point of each book—how the damaged hero of each novel finds a love that completes him. The relationships get resolved at the end of each book while the external plot—the war with the Lessening Society—continues from book to book. Well, except for my man Vishous. He was cheated

Giveaway – Comment to Win:

So, what think you, readers? Do you have a preference between UF and PNR, or do you read both with equal passion? Next Friday, I’ll post one winner here to win a signed copy of REDEMPTION, my straddle-the-fence book that finally had to get off the fence!

Open to international. This contest will run through Friday 11/22/13 (11:59 PM Pacific) – Winner will be drawn and announced on Saturday, 11/23/13.

Disclaimer: Prize must be claimed within one week of the winning announcement.

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34 thoughts on “Suzanne Johnson and MV Freeman talk Urban Fantasy vs. Paranormal Romance

  1. I read both genres avidly. I don’t mind if a book straddles the fence of UF/PNR as long as it is a well written story. I think authors should write their story, not necessarily what the readers expect. I like surprises, but don’t kill off a favorite character please!

  2. i guess i love as much in both genre i love to see the interaction between teh character but the action and story are also important so 50/50^^ but at the moment perhaps i’m a bit more into urban fantasy since a lot of my favourite series i’m reading right now focuse on one couple and a long story line ^^ no matter i will take a paranormal romance soon enough ( in fact in a few minute^^)

  3. Reading LOVER UNLEASHED right now, Suzanne, and I, too, have read them straight through. I enjoy the BDB books because they are so different from what I write. And I totally agree that V got cheated.

    I like y’all’s explanation of the difference in the two genres. Makes sense to me. Suzanne, you totally intimidate me with your brilliant system. One of these days, I want to take your class.

    “But I am blurring the genre’s UF/PNR. I love the adventure, plot, character development, but I adore the romance wrapped in it.” Mary, that’s me exactly!

    Great article, ladies!

    • Oh, V got TOTALLY cheated! I read an article by JR Ward about how much trouble she had writing Lover Unbound–she and V just never developed the rapport authors have with their characters, so she found him hard to write and hard to resolve his romance. That’s the only one of the books I ended up feeling cheated by. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Did she say why she had difficulty developing a rapport with him? He’s certainly dark, one of her darkest characters, IMO, and deserves his HEA. Personally, I think Jane should go into the Fade or go to Disney World so V can have a new love story!

      • You are an fabulous writer Lexi–You balance the dark and the humor so well. Suzanne, (I love your plotting system–it has helped me greatly) and about V — I was wondering because I thought I was the only one who felt off about it–I still love his character though. But here is something I’m taking from it–that as writers there will be characters we struggle with. It’s an interesting battle to get through.

  4. I’m so glad I read this post! The first book in my 4 book closed-end series, Trinity Stones, comes out in April, and I chose to blur the lines between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. I’ve read every one of JR Ward’s BDB, and her Fallen Angels series. I read these before I dedicated myself to writing, and I especially adore her use of multiple POV. It was hard making the choice I made on genre, but I knew my story was too important to bury as secondary to the romantic elements. My favorite UF’s have a heavy dose of romance, and I chose a 60/40 mix because that is my preference as a reader. As with all books, it will appeal to a certain group of readers and not to others. At the end of the day, it’s what I want to read and write. I realize not everyone feels the same way, and I respect that.

    • LG,
      I am with you there. I love multiple POV’s as well. And it is my belief, if you write what you want to read and what you love–it makes it stronger story. It’s still a tough call. I’ll have to keep an eye out for your books!

  5. Great conversation on the distinctions, you two. Human’s love categories, that’s for sure.
    Personally, I love the ones heavy on the romance but that external plot has to complicate things, or what’s the point?

  6. I love both i think my storyis more PNR but could be very close since the hero is tortured.. darn now im confused again.. Great blog and good information!

  7. Terrific discussion! I read both and I definitely get the distinction between the two. I recently started reading the Black Dagger Brotherhood books and I am really enjoying them! And you both know I LOVE your books!

  8. I read both. Urban Fantasy is actually how I came to the Romance genre. I was reading Anita Blake, Mercy Thompson and the Women of the Otherworld when I found P.C. Cast’s Goddess Summoning series (I suppose it was mis-shelved). I have never looked back, but Mercy is still my favorite heroine.

    • Karin–all of those are writers I enjoy! I like how the heroine stays with you, that’s a sign a story has captured you (which I always look for when I read—hence my current obsession with Jean Lafitte…)

  9. I’m a 70-30 fan. Sexual tension makes a better read than sex, IMO! I’m always interested in a greater-than-the characters story. Take, for example, a plot centered around a water quality issue. . . . (Yes, I’m thinking about River Road!) I may turn a few pages to see if they will or won’t, but it’s the external plot that keeps me engaged all the way to the end.

  10. I love the way you managed to discuss the concept! You clarified for me that the reason I prefer UF is that I like a little sexual tension in my big, outside world plot.

  11. Great conversation! This is a topic I’m very interested in, because I write on the UF/PNR border myself. As a reader, I tend to pick up UF more than PNR, but I like my UF sexy, with a strong romantic plot to go along with all the world-saving. My favorite books have character-driven plots, and relationships are usually a big part of those arcs. I hope we get plenty more genre-straddling, line-blurring books in the future. 🙂

  12. I do love both UF and PNR, and I don’t mind a bit of romance in my UF as long as it has the strong heroine I love to read about. I think straddling the lines is a good thing, blending types of romance is more accepted nowadays too. I do love series with an overall story arc, Nalini Singh is a master of that, in both her series.

    • Xaurianx–Excellent–and I agree, Nalini does a fabulous job. I am hoping to see more of this straddle. The characters are so very important when you blur this line.

  13. Man, I love this topic. I read and write both PNR and UF. In my UF the romance is secondary to main plot. In my PNR, the romance rules. And I agree with everyone about poor V in BDB!

    • CeliaBreslin– So do I! I think its a debate that continues but what I’m seeing is there is a gradual acceptance of this blurring. I think there will always be straight UF and PNR, but there will now be more of a middle ground, which makes me happy. And I agree… poor V! 😉

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