Thursday, August 25, 2011

Is it Paranormal Romance of Urban Fantasy? With Tina Folsom

Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy?

When Laurie asked me to do a guest blog about the differences between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, I immediately said yes and started panicking. Because, frankly, I had no idea what Urban Fantasy really was. So I figured I’d analyze the issue and start with what I knew: Paranormal Romance.
Not only do I write Paranormal Romance (PNR for short), I also read a vast number of PNR novels. I did a little digging to figure out what my novels have in common with those of other PNR authors. It quickly became clear that there were a few components each PNR has to have:
1. A hero and a heroine who fall in love
2. A happy end
3. A conclusion / solution to the main conflict of the story (which in a PNR is generally how the two lovers will get together and stay together)
4. The focus in the story has to be on the romance, not the external conflict that threatens their world.
Well, #1 is pretty easy, and just to be politically correct here, in a gay PNR there would of course be two heroes. But couldn’t an Urban Fantasy (UF) also have a couple who fell in love? Absolutely. That’s why it’s so hard to keep the two genres apart.
For example, in HP Mallory’s “To Kill a Warlock” the main character, Dulcie, falls in love with Knight—over several books in the series. And I believe that is one of the important points that distinguish a UF from a PNR: the hero and the heroine’s relationship doesn’t culminate in a happy end at the end of book 1 or even book 2. Their relationship is continuing throughout the series and is in no way the focus of the story.
Which brings me to another difference between the two: #4 above—in a PNR the romance is the be all and end all, in a UF it is more likely a mystery to be solved, a threat to be defeated, or a world to be saved. While parts of these danger elements are certainly common in PNR, they don’t overshadow the romance.
But aren’t there PNR series that go on for six or eight or even twelve books? Of course, but if you read Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed series, or Kerrelyn Sparks’ Love at Stake series, you’ll notice that each book has a new set of hero and heroine. The supporting cast remains essentially the same. That’s one of the fundamental differences: with each book in a PNR series you get a new love story and the promise of a happy end. And that’s what a romance reader expects.
A UF might also have more of a feel of a suspense than a romance. However, it’s hard to have a clear dividing line. When I read Gail Carriger’s “Soulless”, the book had the feel of a PNR to me, however, considering this is a series of four books with the same hero and heroine (who are married as of book 2 and whose central conflict centers more around suspense and mystery rather than their own relationship), I’m revising my opinion and would personally call it an Urban Fantasy.
You’ll be the judge.


  1. It has sense for me, great! ;D

  2. There is sometimes a fine line between PNR and UF :) Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference especially with the darker PNR's coming out and UF getting a little bit more lovey dovey :)

  3. I've always felt that there was a definite blurring of the genres when it came to UF and PR. One thing that I discovered for me though was that I get burned out on a pure UF series much quicker than a PR series and the reason is the deficient of romance.
    One thing I've found in UFs that I do love and seems to be essential to them is that they generally take place in a big city. Whereas a PR can be anywhere but is usually a smaller town. The mystery/suspense is essential for me too and I find that if it is in the UF, I'm much more likely to enjoy it. Often it is wrapped up with the whole "saving the world crisis", which if that is the main focal point without romance and mystery/suspense--I'm less likely to follow the series.


    alterlisa AT yahoo DOT com

  4. So Tina, in your opinion, if the story meets all of your points except it does NOT have a happy ending, would you not consider it a paranormal romance? While I can't think of them at the moment, I seem to recall several stories where after the main romantic couple finally comes together they are forced apart at the very end by circumstances beyond their control.

    Also would you expand on "A conclusion / solution to the main conflict of the story" to be really the main conflict of the couple, not necessarily the overall series conflict? For example, JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Lara Adrian's Midnight Breed series, Nalini Singh's Psy/Changling series, etc still have the main conflict going on in all the books but the couple's main conflict between themselves is resolved.

    Even as a reviewer, I have such a difficult time determining the difference between PNR and UF. So since working with Laurie here at BBPR, I've been basically working under your point one which is basically the romantic pair changes with each book even though they may be present in the other books as secondary characters.

    Thank you so much for being a part of this event. It's always great to hear opinions on this subject.

  5. I wrote an article for Nocturne Romance Reads' magazine called OMG, PNR or UF?. Check it out if you have time:)

  6. I thought that explained it pretty well. I have to switch back and forth between UF and PNR romance to have a change. Sometimes I want that pair to end happily but then there's times when I want the story to keep going and have that mystery of what if in there. I love both types =)

  7. Tina, you explained the two perfectly. Great post!

  8. Very interesting post for I am never foresure about the difference and probably will still get it wrong so I do the best thing - I call a friend (like Laurie) and ask? LOL

    Now you have given me something to ponder about when reading PNR and UF, I will probably be paying closer attention/analyzing.

    Great post.

  9. Not so sure of the HEA. I also do think it all has a very fuzzy dividing line. I have heard hot guy on cover = PNR and woman with weapon = UF. Fangs, Wands and Fairy Dust
    Twitter: @fangswandsfairy

  10. So often the topic of a discussion question is which do you like better UF or PNR. This to me has always been confusing with the blending of the lines - well at least I know they are not Syfy right LOL. I want to thank you for one of the most comprehensive descriptions I have read to date on this issue and say wow you make so much sense. Thank you so much for sharing today, I think you are spot on :)


  11. Great post, I am a fan of both PNR and UF and sometimes the line between the two can be blurred, I always tend to think if there is a HEA at the end of the book and the next book is about a different couple then it is a PNR, if the series is just about one hero or heroine then it is UF e.g the Cassie Palmer series by Karen Chance and the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost.

    Suzanne @ Under the Covers

  12. Thanks to all of you for stopping by.

    Yes, the lines are definitely blurred, I'm the first to admit that.

    Steph, I like your idea about guy on cover = PNR and woman with weapon = UF ---- when I look through books, I can definitely see a trend there, and I personally always go for the hot guy on the cover!

    About the HEA though -- for PNR it's a must, for UF I guess not at much.

  13. Great post. I love both genre's, probably because I find the lines so blurry. Sometimes I'll get tired of one and switch to the other, just go back and forth. If I'm having a bad week I will deliberately look for a great PNR just because I KNOW it will have a HEA.

    Sometimes UF by itself can get very dark or drag out too long the relationship to the point where people who were really excited about the series and the potential couple, and were on Team this or Team that...can come to feel they are being jerked around a little bit, because the author knows as soon as they pick one of the two Heroes to be "THE ONE" they will lose part of their audience that was on "Team X".

    I think sometimes UF authors of book series, who have a romantic couple, will intentionally keep the readers in the dark as to who the Heroine will end up with and it can get old. So sometimes it is great to read a PNR just because you KNOW how it is going to end, you just don't know how they'll get there. On the other hand, sometimes I find the PNR, depending on the author, are basically what I call bad vampire Porn. No plot, just excuses for sex scenes.

    I love me a great sex scene as much as the next girl, especially if an author has made me wait for it, but i don't feel I should have to read a book with nearly no plot what so ever so the author can string sex scenes together. Ultimately it comes down to I don't care which it is PNR or UF, I just want it to be good.

  14. Hi Tina,

    I too find that some books are hard to define whether they are PNR or UF.

    I love PNR over UF because of the exact points that you presented (which will definitely help me further in making the distinction between the two).

    The one series that seems to blur the lines for me is Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series. Even though the cover always shows Cat (sometimes with weapons) the stepback always shows Cat and Bones in an embrace. Also even though each book in the series deals with a mystery or a threat their romance still plays a big part in the books (and for readers, Chapter 32 anyone). :)

  15. Hmm... I don't know if I have read any UF books and if I have I probabaly thought they were PNR. I like the romance between the hero/heroine which why I probably read more PNR. But I also love a good mystery/world to be saved story too. Thanks for the great post!

  16. I never really thought of the distinction between PNR and UF until this year. Laurie is the one that first taught me the differences. Your explanation seems great Tina!


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