Whose Fantasy Is This Anyway? Part 3

Whose Fantasy Is This Anyway?

Part 3 – The Paranormal Problem


This is the third of a five part series about authors navigating fantasy’s many overlapping subgenres (please also see  Whose Fantasy Is This Anyway? Part 1   Whose Fantasy Is This Anyway? Part 2 ).

Given the prevalence of paranormal fantasy novels, authors writing any other type of fantasy set in the present day may be prone to misclassification as paranormal – even if their work doesn’t contain motifs from this subgenre and wasn’t intended for this audience. At the risk of being provocative, paranormal has almost become the default category for modern fantasy unless a given work clearly signals that it doesn’t belong to this subgenre.

Though certainly not all paranormal fantasy is set in the present-day, a lot is. Setting is a hallmark distinguishing fantasy subgenres from one another, so if your fantasy story occurs in modern times, potential readers cruising for a fantasy may assume that your work is a paranormal novel.

Conspicuous romance is another key characteristic of paranormal fantasy, so if your novel combines enchantment and even a trace of romantic frisson (e.g. my fantasy  https://amzn.to/2GwLDje  ), it may resemble paranormal to the cursory inspection. And not only humans are confused; recommendation algorithms on platforms selling books (e.g. Amazon) may also display your work alongside paranormal stuff.

To be clear, paranormal is a perfectly respectable space within the broader fantasy genre. In fact, depending on whose numbers you believe, paranormal is either the most popular or a close second to high/epic fantasy, another widely read fantasy subcategory. And it’s easy to understand paranormal’s popularity given its blend of romance and fantasy tropes. The protagonists have magical powers or are otherwise special in an otherworldly sort of way. Romance with various erotic shadings is central to plot and characterization. This legitimately appeals to readers who may feel a paucity of sensuality, magic or, in fact, anything special in their quotidian existence. Really, what’s not to like about escaping to a story populated by sexy vampires lusting after hunky werewolves amidst darkened landscapes with the occasional citizen of Faerie thrown in for good measure?

However, paranormal’s appeal represents a challenge for fantasy authors using a modern, perhaps urban, setting for their novels, but who don’t otherwise adhere slavishly to paranormal’s strictures. In this case, getting lumped in with paranormal isn’t necessarily desirable because: 1) readers who don’t want paranormal will skip your book; 2) readers who do want paranormal will feel deceived if they buy your book and don’t get their preferred story type. So it behooves fantasy writers to be as clear as possible about what they are…and what they are not.

Or should they?

(see Part 4 of this series)

(The wonderful image is by Wolfgang Kckert from Pixabay)

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