Monday, July 30, 2012
What's What: Urban Fantasy vs. Paranormal Romance
(Although I should say here I stand by my contention that if a book has a woman [usually half-naked] as the primary image on the cover it’s UF and if it has a [usually half-naked] man or a couple, it’s PNR.)
But suppose you’re writing a book and don’t have a handy cover image to consult? I write both urban fantasy with romantic elements and paranormal romance with urban fantasy elements. What makes them different? I took out the print copies of Royal Street (urban fantasy) and Redemption (paranormal romance) and did a few comparisons.
Beginnings. In my urban fantasy, my heroine has a couple of potential love interests. DJ doesn’t meet Alex until page 73; Jake doesn’t show up until page 101, fully a third of the way into the book. In my paranormal romance, hero Aidan meets heroine Krys on page 9. In a PNR, it’s important to get face time between the couple as early in the book as possible. In urban fantasy, where the romance plays a backseat, it doesn’t matter—they meet whenever it works with the plot, because the plot doesn’t revolve around them (see below).
Page Time. In my urban fantasy, there is one point-of-view character, DJ, who filters everything in the book through her consciousness. She’s on literally every one of 336 pages. Even though the PNR has six point-of-view characters. Aidan and Krys each have 22 POV scenes; the reader spends a roughly equal amount of time in each of their heads. (The other POV characters have eight scenes between them—many of which revolve around Aidan or Krys.)
Plot vs. Relationship. In an urban fantasy, plot always trumps relationship. It carries the bulk of the page time. The plot’s resolution is the book’s resolution, regardless of where the romance happens to be. In a paranormal romance—even one with a very strong UF plot line—the romance is the book’s resolution, no matter where the urban fantasy plot happens to be.
In my UF, the book ends when the bad guy who’s been causing trouble for 300 pages gets put down. The romantic relationships remain unresolved. There’s not even a hint of a happily-ever-anything. In my PNR, the book ends when the hero and heroine find their happily-for-now, even though the urban fantasy plot—the driving drama of the book—is not only unresolved, but in worse shape than it was when the book began. (That’s what series are for!)
Immortality. No, I don’t mean like vampires. I mean immortality from a writing standpoint. Who in your book is unkillable? In my UF, the heroine DJ is the only unkillable character. If she dies, there is no series. I love Alex and Jake and Jean Lafitte, but if any of them kicks off, the series can go on. They are not unkillable, in a literary sense.
By contrast, if Aidan or Krys dies a final death (because there’s always that “final death” thing to consider with vampires), there is no book. It’s over. In a paranormal romance, both the hero and heroine are unkillable, at least in any conventional sense of the word.
So, that’s what my late-night rumination on these genres produced. Other ideas on how these genres differ? Do you agree with these ideas?
BIO: Novelist currently living in Auburn, Alabama. Author of the Sentinels of New Orleans series (urban fantasy, Tor Books) as Suzanne Johnson. Writing as Susannah Sandlin, author of the Penton Legacy (paranormal romance) and Collectors (romantic suspense) series from Montlake Romance. See my author website for more info!