The genre dilemma: urban-paranormal-fantasy? Para-urban-tasy?

I commented a little while ago that ISLA’S INHERITANCE, my first novel, is either urban fantasy or paranormal fiction, depending how you look at it. I usually call it urban fantasy. On the off chance a clearer answer is actually out there, I decided to go to that font of everything: Wikipedia.

Wiki defines urban fantasy as follows:

Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements. However, the stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, as well as fictional settings. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.”

First sentence: check. Second and third sentences: check. Fourth sentence: … uh. Sort of.

It is set in a city. But the city is Canberra, which isn’t known as the bush capital for nothing. It’s a sprawling place with a population of several hundred thousand, and a lot of parks, reserves and other pockets of nature within it. For a story about modern-day faeries with an iron allergy, it’s pretty much the perfect setting.

But is it an urban city, in the sense people mean? No, not really. We don’t have a subway (or rail!) or lots of high rise buildings. New York it ain’t. Sydney it ain’t. Also, most of my scenes are set in the suburbs. I asked an agent on Twitter if that was okay, and got a resounding no. They quipped that it would have to be suburban fantasy.

Uh oh.

Okay, let’s look at paranormal then.

Uh oh again.

It seems that paranormal is only actually defined as a subcategory of romance, called (funnily enough) paranormal romance.

Paranormal romance is a sub-genre of the romance novel. A type of speculative fiction, paranormal romance focuses on romance and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from the genres of traditional fantasy, science fiction or horror. Common hallmarks are romantic relationships between humans and vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, and other entities of a fantastic or otherworldly nature.”

My book has a romantic element, but that element isn’t the focus of the story. And it’s something that develops over a longer arc than is typical in your paranormal romance novels, where usually the characters lust after each other from pretty early on.

Doug

Of the two genres, I think my decision to call Isla’s Inheritance urban fantasy is right, because it has more of the hallmarks of that genre. For example, this one: “While several adult stories focus on professional heroes, many teen urban fantasy novels follow inexperienced protagonists who are unexpectedly drawn into paranormal struggles. Amidst these conflicts, characters often gain allies, find romance, and, in some cases, develop or discover supernatural abilities of their own.”

Have you struggled to categorise your work? How did you resolve it?

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2 Comments on “The genre dilemma: urban-paranormal-fantasy? Para-urban-tasy?”

  1. I write urban fantasy too, but sometimes I wonder about paranormal books that don’t take place in a city. What about the Sookie Stackhouse novels? Should they be considered country fantasy or Southern fantasy? Bayou fantasy might work.
    I think paranormal fiction works best for all the settings covered in the genre. Too bad it’s not used much as a label.

    • You could call them paranormal romance too because there’s a strong romantic plotline (or lines) throughout – but I don’t think it is, really, because it’s hardly the focus of the books. There’s definitely a gap in the genre labels to cover urban fantasy that’s not set in New York…


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