Friday, June 7, 2024

Genre Expectations: Writing Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance

by A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

Vampires, Werewolves, Shifters—Oh my! 

“Oh my!” is right. When you start digging deeper into the market’s expectations for some of the most popular low-fantasy genres, story elements can get pretty weird really fast. Not that weird is bad necessarily, but it does get confusing. Hopefully this series on genre expectations can help clarify what genre you’re writing, so that when you start marketing it, you can target the right audience for it.

So far in this series we’ve talked about many different genres and how they compare to each other (links at the end of the post):
  • Romantic fantasy and fantasy romance
  • Fantasy and space opera
  • Steampunk and Gaslamp
  • Magical realism and contemporary fantasy

Today we’re going to chat about two monstrously popular subgenres of fantasy: Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance (monstrously… did you see what I did there?).

At first glance, you might think that these two genres are exactly the same, and while it’s true that they share many similarities, at the core, they’re completely different. But beyond the core of the genres being different, they attract a completely different audience. 

Urban Fantasy novels are about adventures and mysteries, thriller-type stories with elements verging on horror and suspense. Paranormal Romance novels are, well … romantic. They are romance stories, focused on whether or not the main couple will actually end up together or not. Sure, they may include vampires, werewolves, zombies, or any other type of non-human creature, but the point of the story is the romantic relationship between the characters. 

So, again, like we saw with the Fantasy Romance and Romantic Fantasy, the primary difference between these popular genres is the driving point of the story itself.

Before we continue, I do feel the need to say that just because I’m using these books as examples of the genres doesn’t mean I am personally recommending them. I believe there is value in learning what the market is looking for when it comes to tropes and story elements, but with these two genres in particular, the content tends to walk the line of what many readers consider acceptable. As genre examples, they are useful, but utility as an example of how to write in a certain genre doesn’t automatically indicate morality. So respect your personal convictions and never shut your brain off. Pay attention to what you’re reading and decide for yourself if it will cross a boundary in your life.

With that being said, let’s consider some popular examples of both Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance.

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher is probably one of the most recognizable Urban Fantasy book series currently on the market. Another one very similar to that series is The Iron Druid Series by Kevin Hearne. It’s very similar content, just with a very Irish vibe rather than underworld Chicago. Both series feature lots of action and adventure, and both include heavy use of magic and mythology to offset their contemporary settings. 

Now, I believe both have elements of romance in their individual storylines, but those romantic subplots aren’t what actually drives the story. The adventure elements, the suspense elements, the defeating-the-big-bad-guy elements are what get the reader to turn the pages.

For Paranormal Romance examples, very honestly one of the best examples of the genre is The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer. Many other popular series include The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness (which also classifies as historical fantasy in many ways), and The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger (which also classifies as steampunk).

In these examples, even though there are other subplots happening that deal with some adventures and some mysteries, the primary driving point of the story is the relationship between the characters. Sure, you might care about the other story elements, but what brings readers back is the romance. 

Will the character overcome their differences? Will they defeat the challenges that are keeping them apart? Will they find a solution to the obstacles that prevent them from being together? That’s how most regular romance novels work, but in a paranormal romance, the obstacles are—well—abnormal. Vampires. Werewolves. Monsters. Supernatural beings. 

Regardless of how you may feel about the Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer started a phenomenon. Prior to the Twilight books, paranormal romance had truly been a fringe genre, and afterward? Well, there’s a reason it’s one of the most popular genres in the market now, for better or worse. 

Can a vampire have a relationship with a human? That’s the forbidden romance trope to the extreme, and it’s the foundation for many of the paranormal romance bestsellers currently available. 

So, if you are trying to determine if you’re writing Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance, the question boils down to the core of your plot. 

Can you remove the romantic thread and maintain the point of your story? Well, then you’re probably writing Urban Fantasy. But if the romantic story is the heartbeat of the plot, it’s likely you’ve got a Paranormal Romance on your hands. Market them accordingly, because readers of one aren’t necessarily going to enjoy the other.

Don't Miss the Previous Posts in This Series

Award-winning author, A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if she isn’t, her socks won’t match. She has authored eight novels, two novellas, three devotional books, and more flash fiction than you can shake a stick at. A senior partner at the award-winning Uncommon Universes Press, she is passionate about stories and the authors who write them. Learn more about her book coaching and follow her adventures online at

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