“Yeah, I’d frick a creeper.” Never have better words been taken out of context to represent the Paranormal Romance genre, thank you Felix Kjellburg (Pewdiepie). And though we won’t specifically be talking about Paranormal Romance, we will be talking about Paranormal fiction, which does encompass our beloved love triangles. So let’s talk about the diverse world of the paranormal.
This article is a part of All The Writing’s Spooktober event, for more information click here.
What is Paranormal Fiction?
In the all-knowing words of Wikipedia “Paranormal fiction is a genre of fiction whose storylines revolve around the paranormal.” But despite this Celestial wisdom that we have been proffered, we think it goes a bit deeper (have mercy on us Wikipedia). So let’s start with the definition of paranormal: Any creature, event, or ability that is talked about in non-scientific communities or are unexplained by science. With this information, we can now recontextualize the great words of Wikipedia, “Paranormal fiction is a genre of fiction whose storylines revolve around creatures, events, and abilities that are either unexplained by science or are talked about in non-scientific communities.”
The thing with Paranormal fiction is that it comes in a buy one get, probably, a whole lot more sale (very catchy, we know, e-mail us for marketing services). And what that jumble of words means is that it has a whole bunch of sub-genres, the most notable ones being Paranormal Horror, Paranormal Romance, and Paranormal Mysteries. Basically, if you take one genre and then slap “Paranormal” on it then you have a sub-genre of Paranormal fiction.
Differences Between Paranormal and Fantasy
To the untrained eye the two genres may seem interchangeable, but there are a few differences that separate the two. And you may be wondering why this even matters? It matters because the two genres give readers different promises. Fantasy tells the reader that it’s more mythical and, well, fantastical, while Paranormal lays on the opposite side of the spectrum where it impresses upon the reader a more gritty and realistic story, but with paranormal elements (duh). So the distinction is mainly to help you identify which audience you want to deliver to. So let’s help you do that.
The most noticeable difference between the two genres is the setting. In Fantasy, despite the high probability of being a completely different world, it is most often placed in or based on the Middle Ages (but for the uncultured you may know it as medieval times). And this is contrasted by Paranormal fictions modern settings, with mostly normal people. But this can bring up confusion when it comes to the Urban Fantasy sub-genre, where Fantasy is brought into a modern setting, so we need a few more small distinctions.
One of these distinctions is a magic system, which Paranormal fiction can have but it usually goes unexplained or plays a very small part in the narrative. But in Fantasy the magic system is often a pivotal element that can make or break the story, not to mention that it’s usually created by the author to make something unique and new, which Paranormal doesn’t tend to do. What Paranormal writers are more likely to do is take pre-existing aspects of pre-existing paranormal elements and do 1 of 3 things to it, either they’ll pick and choose the aspects they want to use, or revise them to work better in the novel, but they could also just plop it pre-made into their story like a cup of instant noodles into the microwave, only more… authory?
These examples of magic system creation in Paranormal fiction can all been seen in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. In the novel, she takes the basic premise of vampires sucking blood and basically plops it right into the story, with only a few adjustments to make it more realistic but it’s pretty much the same concept. And in the very same series, we can see that she revised vampires burning up in the sun to vampires sparkling like glitter in the sun (odd boast, but alas). The last component of Paranormal magic creation we see in the series is the picking and choosing, where we, disappointedly, notice that none of Stephenie’s vampires can turn into bats. So in just one book series, we see plopping, revising, and good ol’ picking and choosing.
Another distinction between the genres is that of at least one main character being from our modern world. Paranormal stories almost always include a normal (to an extent, your character should still be interesting) human character that ends up exploring the strangeness of your new world. This is to give readers someone that they can connect to, and it also provides your reader with someone who can ask questions about the world that they also wanted to ask, and it does that without seeming unnatural or forced.
To contrast though, Fantasy has either modified medieval civilians or a completely new breed of human with a different culture that separates them from us. But there are also the Fantasy stories where a normal person falls into the fantasy world for much the same reason as Paranormal fiction, but the difference within that distinction (wow, getting pretty meta there) is how much of the story is set in this fantastical world. The longer your character is in the world the more likely it is that you’re writing a Fantasy, and the same is true the other way around.
Sometimes though the two genres can be so intertwined that you end up with another sub-genre, Paranormal Fantasy. One example of this can be found in, arguably, the most popular book series of our time, Harry Potter. It’s set closer to our modern era, it has a magic system that draws from basically every other magic system ever, it has normal people (mostly to avoid though), and it has both Fantasy and Paranormal creatures.
And so those are the arbitrary differences between two very similar genres. Setting, Magic, Normal People, and Creatures. So you’re welcome America, no, not just America, the world, you’re welcome world, no, no bigger, you’re welcome galaxy, no, you’r—
SHUT UP JERRY!!! Goodness, no one cares, get a life.
*sad Jerry noises*
Paranormal Creatures, Events, and Abilities
One thing you may have noticed missing from the previous section is the types of Monsters showing up in Paranormal Stories. But that’s on purpose because we wanted to mislead you so you can’t become better than us, no just kidding… mostly. We just thought it would work better in this section of the article. And that’s because we will be giving you examples of paranormal creatures, events, and abilities that could show up in your Paranormal story, as well as providing you with ideas on how they can be used to progress your story.
You should also remember that these elements are what really make a Paranormal story, so we suggest practicing writing these elements so you can get it just right. Because even if your story is good in every other area it can really trip up a reader without the proper paranormal components. This is because when you tell your audience that you’re writing Paranormal fiction they’re expecting you to deliver on its paranormal elements so if you mess that up you’re not only breaking a promise to your readers you’re also not reaching your full potential… but no pressure, have a good time :)
Creatures that appear in Paranormal fiction are usually pre-established entities, with the only differences deriving from an author’s edits to them. Some of these creatures include: Werewolves, Vampires, Frankenstein’s Monster, Ghosts, and Bigfoot. Two things that you may notice about all of these monsters is that they appear in pop culture and are slightly humanoid. And this humanness could be there just because there are more well known humanoid creatures but it could also be used purposefully, to help readers connect with your paranormal monster characters.
But just because most stories have humanoid monsters doesn’t mean that there aren’t more animal-like creatures. A few examples you could try out is the Loch Ness Monster, the Gryffin, and the Jersey Devil. Our only advice for doing the more animal-based cryptids is to not make the story a Paranormal Romance because that would be very kooky. Kooky in this situation roughly translates to “Ew!… Dude!… What the frick!”
Events in Paranormal stories are really good for either triggering the plot of a story or acting as a driving force for the plot. An example of this could be found in Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone (we know it’s Fantasy, but it works for the example). In Adeyemi’s novel, the main characters have to gather three magical artifacts for a ritual that brings back the magic they lost years ago, but the catch is that the ritual expires after a few days, and if they miss it then magic will most likely never come back. So using events like say a Blood Moon or specific date can be really effective for both creating narrative tension and getting a character motivated to do more than sit and eat Doritos.
This section also encompasses mystical places like Stone Henge, Area 51, or ancient temples/burial grounds. These places operate as a physical destination for the characters to either destroy or save, or, as in the case of Children of Blood and Bone, to accomplish a task at. These places also add something for readers to visualize which helps them connect to your story better and get them immersed in the world.
Events also don’t have to be a natural occurrence like the aforementioned Blood Moon, the most prominent example of this is being abducted by aliens. But be wary of going too far into the Sci-fi genre if you do the alien thing because you may end up writing a Sci-fi novel rather than the intended Paranormal or Paranormal Sci-fi effect. So if you really want the Paranormal tag you should try and keep the human setting as much as possible.
Abilities in Paranormal fiction are often more psychic in nature than magical, this is because psychic powers fit into the genre better. One example of a story revolving around a paranormal ability is Matilda by Roald Dahl, which is the story of Matilda, a girl who has the power of telekinesis (the power to move stuff with the mind). Some other illustrations of psychic capabilities are telepathy (the ability to receive and send thoughts), mind-reading, and levitation (it counts as long as it’s controlled by the brain). However, just because psychic abilities fit more smoothly into the Paranormal genre doesn’t mean that mystical powers can’t appear, it’s just harder to write them without going too far into the Fantasy genre.
While it is true that Paranormal fiction has had a decrease in interest from publishers that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily dead. But if you’re comparing the genre now to its hay day, then yes, it does seem to be quite dead with only established authors able to write in the genre successfully. However a genre’s popularity often comes in cycles, where it’ll be really popular for a few years and then interest drops for another few years, and then somehow it sparks back to life, and thus the cycle repeats.
Usually, the resurrection of a dead genre can be traced back to either new authors coming in and revolutionizing it, or bigger, more established authors writing in the genre. And if the established author’s book sells really good publishers will be more willing to accept “dead” genre books because they want to try and re-create the success of the established author. So don’t be frightened of writing Paranormal fiction, just be wary that if you aren’t established as someone a publishing company can trust then you have to bring something new to the table that will get both agents and publishers interested in what you have to say.
Paranormal fiction has been given a bad wrap by people who don’t like the vampire and werewolf stories that haunted it for a while, but it still has so many unexplored pathways that readers could be craving. Like a bigfoot and Mothman love triangle, there are so many love triangles—we mean opportunities, you just gotta find them and make it work. So go and do it, go do it and enjoy it, and hopefully, you enjoy it as much as you enjoyed today’s article. So now we have nothing left to say but have a good time of existence.
All The Writing’s Spooktober Event Information
Creating a Magic System Article
Horror Monster Creation Article
Monster Creation Article
Writing Insanity Article