© 2013 John F. Allen
What’s the difference?
If I were asked—as I often am—to name a genre which my forthcoming novel The God Killers fits in, it would be urban Fantasy. I suppose this is mainly because the city in which the protagonist currently resides and the one of her birth, play an integral part in the story and because the protagonist’s ultimate goal isn’t a romantic relationship. However, when it comes to the genres of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, I’ve given some thought as to what the main differences are. As I write, I also read, therefore I’ve read plenty of urban fantasy novels as well as paranormal romance.When I think of the differences between them, I first come to their one and only concrete commonality, PARANORMAL ENTITIES.
Every urban fantasy or paranormal romance I’ve ever read had some form of paranormal creature/being as main characters and/or supporting characters. Whether it is vampires, werewolves, zombies, wizards, angels, demons, mythological deities, etc… something of the sort was present. How they differ is a gray area to be sure, but I’ve thought about it for some time and I’ve come to certain conclusions.
By definition, a paranormal romance focuses on romance and includes paranormal elements. Usually—like in a contemporary romance—the story starts out with the eventual lovers meeting, acknowledging a powerful mutual attraction, yet something stands in their way.Whatever the reason their lives are complicated, midway through the story things change in some way or they decide to live dangerously. Eventually, our intrepid couple determines that they’re hopelessly in love.
Paranormal romances can contain action and also have some graphic scenes of horror, but at its core it is a romance. While many novels in this genre have plenty of action, horror, and suspense these things are not as of great importance as the love story.
Recently, Paranormal Romance has become one of the largest selling subgenres of science fiction and fantasy.
Also, unlike urban fantasies, a paranormal romance isn’t necessarily tied to a large, modern day city. (see below)
In my opinion, urban fantasy must contain something other than the love interest as the protagonist’s main goal. This subgenre is considered steroid addled cousin of paranormal romance. As I mentioned before, paranormal romance is fundamentally a romance, while urban fantasies are fundamentally fantasies.
A large portion of the tale must take place in a city. The urban fantasies I’ve read almost always take place in a large, modern day city where paranormal creatures exist.
That said, there’s no law that says it has to be a modern city, and the timeframe could be one from the past, the future, or possibly on another planet altogether.
Similar to the paranormal romance, urban fantasies must contain one or more characters that have abilities and/or origins far beyond those of mortal men. Vampires, witches, werewolves, oh my!
Unlike a paranormal romance, the urban fantasy can contain elements of romance, but romance is NOT the main focus and/or goal of the protagonist.
In conclusion, while I admit to enjoying both subgenres, there is a difference between them. Something to think about when writing a paranormal novel or choosing one to read!
© 2013 John F. Allen
While I’m not a big fan of romance novels, I don’t mind them nearly as much when the characters are gritty and preternatural creatures are involved, downplaying the sappiness associated with most novels where the word romance is used. Paranormal romance novels are the next big thing and filling the bookstore shelves in record numbers. Spurred on further by young adult novels such as Twilight, this newly developed niche genre has been spreading like wildfire.
When I first heard the term urban fantasy used to describe a sub-genre of fantasy, I wasn’t exactly sure what the term meant. Most times the word urban brings to mind things associated with black people. I know that the word actually means, ‘relating to or belonging to a city’ however, urban radio, urban news, urban plight, the urban center are merely PC ways of referring to things associated with blacks.
The first novel I read—remotely fitting into this genre—was Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton, featuring vampire hunter Anita Blake. The novel was originally billed as a horror/mystery novel, which is as accurate of a description as any. The novel contained all of the elements of a mystery and read like a Robert B. Parker mystery novel which is a BIG compliment coming from me. However, the paranormal elements were present as well. Vampires, werewolves and zombies, oh my!
Another urban fantasy author named Jim Butcher popped up with a novel titled Storm Front, which introduced us to Chicago wizard Harry Dresden. The most common links between Hamilton and Butcher’s novels was:
a) both were set in major US cities, and
b) they both featured paranormal creatures.
I would also like to bring to light another commonality of the two novels—which is true about most novels in the genre,—in that the main characters were white. I have no problem with either author having predominately white characters because the authors are white and you often write what you know. However, shortly after I discovered these authors, I was introduced to another author named L.A. Banks. I was pleasantly surprised that a black author was writing in this genre and the novel featured a black main character. I found other black authors in the genre, yet those I did find such as Seressia Glass and Maurice Broaddus—were far and few between.
Another problem for blacks writing in this genre is the whitewashing of their book covers. Far too often you see books with black protagonists who aren’t featured on the book covers. Why is this? It’s almost like in the sixties when blacks weren’t allowed to be on the covers of their albums because the white mainstream wouldn’t buy them. I’m happy to say that Banks, Broaddus and Glass feature their black characters prominently on the covers of their books, which is as it should be.
The sad truth is there just aren’t that many black authors writing in this genre. As a writer whose work fits within the urban fantasy genre, I intend to add my voice to the fold with my debut urban fantasy novel, The God Killers due out this summer and published by Seventh Star Press. Over the years, I’ve spoken to countless people who are hankering for more works from black authors. Which lead me to believe that we should be working towards bringing black urban fantasy writers to the forefront of people’s minds and the bookstore shelves. I know there’s a market for black urban fantasy novels and that urban fantasy has small black roots which we must nourish and help to grow.
© 2012 John F. Allen
When I was a child, my grandmother told me one day, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” At first I didn’t understand what she meant. Later, as I got a little older I refused to believe her, and was determined to prove her wrong. Finally, when I began focusing on my career as a writer, I accepted her nugget of knowledge as fact, and learned to embrace it for the truth it is. However, if the above observation is true, then what makes any story different from the next?
LIFE EXPERIENCE, IMAGINATION, VOICE AND STYLE.
As most fiction writers will agree, we are products of our environment and individual life experiences and therefore, it stands to reason that many of the seeds for our story plots originate from said life experiences. This can be from what we’ve dealt with on a personal level, what we’ve heard from others, or seen around us including—but, certainly not limited to—what we’ve watched on television, read in books or learned in school. These personal life experiences give our stories a unique flavor which cannot be exactly cloned due to the intricate variables in our individual lives.
I believe that there is a collective consciousness which extends to us all, as we tap into our imaginations and creativeness. We must also accept the fact that the possibilities for formulating scenarios involving larger than life creatures, myths, epic heroes and monsters is finite, just as our voices and styles are infinite. As writers, we sometimes find in the course of plotting a story that we read stories from someone else who came up with very similar ideas for their already published work(s). It is because of this, I continue to work against the truth stated in the title of this post, in order to produce unique stories. I feel in doing this, I can delve deeper into the recesses of my imagination, creativity and life experiences to produce my very own individual story. It is here that we begin to use our imagination to find a variation of the themes we draw from our life experiences and formulate creatively new and exciting takes on tried and true scenarios and themes. It is then that we brand our stories with distinctive twists and turns and imbue it with our own individual spirits and personalities.
As a writer, I’m constantly thinking up new story ideas and using my voice and style to tell the stories. All writers have their own unique voice and style, which separates them from other writers. When it comes to certain elements of storytelling, there are no new ideas. Often, writers of genre fiction ultimately come across elements in another author’s work that closely resembles their own. While this is a common phenomenon, it doesn’t mean that we can’t separate ourselves from other storytellers using similar scenarios and/or themes; it merely means we must work all the more harder at imparting our own essence into our work in order to make it exclusive to us.
Just as there are finite possibilities in regards to scenarios and themes, there is again something to be said for voice and style. I’ve read books that had such similar plots that if you broke it down to the bare essentials it could be the same book. However, what separated the books was the differences in how the authors delivered the story, developed the characters, and the language used to breathe life into the personalities of the characters. How we tell a story, and how much of ourselves we put into our works, is what sets us apart from other writers with similar ideas and themes.
Always remember the old Vulcan axiom from the Star Trek series, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC), the philosophy which celebrates the vast array of possibilities and variables in the known universe. And while there are finite themes when stripped down to their essential cores, when we take into consideration the life experiences, imagination, voice and style of the storyteller, the possibilities are indeed infinite and quite fascinating.
© 2013 John F. Allen