Storytelling: Fantasy vs. Paranormal

This post is now a podcast episode! I’ll add an embed link after it’s live, but in the meantime you can learn more about the podcast in this post.

Another storytelling genre post! This time I’m covering how I tell apart the fantasy and paranormal genres, because there’s a lot of overlap between the two. I did some research to help me distinguish the differences, because the more I was brainstorming for this post the more I realized that a lot of the same elements are in both. There’s otherworldly creatures and species, magical elements, and they can easily dovetail into other genres like romance and adventure… so how do you know which story you’re writing?

What I found is that the best way to tell, is to see what your story looks like without all of the elements that make your story something other than clear-cut fiction. Here’s what that means:

  • If you have mythical beasts and/or magic and/or non-human species, but you take them out of the story and your world resembles our reality, you’re working within the paranormal genre. Vampires roaming the streets of a city you based on your hometown, including ordinary people living ordinary lives? Take out the vampires and you’re left with a city that’s familiar and recognizable as based in our reality.
  • If you have mythical beasts and/or magic and/or non-human species, but you take them out of the story and your world is still different from our reality, you’re working within the fantasy genre. Vampires roaming the streets of a city in a realm you’ve done the world-building for yourself, with people who are doing things that make the world distinctly other? Take out the vampires and you’re left with a city in a realm that is markedly different from the everyday world that people would easily recognize.

Both of these examples introduce the element of vampires, non-human beings that can be fashioned in any number of ways. But the difference lies in their surroundings and how the world functions without vampires.

There are millions of use cases that can pick apart the distinction between the two genres, and overlap is inevitable. But if you’re trying to figure out how to market your book or do audience research before you start writing, this is a good way to get a high level understanding of which genre you should likely be focusing your efforts on. Another excellent way to figure out if your story fits in one or the other is to find stories like yours and see how other readers and writers have already categorized them. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel!

If you’re still stuck, and you can’t decide whether or not your story is paranormal or fantasy, that’s okay too! It might be a bit harder to niche down, which is highly recommended for marketing your book or otherwise getting it within reach of your audience, but sometimes a story just won’t fit into a box. So find the similarities between the genres and try to decide which benefits you want to leverage. Two examples of these cases:

  • Fantasy books tend to have higher word counts than paranormal books, so if your borderline book ends up with more pages than you were expecting then you might want to focus on the fantasy genre for your audience research and marketing.
  • If you’ve been writing about a mythological species intending to fit squarely within the fantasy genre, but it’s a shorter book and you found one similar that was niched down into the paranormal genre, then you might want to explore that existing niche and see if you can use it to your advantage.

There’s no right way to categorize your story, because everyone’s story is going to be different. That’s what’s so great about writing and storytelling in general. There are no places for perfect boxes here, just guidelines that help readers know what to expect when they decide to explore your universe by way of your story.

So the short version: in order to pick a genre box in which to place your story, focus on what’s not there and use that as a guideline for which box you’re going to break later.

What do you think? Do you prefer writing in the fantasy or paranormal genre? Or both (or neither)? How do you tell them apart? Let me know in the comments! And if you don’t want to miss out on any Author Rescue content, join the monthly newsletter!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: