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What Is Paranormal Fiction?

By Kay Paddock
Updated May 23, 2024
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Paranormal fiction, also called supernatural fiction or speculative fiction, is a specific type of fantasy fiction. Paranormal stories encompass elements of the paranormal, such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, and any sort of magical or otherworldly creatures. This type of fiction often goes beyond fact and logical explanations to speculate about the things that cannot be seen or proved, such as extrasensory perception (ESP) and alien life. There are several different categories of paranormal fiction, such as young adult (YA) fantasy, urban fantasy, supernatural horror, and paranormal romance.

This particular type of fiction can actually span across several genres, which are different classifications of stories. For instance, some books in the mystery genre may have paranormal elements, such as a psychic detective or a villain who uses magic or special powers to do his evil work. Likewise, supernatural romance often contains elements of mystery or horror along with the classic romantic plot lines. The lines between genres often blur, so novels written in other genres, such as science fiction or historical fiction, could also be classified as paranormal fiction.

Some of the most popular categories of paranormal fiction today have their own specialty classifications. Urban fantasy, for example, typically involves an urban or city setting. Often, the main character will use magic or other paranormal powers in the story. Many urban fantasies feature underground worlds full of such characters as vampires, ghosts, werewolves and other creatures of which the main characters become aware throughout the stories.

Young adult paranormal fiction is written for teenagers and young adults, so the narrative usually contains at least a little bit less sex and violence than books written for an adult audience. Some YA stories, however, do have a great deal of violence and even some sexual situations. Middle-grade paranormal fiction is written for preteens, so the violence is typically kept to a minimum or only implied rather than being explicitly described.

Paranormal novels are not the only type of paranormal fiction that is available. There are several online and print magazines that publish an occasional paranormal short story, while some dedicate themselves to paranormal fiction. Speculative fiction has become so specialized, that many magazines or even sections of a bookstore feature certain categories of paranormal stories.

It is important to note that though this genre can encompass elements of mystery or horror fiction, it does not always do so. Horror fiction that involves someone killing people in creative ways might not have any type of paranormal elements at all. An urban fantasy that deals with reality but falls into the fantasy category because of its made-up setting might also not qualify as a paranormal story if there are no magical or otherworldly elements.

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Discussion Comments

By Ana1234 — On Feb 09, 2014

@indigomoth - I don't think that urban fantasy and paranormal fiction should be so closely tied together, to be honest. One is essentially horror and the other is fantasy and I know there are places where it blurs together, but it seems like recently people don't make any distinction between the two.

Paranormal books are supposed to be closer to the real world, with real myths and legends being woven into the mix, even if they are only urban legends. Vampires and werewolves and ghosts and so forth are fairly well known character types and you can only push them so far before they stop being what you might be calling them.

Fantasy on the other hand, can make up whatever characters they want to as long as the rules stay consistent. I know there are fictional worlds with both magic and werewolves but I just feel like those should be considered a blending of genres, rather than the norm.

By indigomoth — On Feb 08, 2014

@irontoenail - Well, paranormal romance books are generally supposed to be somewhat different from urban fantasy. And yes, there are quite a few more trashy urban fantasies around now, but I don't think it makes all that much difference. Many of the authors you named are still writing and there are even more now who are wonderful and not sticking with formulaic romantic stories, or with werewolves and vampires.

It means you might have to sort out the ones you like from the ones you don't like a little more, but I also think it means that you probably have more ones you like to choose from.

By irontoenail — On Feb 07, 2014

It kind of annoys me that urban fantasy has become more popular recently because it used to be rare, but the books in it were exceptional. Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Emma Bull and so forth were usually amazing. But the whole fantasy romance trend has made publishers expect to get books with sparkles rather than with grit.

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