Monday, December 16, 2013

When Genres Bleed

Beauty and the Beast by alicexz
When it comes to genre fiction, we can count on the labels - Fantasy, SF, Romance, Crime, Historical - to tells us what kind of a ride we are in for. It's like going to a restaurant. If we feel like the taco salad, we order up, and though it may be a good or not so good version, it's still a taco salad - not too far outside the box. We won't, for example, be served a Greek salad with a side of fries. There's something comforting in that. Same with our fiction, right?

Wrong . .  .

There are some genre blenders out there, and none so plastic as Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, especially in the YA category (where there's a whole lot of blurring going on). Let's look at Urban Fantasy first. Many see UF as an offshoot of Fantasy, but its origins are in Gothic Horror and Hard-boiled Crime. The Urban setting in UF is contemporary, an almost perfect match to our everyday 'reality', save for the pesky 'breach' that has occurred, just the opening 'others' in various forms - angels, demons, vampires, weres, fairies, fay - can enter, and live among us humans. In Uf the streets are tougher, the crimes uglier and the nightlife grittier, forcing our heroine, or hero, to pack a lot of kick-ass and smarts. The protagonist borrows heavily from the Crime detective, and is often anti-authoritarian, tough, shrewd and ultra street savvy, not to mention, a little more than human.

Our Paranormal Romance heroine may have many of these qualities, both internally and externally, but for her, saving the day or solving the crime comes a close second to winning her heart's desire. HEA is expected, and almost always delivered, the driving motivation being connection. And why shouldn't it be? PNR is neither an offshoot of Fantasy or Horror but of Romance. It follows the path to relationship, through the land of the heart, even if that land has its share of vampires, werewolves, shifters and witches.

How to tell them apart?

Murder, suspense, sudden reversals, strong female protagonists and a contemporary setting may be present in both UF and PNR. They will also share supernatural elements and some other world-building, and usually a good fast pace, edge of the seat drama and a whole hell of a lot at stake. But if you take out the love interest from the UF, you'll still have a ripping good story, no holes in the plot. Take the love interest out of the PNR, and the story fails.

This is all fair and good, until the genres bleed too far. Readers, bloggers and even some publishers are looking at PNR and UF as if they might meld, or perhaps are one and the same. Unfortunately, this means a lot of readers will be confused when they pick up a UF that isn't pivoting on the romance or a PNR that ends without the traditional HEA. Again, genres evolve, a reflection of the readers who love them, but what of this mash up UF/PNR? Will both forms survive, or become something not quite one, or the other?

Have you ever felt misled by a genre label (or cover)? Did you mind? What direction do you see these genres going? As I'm writing a UF series now, I'm interested in your response. And perhaps our Supernatural Underground authors would like to chime in too! I know many of us write in multiple categories.

And warm holiday wishes to you all!

Kim Falconer is a Supernatural Underground author writing paranormal romance, urban fantasy, YA and epic science fantasy novels.

You can find out more about Kim at or on the 11th House Blog. She posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month. Her latest release is"Blood and Water" in Supernatural Underground: Vampires Gone Wild.    


Sophie said...

There has been a bit of confusion/crossover when it comes to these two main 'genre'. This confusion in my opinion often stems from bookstores, I have seen both UF and PR lumped together under the heading of Dark Fantasy, which isn't truly accurate either. Furthermore I've seen YA titles placed under this title also. Conversely I've seen Sookie Stackhouse novels placed in the YA section.

Overall I suppose it's down to readers to read the blurb on the back and take the plunge one way or the other. Personally I prefer the grittiness of UF, which often had better world building and the slow burn relationships that sometimes seem much more real. While I do read PR on occasion, if someone asked me I wouldn't say it was a romance, that always brings to mind mills and boon bodice ripping which I wouldn't admit I read!

I suppose it's down to the reader to be honest enough in their own taste to know looking at a cover or blurb if its their 'thing' until we can find a better banner or don't need genres any more!

SandyG265 said...

I actually enjoy books that cross genres. And since I read a lot of different genres I don't really care to much what one a book fits into. I go by the cover blurb and reading part of the book before I buy it to see if it's something that I think I'll like. I actually discovered Outlander because the bookstore had shelved it in the Sci-Fi section.

Kim Falconer said...

Hi Sophie,

You bring up a good point: the bookstores do sometimes create shelves that blend genres far beyond the authors' or publishers' intentions. I agree, it's up to the reader to study the blurbs, which will be quite different for a PNR than a UF. I like the gritty side too, and the slow burn relationship. It does seem more real, especially when HEA isn't a 'given.'

It would be very interesting if no genres existed, and stories stood on their own two feet - not expectations and assumptions.

Thanks for dropping in with your comments.

Kim Falconer said...

Hi Sandy,

Outlanders in SF? Oh boy . . . that's and interesting classification for a historical romance. :)

With your eclectic taste, I can see how genre blending would be a fun surprise. Going by the cover and blurb, as Sophie said, does inform, but reading a bit before hand is a great practice. With my Kindle, I do that more and more. If the author captures me in those first few pages, I'm usually in for the whole series.

Thanks for your comments.

Alina P said...

I'm not one big on blending, I like to know what I get into before starting a book... I hate looking for a sweet PNR and discovering it's something altogether different. I always read books based on my mood so if I'm misled I usually write a very bad review and start cursing(a very big temper tantrum) :D. That's not to say that I don't read books from a lot of genres, I do, but I rate and review based on my emotions and it doesn't end well when I don't read something that I wanted...
Don't know if it helped.

Kim Falconer said...

Hi Alina,

It does help. I can see how you'd be irked if the book you though would match your feeling turned out to be something else entirely. (And it's always interesting for an author to understand the reviewer's thoughts!)

The author isn't always in control of the blurb/cover to the degree they would like to be and your comments reinforce the benefits when they are. Usually we know exactly what our story is, and who the readership will be (or the matching mood of the reader who likes diverse genres).

What I'm gaining from everyone's comments is the importance of the blurb to situate the reader. Whether they like genre blurring or not, readers deserve to know what kind of book they hold in their hands.

Thank you for contributing. :)