What’s the Appeal of Paranormal Romance?

What makes Paranormal Romance such a popular genre right now?

No seriously, I’m asking.

I know that Paranormal Romance is, like, the number one highest selling sub-genre of Romance right now, but I can’t say that I understand why exactly.  Is it the escapism?  Is it the idea of more or less a superhero for women saving the day and being sensitive to the woman’s feelings?  Is it the scintillation of guys who glitter in the sunlight?

I seriously don't get this. Why, people, why???

Let me back up for a minute and explain part of my slight prejudice against Paranormal Romance.

When I was in high school I loved vampires.  Wow, vampires were cool!  Why did I love blood-sucking immortals?  Because I was deep in the process of reading Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.  Anne Rice is a brilliant author.  Well, sometimes.  The first three books in the Vampire Chronicles were awesome.  And that is the standard to which I hold all vampire novels.

Fast forward to the early 2000s.  I was deeply involved in an online Harry Potter message board-based role playing website.  I played Snape along with my own character.  Time and time and time again noobs would sign up for the sight and attempt to create a character that had a thousand special powers, was part vampire or werewolf or ninja or something like that.  We would reject their character ideas and send them a letter reminding them that the best characters are not defined by the amount of their “bling” but by their personality.

So I suppose that for me paranormal characters come with a built-in crutch.  It’s totally biased and maybe not rationally based, but I just feel like if you have to rely on a flashy super-power to define your character then you don’t have a strong character to begin with.  And now I’ll duck all the flying tomatoes thrown by writers and lovers of Paranormal Romance.

I do recognize, however, that I am biased.  This is just my point of view.  But since I know that Paranormal is an incredibly popular genre right now, please, share your thoughts with me!  What do you like so much about Paranormal Romance?  What makes it so appealing to you?

Before I pose that question, though, I should add that I asked what the appeal of Paranormal Romance was on my Facebook page a couple of weeks ago and at the same time wondered why Historical Romance isn’t as popular.  One of the answers I was given is that people find Paranormal Romance “much more approachable and easy to relate to”.  Of course my answer was “History actually happened!  There are no such things as vampires and werewolves!  How can something that doesn’t exist and never did be more relatable than something that really happened, that people left art and music and literature and even newspapers about?”

But I’ll leave that up to someone else to try to explain to me.

I would, however, buy this book, i.e. "Vampire Abbey" if anyone ever wrote it. ;)

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28 thoughts on “What’s the Appeal of Paranormal Romance?

  1. “How can something that doesn’t exist and never did be more relatable than something that really happened” I think the answer is exactly the contrary. We read and enjoy paranormal romance because it’s part of something we’ll never be. We relate with the people’s feelings on these stories ..l like solitude, mistrust, etc.
    On paranormal, we have superpowers, other worlds, magic, things we don’t have in real life and that sound so nice and mysterious and dangerous!

    • You do have a point there. I think the emotional reality of it plays an important part of the appeal. But my argument would be that you can have that same appeal without superpowers.

  2. I like that explanation, very clever!
    I can sadly offer no explanation as to why historical romance isn’t as popular as its paranormal counterpart – it simply defies common sense and good taste. My mother is deeply addicted to paranormal romance, and every now and then I try and push one of my books her way, but she almost always complains they’re “too intellectual”, or, often complains that they don’t have a happy ending and she wants a happy ending – I wonder if the answer to your question lies somewhere within these two common complaints?

    • I think part of it probably has to do with the way History is taught in schools. It comes off as boring way too often when, in fact, the opposite is true. And then you have tv shows like “Downton Abbey” and “The Tudors” that come along and change people’s perceptions. We need more of those!

  3. The answer to your question is very simple. As a former student of When I studied theology I noticed that in one of the stories /St Mathew/ about the birth of Jesus the author goes to a great length to prove that the newborn child really is a descendant of King David, because Maria’s man Josef was. On the other hand Josef is told the father of the child is an angel and thus Maria was a virgin. This contradiction is wellknown but nobody seems to care. The author wants to sit on two chairs, the one beeing that Messias who shall deliver the Jewish people must be a descendant of David, the other being that the mother of God’s son must, according to beliefs in the surrounding religions, cf. Egyptian etc., be a virgin. It doesn’t add up; it’s fantasy.

    /Hrmn

  4. I don’t relate to these new vampires etc at all. I remember the good ole days, Bela Lugosi is THE vampire! I did enjoy Interview With A Vampire…the movie. I didn’t read the book…but I did read another of her series about the Witches..can’t remember the name now! (I was impressed…No, I really did like it at the time)
    I admit, my favorite genre is detective novels…the old ones, 20’s to 50’s, Peter Wimsey, Inspector Alleyn, Campion…if BBC or ITV made a series, I love it! I don’t like very much of modern crime fiction.
    And I did enjoy your historic novels very much…hurry up and get that third one written and you better make it a happy ending, LOL!
    I did go all medieval about Cadfael, years after the series was made. I’ve read all the books now and have the series on DVD! There was always a romance in the stories, and it was historical and mystery, both my faves! I don’t like the so called historical Mills and Boon kind of romance, Barbara Cartland material! Yuch!
    Anyway, getting off topic here! I think its a case of mass hysteria. For some bizarre reason something gets popular and there is a rush to try to duplicate it, and first thing you know, vampires and other paranormal beings are being shoved down your throat! Usually has the opposite effect on me!

    • I never really got into mysteries either, but I’m not sure why. My mom loved them.

      And I’m working on the third book, but it’s stalled out big-time right now. I think Ethan and Joanna need to ferment for a while more before I’m ready for their story. She kind of hates him at the moment, after all. ;)

  5. I think it might be escapism and an underlying wish that there is more to this world than we see. But don’t throw ALL paranormal romance under the bus Merry cuz time travel romances are classed as paranormal even thought it’s just the time-travel part that makes it so ;)

    • Good point, Angela! I put time travel stories, and also retold fairy tales, into a separate category. They’re more plot-paranormal instead of character-paranormal. I do like the idea of regular people in paranormal situations. Actually, Elizabeth Boyle has a historical romance series that involves a magic ring. In one of them the mousy heroine, who has been pining for the Regency hero, wishes she was his … and wakes up the next day to find her in his bed as his mistress in an alternative reality. It’s still history but the plot is motivated by paranormal causes. I loved that!

  6. Hi Merry I have to admit, although I am a writer of paranormal fiction, I had to give a little smile at your blog. I have always read horror and paranormal fiction, ever since I was about 11 and still find it hard to understand why some people don’t love it too! I think the literary world would be a pretty boring place if we all liked the same genre so each to their own, I say! Although….I do disagree with your comment about how paranormal characters are not strong enough if you have to use a super-power to define them. I don’t think paranormal fiction writers use super-powers as a way to define their characters. I define my characters by their thoughts, feelings, what makes them tick, what makes them angry, what they are passionate about etc but then again my vampires aren’t necessarily traditional Count Dracula vamps – they can’t turn into bats or a puff of smoke. Although one does deflower a virgin, but lets not go into that right now ;-)

    • Very true. We all have different things that fire our rockets. Actually, I think 13-year old Merry would be incredulous at 37-year old Merry’s comments against vampires. *LOL* I just wish that the genre I write in was selling the way Paranormal Romance does!

      But as a proponent of the Anne Rice school of vampires I have to confess that every time I hear about vampires having sex I have to shake my head and say, “But they’re dead! The equipment doesn’t work anymore!” Then again, there are as many different schools of vampires as there are people who write about them. :D

  7. I’d have to say that, first and foremost, picturing Twilight as the hallmark to paranormal romance is not fair :P

    When I actually did read romance and not just the occasional story, it was always the Silhouette shadows series. For me it was an extra element to the plot, more going on than man meets woman and has typical everyday problems. I read a couple of normal romance books too and found a few amusing or just okay but not nearly as interesting as the paranormal/supernatural ones.

    Quite literally I think this is because there was more than romance in these stories (which is partly why Twilight fell rather flat for me). While it is possible many use this as a crutch for boring and uninteresting characters, it’s not always the case and when worked correctly it just gives some of us more to enjoy besides the romance angle. Having said that, I think every romance novel could stand to consider that idea to give their story extra oomph.

    I would say you have, even if you don’t realize it. The Loyal Heart is about more than the romance building between two people to the story’s end, your characters accomplished more than falling in love, the story was about more than their love as well. Yes, their relationship was a giant part of the story, but not the only thing going on.

    It doesn’t mean that other stuff was a crutch, it was the stuff that makes your story better than typical romance fare, and all are bettered by excellent character development. I think, because it’s trendy though, it’s just a lot easier to find stories that use it as a crutch rather than an added dimension to their tale.

    For myself, I actually prefer fantasy to romance, so paranormal/supernatural romance is kinda like the medium between what I prefer and the romance genre. However, I must say that my favourite fantasy stories incorporate things from several different genres. My favourite stories do that, regardless of genre (including yours).

    My absolute favourite novels are fantasy based with elements of romance, mystery, adventure, etc woven in. The only helpings I tend to refuse on my literature plate are western and gore.

    I can understand your frustration though and can wholeheartedly agree with your “what gives?” attitude when it comes to paranormal romance as a means to sell an inferior romance novel that would horribly flop like a soggy pair of skid-marked undies if all the fantasy/paranormal elements are removed.

  8. Oh, and as to paranormal romance being easier to relate to, I’m not sure I’d agree with that. I’d offer, instead, that it’s a bigger escape from reality, a more extravagant and fantastic mini-vacation for your brain.

    Plus, poor history, so few of us have had the good luck to encounter teachers as in love with the material as you and other historical writers worth a damn tend to be. I’m afraid that subject receives a bad rap. Think…Hogwarts’ history teacher, that boring ghost that didn’t even make it into the movies. The history is actually extremely fascinating but that ghost brought none of it to life for the students (see what I did thar?). A lot of history teachers did that to us repeatedly growing up. Paranormal and fantasy have never been given anywhere near the same treatment, in fact, teaching about them in many schools is still taboo or at least extremely unprofessional and definitely not a scholastic endeavour. Basically, paranormal/supernatural has yet to receive the same lengthy and required yearly dose of boredom from school as history has.

    Just some more interesting thoughts I had to ramble at you about XD

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  10. Paranormal romance is sometimes linked with historical fiction, giving the best of both worlds. I think when I read a well written paranormal romance, I can live in that dangerous world while knowing I am safe; spending time with the bad boys–in the fiction world. I think that’s one of the pulls.

  11. I love and write paranormal romantic suspense, but I have to take exception with throwing all paranormal romances under the Twilight vampire bus. (I am not enamored of the sparkly, sparkly vampires). Paranormal encompasses a lot of territory, from the psychic FBI novels of Kay Hooper to Nora Roberts’ Three Sisters Trilogy to the Katie MacAlister’s Dragon series and (for TV) X-Files and Buffy. It’s a wide category, just as historical is (Pirates to westerns to regency? pretty different…)

    For me, the appeal of the paranormal has to do with ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances and with characters coming to term with what makes them different. I think some writers connect with the feeling of outside-ness and otherness that paranormals tap into and it shows in the writing. I also think readers connect with those themes. It’s one of the things that makes Amanda Hocking’s Trylle trilogy so popular (it’s YA, romance and paranormal… not a bad read, less offensive to me than Twilight).

    • Yeah, I realize I’m not being entirely, completely fair by painting all Paranormal Romance with the brush of Twilight. It’s just that Twilight’s popularity fascinates and horrifies me at the moment. How did that woman manage to sell so many books with a story like that?

      I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “For me, the appeal of the paranormal has to do with ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances and with characters coming to term with what makes them different.” In my eyes that’s always the meat of any story, paranormal or otherwise. You’re right about Paranormal Romance dealing openly with those themes. Sometimes for me though the heart of that statement is more powerful when outwardly the characters are just like us, with the same inward struggles we deal with. That’s why Historical Romance appeals so much to me.

      But I also love Brussels sprouts and hate oranges. It’s all a matter of taste. ;)

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  13. For Twilight…As I understand it, there’s a large segment of the population out there who apparently really do want someone to love them and take care of them and provide and arrange matters so they have to do nothing but love and be loved in return. There’s ladies who really do want a knight in shining armor and never have to do anything. And, okay, I can understand the appeal, I can understand why it’s an enjoyable fantasy. I just can’t understand why that kind of personal stasis can be seen as truly desirable, something they try to pursue…But there’s non-paranormal romance that employs that setup, too, so Twilight (while an egregious–or even the worst–offender) is hardly the only guilty one.

    For my money, the basic appeal is in the fantasy trappings. Despite the wishes of a lot of writers/publishers/book sellers/etc, fantasy and science fiction is an eternally well-selling category and unlikely to ever stop being good-selling. A good fantasy novel has a lot in common with good science fiction–you start off with “What if this is true?” and try to answer the questions of “How does it work? How does it change things? What are the implications?” And ever since the Lord of the Rings movies, fantasy has gotten slightly more accepted in mainstream. There also might be something in the nature of fantasy and it requiring more engagement of the imagination (not as a slight to any other genre/setting, just that fantasy gets away with bigger special effects in writing, which makes for fun head-pictures). A historical writer can do research on sabers and epees and pistols and revolvers and describe them, whereas the fantasy writer gets free license to throw around junk like a conceptual sword–that is, the idea of a sword, a sword in its purest form, turned into a line of sharpness that cuts what it touches. It’s unfair to the staggering researching that goes into historical romance, but fantasy and science fiction get the fun toys.

    Claiming Paranormal romance’s appeal is the superpowered heroes (and heroines) as escapism is…well, what if I said the appeal of historical romance is escapism from the modern laidback casual impoliteness, for people who yearn for a more courtly and civil time. I’m sure there’s some folks who read it for that reason, but I’m selling the genre and its readers short by claiming that as the major one.

    For some reading on what I consider to be a good paranormal romance, try Soulless, by Gail Carriger. Victorian-era werewolves and vampires with some steampunk thrown in, a heroine who doesn’t take much crap off the hero, good dialogue and banter, and in general, a fun read.

    And for me, I’ll continue to read for the same reasons I always have. For the fun. For something for my brain to chew on. Let there be concepts I never considered before, ideas which never would have occurred to me (the Speaking Gun, anyone?). Let there be strong and well-written characters. I do not read exclusively fantasy, or exclusively romance. My only demand in my reading is that, whatever you do, you do it well.

    • Ah, well I would put Fantasy and Sci-Fi (which I also write, btw) in another category than Paranormal Romance. I love the sort of speculative fiction environment that sci-fi creates.

      I think ultimately, after hearing everyone’s really good insights and opinions about things, the question that really remains in my mind is How did Twilight, something people here at least seem to genuinely dislike, become such a best-selling franchise? Maybe people just like buying tickets to the train-wreck. ;)

      I’ll have to check out those books you mentioned. Thanks for the recommendations! =D

  14. I think paranormal romance is “more accessible” because, for a lot of people, especially the younger generation, it truly does feel closer to home than history.

    Most people encounter history first as a series of names and dates they have learn in school. It takes a long time to really start seeing history as a story with settings and interesting people. I think a lot of people never reach that point. And there is barrier of culture and background that readers have to get through to really place themselves in a historical book and feel like they belong.

    Most paranormal stories take place in our world, with a twist. It takes a setting people are familiar with and adds the mystery of a whole different world with different rules, slowly revealed over the course of the story. People can imagine it happening to them. I think that helps explain the popularity of both the Twilight books and the Harry Potter books (even thought the Harry Potter books are not romance novels).

    Not to mention the fact that people are getting so familiar with the modern myth of vampires-and-the-like that some readers start a vampire book more informed about the fantastical setting than they are informed about any part of history.

    Now to take credibility away from everything I just said by admitting that I think Stephenie Meyer is a great author. Her Twilight books need a good edit, and have some obvious flaws, but her writing is fun, natural and clever. She has read a lot of classic literature, and she clearly had fun playing with that in the themes of her books. She intended Twilight as a story for modern teenager girls, and wrote perfectly to her audience (making everyone who was not her audience hate her in the process). She has another book, “The Host,” which she refers to as the only book she has written for grown-ups so far, and it is a true masterpiece. But no one seems to have heard of it.

    • To me that’s a really, really sad commentary on the way that history is taught in our schools. But then, I also think there’s a certain expectation by school kids that anything they tell you in school will be boring. It takes some really good teachers (like BDH!) to change that.

      The way I see it, world-building for historical novels is no different than world-building for paranormal or science fiction. You can’t assume that your reader knows anything about what you’re talking about. The more interestingly you can convey the setting up front the more you will draw people in. That’s half the fun of writing anyhow. ;)

  15. I read historical romance but I have to admit I prefer paranormal. I agree that strangely enough it does seem ‘more accessible’. Perhaps its because history is just that, history, and beacuse of that its a bit harder to imagine yourself into the plot. Paranormal generally takes place in our modern world, and modern mores and values are represented in ways that we are more familiar with. Then there is the fact that human beings are imaginative, so it’s easy to wrap our heads around possibilites. I mean, who’s to say that vampires don’t actually exsist? Just because we hav’nt seen one doesn’t mean that they are not there. After all I (and many others) believe in Angels and so far I havn’t set eyes on one yet. I hope they are hot.
    Good night.
    I’m going to say my prayers now.

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