Dark Urban Fantasy

Readers of the spec fic sub genres have noticed the advance of a related sub genre appearing on the bookshop shelves – Dark Urban Fantasy (DUF) or Paranormal Romance. This cousin of spec fic’s Dark Urban Fantasy has been doing really well, gathering a legion of readers. (For my light hearted take on the topic see the Mad Genius Club post here).

So I invited Eleni Konstantine onto the ROR blog to share her insights. Eleni has just set up the Dark Side Down Under blog for this sub genre.

Thanks Rowena for inviting me to the ROR blog. Great to be here with all you fine folk.

I’m here to talk about my views on what the differences between Fantasy, Paranormal Romance and Dark Urban Fantasy are.

Years ago when I joined the Romance Writers of Australia I used to say that I wrote Fantasy with a romantic subplot. Then I thought it may be Fantasy Romance but have come to the realisation that to add the word romance in there the romance is the main focus. Mine is not. Since then, I have gone back to my original concept. I write Fantasy with romantic elements.

Having said this, I have noticed that when I use this term when querying I get the response of ‘not sure of the market’. Sigh. Am I in a no-man’s land where I have too many romantic elements for fantasy readers and not enough for romance readers? So really what is the difference?

Maybe none at all. After all Fantasy – and what I define fantasy here is the traditional fantasy – does have all sorts of elements in it. This includes action, adventure, mystery, and relationships including romance. Love is a powerful factor in many fantasy tales.  I may not need the term “romantic elements”. Maybe it comes down to marketing.

And this is where the paranormal romance and dark urban fantasy debate comes in. To me when you use the word romance, it focuses on the relationship between the hero and heroine. Yes there are subplots and other things happening but this is paramount as well as a HEA (happily ever after) or at least a happy for now. Now DUF on the other hand does not have to focus on a romantic relationship. It can have a romance in there but it’s not the only factor and there is no promise of a happily ever after. It can also be darker and grittier and a hero in a DUF novel can be more unpleasant than one in a paranormal romance, where readers want to fall in love with him even if he is rough around the edges.

But with the marketing machine, readers may find each of these types of stories in the other category. There is a broader audience to sell to if you place them in other. So is it just economics? Yes and no.

I notice the same sort of cross over in libraries. One copy of a book – say Keri Arthur’s Riley Jenson Guardian series (which I classify as a DUF and has romantic elements), may be found in the romance section, in the fantasy section, or in the horror section (vampires, werewolves). In some libraries there is a separate paranormal romance section. Again it’s about trying to get more readers to read. I suppose the more readers they have, the more the library can justify its existence, so maybe it IS all about economics.

Still a condensed version of my classification is – (I’m a former librarian, my life was to classify items for many years *smile *):
Fantasy – traditional fantasy set in another made up world, or maybe some crossover of another world with ours. There can be a lot of romance or little or even none depending on the tale.
Paranormal romance – set in an urban ‘earth’, contemporary or futuristic setting, with paranormal/supernatural elements or creatures, where the romance is the main focus, and a guaranteed HEA.
Dark Urban Fantasy – set in similar worlds to the PR, but the romance is either not the main focus or not there.

On my website I say I’m a fantasy and paranormal writer because then I can cover both PR and DUF if I so choose, and not all my short stories have romance in them. Sometimes depending on the audience, I add the phrase romantic elements in there.

I’d be interested to know what you all think of this topic?

While I’m here, I’d like to plug a new blog – Dark Side DownUnder. It is by writers from the RWAus Paranormal group banding together to showcase speculative fiction with romantic elements and our members. Yes we’ve used the romantic elements because big or small romance has a play in our work. We launch on the 31st – Halloween is appropriate don’t you think? So we’d love if you come along to join us with a chance to win some great prizes in the coming weeks.

~Eleni Konstantine

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