Writing a Paranormal Romance (PNR)

Posted by October 30th, 2013

I am so excited to have my friend and colleague Alexandra Maurer on Book Country. Alex lent her genre expertise to us during the construction of the Genre Map, providing valuable advice on romance and new adult titles–help for which we are incredibly grateful. ~NG

Paranormal Romance Writing Workshops on Book CountryMany people think the TWILIGHT craze is over. And I would say to them, TWILIGHT may have run its course, but in no way does it begin, define, or end what makes up a rich and flourishing genre of paranormal romance. TWILIGHT helped bring vampires to a forefront in young adult paranormal. But there is a lot more to this genre! The authors and series I have listed here are some of the best series available to readers and writers interested in breaking into this popular genre.

Let’s start with a list of authors and series to give this article context. Some of the most popular and well-known series in PNR are:

1)      J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood
2)      Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed series
3)      Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series
4)      Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series
5)      Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander series & Fever series
6)      Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld series
7)      Larissa Ione’s Demonica series & Lords of Deliverance series
8)      Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress, Night Huntress World, and Night Prince series
9)      Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series
10)    Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series

(To find out more about these books, head over to Book Country’s carousel of Paranormal Romance Landmark Titles.) What makes these series paranormal romances?

The Characters

The first defining characteristic of paranormal romance has to do with the subjects of the story. PNRs involve vampires, shape-shifters, faeries, witches/sorcerers/warlocks, demons, angels, Valkyrie, ghosts, mermaids/sirens, etc. Our heroes and heroines are of the supernatural persuasion and almost always with powers of their own separating the paranormal from contemporary romance.

Secondary characters are also very important in PNR, because they’ll become main characters in other books of the series.

Take J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. The first book starts with the story of Wrath and Beth. But we meet all of the brothers (Rhage, Zsadist, Vishous, Tohr, and Phury) in book one. We get little snippets of their characters and by the end of book 6, we all have a favorite “brother” and couple. We’re now up to book 11, where the plotlines are featuring these secondary characters as MCs, who are familiar but still unexplored. The importance of secondary (and likeable) heroes and heroines is another “must have” to keep readers interested in your series.

The Romance

Romance is of course at the heart of the story. With the first seven authors and their corresponding series listed above, each installment has a separate hero/heroine who have their happily ever after (HEA) by the end of each book. Even though the overall story is just one in a multi-part series, each new book features a new couple facing new challenges on their way to romantic utopia in spite of the paranormal turmoil that runs throughout.

This is the defining characteristic that separates PNR from Urban Fantasy (UF). Sex scenes are important to paranormal romance fans, so make sure to have several to keep your readers interested in the couple. The level of steam depends on you as an author, but know that fans in this genre like to see some action–and not only of the sword and combat type!

If UF puts the emphasis on a single heroine who may have romantic entanglements but is the hero of the story in her own right (i.e., Sookie Stackhouse from Charlaine Harris’s series and Merit from Chloe Neill’s series), PNR really focuses on a specific couple achieving a goal within each story. The couple may make cameos in the other series books, but the only consistency is the storyline and a common enemy versus a constant star character. A great series that is as much PNR as UF is Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series. Frost has a couple at the heart of her series and it is the same couple that runs throughout seven books making her a hybrid of both genres.

The Mythology

While the romance is at the center, the mythology and the world building are just as important. How is a vampire made? How do these supernatural societies govern themselves? Can there be inter-species relationships? Who are the enemies and why? What myths are you rejecting and what myths are you embracing? Colored eyes, glamouring, flying, mind-reading, entering a home with or without an invitation, regeneration, healing, undead or new genetic breed of human?

All of these questions are just as important to readers in PNR as they are in UF. The world has to make sense for the hero and heroine to fall in love and for the reader to be invested in continuing with the series.

So, what ingredients do you need to have your own badass paranormal series?

  • Decide which couple stars in your first book. Make sure you pick a paranormal strain of species you are interested in building a world and romance around.
  • Make sure your couple fits into a believable mythology. Are you sticking with vampires only like J.R. Ward and Lara Adrian? Or do you want mystical highlanders and Druids from the hills of Scotland like Karen Marie Moning? Maybe you want to blur all supernatural boundaries and have a Valkyrie be the mate to a vampire like Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark. Or have humans fall in love with demons with a conscience like Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld or Larissa Ione’s four horsemen of the apocalypse in her Lords of Deliverance. In anything you choose, make sure to commit to having all of these species work together and exist in the same world.
  • Invest time and creativity in writing interesting secondary characters so that later, they can star their own books. The key is to have readers put their loyalties behind different couples, but still love them all enough to give your entire series life.
  • If you want the romance to be secondary, head on over to urban fantasy with a generous helping of paranormal romance. The Sookie Stackhouse novels, Chicagoland Vampires, and Fever series all feature strong heroines trying to save their respective towns and cities from paranormal destruction all the while dealing with romantic and emotional fall-outs from one special suitor (or four in Sookie’s case). And even if they aren’t the sole plotline, Ethan Sullivan and Jericho Barrons definitely hold their own in the book boyfriend category.

Good luck with your PNR!

alexandra maurerAbout Alexandra Maurer: 

Alexandra Maurer is a publishing professional and an unrepentant fan of paranormal romance. Currently, she works in the special markets division at Penguin Group (USA), navigating the new waters of custom publishing. She is a member of the Young to Publishing Planning Committee. Her popular book reviews can be found on Goodreads

 

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