Paranormal Romance–What Makes it Sizzle?

A few days ago, I did an only half-joking assessment of how to tell a paranormal romance from an urban fantasy. [Half-naked female on cover=urban fantasy. Half-naked male on cover=paranormal romance. ]

Where the line between them is drawn is much harder to define. I know this because I have a manuscript with its butt on the fence (yes, a manuscript can have a butt). The paranormal conflict doesn’t predominate; the relationship doesn’t predominate. They hold about equal weight. So then the question becomes: in the marketplace, where does such a hybrid fit?

It has been awhile since I played with this manuscript, and I’m about to take another look at it with an eye toward getting off the fence and sliding it more heavily into paranormal romance.

So here’s my question to you, oh romance readers o’ mine…
What, for you, makes an ideal relationship in a paranormal romance?
The slow build?
The immediate recognition of “the one”?
The alpha male/spunky female?
The damaged guy/vampire/werewolf who isn’t ready for love?
The hot sex?
The overcoming of insurmountable odds?

What’s your favorite PNR book or series?

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

6 thoughts on “Paranormal Romance–What Makes it Sizzle?

  1. Umm… all of the above?
    I do like an instant recognition, but too often it’s used as a way to simplify (or ignore) any real relationship building. I am a sucker for the damaged male lead, who has to learn to trust, love, etc.

    I love PNR, and my current favorite series is probably the Black Dagger Brotherhood by JR Ward (especially the earlier ones), but Larissa Ione’s Demonica series is pretty darned good, too.

  2. I’m a big fan of the BDB series, too. And the thing that makes those twisted sexy vampires so attractive is how damaged they are, and how much internal crap they have to overcome before they can connect with their females. Each Brother pretty much KNOWs his female immediately because he starts smelling funny (wouldn’t it be nice if real life were so straight forward? I personally kissed alot of princes before I found my frog), but that’s not enough.

    I love a good punch to my solar plexus. THAT’s the stuff I read for, those “oof” moments where the hero has to put himself on the line and make himself vulnerable.

    And the hot sex helps, too.

  3. My favorite PNR series is the Psy-Changling series by Nalini Singh.

    As for your first question the answer is yes to all. 🙂

  4. I love love love the emotional intensity. I don’t need he hero & heroine having sex every five minutes, but I wanna feel the air crackling between them for sure!!

    I love that part.

    The second thing is kick butt action. None of this damsel in distress stuff. I love to have heroines who are tough and full of attitude. Bordering on unlikeable. . . LOVE that!

  5. Okay, guys, you’ve given me my marching orders for my revisions. Let’s see: damaged sexy guy, lots of sexual tension, some hot sex, some more sexual tension, strong heroine, big stakes, more sexual tension…man, you guys don’t want much, do you?

    Some good suggestions on new reads for me–thanks! I practically have the BDB memorized 🙂

  6. Romance seems to me to be the most purely mythic genre of popular literature. That is why it violates so many canons of taste that are grounded in literary ideologies of realism. That’s probably why fans can enjoy stories that to an outsider sound so much alike. The fans want something old, but done with the skill that makes it new again.

    My limited understanding of the genre suggests that the primary action ought to be a quest for the other that completes self. This view of romance goes back to Plato’s symposium, in which Aristophanes proposes that humans were once four legged creatures with two heads and two sets of sexual organs: male/male, female/female and male/female. To keep these creatures from becoming too powerful, Zeus split them in two, creating two crippled bipeds out of each quadriped. The notion of course is that each of us is maimed until we find our other self.

    This kind of erotic love is more intense than simple lust, which is easily satisfied. Erotic love desires to possess a specific object exclusively, to eradicate all barriers between the lover and the beloved. I’d guess that to qualify as any kind of “romance”, that must be the mainspring of your plot, and the resolution of nearly all plot complications ought to be entailed in that.

    From what I’ve read of your story, I’d guess this would be the most difficult change to make, because you’re playing with moral ambiguity. Here’s an interesting question: if you get to an end of a story, and the resolutions of the major conflicts aren’t clearly the best possible ones (perhaps in hindsight, possibly not entirely happy, but definitely *best*), does it qualify? Is it a romance if the heroine ends up with the *wrong* partner, or decides she doesn’t need a partner at all?

    Secondary conflicts and themes are solved by the resolution of the erotic problem. They probably depend on your characters and setting, e.g. a young, nubile protagonist suggests a kind of erotic Bildungsroman in which she discovers her sexual identity and power. That’s *Twilight*, for better or worse. A gothic setting might lead to a story in which supernatural tensions left by ancient romance gone awry generate ghosts who are laid to rest by the protagonist re-enacting the mono-myth of romance correctly.

    WRT to Stockholm (or whatever it’s called now), your young human doctor probably can’t end up as a victim or even ambiguously victimised. She ought to end up a hero who has made the right erotic choice, and that makes all difference to the people who live there.