I’ll admit, this post stems from a Facebook discussion I was part of yesterday. A friend of mine mentioned a “paranormal romance” he was reading and my first instinct was to yell, “It’s not PNR!”. The problem was that book is on this year’s shortlist for a RITA as a PNR. Except it’s not. Or is it?
So, what is a paranormal romance and why does the sub-genre leave such a nasty taste in the mouths of some readers?
Let’s start with what it’s not. It is not urban fantasy. There was a time when you could safely walk into a bookstore, pick up a title filed under urban fantasy and know you would not be hit with a major romance plot. More than that, you wouldn’t be skipping — if you’re wont to do so — page after page of explicit sex. You’d get a fun mystery or suspense read, maybe humor but romance? Nope. It wasn’t in your urban fantasy, at least not as anything more than a passing plot point. Read more
So, a few days back I got a parcel from Sarah which contained a bunch of bestselling (at least according to the covers) paranormal romances. The basic idea was that I read them and see if I can write something that will fit the general formula, since the stuff sells like hot… er… very popular stuff.
So I read them. Full disclosure, I skipped the sex scenes, of which there were rather too many for my preferences (let’s face it, there’s only so many ways one can describe the sexual act, and too much of it starts to read like IKEA instructions – insert tab A into slot B and wiggle until it relaxes). What I saw from my sample set of 7 apparently best selling paranormal romances does fit something of a formula. I might even be able to work with said formula without too much hassle.
The formula (to spare those who are wondering the effort and trauma of reading too many IKEA sex scenes) appears to be as follows:
- Take one headstrong female who no matter what she’s done in her past is still fundamentally innocent in some way
- Give her a troubled past, preferably one without actual love unless the love was either doomed or with the male and failed due to a misunderstanding
- Add one seriously hot male with a tribe of issues of his own. He must be protective and dominant. Assholes are permitted so long as they mitigate the assholery around the female.
- The male should preferably be something not-human and must be drop-dead-sexy.
- Add a collection of enemies of one or both wanting their target dead for reasons that can be quite flimsy.
- Stir up the whole mess in a way that drives the two of them to have sex somewhere around 1/3 of the way through. The sex is often at least a chapter’s worth.
- There should be an argument after the first sex scene, preferably one that makes the two of them seem to hate each other.
- Put one or both in danger of their life somewhere around 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through. Once the danger is past, they can have passionate make-up/”you survived” sex.
- The climax should involve danger and sex. If both can happen at the same time, so much the better, otherwise, go with the danger. It seems to be popular to kill or nearly kill the male at this point (being supernatural, he either revives himself or a friendly goddess might do the deed for the female).
- After the climax (yes, I know), they can avow their undying love – which since at least one of the pair, possibly both is likely to be immortal could really be undying.
- For series, have supporting characters who can have their own love story in future books.
I was worried that my natural tendency to go dark would be too much, but judging by some of these books, there ain’t no such thing. This is scary – if I really let the dark out instead of leashing it the way I do, it would be at the “Anne Bishop at her most terrifying” level, only I wouldn’t be only torturing the males on-screen (for those who haven’t read Anne Bishop, google her and check the plot synopsis of her first three books. The running joke with her friends is that anyone else’s ‘dark’ is her ‘light and fluffy’).
So… Food for thought, and homework done. Now I need to let the information sit and fester for a while before I try to do anything with it.