How to Write Paranormal Romance: Checklist for Authors
Want to write a paranormal romance book? This blog is designed to aid writers who want to venture into the world paranormal romance novels and feel they would benefit from a little guidance about the genre.
If you are serious about writing a romance and want to get published (whether through a traditional publishing contact or by becoming and indie author) have a look through my blogs as I cover a number of areas that might be helpful to you. Blogs include information about the genre as well as practical writing support.
Firstly, what exactly is paranormal romance?
Paranormal romance is a subgenre of romance that draws on ideas found within paranormal fiction – so, in a nut shell, the genre combines the elements we associate with romance stories with elements beyond normal, everyday explanation. Because of this blending process, paranormal romance books tend to feature themes from several genres including dystopian literature, urban fantasy, traditional fantasy, science fiction and horror.
The fun of this genre is that the imagination really is king. Authors of paranormal romance books build a world in which their (often) traditional love story plays out. While the worlds constructed will present elements of the different genres already mentioned (a futuristic or paranormal setting, for example), the romance remains the main thrust of the narrative.
Because of the paranormal features, paranormal romance novels tend to include a lot of action as well as romance – which is why they’re so fun!
Goodreads: “Paranormal Romance: Romance novels in which the future, a fantasy world, or paranormal happenings are an integral part of the plot.”
Do You Know Your Audience?
If you are planning to write a paranormal romance novel you need to consider where your story fits within this genre before you begin and who your audience is. Even within paranormal romance there are subgenres: urban fantasy, family saga, young adult (YA), mystery, ménage, dark harem and more.
It is important to have a clear idea of what you are writing and who you are writing for as your audience will determine a number of stylistic features. If you are writing YA, for example, your stories need to be a ‘clean read’, but if you are writing paranormal romance books for adults, you want a steamy romance - but even within this subgenre you need to make choices over language and sexual content. There is a difference between mainstream romance books and erotica.
Heat Ratings. What’s is all about?
When you apply to publishers, or even to a review website, you will likely encounter a reference to heat ratings. Different publishers/sites will have their own rules but I break it down for you here and why it’s important.
My publisher rates heat out of 4.
Heat level 2 is a ‘clean read’. A ‘clean read’ means that there might be hand holding, possibly a brief kiss, but absolutely no sexual content. Any intimacy takes place behind closed doors. Heat level 2 is expected for YA romance books as well as by conservative Christian publishers who specialize in clean reads.
Heat level 3 is the level of mainstream romance books (but you do get mainstream at heat level 2). Mainstream romance books have a good storyline and while the romance story between the hero and the heroine remains the driving force of the narrative, the sole focus of the text is not the sex between the couple. In a mainstream romance novel the level of intimacy and the detail within those sex scenes comes down to the author. I have read, for example, that Mills and Boon have an average of three sex scenes per romance book. Language for sex tends to be softer and ‘nice’ within mainstream romance novels and the emphasis is on emotion. In mainstream romance books the sex scenes usually aren’t behind closed doors, and they might not be shy, but they certainly shouldn’t be vulgar and intimacy usually takes place in a loving relationship that is heading towards the couple’s happily ever after.
Heat level 4 is erotica. Unlike mainstream romance, the plot of an erotic novel is all about the sex. The language used may still be ‘nice’ but language may well be on the coarse side. A reader of an erotic novel is going to be looking for graphic sex and the content, by its nature, may offend some readers. My publisher, for example, gives a warning about erotic content stating what type of content it includes and what content might cause offense.
I enjoy a steamy romance novel, but I’m a mainstream reader and writer and I work and read at heat level 3. I like language within a romance book to be softer and focussed on emotion (but I still want heat!). It comes down to personal preference.
Do you read romance?
Before you begin to type, I would strongly recommend that you read as many romance books as you can. Remember, big readers make better writers so it is not time wasted! By reading, not only are you better able to get a sense of themes, tropes and common plot features which you can then draw on in your own writing, you also gain a sense of common stylistic features your genre tends to include – whether you should you write in first or third-person narrative, for example.
What are the main features of a paranormal romance book?
Fantasy or fantasy romance? Paranormal or paranormal romance? All four of these genres have the same world building, character types, plot themes but the difference is that in a romance book the central thrust of the story is the romance. Keep the couple’s journey to their happily ever after at the heart of your story and you are writing a romance novel.
Be aware, that romance is not the same as sex. A thriller can contain sex, as can a romance novel, but the difference is whether the romance as the driving force of the story. A romance’s main plot line is the story of a couple overcoming obstacles to be together; it is on emotion and falling in love, not just the physical act of sex.
The Alpha Male Hero
I’ve blogged about the alpha male previously. While this character type is predominant in paranormal romance books, you need to be aware of the stereotypical flaws of this character so you don’t write a dated alpha hero from the 1980s. An alpha hero is often Byronic, he is a leader and powerful, but in the twenty-first century he also has elements of the modern man. He isn’t afraid of commitment and he certainly isn’t a chauvinistic pig!
A Strong Female Heroine
Traditionally, heroines within romance books have often been too passive for my liking, but the presentation of your heroine is up to you. My personal preference is for ‘real’ women. Strong, intelligent, educated women who are likeable; women who are at the centre of their lives, not on the periphery of them. I like a heroine who balances out the alpha male character.
As I’ve already stated, I don’t enjoy reading about passive, weak women but I don’t like female characters that have become a caricature either. For me, a strong woman isn’t someone who acts like the worst kind of man.
Click here to read my blog Heroines That Kick Ass | Beth Linton
Inclusion of the Supernatural
I discussed above that the paranormal romance novel is a mixture of genres, this means that you can draw on a range of features found within different types of stories - fantasy and dystopian in particular. Characters can be magical and have supernatural abilities. They can be shapeshifters, vampires, fairies and demons. The possibilities are endless.
The importance of World Building
I have discussed world building in a previous blog so take a look if you need more support with this. The beauty of a paranormal romance series is that the romance happens against a backdrop of an intricate world. This world, however incredible, needs to be made credible to the reader. Think it through. Draw pictures. Collect inspiring images. The clearer it is in your own mind, the better you will convey it onto your page.
Conflict and Resolution
Conflict is the heart of all literature. As a paranormal romance writer, you need both internal and external conflict within your romance book.
Romance novels need layers of internal conflict – the emotional conflict your hero and heroine will overcome to reach their happily ever after.
Paranormal romance novels also have a second level of supernatural conflict – the external plot conflict of the paranormal world: Villain? Battle? Issue? Powers?
Happily Ever After (HEA) – Or Happily Ever After For Now (HEAFN)
When you look on the websites of romance publishers you will see the terms HEA and HEAFN in their submission guidelines. Romance books nearly always end with a HEA. Sometimes they end with a HEAFN. Be clear on this point. The reader of a romance novel expects the couple to fall in love, resolve the conflict(s) and be happy at the end of the book. If your characters don’t have a HEA then you haven’t written a romance novel.
If you plan to write a paranormal romance series be aware that this HEA rule still stands. In my series the books are connected through an arching plot of good versus evil, but each romance novel is a complete love story with a happily ever after moment. While a reader will gain most out of the series by reading the books in order, they get a complete romance by reading one book (even out of order). Don’t expect a reader to read several of your romance books before they get their HEA, they likely won’t read another of your books after book 1 because you haven’t delivered what you promised by marketing your book as a romance novel.
Finally, if you are a writer getting your feet wet in this genre I’d love to hear from you. Visit my contacts page and let me know how you get on – why not sign up for my newsletter as well so I can keep you up to date on other blogs you might find useful...
To find out about my novels click here and visit my books page where you can find the blurb for the first five books in the romance series.