Genre Wars Part 1&2 - Horror vs. Paranormal and Supernatural?

Genre Wars Part 2- Horror Vs. Paranormal and ...

This oh so interesting topic of genre. I will start my post by thanking MJ for starting this series in a thought provoking and illuminating way. I will also suggest Amazon changed its book categories or at least how they are grouped. I am sure it is largely to do with my past posts on how nearly all books were lumped under horror and then separated out by subgenre so roughly 3/4 of all books were in the subcategory of horror under fiction. They make it really hard to find this, think I'm exaggerating? Don't take my word for it. I will not say my observation was necessarily a complaint, rather a statement of fact. As I re-looked at the categories, it seems they have done just the opposite now.

I want to backup a degree or two from the straight comparison of paranormal and horror. I want to shift to supernatural vs. paranormal for a couple of reasons. There is a fantastic graphic floating around the internet with the horror genres and subgenres listed in a flow chart. I like it but don't want to use someone else's graphic without permission so I will describe it instead. The main horror sub genres listed are, Gore and Disturbing, Psychological, Killer, Monsters, Zombie, Paranormal. Wait a minute. At the bottom of the Paranormal category is Supernatural under Ghosts and Spirits, Haunted House, Possession, Devil &; Demon, Witches and Occult. All are under the banner of Horror.

Oh crap. According to this our discussion is moot because it's all a subgenre of horror. Oh no. Aside from the technical definitions, I will start with why I believe a supernatural element is what pushed Firetok into the horror category, more in the vein of how MJ describes it. Alright, some of the content it turns out is very dark and deals with human trafficking, a dark subject in its own right. I honestly think outside of the supernatural aspects of this particular story, it would be suspense or thriller with some flashes of gruesome not unlike any other gritty non horror (did I really say that?) book. I do not see the light horror and some graphic scenes in this particular story being horrific enough to stand alone as a horror book. The focus is not primarily to disturb, the focus is the story, the adventure, and during the course, some horrific things happen. The sole intent is not just to disturb or horrify, if it were, as far as I am concerned it has not earned its horror merit badge.

The supernatural element is where the road splits for me. Paranormal and supernatural by definition can nearly be used interchangeably until you start talking about fiction. This I suppose is where I have found myself so confused and it is a cloud of confusion which never dissipates, instead it moves around to shadow fresh confusion. As MJ explained, paranormal readers are expecting psychic abilities, werewolves, vampires etc... They are not necessarily expecting it to be part of anything disturbing. Why not? Aren't they in a subgenre of horror? Maybe not so much anymore is my suspicion. Lets push it a little further. I have a character with an ability, she is psychic. Supernatural or paranormal? Not so fast right. Same ability, might have to explore a little more about the story to come to a conclusion. Not necessarily black and white yet. I do find MJ's comment about Paranormal usually being part of something else like. This may be important to our discussion.

I found an interesting analogy among the countless opinions scattered across the internet. This one claims if the paranormal/supernatural (by definition, not genre) aspect of a story is the good guy they would categorize it as paranormal. If that same element is the bad guy it's horror. What? Agree or disagree, it is actually an interesting way to look at it. This is how they categorized books on a macro level. I am not sure whether I agree or not myself, but it is moving the cloud of confusion a few feet. I'll go another step here in the discussion to point out an interesting aspect of MJ's post. Paranormal to her conjures good and evil. What is interesting about this? That is exactly what my mind conjures when I think supernatural. Paranormal in my mind is more ghostly. Are we both right or wrong? How odd? Not really, ask 10 different people the difference, I bet you get 7 3/4 different answers. They might all be right even, except for the dope who only provided three quarters of an answer. He just doesn't give a crap.

Here is an ever important fact I will restate for the who knows how manieth time. Genre is more about marketing than anything else. Think I'm wrong, please show me evidence, I have a wide open mind. Whether it is a library (a historical building where people walked or rode horses to see paper books) or a book store  (a historical building where people walked or rode horses to buy paper books), there has to be a way to group books so we don't have to search through them all. Does the content within these categories shift? I am pretty confident it does. Is it an ever moving evolution? Pretty sure, why else would Amazon be shifting its categories around? You tell me, like I said my empty head has plenty of room for more knowledge.

What does this have to do with our discussion here? Why do I keep asking questions? Sorry, my next point is that it is entirely possible as genres evolve, they expand or contract to follow a market. It's not like there is a set of regulations everyone can adhere to. Let me add another example from my experience using Firetok as another specific. Were I to categorize this story as paranormal, some of the graphic scenes may be entirely too horrific for someone expecting let's say a paranormal romance, MJ brought this to my attention. Is the graphic content enough for it to be straight horror? I say not but that's just me. Would the horrific content be shocking for a reader expecting horror? Not likely, if they were looking for a straight out blood and gore read, they would likely be just as disappointed.

Have either of us answered a question? I suppose yes but then hopefully we have asked enough to keep the discussion moving forward.

What do you say? When you hear paranormal what comes into your head? Now ask the same about supernatural and please post a comment. I changed the comments so you no longer need a google account, if that person indeed exists. Thanks for reading and joining the conversation. part 1 and 2 

Genre Wars Part 1- Horror vs. Paranormal

Welcome to the unending discussion of fiction genre. With a tagline like "the girl next door with a dark side" she's gotta be interesting right? MJ Labeff, author, animal lover, liker of hot weather and all around great person has offered to do a multi part series on the subject. She and I go back and forth with questions and theoretical answers enough for it to develop into a series of its own. As always I have a curiosity for exactly what gets lumped under the horror banner and as she will explain, it doesn't always make sense. Please comment on the post with your own take, who knows, it may end up in my part two. Thanks MJ for continuing the discussion. By all means if you have something to contribute or have something to offer, please get ahold of me for further discussion, I'm always looking for a good guest post.

Genre Wars Part 1 with MJ Labeff

Genre wars- Horror versus Paranormal.

What’s the difference between the two?

It’s an ongoing discussion that Gordon and I have discussed over a few emails. Ha! I was one of your emails that didn’t get deleted. All right enough joking around- here we go. MJ LaBeff’s interpretation of horror and paranormal or as Gordon says, “my personal wiki.”


When referring to the word paranormal in books, I equate that to a story that either involves vampires, werewolves, witches, other shape shifters or characters with psychic abilities. I think of the supernatural where a strange occurrence has happened, some might refer to it as divine intervention. It's similar to the term super human. We've all watched news stories or read articles about a person who has exhibited super human strength. A car always seems to be involved in these situations. A person is pinned under a car and a man comes by and somehow lifts the car and simultaneously is able to save the person from imminent death. Paranormal conjures ideas of good and evil. I think of it as being an intentional force either perpetrated by a living or dead being for good or evil purposes.

Isn't it interesting that books featuring superheroes aren't in the genre of paranormal?
Superheroes are characters who usually live ordinary lives and then when needed change into their superhero counterpart with special powers. Hmmm, I'd almost think they'd fall in the genre of paranormal but seem to end up in the science fiction realm. Well, let's not confuse things. Back to paranormal. According to The Free Dictionary by Farlex online the word paranormal is an adjective defined as beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation- of or pertaining to events or perceptions occurring without scientific explanation, as clairvoyance or extrasensory perception.

So I wasn’t too far off in my line of thinking.


What about books where there’s a force of evil to be reckoned with- a restless spirit or soul seeking revenge, retribution, retaliation. It's the entity that causes strange things to happen, the unexplained which often scares. Speaking of scary, what is horror?
Gordon, you've written so many great blog posts on this subject I'm hesitant to discuss my thoughts, but here goes. Horror to me implies the macabre. It's taking what's evil or tragic and writing about that aspect in great detail, but it's much, much more. It's all that's leading up to that moment, it's what keeps a reader completely on edge like hearing the theme music to Jaws or Friday the 13th, but you've got to write it- there's no music in books- and then BOOM tragedy strikes and here's where all of the gore comes into flourishing description.

In my humble opinion the biggest differences between the genres would be this. In paranormal you don’t have to have anything “evil”- an author can choose to create a story with good shape shifters or psychics without any malevolent forces. I’m pretty certain if a reader picks up a horror book and it doesn’t horrify there’ll be great disappointment.

According to The Free Dictionary by Farlex online the word horror is a noun defined as a genre of fiction or other artistic work evoking suspense and horror, especially through the depiction of gruesome or supernatural elements.

So how does an author choose a genre?

We associate authors Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice with horror but couldn’t some of their novels be classified as paranormal? In the world of mad algorithms, yes, but in theory paranormal is not a genre that can stand on its own. It’s always combined with a genre romance, suspense, mystery, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy.

What say you?

Readers, writers, agents, editors what are your thoughts on these genres? What are your expectations when you read a horror novel versus a novel with paranormal elements? Authors when pitching your book to an agent or editor or promoting it how do you choose between these genres? part 1 and 2 

Happy reading and writing!

MJ grew up in northeastern Ohio but traded snow for sunshine and moved to southern Arizona over a decade ago where she lives with her husband and two dogs. When not at her day job in the financial services industry, she spends her free time working out, volunteering for the American Cancer Society and writing crime fiction.

She has completed two romantic suspense novels, Mind Games and Haunting Lyric and three books in a suspense/thriller series, Last Summer’s Evil, Last Fall’s Hunted and Last Winter’s Taken. Currently, she is writing Last Spring’s Stranger, the final book in the Last Cold Case series. She signed the series with Muse It Up Publishing. Last Summer’s Evil is scheduled to release fall/winter 2016. Last Fall’s Hunted is scheduled to release Spring 2017. Check back for future release dates in the Last Cold Case series.