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I have been writing a story that for a long time I considered to be an urban fantasy, with supernatural elements in a recognizably modern setting. However, while I thought I was writing a rather straightforward urban fantasy story, it’s become apparent that the story seems to share a lot of elements with a paranormal romance as well.

The story revolves around two star-crossed lovers from different supernatural factions, so it is difficult to say whether the A plot is the romance, the feud between the factions, or both. The romantic and non-romantic plot points are directly tied together. The individual story arcs are primarily driven by non-romantic conflict but the overarching meta-plot is definitely the story of the relationship between the two characters and to a lesser degree their relationships with family and friends. There are also a number of individual character arcs and subplots that have nothing to do with romance, but focus on things like platonic friendships and mentorhood.

The romance is not treated as a steamy, wish-fulfillment fantasy (contra something like Twilight), but is used to further the non-romantic themes of the novel about the human condition. There is no erotica, and cutesy romantic gestures that you would expect in a romance novel are virtually absent unless they further character development.

I've heard it said if you can remove the romance from the story and it still works it's not a paranormal romance. However, while the romance is key to the story, there's very little of the typical "they love me, they love me not" and "supernatural phenomena merely exist to get the characters to shack up" typical of paranormal romance.

I suppose a comparable analogy would be The Incredibles compared to your standard superhero fare. In contrast to most entries in their respective genre, the relationship between the two main characters is treated as a key part of the plot rather than a subplot, and there’s always this undercurrent of the events the characters are going through being akin to the trials and tribulations of a normal relationship albeit with a fantastic twist. E.g., a superhero going through a midlife crisis, or a heroine torn between "career versus family" except "career" in this case is being a werewolf alpha.

As a result, I have no idea if what I am writing is a very good urban fantasy story, or a very bad paranormal romance. I understand that categorizing works of fiction into genres is often arbitrary even at the best of times. I also understand that the boundary between paranormal romance and urban fantasy is hard to define and arbitrary even compared to most literary genres. As other people have said before “the only difference between the two is if a story has a half-naked woman on the cover, it is urban fantasy; if it is a half-naked man, it is paranormal romance”. But I'm concerned if it falls too far on the "paranormal romance" side it won't be of interest to the target audience and I need to course-correct.

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    It's probably urban fantasy. Romance isn't just 'a story with a relationship', like all genres R has it's own themes, conflicts, and stock characters, and as you've guessed it's readers will have expectations (dramatic/resolution, not just steamy times). Relationships appear in most stories, hopefully at different stages of maturity represented by different ages and classes. The 'naive' couple tend to take the spotlight as inexperienced foils, but it's usually compared/contrasted by all the other relationships, in all different shapes and sizes. – wetcircuit Apr 28 at 23:47
  • @wetcircuit That's just it. The core narrative is about the two leads falling in love and trying to making their relationship work, which is a core expectation of romance novels, but the climax isn't "the two of them get together" and many stock themes and characters are absent (e.g., alternative suitors are pretty much absent). Other themes and expectations of romance novels seem to be equally applicable to urban fantasy (i.e., general expectation of a happy ending, external uncontrollable conflicts versus internal character flaws that can be overcome, etc.) – user2352714 Apr 29 at 2:20
  • What's the target in your sights? Romance novels target 'relationship achieved': when the relationship is achieved, the 'romance' period is over and the story ends. Urban fantasy aims at other achievements: a change in social status for the leads, the resolution of a situation, the opening of a new door... If your characters have an ongoing relationship while they face while they face some bigger, more pressing problems, that's urban fantasy; if the external context is mostly background to set up relationship developments, that's paranormal romance. – Ted Wrigley Apr 29 at 23:49
  • @TedWrigley Arguably the protagonist's target would be "try carve out a stable life for themselves which is made exponentially more difficult because of their relationship and feuding factions". The conflict isn't "whether the two like each other" but is directly caused by them liking each other. – user2352714 Apr 30 at 1:02

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