Paranormal Mystery: Complete Fiction Genre Guide

Posted on Aug 18, 2023

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Written by P.J McNulty

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What is the paranormal mystery genre?

Paranormal mystery is a subgenre of fiction that blends elements of the supernatural with the structure and plot devices of mystery novels. 

Common features include but are not limited to, ghosts, psychics, witches, or other supernatural elements intertwined with a core mystery or series of mysteries that the protagonists must solve.

What is the history of the paranormal mystery genre?

The paranormal mystery genre has its roots in Gothic literature, which often incorporated supernatural elements. 

Over time, authors began to merge these with the structured puzzles of detective novels, leading to the creation of the modern paranormal mystery. 

This genre experienced a surge in popularity in the late 20th and early 21st centuries with series like Charlaine Harris’s “Southern Vampire Mysteries” and Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files.”

Why do writers need to understand the paranormal mystery genre?

Understanding your intended genre is crucial for authors as it provides you with a framework to guide your writing and storytelling process. 

Familiarity with genre conventions can help you to meet reader expectations, while understanding these conventions also allows for strategic and innovative subversions. 

If you’re writing in the paranormal mystery genre, or plan to, this knowledge is particularly essential to balance the distinctive elements of the supernatural and mystery genres.

What are the key elements and themes in a paranormal mystery story?

If you want to meet the expectations of paranormal mystery readers, and turn them into fans, consider incorporating the following elements into your next tale:

  • Supernatural Elements: Ghosts, psychics, witches, werewolves, vampires, etc.
  • Core Mystery: A puzzle or crime that needs solving.
  • Melding of Real and Supernatural: The supernatural is part of the ‘normal’ world.
  • Logical Resolution: Despite supernatural elements, the mystery has a logical solution.
  • Atmospheric Setting: Often dark, moody, or eerie.
  • Compelling Characters: Often include a protagonist with a connection to the supernatural.
  • Suspense and Tension: The mystery unfolds gradually, keeping readers on edge.
  • Danger or Threat: The protagonist may face personal danger in their quest to solve the mystery.

How do writers balance and blend the paranormal and mystery genre elements effectively?

The paranormal mystery genre takes the suspense and plot-driven narrative of the mystery genre and merges it with the supernatural elements typically found in paranormal fiction. 

This combination allows for a narrative where otherworldly events happen within a logical, mystery-solving framework, thereby adding an extra layer of intrigue and unpredictability to the storytelling.

What should writers know about the paranormal mystery reader fanbase?

The audience for paranormal mystery generally consists of readers who enjoy the intellectual challenge of solving a mystery and the thrill of the supernatural. 

These readers typically expect a blend of suspense, intrigue, otherworldly elements, and a mystery that unfolds logically. 

They value well-developed characters and typically anticipate a certain degree of danger or tension in the narrative.

How can you make the supernatural a focal part of your story?

In paranormal mystery, supernatural elements are a fundamental part of the story. 

These elements, not only add an extra layer of fascination but also serve as a unique tool for driving the plot. 

They should be seamlessly integrated into the narrative and have a clear impact on the mystery at the heart of the story, rather than existing for the own sake outside of the story’s main focus.

How to ensure your story has the perfect amount of mystery?

Mystery elements form the backbone of the paranormal mystery genre. 

Regardless of the supernatural elements at play, at its core, a paranormal mystery is a puzzle that needs solving. 

This could be a crime like a murder or a less tangible mystery, such as a character’s memories or beliefs.

As the author, you should consider how to lay out clues for the reader (and protagonist) to follow, leading to a logical, satisfying resolution.

What is the role of tension and suspense in paranormal mystery stories?

By now you’ve probably gathered that tension and suspense play a huge role in the crafting of a paranormal mystery. 

But why?

Let’s look specifically at why they are used and how they achieve their intended effect.

  • Gradual Revelation: The mystery should unravel slowly to keep readers engaged.
  • High Stakes: The consequences of not solving the mystery should be significant.
  • Danger: The protagonist often faces personal risk or danger.
  • Uncertainty: The presence of supernatural elements adds an unpredictable element.
  • Cliffhangers: Ending chapters on unresolved notes to keep readers turning pages.
  • False Leads: Misdirections to keep readers and characters guessing.
  • Time Pressure: A ticking clock can ramp up the suspense and urgency.

If you feel overwhelmed, you might want to practice and get very familiar with all of the above aspects of suspense and tension before sitting down to write your own full-length work of paranormal mystery fiction.

What are some notable books in the paranormal mystery genre?

Just as writers should aim to show rather than tell, often the best way to learn about a genre is by checking out some of its prominent examples.

Here are some of the most significant works of paranormal mystery fiction to inspire your own efforts. Read widely within the genre before attempting your own contribution!

  • “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” series by Charlaine Harris
  • “The Dresden Files” series by Jim Butcher
  • “The Sixth Sense” by M. Night Shyamalan
  • “The Woman in Black” by Susan Hill
  • “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness
  • “The Witch Elm” by Tana French
  • “Odd Thomas” series by Dean Koontz
  • “The Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter” series by Laurell K. Hamilton

Who are the main paranormal mystery authors?

If you want to know more about the people behind the paranormal, look no further!

Here are some key facts about prominent paranormal mystery writers and the impact they’ve had on the genre.

  • Charlaine Harris: Brought paranormal mystery into mainstream popular culture with the “Southern Vampire Mysteries” series.
  • Jim Butcher: Known for his blending of detective fiction and fantasy in “The Dresden Files” series.
  • Susan Hill: Her novel, “The Woman in Black,” is renowned for its atmosphere of suspense and fear.
  • Tana French: Uses supernatural elements to create a heightened sense of mystery and suspense in her books.
  • M. Night Shyamalan: Known for incorporating paranormal elements into mystery narratives in his film scripts.
  • Deborah Harkness: Created a rich world of witches and vampires in her “All Souls Trilogy.”
  • Dean Koontz: Successfully blends the supernatural with mystery in his “Odd Thomas” series.
  • Laurell K. Hamilton: Incorporates elements of supernatural and mystery in her Anita Blake series.

These works and authors have significantly shaped the paranormal mystery genre by demonstrating how the supernatural and mystery genres can be successfully blended.

They’ve elevated the genre through their innovative use of supernatural elements within structured mystery narratives, establishing conventions and expectations among readers.

Plus, their influence has helped to popularize and legitimize the genre, paving the way for new authors.

How do you find an idea for paranormal mystery fiction?

When brainstorming paranormal mystery story ideas, you should consider both the mystery and supernatural elements you want to include. 

You could begin by determining the type of supernatural entity or power at play and the mystery to be solved. 

Additionally, understanding character motivations, the setting, and how the supernatural interacts with the ‘real’ world can help in developing a compelling and unique storyline.

How do you plot a paranormal mystery story?

Plotting a story is a whole art in and of itself. However, if you want some crucial considerations that apply to paranormal mystery in particular, check out the following list:

  • Establish the supernatural elements early on in the story.
  • Develop a clear, solvable mystery that drives the plot.
  • Introduce clues gradually and strategically.
  • Incorporate red herrings to mislead readers and build suspense.
  • Make sure the mystery can be solved logically, despite supernatural elements.
  • Balance the mystery and supernatural aspects, ensuring neither overshadows the other.

How to craft compelling characters for your paranormal mystery story

Just as your setting should be suitable for the paranormal mystery genre and all it represents, so should your characters.

Follow these tips to craft characters that will keep your readers invested in their fictional fate.

  • Create a protagonist with a strong connection to the supernatural.
  • Develop well-rounded characters with clear motivations.
  • Include a variety of characters that contribute to the mystery.
  • Make sure the protagonist evolves over the course of solving the mystery.
  • Create a believable antagonist, possibly with a supernatural connection.

What makes a mystery unique, intriguing, and sufficiently supernatural?

Whereas some fiction genres are capable of succeeding on the strength of their characters alone, a paranormal mystery story requires a plot that delivers tension, intrigue, and a satisfying resolution Without these elements, readers are deprived of the gripping mystery and satisfying resolution they deeply crave. 

Here are six effective ways to ensure your paranormal mystery plot delivers the goods in the eyes of your readers.

  1. Start with a strong hook.
  2. Establish clear stakes.
  3. Develop a unique supernatural element.
  4. Design puzzles that lead to an ultimate resolution.
  5. Introduce unexpected twists.
  6. Ensure a satisfying conclusion.

Having delved into the paranormal mystery genre, you are now equipped with everything you need to get started writing!

So how will you make your unique mark on the paranormal mystery genre?

Think about the unique intersection of the supernatural and the mysterious. 

Develop your own intriguing mystery and populate it with compelling characters. 

And remember, while conventions guide us, there is always room for innovation!

So, go ahead, and let your imagination loose in the realms of the paranormal mystery. 

Your future readers are waiting!

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