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What’s Your Definition of Paranormal?

Paranormal ActivityAs writers, we tend to think we have a fairly good grasp of the English language. I mean, it’s kind of a requirement, right?

But every now and then, we run into something that makes us realize that our understanding of a certain word may be different from others’.

I once had an argument with my boss, years and years ago, about the difference between “a couple” and “a few”, and which was less and which was more. I don’t remember which side of the argument I was on at the time, but it did become very vehement.

Which means me to today’s question. What, exactly, is your definition of paranormal and supernatural? Are they the same to you? And if not, how are they different? Let’s see if we’re all on the same page.

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2 thoughts on “What’s Your Definition of Paranormal?”

  1. Interesting question. In M/M romance, many books labeled as paranormals are shifter stories. Stories about psychic abilities fall into that area as well. And sometimes vampires. In the supernatural category, you find ghosts, demons, and monsters. To me, paranormal stories are predominantly about living people with abilities beyond the normal human range. To that extent, psychics, shifters, and witches/wizards/shamans would qualify. Vampires, however, are not living people, so I feel like they belong in the supernatural category, which to me is defined by the distinction between normal, normal plus, and outside of nature altogether.

    BTW, the designation “horror” could actually encompass both, along with certain thrillers in which ordinary human characters who are particularly brutal or evil are the antagonists.

    That’s my two cents worth. Same page?

  2. Wow what an interesting question! Funny that I’ve never thought of the actual definitions of those terms before. I guess I use them somewhat interchangeably, but now that I think about it…

    “Para” usually means “other than” (or maybe “along-side”?) when it is used as a prefix. So it makes sense to me that it would denote those things which exist as “other than” normal – Aliens, vampires, shifters, etc. Using this definition, most creatures would fit into this category.

    But then Supernatural… that seems to me like it means “more than” natural. Or “enhanced” – but still natural. Still explainable, maybe even created by nature (Modified humans? Or humans who have evolved with special skills or characteristics?) So I guess I’d use “supernatural” as a subset of “paranormal” – they are still “other than” normal, but are naturally derived.

    I suppose a lot would depend on the world-building and explanations given. I’ve read vampire books where the vamps were supposedly aliens, a special breed that was completely “other”, and some where vampirism was a virus that any human could “catch.” Same with Weres/Shifters: can it spread via bite-infection? Or must they be born of shifter parents?

    And if we start talking about non-earth based life forms, that really gums up these definitions!


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