Supernatural fiction (properly, "supernaturalist fiction") is a literary genre exploiting or requiring as plot devices or themes some contradictions of the commonplace natural world and materialist assumptions about it.
In its broadest definition, supernatural fiction includes examples of weird fiction, horror fiction, vampire literature, ghost story and like genres such as fantasy. Elements of supernatural fiction can be found in writing from genres such as science fiction. Amongst academics, readers and collectors, however, supernatural fiction is often classed as a discrete genre defined by the elimination of "horror", "fantasy", and elements important to other genres. The one genre supernatural fiction appears to embrace in its entirety is the traditional ghost story.
In the twentieth century, supernatural fiction became associated with psychological fiction. The result is that the supernatural is only one possible explanation for what has been described. A classic example of this would be The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, which offers both a supernatural and a psychological interpretation of the events described. The ambiguity is considered to add to the effect. A similar example is Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story "The Yellow Wallpaper".
Supernatural fiction continues to be popular, but because it is not simple to define and is not popularly understood, it is not used as a marketing category by publishers, booksellers, libraries, etc. When marketed, supernatural fiction is often classed as mainstream fiction, or is subsumed by other subgenres.
- Wilson, Neil (2000). Shadows in the Attic: A Guide to British Supernatural Fiction, 1820–1950. London: The British Library.
- "Supernatural Fiction", entry in John Clute and John Grant, eds., Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)