Urban fantasy is very much the rising star of the Young Adult genre; Cassandra Clare, in particular, has made a name for herself in this genre. Of course, it’s not just for teenagers… you’ve probably read an urban fantasy novel already, without knowing it!
Joanna Penn, herself an Urban Fantasy author, defines it as “magic and weird stuff creeping in at the edges of a world in which magic is not the norm”(source). To deconstruct this a little; urban fantasy is predominantly about man-made worlds in which creatures and conventions found in high fantasy have a presence of some kind. It’s generally subversive of the tropes found in high fantasy, and it’s generally early modern to modern in time period, as opposed to the medieval-esque scenes and settings of traditional fantasy.
Urban fantasy is fresh, and it’s versatile, often straddling two genres; Penn herself mixes it with traditional high fantasy, Paul Cornell with horror, and Cassandra Clare with steampunk. There are a few elements which can be found in most Urban Fantasy fiction, though.
- The City; the central city/town in which the story takes place in key, and it’s not uncommon for the cities of urban fantasy to become personified in some way. The places described in scenes are very often rooted firmly in reality, too, and this gives both to the plausibility of the story, and to the fantastical feeling of the narrative. The general trend is to imply a hidden history in a well-known landscape.
- The Mystic; every good urban fantasy has its own, distinctive magical/mystical community and system. In some cases, for example the Clockwork Angel series it’s rigid, there are Laws, and in others, e.g. the TV series Charmed, the magical scene is more fragmented and unruly. But there are rules, whether or not the reader sees them, and they are key to the good form and function of the story.
- Point of View; this is not a hard and fast rule, but most Urban Fantasy novels take a first person point of view, and this is largely because of the intensely character driven nature of the genres. In cases where first person is not used, it is generally the case to see a close third person style in use.
- The “big Bad”; to borrow a term from the hit TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer ever Urban Fantasy has the “big Bad”, the inescapable evil, the scheming warlock, the ancient legend waking in the deep, that drives the story, and the characters, on. The subplots weave around, and are very often influenced by, this main trouble/enemy.
- Sizzle? Urban Fantasy shares much with the Supernatural Romance genre, and so tends to have a but of sexiness about it. Of course, the level depends largely on the target audience and the subplots, but even those stories devoid of romance often have a hint of sizzle to them
Advice to the would-be author;
If you’re considering diving into the Urban Fantasy genre there are some things to consider, and some seminal texts to consider: American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan, and Between Two Thorns by Joanna Penn are great texts for those unfamiliar with the genre as a whole.
You should also familiarise yourself with the common tropes of the genre (this is a TV series based list, but it is comprehensive and worth consideration as it is too long to recreate here).
You should also either familiarise yourself with the real world setting in which you plan to base your book, or consider the details of world building (for example the importance of history in imagined worlds, and how to give them life). You must consider what you do and don’t know about your setting, and if/how this will affect the reader. If you’re basing this is a real-world place you must also think about how the supernatural interacts with the real world; what keeps it in check? Is it known? What real world consequences will apply to supernatural actions?
And, of course, there are the more basic concerns for writers who are new to the craft as well as the genre; the basics of writing, some resources, and an understanding of how to proofread your own work in a preliminary way are key.
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