Urban Fantasy Notes

We’ve been roaming around the speculative fiction category for some stretch of time, and this week we are focusing on a subgenre of fantasy called urban fantasy.

Fantasy and urban fantasy can be quite similar. Fantasy as a genre usually includes some magical or supernatural elements, and so does urban fantasy, and so does paranormal romance, but we should be careful not to confuse these genres because the readers of each of these genres have different expectations.

So what’s the difference?

Fantasy, usually, is set in an imaginary world, not a real world. Urban fantasy, on the other hand, is set in the real world, usually a city, but not always, and more often than not the story is set in the present day, but can also be set in the past or future. Paranormal romance runs very similar to urban fantasy, except that the primary focus of the story is the relationship between two characters.

Fantasy doesn’t typically have a strong romantic element, though there are fantasy romance novels categorized as romance rather than fantasy because the primary focus of the book is the relationship between characters.

Urban fantasy, however, can contain a strong romantic element in the story, but the romance is always secondary to the plot.

Do not confuse urban fantasy with paranormal romance. These genres have a different focus so you run the risk of alienate readers if you mix them up. This is one example of why it is important to know your genre. If you market your paranormal romance to urban fantasy readers, you are likely to irritate them, and visa versa. Romance readers want romance with steamy relationships and sexy covers.

Urban fantasy readers want action and adventure.

Urban fantasy has several tropes that are standard for the genre and include (but are not limited to):

  • All Myths Are True – all myths, legends, and folk tales are accurate descriptions of past events, or accurate predictions of the future.
  • Alternate History – One or more historical events unfolded differently than in the real world, or a fictional character is placed in the center of the historical event that actually occurred.
  • The Kitchen Sink – All Myths Are True and then some. In this trope, everything is true even if the idea comes from another genre, including time travel,  super heroes,  and aliens.

As a writer of urban fantasy, your job is to take some element of the expected (trope) and twist it with something unexpected so that the story is fresh and new. The unexpected can come from a character, or setting, or a plot twist, or something else, but it should be there. The story should still follow the general category of real world plus something fantasy, but the world should be dynamic, the plot should be intelligent, and the characters should be engaging.

How do you come up with ideas? Spend some time researching folklore, archetypes, actual events, science facts, mythology, or something else that piques your interest. Readers of urban fantasy are smart and well-read, so if your main character is Achilles (Greek mythological figure) and he was never in the Trojan War according to you, chances are you have a problem with your character.

Most importantly, have fun with it.


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