Ask Inkitt: Urban Fantasy Essentials

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Today’s ‘Ask Inkitt’ Question: I’m thinking about writing an urban fantasy. Do you have any tips about this genre?

As a matter of fact, I do! I just completed my own urban fantasy manuscript, and I’ve learned a lot about the genre along the way. Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of the huge, overarching fantasy category. There are many things about urban fantasy which follow traditional fantasy conventions, but also some things that set it apart. Here are some tips as you traverse the gritty world of urban fantasy.

The Magic Happens Alongside Reality

An urban fantasy is still a fantasy, featuring some kind of magic. But rather than an entire world built from the writer’s imagination, the foundation of an urban fantasy is constructed on top of the familiar. The magic here lives alongside the subway stations, skyscrapers, or back alleys. Rather than an imaginary civilization populated with mythical creatures, urban fantasy generally has a more familiar feel to it. The setting is, well, urban. That doesn’t mean we can skimp on the world-building.

Follow the Basics of World-Building

We still need to paint a full, colorful picture for our readers. We must follow the rules of our magical system and any advanced technology we may be incorporating into this world, and we have to understand the inner workings of our fair city. All the good world-building techniques that apply to other fantasy or science fiction writing apply here. Here are a few articles you can check out: World-Building – Where Should You Start? and Weird Quick and Dirty World-Building.

When writing a more traditional fantasy, world-building may happen mostly in our imaginations, but with urban fantasy, we can actually visit different cities and immerse ourselves in the feel of them. We can experience the sights, sounds, and smells and sprinkle these authentic sensory tidbits throughout the story.

One of the most effective ways to share the world with your reader is through your character’s experiences. Relevant aspects of the world come alive when a character interacts with them. Maybe the protagonist is being chased through a dark alley. Maybe they’ve jumped the subway turnstile to rush onto a departing train.

The Hero of the Story              

Heroes come in many flavors – the reluctant hero, the loner, the tragic hero, and more. Urban fantasies tends to feature anti-heroes. Not exclusively of course, but the gritty urban setting tends to produce gritty, urban characters. An antihero is by definition a flawed character. They’ll have shortcomings, vices, and bad habits for sure, but those qualities shouldn’t turn readers off from them entirely. Rather, those qualities should make them seem human – complicated, but human.

In my opinion, anti-heroes are some of the best characters to read about or watch, and they’re definitely my favorite to write. He’s more on crafting an anti-hero your readers will want to get to know better: The Main Cast – Writing the Anti-Hero.

And… Action!

You’re still writing a fantasy, and every good fantasy story has some action. Writing tight, heart-pounding action scenes takes some skill. Here are some tips on crafting a page-turning action scene: I Need Help Writing the Action.

If you want to write an urban fantasy, read a few novels in this genre. See how other writers build their worlds, handle conflict, and create interesting characters. Ask yourself what draws you into the story. How does the author blend reality and magic? What kind of characters interest you and why? If urban fantasy is what you want to write next, you’ve picked a popular and exciting genre. Have fun!

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Tabitha Lord is the award-winning author of the HORIZON series. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband, four kids, two spoiled cats, and lovable black lab.

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