Urban Fantasy Essentials

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Urban Fantasy. The badass, modern offspring of the classic fantasy genre. The name alone defines itself, but what are the essentials of urban fantasy? This rapidly-growing subgenre has taken the literary and, by proxy, both the small and big screen worlds by storm. If you’re considering spinning your own tale of magic in a metropolitan setting, see how well your ideas align with the following urban fantasy essentials.   

1. The Setting – should not be in the woods of Alaska.

Captain Obvious would like to point out that your setting should be in a city, hence the inclusion of the word ‘urban’ in this subgenre’s name. You may argue that you’ve read UF novels where the setting takes place in rural areas or the suburbs and have UF tones, but that’s where the argument stops. Tones are like flavors. Chicken mole has chocolate in it, but you wouldn’t define chicken mole as a dessert. Therefore, if you’re planning on classifying your novel as UF, one of your main characters needs to be a city.

Yes, I called a location, a.k.a. a setting, a character, and you should, too. Your reader should feel as if the city were a person. Does the city make the reader uncomfortable or at ease? What does it sound like? How does it smell? Is it gritty or is it posh? All these details should be ironed out in your world-building prior to writing.

2. The Classic Fantasy Elements – Magic, Mythical Creatures, and Paranormal Beings, oh my!

You can’t have fantasy without fantastic elements. Be they magic, zombies, werewolves, vampires, or ghosts, they all need to interact with your chosen or created city. How will you combine your fantasy elements with things like public transport, politics, technology, or even something as mundane as a finding a decent cup of coffee?

Balance your elements with reality

Whatever route you choose, you need to adhere to the rules of reality, as in the world we all inhabit every day. As a writer, you make the rules, but don’t break your rules once you establish them. The fun in your writing will reveal itself as you hide the fantastic within the natural world. Or will it? Maybe not hiding the fantastic is your spin. For example, a city where fairies and humans coexist.

Don’t go for the obvious

When you begin to craft your UF story, be wary of cliches. Werewolves, zombies, and vampires have literally been beaten to death for our entertainment in recent years. Meanwhile, in the land YA, UF is populated with love triangles. How many stories have you read where a girl must decide between the sweet, yet somewhat dangerous guy or the rebellious (and, also dangerous) guy who likes to mope around? Think about this when you plan your project. What are you bringing to the table that is both fresh and new?

3. The Plot – should thicken with …

Action Scenes

UF readers have come to expect action sequences. Chase scenes through busy streets or creepy back alleys, battle scenes on rooftops or in crowded subway cars, violent attacks on unsuspecting city dwellers. These scenes are great opportunities to advance conflict or create tension in your story.

Unanswered Questions

Nothing forces a reader to keep turning pages more than the unanswered question. UF is known for being the bastard step-child of the mystery and thriller genre. Therefore, layer your tale with mysteries within mysteries, secrets, and unknown threats to both your characters and the fate or their known world. As you plan out your plot, consider weaving your tale with twists and turns, revelations that, instead of providing answers, reveal more questions.

4. The POV – First Person for the win!

Experiencing the world through your protagonist’s viewpoint allows the reader a front row seat to the intricacies of the world you’ve created. If you take the time to make your main character interesting and engaging, you may create a literary gate-way drug to a series. The main character, if done well, becomes like an old friend to readers. They want to know more and more, which could lead you towards …

5. The Strong Possibility of a Series

Consider the notion that what you’re writing could be expanded into multiple books. If you craft your universe just right, you might be able to have far-reaching storylines that extend over a series of novels. However, be prepared for this before you finish your first novel and have a grand plan in advance. It’s a far more difficult task to renovate a house to your liking than it is to build your dream home from scratch the first time around.



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About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website: www.heatherrigney.com

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