Fantasy is a huge genre. Last week, we posted an article on the various sub-genres that make up this creative space. You can check that out here: Know Your Fantasy Sub-Genres. Today, I want to dive more deeply into Urban Fantasy, and examine the essential elements of this modern fantasy category.
Magic 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.
More on World-Building…
We still need to paint a full, colorful picture for our readers, and we still need to follow the rules of our magical system and any advanced technology we may be incorporating into this world. We need 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 Basics, and Beyond the Basics: More on World-Building.
In other fantasy settings, our 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, or they’ve jumped the subway turnstile to rush onto a departing train, or they’re hiding in an abandoned factory.
The Main Character
Heroes come in many flavors – the reluctant hero, the loner, the tragic hero, and more. You can read a humorous, yet thorough run-down on types of heroic characters here: The Main Cast: Writing Heroes.
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. More on that here: The Main Cast: Writing Anti-Heroes.
Don’t Forget the 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: Kick Your Scene into Action.
If you’re thinking of writing an urban fantasy, make sure you read a few novels in this genre. See how other writers build their worlds, handle conflict, and create compelling 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!