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Friday, March 30, 2012

The Joys and Challenges of Writing Urban Fantasy

 I've always been a huge fantasy fan of both film and books. I remember when the Wolfman and Dracula were considered horror, and now horror is totally redefined as something else. We're not so horrified of vampires and werewolves anymore. They, among other beasties, have become our fantasy.

Urban Fantasy has been around for a while, but I remember when there used to be some confusion as to what it meant. Most people understand epic fantasy and know it as having magical elements in a medieval setting, like LORD OF THE RINGS. So when you classify fantasy as "urban," it tends to raise a few eyebrows. Or at least it did when the genre was still new. It continues to baffle those who haven't yet been introduced to the imaginary world of contemporary magic.

I think one of the most intriguing aspects of urban fantasy is that stories are set in the present, and typically in a modern city (vis-à-vis urban). It's kind of mind blowing when you think about it. Many readers associate sorcerers and dragons and elves with thatch roofed villages and horse drawn carts. But in an urban fantasy we see these characters juxtaposed with modern cars, nightclubs, gangsta rap, computers, iphones, television, skyscrapers and everything else we associate with city life. It shakes up the fantasy genre and that's what I like about it. It's unexpected. There's a special something about everyday people confronted by extraordinary circumstances, and vice versa.

Some readers assume all urban fantasies are romances, but that's not the case. Most stories will have romantic elements, but romance is not the focus of the plot. It's typically used as a subplot portrayed in varying heat levels from sweet to hot enough to melt the fillings in your teeth. An urban fantasy is more of a mystery-suspense with magic and supernatural creatures. Some have absolutely no romantic elements at all.

I enjoy writing urban fantasy because it allows me to open up creatively and gives my imagination the opportunity to do just about anything it wants. That being said, it's not an easy genre to write well. Writing fiction is hard no matter what the genre, but when you invent magical systems with their own unique set of rules, and then have to explain your world in a way that doesn't sound like an explanation, you have a huge challenge on your hands. Everything has to flow seamlessly at a fairly fast clip and not be information heavy. Concepts must be easy to grasp for any reader. It takes a few drafts to get it right.

The market for tried and true urban fantasy--meaning the kind that features traditional monsters like werewolves and vampires--is rumored to be tapering off. That only means agents and editors are looking for something that transcends the genre and presents a unique story with the potential to be the "next big thing." Or at least stand out in a crowd. A new twist on an old saw. So not only should urban fantasy writers be at the top of their game as far as craft, their stories must also be on the cutting edge of originality.

I currently write urban fantasies that feature a modern knight descended from an order of Crusading female knights who are half angel and half human. The stories feature gargoyles, elves, curses, charms, immortal warriors, sorcerers, fallen angels, guardian angels, mummies, and a variety of other supernatural characters. The main setting is Denver, Colorado. The plots and characters are very different from the norm and my editor, Ann Leslie Tuttle with Harlequin Luna, told me that's precisely why it caught her attention. 

To have an urban fantasy published with a traditional publisher in today's competitive market isn't easy, but it can be done. It helps to think outside the box of what's expected. Try the unexpected and let your freak flag fly.

Karen Duvall, author of KNIGHT'S CURSE and DARKEST KNIGHT.

Twitter: @KarenDuvall


Paty Jager said...

Great post, Karen! You know me, I don't read or watch this kind of stuff, but I root for you and let others who do know your books are available.

Thank you for a clear explanation of Urban Fantasy.

Judith Ashley said...

Hi Karen,

Thanks for guesting with us at Romancing The Genres. While I now have a greater understanding of what Urban Fantasy is, I'm in Paty's camp - I'm just not into it but certainly root for all writers and authors who find this sub-genre fires up their imagination.

I can understand after reading this post why your books are published. I think it's important to understand the fundamental elements of the genre in which we write.

Love your covers!

Alison E. Bruce said...

I hop genres on a regular basis and I enjoy reading and writing urban fantasy. Funny though - I was writing it for quite a while before I knew what to call it.

I'll put your books on my TBR pile... but I've got a couple of Paty's books to read first.

Diana Mcc. said...

Hey, Karen,
Great post! Thanks for explaining just what Urban Fantasy contains. I didnt' know that it doesn't have to have a romance in it. Love your books! Sorry I'm late commenting.

Rashda Khan said...

Great points Karen! And I love "let your freak flag fly!" So glad you're getting to do what you love :)

Sarah Raplee said...

"There's a special something about everyday people confronted by extraordinary circumstances, and vice versa." You are so right!

Love the premise of your books!