What Makes a Good Urban Fantasy?

by Jennifer 10. March 2014 10:13

Over the past few years Urban Fantasy has grown from a scattering of stories to a popular subgenre on the shelves of bookstores. Combining familiar elements such as cities and a modern setting with classic monsters and gods might seem easy but creating a good urban fantasy is more difficult than you think.

First of all, most urban fantasy centers itself around a city or area that is just familiar enough to evoke a sense of comfort in the reader. For the author this takes a lot of research if they haven’t actually lived in the area. Not only are streets and buildings important but the atmosphere and general outlook of the population are taken into consideration. The city isn’t just a setting in a good urban fantasy, it’s a character in itself.

Characters come next on the list of important items. Generally an urban fantasy heroine or hero is a strong but complex character. Thier back story might be revealed in pieces throughout the series or laid out up front to complicate the story line. Many times they have powers, but not always so. Some of the best urban fantasy series have great secondary characters that not only help out the heroine or hero, but prove that even though they are powerful they are human also.

Another great characteristic of urban fantasy is the monsters and gods that are readapted to the story. Where werewolves were seen as bloodthirsty monsters in the past, in an urban fantasy they might be the downtrodden minority in the story. Ancient gods are given new roles in a modern world and sometimes seem confused about the changes while other gods seem to delight in the new accommodations.

While the main plot might be familiar--finding the stolen item/defeating the bad guy/rescuing those who have been kidnaped--some of the secondary plots are pretty complex. Urban fantasy often touches on discrimination, gender roles and other subjects that hit close to home and make a lot of people uncomfortable when said in normal context. By bringing these issues up in a fantasy setting, it allows people to think on the issues without being pressured.

I’ve seen quite a bit of diversity in urban fantasy over the past few years and I’m looking forward to more. I’ve enjoyed the more traditional noir private eye such as Harry Dresden by Jim Butcher. Patricia Briggs gives us a mechanic who can shape shift in the Mercy Thompson series. And our very own Jennifer Brozek introduces us to a city with a mind of its own in the Karen Wilson Chronicles.  Each series offers us a different look at what the world could look like if there was a little magic around.

So if you are interested in writing urban fantasy, keep these things in mind. I hope it helps out.

~The Shadow Minion


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