Friday, June 7, 2013

Does This Smell Right to You? An Urban Fantasy Checklist

Posted by: R.L. Naquin
There are a lot of tropes in urban fantasy, things you might expect to be in most or all books that carry that genre label. The cover might include a leather-clad female with a gun/scimitar/glowing sword/electric bullwhip. The main character is likely to be damaged and snarky. She will probably sleep with monsters. If the main character is a guy, he might bang every female he meets, but have a heart that just can’t turn down a cry for help from a damsel in distress.

Those are tropes. Forget about them. My books don’t have any of that stuff, and neither do a lot of others. Not that those tropes aren’t awesome. I’ve got a new series brewing in my head that may very well include the leather outfit. And don’t steal my electric bullwhip idea. I might need that later.

I’m talking about the bare bones of it all. The things that give an urban fantasy its muchness. Without at least some of these things, it could be any old genre.
  • Hey! I know this place! It looks, smells, tastes, sounds, and feels like our own world.
  • Well, that’s not right. Whether a secret something the rest of the world doesn’t know about or a total governmental restructure everybody voted on, something is different from what you, the reader, woke up to this morning.
  • Eek! There are monsters! Vampires. Werewolves. Angels. Demons. Fairies. And my own personal favorite—closet monsters. Whether friend or foe to humanity, the supes are real.
  • Shut up, baby. I know it.  Our main character knows about the monsters, whether or not the rest of the public does. In fact, she's probably deep on the inside of it.
  • Amok! Amok! Amok! Somebody is in trouble, whether it’s our hero, a loved one, the city, or the world, and the whole problem revolves around or is instigated by the monsters. If not, well, you have a really weird mainstream story where some of the characters happen to be centaurs who make the main character a cup of tea and help her solve the mystery of the missing tax return. (I’m totally going to write this.)
  • Stand back. I’ve got this. Alone or with a team, the main character must figure out the aforementioned shenanigans and put the world right. Otherwise, he’s a bystander and not worthy of the title Main Character. He might not fix everything. People could die in the process. Mistakes might be made. But in the end, the hero has to solve for x.
That’s pretty much it. Those are the bare bones. It can be violent or funny. There can be romance or not. Erotic sex scenes with tentacled creatures, or closed-door sex with another human. The main character herself doesn’t have to be human. She doesn’t have to kick ass, be snarky, wear leather, have magical powers, or own a crossbow. But she certainly can if she wants to.

And this, my friends, is why people have such a hard time defining urban fantasy.

It’s all wide open.

Rachel’s head is packed with an outrageous amount of useless Disney trivia. She is terrified of thunder, but not of lightning, and tends to recite the Disneyland dedication speech during storms to keep herself calm. She finds it appalling that nobody from Disney has called yet with her castle move-in date.

Originally from Northern California, she has a tendency to move every few years, resulting in a total of seven different states and a six-year stint in England. Currently, she’s planning her next grand adventure. Rachel has one heroic husband, two genius kids, several annoyed cats, and an imaginary dog named Waffles.

She doesn’t have time for a real dog.

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  1. " a really weird mainstream story where some of the characters happen to be centaurs who make the main character a cup of tea and help her solve the mystery of the missing tax return. (I’m totally going to write this.)"

    And I'm totally gonna read it, so hurry up already! ;)

  2. For you, PG, I just might do it. :-)

  3. I didn't even know urban fantasy was a genre until after I finished my book! Clearly, I live under a rock. Thanks for the breakdown and I'm any favorite bare bones you like to use in your stories?


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