Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Urban Fantasy Fractal

Posted by: CobraMisfit

Like the banner says, it's Urban Fantasy Week at Here Be Magic. Or, at least, that's what the veterans of HBM tell me. Since I'm one of the newer authors, they could be messing with me.

Anyway, assuming everything is on the up and up, let's get right to the point of my post:  Urban Fantasy is, at its core, nothing more than a fractal. 

Stick with me on this one.  

A few years ago, I'd finished what I considered to be my first pitch-worthy story. The only problem was that I had no clue which genre I should classify it under. 14 seconds of research later, I settled on Urban Fantasy. I slapped those words into my initial round of query letters, fired those bad boys off to agents, and waited for the inevitable hurricane of glowing comments. 

Not surprising, those queries didn't generate the buzz like I'd hoped. Instead of a hurricane, I'd got the Query Doldrums. Actually, a better description for the lack of reactions is a phrase from my days on the rifle range: No Impact, No Idea.

Something obviously wasn't clicking. 

In that moment, I realized that I'd picked Urban Fantasy without understanding what made it different from modern day fantasy. Or even Sci-Fi/Fantasy as a whole. Sure, my story took place in a big city and contained zombies, but did that really make it Urban Fantasy? Was it Horror instead? 

Worried that I'd carelessly labeled my story, and thereby ruined my chances for getting published, I started digging around to find the definitive framework for the genre. Was magic a requirement? Did the setting have to be on Earth? Did the story have to have humans? What about zombies? Did they have to eat brains or shuffle and moan? 

And so on. 

That's when I realized I was getting bogged down in fractals. 

Fractals are mathematical sets that are sometimes represented in ice crystals, computer models, etc. If you take that relatively basic set and zoom in on it, you'll discover a startling amount of definition. Increase the magnification and you get even more definition continuing on to infinity. But, and this is key, these fractals are basically self-similar patterns. Zooming in provides you more detail, yet it looks a whole lot like the previous level. No matter how far you zoom in, the pattern repeats. The structure is essentially the same no matter how deep you dive*. 

Urban Fantasy, and all genres for that matter, are no different. Moving from Fiction to Fantasy to Urban Fantasy, and so on, offers more granular distinctions. But what we discover is that no matter how far down we zoom, the structure and characteristics remain the same: Who are the Main Characters? What is the scenario? And most important: is the story well-written and engaging? 

That was my critical flaw. The details of the genre weren't tripping me up, the fact that my story was clunky and dull when it should have been colorful and smooth was. No matter how deep I dug, the pattern was the same. And, like a fractal, it repeated itself from the highest level of writing to the infinitely granular layers of Urban Fantasy. 

Some day we may see an explosion of books in the New-Adult-Paranormal-Western-Erotica-Urban-Carniepunk-Distopian** genre. If and when that day arrives, I'm willing to bet the pattern will be there as well: Is the story any good? 

The rest? 

That's just details.


*I know, I know, this is REALLY glossing over Chaos Theory, fractals, etc. My mind tends to do that. 

**for the record, I'd read the tar out of a New-Adult-Paranormal-Western-Erotica-Urban-Carniepunk-Distopian novel. Seriously. Someone get on that! 


  1. A fractal is an excellent parallel to urban fantasy, or to fantasy more broadly.

    And I'm cosigning the petition for that new hyphenated genre. Cosigning like whoa. :D

  2. Love this analogy. And yes on the New-Adult-Paranormal-Western-Erotica-Urban-Carniepunk-Distopian!


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