Amazing Urban Fantasy
What is Urban Fantasy?
Urban fantasy stories are tales of magic, but unlike other fantasy sub-genres, like Epic Fantasy (think Lord of the Rings) or High Fantasy (like Game of Thrones), they’re set in the real world. Urban fantasy stories are HUGE on TV, film, and books. They’re the oldest kind of story. I think urban fantasy is amazing!
Here’s some tips on how to craft a great urban fantasy story:
1. Use Recognizable Settings
Make sure the reader recognizes the setting of the story.
The house design is familiar, or the story takes place in a well-known city.
Generally, urban fantasies occur in a man-made environment, although sometimes they’re set in at the boundary between the urban and the wild. Like the story of Hansel and Gretel: the witch who lives in the woods in a house made of gingerbread.
2. Plot Structure
Often UF’s follow the typical hero’s journey:
- At the start of the story, the protagonist is happily living his/her life, ignorant of the magical world. Generally, he will be from of humble origins and not blessed with any special powers. He or she will be ordinary. Good-hearted, perhaps, and sometimes naive. At the beginning of the tale, the hero never sees themselves as special.
- Then … enter the miraculous; the theatrical; the magical. Generally, in an Urban Fantasy, the magical is a total, freaky surprise to the hero. Of course, the reader will know that its there, because it’s an Urban Fantasy, after all!
- Frequently, upon entering this magical realm, the hero finds they have a super-power. He or she might be amazingly talented, or beautiful or desirable. Sometimes the hero discovers he’s from a magical dynasty and was hidden at birth to protect him from opponents of this dynasty. (Harry Potter, anyone?)
- Sometimes the hero is the secret hope of the hidden world, but perhaps he’s a bystander. Either way, he’ll have to use his newly-discovered powers to overcome a threat, and in so doing will return to the real world changed.
- He may leave the real world altogether and continue in the hidden lands, or he may continue as a bridge between the worlds, and move at will between them.
- There are variations on this. For example, the hero may be inside the hidden realm at the start of the story – in which case, entering our real world may be a total shock.
But either way, all this is good stuff for a story, right?
3. What Tone Should I Use?
Urban fantasy stories are generally funny, although sometimes they’re dark, almost gothic in tone – Vampire stories are classic UF but they’re rarely funny.
Where there is humor it usually comes from the contrast between the magic and the real, and how characters in the magical realms just don’t get technology, or vice-versa.
But wait – there’s more!
I love reading and writing urban fantasy, and gradually I’m focussing more and more on the genre.
Over the next few blog posts I’ll showcase some of my favorite UF books, but right now I’m going to leave you with an Excerpt from Welcome to Faery.
Excerpt: Beauty is a Subjective Term
I’ve put this story below as it demonstrates many of the points above. (P.S. You can download this entire story collection at this link here: https://bookhip.com/VHJFPS)
– Define: Fairest
The Queen tapped her fingers on the marble dressing table. Click click click. Nails filed to a killing point. ‘Stupid Mirror. “Fair” means “beauty”.’
– Define: Beauty
The last mirror had done what she’d asked. But oh no, the dwarfs had talked her into this new one, saying magic words like ‘memory’ and ‘voice activation’ and ‘ram’ and she hadn’t wanted to look stupid, not in front of a bunch of dwarves. And now look at this super-sleek mirror; so beautiful on the wall and yet so, so useless. How was she supposed to find Snow White without a working mirror? An upgrade, they’d said, as if an upgrade was a good thing.
The Queen threw a crystal jar across her chamber. It shattered on the stone tiles, spilling musk-flavored perfume. A serving girl scurried to clean it up, ducking low to avoid any other stray objects that the Queen might throw.
‘I mean, you stupid mirror, is there anyone else in this Kingdom more beautiful than I?’
– Define: More beautiful
The Queen paused. How does one define beautiful, anyway? ‘Girl,’ she said over her shoulder.
The maid paused in her cleaning. ‘Yes, my Lady?’
‘What makes someone beautiful?
Kneeling on the floor, the maid carefully placed shards of glass onto a folded piece of paper. ‘Like you, my Lady?’
The Queen smiled. This girl was intelligent. ‘Exactly,’ she purred. ‘Like me.’
The girl scrambled to her feet, bending her head. ‘Beauty, my Lady? Ah, maybe something like clear skin. Red lips.’
‘Is that all?’ The Queen was disappointed. ‘Why, you have red lips.’
‘Thank you, my Lady.’
‘There you are, mirror.’ The Queen turned her back on the servant. ‘I want you to find out for me if there is anyone in the Kingdom with clearer skin and redder lips than I.’
Behind her, the girl went to get a mop and bucket.
– Subjective terms. Reframe your search parameters
‘Servant,’ called the Queen.
The girl was folding the paper into a funnel, ready to pour the glass into a small tumbler. ‘Yes, my Lady?’
‘What does it mean now?’
The girl ducked her head. ‘I think, my Lady, it does not understand your question.’
‘Why not? I am perfectly clear.’
Tap-tap went the nails. The Queen’s hand twitched towards another glass bottle and the girl added quickly, ‘It’s a dwarf mirror. My Ma works for them. They’re scientific. Need to use very specific terms, to get their magic working.’
‘Specific terms?’ asked the Queen grimly. ‘I’ll show them how specific I can be. With my wand, I can very specific.’ She sighed. ‘So. What should I ask this wretched mirror?’
‘May I, my Lady?’ The girl indicated the space beside the Queen.
The Queen nodded, and the servant stepped beside her. She smelt of musk perfume and bleach. Her face, what the Queen could see of it behind the fall of grubby hair, seemed pale. She was right to be nervous, thought the Queen grimly. Persons that got too close to her were apt to have a significantly shortened lifespan.
‘Mirror mirror,’ said the girl softly.
‘I said that. Didn’t I say that?’
‘That’s just the start command.’
‘Oh,’ said the Queen. ‘I knew that.’
The girl cleared her throat. ‘Definition input.’
‘Beauty = Fair. Beauty: blemish-free skin.’
‘Amazing,’ thought the Queen. ‘How does she make that noise in her throat? It sounds just someone choking.’ She frowned, remembering: red apple, blood falling on snow.
– Define: blemish
‘Definition input: Crease, line or wrinkles.’
‘Freckles,’ whispered the queen.
The girl nodded. ‘Definition continues: moles, warts, lentigines, skin tags.’
– Definition received
‘What is a lentigine?’ asked the Queen
‘Like a freckle.’ The girl pointed at a sunspot on the Queen’s hand. The Queen moved her hand quickly, hiding the imperfection. ‘So now, if you ask it to tell you who is the most beautiful in the land, it will tell you who has the clearest skin.’
‘Well,’ said the Queen, looking pleased, ‘that’s very clever. Back you go, girl, clean up that mess. The perfume is giving me a headache.’ The girl crept back to the floor and the scrubbing brush.
The Queen stared up at the mirror’s silver screen, tapped her finger and asked: ‘Mirror mirror, who is the most beautiful in the land?’
On the screen appeared faces, flickering in and out, changing too rapidly to recognize any individual. A montage of faces, from happy to sad, from fat to thin, in a rainbow of skin tones. All clear-skinned, all beautiful.
All of them children.
The Queen screamed, stood up, backed away from the mirror. She stumbled over the servant, still scrubbing the floor.
‘Your Majesty. What is it?’
The Queen pointed at the mirror. The menagerie of children floated past. But never her own face, never her own!
‘Girl! Make it stop!’
The servant sat back on her heels, called out: ‘Mirror. End query.’
The screen faltered, the faces disappeared. The Queen slowly straightened.
‘Beauty,’ she said crisply, ‘is in the eye of the beholder. And I behold my face, and I say I am beautiful. I do not need to ask any mirror anything.’
The girl returned to her scrubbing. ‘That’s what my Ma says. She says beauty isn’t that special. It’s what you do that counts.’
The Queen sniffed and returned to her dresser. ‘When you’ve finished clearing up,’ she said, ‘go and wash.’
The girl wrung her perfume-scented cloth into the bucket, picked up her brush and backed from the room. ‘That’s why she stayed with them. She’s never coming home. She’s no interest in your stupid kingdom. And we’re good at hiding. So stop trying to find us.’
The Queen spun on her chair, stared at the servant girl, creeping backward from the room with her mop and brush and bucket. She did look familiar; black hair, creamy skin. ‘Wait!’ she called. ‘Wait!’
But the girl had gone. Out into the corridor, merging with the other waiting staff. Hundreds of them, scurrying about like mice. Identical in their grey coveralls, hiding their faces. The Queen would never find her.
The mirror! The mirror could tell her.
‘Mirror, mirror,’ she said. ‘Show me…’
She stopped. She would never succeed. Curse the dwarves and their wretched technology! Only Snow White had ever managed to work with them.