Urban fantasy happens to be one of my favorite genres because of the possibilities you can do with it. I’ve always loved the idea of centaurs having street gangs patrolling New York City, a mermaid bar tending in New Orleans or mages stuck doing tech support. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Will Shetterly’s NeverNever and Elsewhere have been key inspirations in my writing and storytelling, but I have been told this before, that urban fantasy and paranormal romance for that matter, have been considered “easy” in regards to storytelling and crafting settings. After all, you’re using a premade world. You don’t have to sit there and do the math on the ecology, social culture or technology of the world. It’s done for you. Well, to tell everyone the truth”¦ it’s far from easy, and here’s why.
Writing urban fantasy can be challenging as you have to follow a set of rules that you haven’t established, and keeping suspension of disbelief can be rather tricky. One of the key features in a good urban fantasy novel is the careful layering of reality and fantasy. Knowing when and where to make up things up and when to explain, as well as to underlay the magical with the mundane, everything must be carefully balanced for the reader to continue to be engaged instead of being confused and lose interest. A good example is this is to understand how magic might work in a modern setting; does it make tech fizzle and break down? Can you blend technology and magic together, does magic seem completely outdated compared to the technology? These are important questions to mull over as you start setting up your world. Figuring out how your magic system might work can be a very difficult challenge and there are many ways to go about it. The biggest thing, of course, is constancy, a continuous theme in world building. You need to follow your own rules in regards to not only magic, but how your creatures will act and behave.
Of course there is also the trouble of figuring out how all of this will blend seamlessly. How can an EMT treat a centaur who just got hit by a car? Can a drunken satyr pass a breathalyzer test? Does a mage need a college degree to cast magic? Those sorts of questions are a basis for figuring out how your world of fantasy blends into the world of the ordinary. Figuring out the logistics of world building can be a challenge in urban fantasy setting; real world research is a must and knowing how it affects your fantastic Chicago, New York and/or Amsterdam is important. Figuring out the mechanics of a fantastic city can be amazingly satisfactory; I tend to get lost in the details, explaining things like satyrs making potions via brewing, or how centaurs help improve roads for cyclists and other self-propelled vehicles. Those things are interesting to me, among the politics and social ethics that surface through the building. The idea that it’s easy to build a fantastic setting from a modern world is a farce. It’s like building with Legos; the blocks have their own shape, but you can still take those concrete shapes and build something amazing out of them.
Readers, what are your favorite paranormal romance or urban fantasy novels?