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Thread: More genre nitpicking questions: fantasy vs. urban fantasy

  1. #1
    i luv you giant bear statue Kitty Pryde's Avatar
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    More genre nitpicking questions: fantasy vs. urban fantasy

    So, I am finishing up writing and polishing a YA novel that I thought was UF. But now I'm starting to think it's not. By strict definition, it is. The MC and fairies having adventures around London. But as a marketing category, it seems like UF might not really work.

    There's no physical or magical combat. There's no magical war brewing. Magic or magical thingies don't threaten to destroy the city. The MC isn't magical, or secretly magical, he's just a big dumb guy. He doesn't fall madly in love with anyone magical, or secretly magical. His brother is seduced by a fairy (mainly offscreen) and has to be rescued. I considered writing it without the magic, because the plot arc is more similar to a contemporary fiction plot, but the whole thing falls apart without the magic, so that's no good. (It's occurred to me that it might suck because it lacks all these things, but I'm reasonably sure that it doesn't )

    Anyway, it's definitely fantasy, but is it UF, for the purpose of querying agents? Like I said, technically I believe it is, but due to its lack of magical fighting/magical MC/magical nookie, I'm thinking I shouldn't try to pitch it as UF. Thoughts?

  2. #2
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin skray's Avatar
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    This is a really interesting question . . . and I can't wait to see who actually answers it, because I have no idea. I also have a similar problem with my UF (adult). All my magical creatures are presented through a sort of psuedo-science that makes them seem pretty normal. Almost all the conflict in the story--battles, etc--involves guns or vehicular manslaughter. In the entire book, there's probably a total of 6 instances of magical "stuff" happening. I actually got nervous about this problem and went back through an added a few UF markers . . . made some characters seem eerie (and thus probably demonic in some way). I was really tempted to pitch the book as a thriller, actually, with a paranormal twist . . .

    Hope somebody gives you an answer soon . . . seeing as I'm completely unhelpful. lol.

  3. #3
    needed a good laugh today Anaquana's Avatar
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    Charles de Lint is considered Urban Fantasy (last I knew) and most of his short stories don't have magical fighting/MCs/nookie.

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    Angry Bunny Girl Stormhawk's Avatar
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    I don't think you necessarily have to have magic combat, or even a large degree of physical combat. Your MC doesn't have to be magic, and a lot off UF is more interesting when your protagonist isn't inherently magical - it also helps because this gives the outsider perspective to any/all the magic stuff going on.

    Urban fantasy, at it's simplest, is fantasy that takes place in an urban area. Fairies in London would seem to qualify that. Your publisher may want to put it under "contemporary fantasy" instead, but that's a marketing decision, I assume - it comes with slightly different connotations.

    An urban fantasy serial for geeks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stormhawk View Post
    I don't think you necessarily have to have magic combat, or even a large degree of physical combat. Your MC doesn't have to be magic, and a lot off UF is more interesting when your protagonist isn't inherently magical - it also helps because this gives the outsider perspective to any/all the magic stuff going on.

    Urban fantasy, at it's simplest, is fantasy that takes place in an urban area. Fairies in London would seem to qualify that. Your publisher may want to put it under "contemporary fantasy" instead, but that's a marketing decision, I assume - it comes with slightly different connotations.

    This.

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    crushing on fictional characters Kathleen42's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anaquana View Post
    Charles de Lint is considered Urban Fantasy (last I knew) and most of his short stories don't have magical fighting/MCs/nookie.
    This. I was describing his Newford books and stories as urban fantasy before I knew there was such a genre. I'd also classify Neverwhere as urban fantasy, though I'm not sure how others would label it.
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    Angry Bunny Girl Stormhawk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kathleen42 View Post
    I'd also classify Neverwhere as urban fantasy, though I'm not sure how others would label it.
    I'd label it...my favourite urban fantasy, but that's just me. :P

    An urban fantasy serial for geeks.

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    crushing on fictional characters Kathleen42's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stormhawk View Post
    I'd label it...my favourite urban fantasy, but that's just me. :P
    lol not just you. :P
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  9. #9
    i luv you giant bear statue Kitty Pryde's Avatar
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    In Charles De Lint's stuff, many of the MCs and/or their love interests are magical. Jilly seems to be a moderately magical MC (walking the spirit world). And well, that's the only book of his that I've read. From browsing his website I think they tend this way.

    Neverwhere has the MC both fighting magical creatures and loving magical creatures. These are the things I'm talking about UF requiring that I haven't got. I'm really not talking about the distinction between literaryish UF and mainstreameyish UF.

    I'm not hypothesizing that UF must have a ass-kicking hottie or magical trenchcoat dude. I am, more generally, hypothesizing that UF must involve an urban setting, and at least one of the following: being magical, fighting magical beings, or loving magical beings. In YA UF, it tends to be falling in love with magical creatures or discovering you are sekritly a magical creature. Not by loose definition, but by marketing category. I'm worried that calling it an UF will cause an agent to think I'm a dummy.

    Here's an example of what I'm talking about. From Juno Books blog:

    Now, although we still have urban fantasy (China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, et al) in the broader context, we also have the current more narrow context “urban fantasy” has come to mean: Contemporary, urban setting with female or male protagonist usually (but not always) with a certain amount of “kickassitude” and supernatural powers or connection. Primarily a detective plot with (usually but not always) a romantic relationship subplot. Action-oriented; often has strong horrific elements balanced with humor.
    The rest of the post is really good too: http://juno-books.com/blog/?p=410 . Also a quote from De Lint about why he DOESN'T consider his work UF.

    And agent Mary Kole on UF and its need for "paranormal hotties" and butt-kicking: http://thespectacleblog.wordpress.co...urban-fantasy/

    Would it help if I posted a query letter type blurb about this particular story here?

  10. #10
    needed a good laugh today Anaquana's Avatar
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    Actually Kitty, I'm a HUGE deLint fan and I can say pretty conclusively that not all of his MCs are magical. They may have "magical" things happen to or around them, but they themselves are not magical, nor are all of the love interests magical.

    De Lint can call his work whatever he wants, but it is still commonly placed in the Urban Fantasy category. Hell, he's one of the founders of the genre!

    I definitely disagree with Mary Kole on the need for a romantic plotline. There are a number of fabulous UF books out there that feature no romance at all.

    Botom line, I don't think an agent is going to think you're a dummy if you label it Urban Fantasy if it's set in London and involves fantasy elements.

  11. #11
    Court Jester Shadow_Ferret's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kathleen42 View Post
    TI'd also classify Neverwhere as urban fantasy, though I'm not sure how others would label it.
    The half I read before I got bored, yes, it is Urban Fantasy.
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    practical experience, FTW Snivscriv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kitty Pryde View Post
    So, I am finishing up writing and polishing a YA novel that I thought was UF. But now I'm starting to think it's not. By strict definition, it is. The MC and fairies having adventures around London. But as a marketing category, it seems like UF might not really work.

    There's no physical or magical combat. There's no magical war brewing. Magic or magical thingies don't threaten to destroy the city. The MC isn't magical, or secretly magical, he's just a big dumb guy. He doesn't fall madly in love with anyone magical, or secretly magical. His brother is seduced by a fairy (mainly offscreen) and has to be rescued. I considered writing it without the magic, because the plot arc is more similar to a contemporary fiction plot, but the whole thing falls apart without the magic, so that's no good. (It's occurred to me that it might suck because it lacks all these things, but I'm reasonably sure that it doesn't )

    Anyway, it's definitely fantasy, but is it UF, for the purpose of querying agents? Like I said, technically I believe it is, but due to its lack of magical fighting/magical MC/magical nookie, I'm thinking I shouldn't try to pitch it as UF. Thoughts?
    With respect to everyone who has been in the cooler longer, I share Kitty's worry that her story may not be urban fantasy as agents/publishers use that term today. I like de Lint, but urban fantasy has changed quite a bit since he wrote Moonheart in the early 1980's.
    You may have noticed a tendency in recent years for urban fantasies to focus on vampires, werewolves, and blood. The characters seem to have lots of body parts dripping blood. I would like to believe that stories without the aforementioned creatures and bloodare still welcome, but I'm not convinced.
    My own novel is much more like yours than anthing written by Meyer or Butcher or Hamilton, and I think that the term "urban fantasy" may raise an agent's expectations that the book will have a dark edge to it. I've been calling my novel a contemporary fantasy instead, precisely because of your concerns. I'll be interested to hear how things work out for you.

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    Unabashed Mercenary dclary's Avatar
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    Couldn't urban fantasy without the magical combat/animals/buttsmex be better marketed as "magical realism?"
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  14. #14
    i luv you giant bear statue Kitty Pryde's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dclary View Post
    Couldn't urban fantasy without the magical combat/animals/buttsmex be better marketed as "magical realism?"
    In the case of my story, no. It's pretty much straight up fairy mayhem all the way through.

    Anyway, I saw somebody's post on AW in which they were saying an agent didn't think their novel was UF because it wasn't dark and gritty enough. Right now as a marketing category, UF is very constrained. I would call my story UF, but I don't think that a reader who loves the UF genre would necessarily love my story. Especially in YA, where the overwhelming majority of UF is vampire/werewolf/fairy romance. It's most like a contemporary YA novel...except for all the fairies. I tried to take the fairies out, I did, but they insisted that they stay!

    So I think I am going to go with 'contemporary fantasy' as the genre as to minimize sounding clueless.

  15. #15
    I am Groot AW Moderator Sage's Avatar
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    Contemporary fantasy is my favorite genre. Urban fantasy is too dark. The vampire/werewolf/fairy romance novels are actually considered paranormal romance, which is not really my thing.
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  16. #16
    i luv you giant bear statue Kitty Pryde's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sage View Post
    Contemporary fantasy is my favorite genre. Urban fantasy is too dark. The vampire/werewolf/fairy romance novels are actually considered paranormal romance, which is not really my thing.
    Hmm. So, what YA novels would be considered UF? Pretty much all the ones I can think of are either portal fantasies or paranormal romance.

  17. #17
    I am Groot AW Moderator Sage's Avatar
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    Jim Butcher's stuff is all UF. Chaostitan's lovely book is UF too.

    For YA, I would put Wicked Lovely in UF, and DEFINITELY Ink Exchange.
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  18. #18
    i luv you giant bear statue Kitty Pryde's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sage View Post
    Jim Butcher's stuff is all UF. Chaostitan's lovely book is UF too.

    For YA, I would put Wicked Lovely in UF, and DEFINITELY Ink Exchange.
    Oh, I know many adult UF novels! In Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange, isn't there a romance between the MC and magical creatures? (I haven't read it yet.) And wouldn't that make it paranormal romance?

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    Expert Procrastinator Kweei's Avatar
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    You can spend forever struggling to figure out your genre until you are blue in the face and someone is always going to see it differently. I know because I've agonized over it before.

    Now, I just pretty much consider what I write contemporary fantasy. Sometimes it's urban and sometimes it's not. I try not to worry about it too much, but I understand the need to want to know what it is we write.
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  20. #20
    I am Groot AW Moderator Sage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kitty Pryde View Post
    Oh, I know many adult UF novels! In Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange, isn't there a romance between the MC and magical creatures? (I haven't read it yet.) And wouldn't that make it paranormal romance?
    Actually the romance element isn't that strong in WL, at least not between the MC and the fairy. I think there's a general assumption in YA right now that all human MC + magical creature plots must be paranormal romance, and that's just not so.
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  21. #21
    Are we there yet? charmingbillie's Avatar
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    I pitched mine to agents as contemporary fantasy because it has a lot of urban fantasy elements, but is set in western South Dakota. I didn't want to call it rural fantasy because I think that confjures up something sweetly romantically bucolic for a lot of people and this setting is not that. My agent calls it 'urban fantasy with a twist' and I expect she will pitch it with some variation on that theme, though it hasn't yet gone out on submission (soon!).

  22. #22
    Purveyor of Oddments and Fantasies LordMoogi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dclary View Post
    Couldn't urban fantasy without the magical combat/animals/buttsmex be better marketed as "magical realism?"
    I always thought that 'magic realism' was shorthand for 'fantasy marketed for people who don't like fantasy'. But that's just my grouchiness towards the term. I say, it's all fantasy, no matter what you try to call it.

    But as for whether Kitty's story counts as 'urban fantasy', I think it depends on the definition. I think of 'UF' as meaning 'fantasy of any sort that takes place in a big modern city'- this is a subgenre of 'modern fantasy', which is exactly what it sounds like. A very general blanket definition, for sure, but that's how I see it. A lot of people (possibly publishers included) think of 'UF' as being, more specifically, about badass action heroes/detectives with supernatural powers fighting evil or whatnot in modern cities. But I think that's just another subgenre (albeit probably the largest) within urban fantasy. Then again, I'm just one guy, not a publisher.
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