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Thread: Defining "Urban Fantasy"- ?

  1. #1
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    Question Defining "Urban Fantasy"- ?

    With the advent of magic realism, incorporating fantasy elements into everyday modern life settings, how exactly does one define the terms "urban fantasy"? All perspectives greatly appreciated.

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    The Druid you're looking for Oberon89's Avatar
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    Urban fantasy as a subgenre usually has a little bit of hard-boiled noir action going on, blending fantasy with the elements of a modern crime story. Here's a body, in other words, or some other horrible atrocity, and now here's a hero/heroine with a special magical doodad/heritage who's going to avenge/solve the crime. That's the super-duper simple version, and the umbrella term can cover much more, of course...but that should get you started.
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    i luv you giant bear statue Kitty Pryde's Avatar
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    A related question, which definition do you think is more useful?

    1. Fiction about magical creatures/humanoids afoot in the real world, having adventures in cities which closely resemble our own, here on earth; or

    2. Fiction about a (usually loner-ish) ass-kicker of a hero/ine who does one or more of the following in a gritty urban setting: sleeps with supernatural humanoids/fights evil supernatural humanoids/is a supernatural humanoid/is sekritly a supernatural humanoid?

    Because lately the genre seems to consist solely of the latter, although it's often defined more broadly as the former. I can't quite decide for myself.

  4. #4
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    I'd say definition 1 is more useful, but definition 2 is what everyone thinks of.

  5. #5
    Angry Bunny Girl Stormhawk's Avatar
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    I write urban fantasy. It's the genre I identify with. Magic in the everyday. I don't like "magic realism" because I think the origin of the term is when they were trying to come up with an excuse to praise fantasy books as literature or something (I forget the precise story), as if just calling it fantasy/UF would make the book less valid, or less worthy of praise or something.

    I don't have sexy, kick-ass heroine. I have one that's more likely to curl up in a ball and hide. I do however, have a god that works in a McDonalds, angels that wear suits and undead mermaids living in the river. I like what I write, and don't want to have to justify what I write by calling it "magic realism".

    I also dislike the focus on the gritty/noir/kick-ass subset of UF, it limits it from the varied field of potential that it has, the variety of UF shouldn't be pushed aside, it should be included.

    An urban fantasy serial for geeks.

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    I appreciate the varied responses; though I've written in many different genres, fantasy tends to make its way into a lot of my work. Though I've yet to write "Urban Fantasy", it is a term used more and more in the publishing industry and I'm interested in learning more about how it is defined- particularly by writers/publishers; as an editor of a literary periodical, I'm always researching the industry to be a resource to our readership and keep up with current trends/developments in the marketplace. Though it features traditional 'horror' genre archetypes, is the Twilight saga considered to be under the larger umbrella of Urban Fantasy?

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    practical experience, FTW wrombola's Avatar
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    I have written a novel in which the heroine Louisa has been made immortal by a water Nymph who guards the fountain of youth. The story is set in downtown Miami, Florida in three time periods 1567, 1926, and 2005. Louisa attempts to expel the undead spirit of Ponce De Leon from the fountain and return the fountain to the Nymph.
    Much of the story is told in the context of historical events that happened in Miami such as the Spanish attempt to convert the local Indians and the land boom of the 20's and the Hurricane of 1926 as well as the riots during the G8 summit in 2005.
    can this story be considered as a urban fantasy or do I need to have Louis sleep with some vampires?

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    Quote Originally Posted by wrombola View Post
    can this story be considered as a urban fantasy or do I need to have Louis sleep with some vampires?
    Preferably, a vampire, a werewolf, and an unseelie punk rock band.

  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW wrombola's Avatar
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    yeah no vampires and she's a lesbian that's two strikes right there

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    Angry Bunny Girl Stormhawk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wrombola View Post
    yeah no vampires and she's a lesbian that's two strikes right there
    How is being a lesbian a strike?

    An urban fantasy serial for geeks.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW wrombola's Avatar
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    I assumed most urban fantasy heroines were expected to be hetero. Are there some examples of lesbian heroines in the urban fantasy genre?

    found one Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts
    Last edited by wrombola; 05-09-2010 at 01:31 AM.

  12. #12
    Angry Bunny Girl Stormhawk's Avatar
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    Assumptions and expectations aside, just because your heroine isn't hetero doesn't mean you're...striking out on some sort of UF litmus test.

    I mean, my heroine is asexual, and if you're running by the hot-chicks-in-leather definition, then her sexuality probably means that I'm writing contemporary fantasy or something. >_>

    An urban fantasy serial for geeks.

  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW wrombola's Avatar
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    Alright so her sexuality does not disqualify the story from being UF. And I have established that it has supernatural elements, immortality, the fountain of youth, a water nymph, the undead.
    How about the fact that novel incorporates historical events in the plot. Is this something that would be a turnoff to most fans of the genre? Do UF readers really want to slog through a back story about the Spanish conquest of Florida?
    Last edited by wrombola; 05-09-2010 at 02:02 AM.

  14. #14
    Angry Bunny Girl Stormhawk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wrombola View Post
    Do UF readers really want to slog through a back story about the Spanish conquest of Florida?
    No reader wants to slog though anything. :P If it's relevant, it's relevant, and it doesn't have to be dry or uninteresting, and it can really help to ground the story.

    Slightly differernt scenario, but Scott Sigler's books are hard-SF, so there is a lot of scientific explaination in them, but the way the information is conveyed is not boring, and helps to draw you into the story more, as everything you need to know is laid out in front of you.

    Closer to home, the work of Charles de Lint often has a massive amount of information about whatever is relevant to the character or the story - music, art, painting, whatever.

    In your case it's history. It certainly wouldn't turn me off reading, so long as you didn't use it as an excuse to go "lookie lookie I did my research, let me lecture you for five chapters straight about the economic situation of the time" or something. If it's relevant, if it's well-done, then why would it be any more out of place than any other element of the story?

    An urban fantasy serial for geeks.

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    To echo what Stormhawk said: if your exposition is just basic history that I could get off of Wikipedia myself, it doesn't belong in the story. I don't want to "slog" through the history of the Spanish conquest of Florida just so you're sure that I know the names and events you reference later. However, if you can tell us about it in an interesting way, such as through your character's eyes, then it becomes a relevant part of the story.

    ("This happened to me when I met Ponce de Leon..." is interesting. "While I was living in Florida, these things happened, which I heard about from other people..." is not.)

  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW wrombola's Avatar
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    One third of the story takes place prehistoric Miami in the year 1567 and this is crucial to the plot. I was mostly concerned about whether having so much of the story in a non urban environment was bending the rules of the UF genre a bit. Hopefully this is not the case because I am starting to feel comfortable with tailoring the story to this genre.
    Thanks for the help.

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    I think the historic element, particularly 1567 Miami gives the story a strong foundation. There was once an interview with author Tamora Pierce and Christopher Paolini (Eragon series) and in it, the question was posed- How do you get readers to believe the fantasy aspect of your stories? Tamora answered (i'm paraphrasing here)- We ask them to have a suspension of dis-belief; in other words, our research and foundations/setting have to be strong and accurate for the reader to buy into the surreal elements. I wish you greatest luck, wrombola!

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    I have a question. Can a story with fantasy elements still ne considered urban fiction even if magic isn't necessarily an element?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Spy_on_the_Inside View Post
    I have a question. Can a story with fantasy elements still ne considered urban fiction even if magic isn't necessarily an element?
    /nitpick

    No, because urban fiction and urban fantasy are two entirely different sub-genres.

    /end nitpick



    To answer the question I think you intended to ask, yes, your story can still be UF without having magic in it.
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  20. #20
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    I'm sorry, I mistyped. Can urban FANTASY still be urban fantasy even if the fantasy element does not include magic?

  21. #21
    Boldly going nowhere in particular. Jess Haines's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spy_on_the_Inside View Post
    I'm sorry, I mistyped. Can urban FANTASY still be urban fantasy even if the fantasy element does not include magic?
    It sounds more like paranormal (e.g., THE LOVELY BONES) than urban fantasy if you're taking the magic out of it, though I suppose it is theoretically possible. What would be the point of labeling it fantasy if you're taking out the magic? What exactly are you thinking would be the fantasy element if it isn't magical? I think I need a little more information to answer that question properly.
    Jess Haines
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jess Haines View Post
    It sounds more like paranormal (e.g., THE LOVELY BONES) than urban fantasy if you're taking the magic out of it, though I suppose it is theoretically possible. What would be the point of labeling it fantasy if you're taking out the magic? What exactly are you thinking would be the fantasy element if it isn't magical? I think I need a little more information to answer that question properly.
    Rachel Vincent's Shifters series is UF, but there's no magic in it. Just shapeshifters, and there's never a magical reason given for their abilities.

    There are few UF series that don't have magic, I admit, because I can't readily think of any others, but I don't think magic has to be the fantasy element to make it UF.
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    practical experience, FTW Spy_on_the_Inside's Avatar
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    My story without magic works along the same vein as the books by Madeleine L'Engle, somewhere between science fiction and fantasy.

    My story contains aliens, but the story doesn't really center around the science of it all. In spite of the subject, I really don't feel like it fits with science fiction genre, because, like I said, it doesn't really resemble anything I've seen in other science fiction books, mainly in that their's not a lot to do with the science of the aliens and more focuses on how the humans live in this sort of post-apocalyptic world after the human race has been taken over.

  24. #24
    Boldly going nowhere in particular. Jess Haines's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChaosTitan View Post
    Rachel Vincent's Shifters series is UF, but there's no magic in it. Just shapeshifters, and there's never a magical reason given for their abilities.
    I haven't read that series, unfortunately, so it's hard for me to comment one way or the other. If it was given some kind of scientific explanation, that might be one thing.

    Quote Originally Posted by ChaosTitan View Post
    There are few UF series that don't have magic, I admit, because I can't readily think of any others, but I don't think magic has to be the fantasy element to make it UF.
    I agree with this. Most UF would be pretty boring without the added magical element. It's one of the things that makes the genre fantastic (e.g., Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, etc), IMHO.
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  25. #25
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Steph King's Avatar
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    So (and please forgive the dumb) if a book has creatures based on traditional mythology found in a contemporary setting, but no magic, would that make it something other than urban fantasy? I had viewed this as contemporary fantasy if it lacks the noir element.
    Out of Sight, contemporary fantasy, 81,000 words. Out for crit.

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