The Urban-Fantasy Debate

I must admit, I am starting to get quite confused about what urban-fantasy actually is. Now, this is not an IQ test, and nor should I be questioning whether or not I am writing it at the moment – but I seem to have had a lot of conflicting information.

Someone once told me that urban-fantasy is a fantasy novel set in an urban environment, such as a city that we know – like New York, or even a town. So because of this explanation, I have been called the Talent series that I have been writing, ‘urban-fantasy’.

Then someone told me that no, this is not a true definition of the urban-fantasy genre. Urban-fantasy has other-worldly creatures in it, like warlocks, vampires, werewolves, or stoned fairies hanging out under a Central Park tree in New York.

Do I seriously have to write about stoned fairies in my trilogy for it to be considered urban-fantasy? You have got to be kidding me. That is the major question I have been asking myself since I heard about that definition. Don’t even get me started on when someone told me my trilogy was ‘paranormal’. Nor do I believe that my series falls under the actual ‘fantasy’ banner either, although it could potentially come close.

So many experts but yet they are all ambiguous with their explanations. So after all this confusion, today I have officially turned to Wikipedia, and according to their definition – I am most definitely writing and urban-fantasy series.

Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements. However, the stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.

As for my ‘supernatural’ elements, they are a far cry from vampires or werewolves, and all that jazz. I’m sure that there are many opinions out there about what this genre actually is… but I’m sorry folks – there is absolutely no way any fairy is going to end up in this trilogy, even if I do actually like them.

So there you have it. My mystery is solved. I officially know what genre I am writing in. (Well… as official as Wikipedia is, anyway!)

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15 Comments

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  1. Oh geez, it’s confusing no matter what genre you’re looking at. When I was working on “Shades of White” for NaNoWriMo, I had people telling me it was anything from paranormal to lit fic to horror. I think my brain is still trying to work that tangled mess out…

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    1. Oh dear, yes. See? You know exactly where I am coming from with this! To be honest, I had been mostly ignoring it – knowing deep down in my heart that it was urban fantasy… but then people were so utterly convinced that they were right – and I started to question everything. I should just listen to my gut instincts.

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  2. Trying to find a place on a shelf can be confounding. It’s wonderful that there are so many sub-genres for romance these days. Many have finally found their place. But others find that they fit into so many different sub-genres that it’s difficult to pick one. Stick with your gut and you won’t go wrong.

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    1. Yes, stick with the gut. I also dominantly write thrillers… and this is definitely an urban fantasy thriller. But you are quite right in saying that finding a place on the shelf is confounding….it really is. This series could potentially fall into three different areas.

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  3. there are several sub genres which seem to crossover, and urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, magical realism, paranormal seem to be the most common ones. They are all set in contemp times, paranormal seems to be the one with lots of sex in it though, so I pretty much avoid using that 😉 Urban fantasy can be all kinds of things, and your novels certainly seem to fit into that category!

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    1. Yes, I think you’re right. It does seem to fit into UF. It definitely doesn’t have any sex in it… I don’t think? Well – if it does, then I don’t remember writing it. 🙂

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    1. A friend actually gave me some very good advice… I thought that I would post it here:

      Write the story first and figure out what the market wants to call it when you’re done.

      Second, paranormal is not limited to vampires, werewolves, pixies, el…ves and other fairyland creatures. It’s any creature who is not human, which includes angels, demons and monsters.

      Third, urban fantasy by its very label has to be set in an urban environment; hence the term “urban.”

      And, fourth, while one definition of urban fantasy is that it has a kick-ass female protagonist with low self-esteem, that doesn’t mean you have to confine your main character to those attributes. You’re writing fiction. It can be anything you want it to be.

      Which is exactly the reason I went on a big rant a week or so ago about “rules” that writers keep concerning themselves with in their blogs, instead of simply writing a story that expresses something new. How can anything original come forth if we continue to insist on labelling our work and filling it up with other people’s dos and don’ts; with the “success tropes” of what has already happened and already been defined?

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  4. Even the wikipedia definition is confusing. How big does the city have to be? What do you call the ones that aren’t urban – maybe small town settings, or the ones that move around a lot – but are still in a contemporary time with supernatural elements? Every thing seems to be just a hair different than the other. Figuring out genres is definitely not easy. -rubs head- I’ve seen urban fantasies (well, marketed as such) that weren’t set in a large city. It does make my brain spin.

    But congrats on figuring out what genre yours is!

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    1. Thanks Sadie! Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you on the small city/town type scenario. This trilogy that I’m writing does flip around a bit between cities, towns, and an island… but the cities are still the main setting for a lot of the books… I figure – urbanised setting, so therefore I’m in the right department.

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  5. oh these genres do my head in – I am struggling with mine sci fi / dystopian /post-apocalyptic/romance which – didn’t worry me so much before but now trying to organise bok tour and just cannot work out where it should go.

    glad you sorted your and nice to hear you have no vampires, sex or stoned out fairies could be tempted into urban if theres more like yours (so tired of vampires)

    does a half human (genticaly altered) human count as paranormal!!!!!

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    1. I have no idea if a genetically modified half human would count as paranormal… But you never know.
      I’m pretty pleased about the lack of vampires and fairies and werewolves too. Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. There are days I roll my eyes about classifications and genre and all of the manifestos that go with them. ‘Those who can’t do, teach’ can be exponentiated to ‘Those who can’t write, play at criticism or gatekeeping.’

    My personal lineage for writing weird stuff in cities begins with Andrei Bely’s Petersburg, absolutely one of the weirdest acid trips on record, and yet an arrestingly accurate portrayal of the feeling of its time (1905 in Russia). It qualifies as urban fantasy, because the city is the main character. However, it’s generally classified as ‘Silver Age Russian literature.’

    Go figure.

    Write first, pick the genre later. And remember, posterity is a bunch of asses.

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