Fantasy in the City
We’ll start with the classic Urban Fantasy structure, mostly because I’d never noticed it, until Illona Andrews told me that Darkship Thieves followed it (it does.)
Now before we get too deep in, there’s a ton of Urban Fantasy that doesn’t fit this. For one not all Urban Fantasy has females as the main character. Both Dresden and Monster Hunter International are urban fantasies, after all, as are my own shifters series.
But the thing is that if you look at those, they kind of fit too. MHI more easily than Dresden, but Dresden too, if you take the attractive scary opposite sex being as not being his main love interest (which is usually female.)
The thing is, as I explained in the comments before, that this is not a template to write by — though people sell things like “An urban fantasy template” but more a thing to look at when deciding what categories to put your novel for sale under.
First, let’s get something out of the way which I think I said at the beginning, but have since not mentioned and some of you might have lost sight of: structure is NOT what determines genre. Genre is a combination of structure and other elements. Even if your fantasy has a mystery structure (Dresden partakes a lot of the noir-mystery structure. On structure alone it’s an hybrid between that and urban fantasy.)
And Darkship Thieves is STILL a space opera, despite having an urban fantasy structure.
So, before you go doing anything stupid, the essential elements of urban fantasy are: a city, and FANTASY. I.e. some part if not all of the setup for the world must involve magic, (often) shape shifters or (very often) vampires. Sure, now I think about it, you could get away with having some mysterious aliens in place of the magic creatures but be careful not to explain them too closely, because that puts you in science fiction realm. (Well, to the readers of shifters, no, probably not, but that’s because I didn’t get to that till book 3.)
So it starts with: the city/area/world are in danger. There is a supernatural menace coming for them. And there is one chosen to stand against them.
The chosen part is very important, as is, at least in the beginning, the fact the chosen might not have any clue she is (most urban fantasies have female protagonists, so for the sake of convenience, I’ll use the female pronoun throughout. Be aware it can also be male.)
Often the first thing the chosen knows about her special nature is that all these things are coming out of the woodwork to attack her.
After a while she figures out what’s going on, often with the help of the love interest/male counterpart.
This man is often somewhat odd himself and might be supernatural/have special powers. On first meeting, she’s often scared of him, and sees only his scary qualities, though she might/probably will come to realize throughout the book/series that they have more in common than not.
Remember when I said it’s very important that the main character have special powers and be the chosen?
Often the first few books are “training” and discovering of/revealing of those powers, often while she fights her way up a hierarchy of baddies. Every time a bad thing is defeated, we find that it was just a front for the truly big bad.
Long running series eventually pit their character against some vast, shadowy evil that plans to swallow the whole world/destroy mankind.
The first book often entails the main character discovering the full extent of her specialness/that she’s not quite human and accept her mission to defend others. In that way the first book is often a “coming of age” novel for the main character.
Urban fantasy also has a certain feel to it. Some people don’t consider urban fantasy proper unless it takes place in a large city, but this can be got around as Larry Correia did by shuttling the heroes around.
However, often urban fantasy shares the noir feel of “Through the mean streets the hero walks alone.” Even if the hero is a she and the mean streets involve fangs.
Again, I’m sure I’m leaving a hundred things out, so feel free to ask questions.
Next week heroic fantasy.