Beta readers read this

Posted by admin on February 16th, 2011 filed in Books, General, VernQuarBoWriMo, Writing

What is Urban Fantasy and who is it for?

Most simply put, urban fantasy is a genre of story set in our world, or one like it, that contains fantasy elements, like magic, supernatural beings, or traits from mythology. Some authors make up their own worlds and others use locations from real life, including all the landmarks and restaurant and retail chains we are familiar with. Almost all urban fantasy involves a female character living in fairly normal circumstances discovering the fantastic secrets of her world.

Most urban fantasy has werewolves or vampires, and contains strong romantic elements. There is usually a mystery to solve, plenty of danger and adventure, and, eventually, love. This stuff isn’t epic – usually the characters aren’t out saving the world. They are fighting to protect the ones they love and the people who depend on them. That’s it. It’s all in the closed world of the characters. Often the normal human population doesn’t even know that there are supernatural things living next door to them.

There are a few traits most of the books in this genre share. It’s often written in the first person from the point of view of a strong, independent female character. Sometimes she has special training or great abilities, sometimes she’s been abused, but she’s almost always a loner with a brave heart and a desire to protect those weaker than her. Most of these gals have given up on men/sex for one reason or another.* Until they meet their alpha, that is. The men are forces of nature. Good looking, super strength, supernatural abilities, and an insatiable desire for the leading lady. Their only down side is still part of their appeal – they are dangerous, usually because they are shapeshifters or vampires or some other violent-yet-hot creature. They belong to a pack or coven and have a whole different set of laws from the rest of the world. Finding out how all this works is part of the fun for the main girl and the readers.

These books are fun, quick reads. I believe the audience is mostly female, likely educated or at least able to follow a book with multiple plot threads. It seems like the audience is probably between 25 and 35, since most of the characters are that age. This is definitely escapist fiction, for the woman who works all day or takes care of kids non-stop. Urban fantasy is full of stories about characters overcoming odds, uncovering wonderful details in their mundane life, and over-the-top men on the hunt for love.

It can be hard to take seriously. So why is it so popular? What does it give its audience? It gives them a little time outside their lives, while including enough normal stuff that they can identify with the character. Maybe the character is a little hotter than them, a little smarter, and she has a cute guy chasing her. The men hold excitement and danger – not the sort of person you’d want to marry in real life, but just the sort of man to adventure with for a few hundred pages.

I think a large part of the appeal for women readers is that it’s about a smart girl finding her way in a world like this one. We’re a generation without a real fight – the women’s liberation movement has already happened. Now we’re here, working our jobs and taking care of our kids, drifting with no real unifying cause and unsure of who we are supposed to be. We’re still figuring out this world that has accepted rights for women, but there are still unclear rules and hidden pitfalls. I can’t explain how, but I think these books about dangerous new societies with dark rules are fulfilling something for people. Ugh, I can’t articulate it. Maybe forget I mentioned women’s lib – these books have nothing to do with empowerment or man-hating. I was just speculating and should be ignored.

Anyway, does anyone else have any ideas about this genre? I can’t put it all into words, but I think I have it figured out enough to write a book. Let me know your ideas.

If you want to do a little reading, check out the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs or one of my favorites, the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews.

*In the part of the genre I’m writing in, anyway. I’m sure there is a ton of erotica in this style, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. In many of the books, the female doesn’t have a problem with sex, she just doesn’t do it much prior to the beginning of book 1, okay?

Related reading:  Check out my old romance novel post.

2 Responses to “Beta readers read this”

  1. Jody Says:

    Definitely enough to write a book but I think your definition is too limiting.

    Can of Worms (Pseudo Rant)
    It should be something closer to Fantasy set in a City. I had a similar conversation a couple months ago. He tried to tell me Urban Fantasy was only girly fiction so I had to load him up with books as examples on why he was not correct. (Can you disagree if you can’t see over the stack?)
    Being 25-35 year old females, it’s hard to find (or be interested in) books not targeted at us. I’d increase the age range and drop the gender. I pass on most of my contemporary fantasies onto my Mother.

    Sure Briggs, Andrews, Hamilton and Harrison are some of the bigger names in the genre but the boys have a strong showing too. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files are arguably as popular. Most of Simon Green’s works fit into this genre with the Nightside series being my favorite. Glen Cook’s Garret P.I, is good for a more fantasy feel. Sergei Lukyanenko does a neat series set in Moscow with Night Watch. While I’m name dropping here’s one most will recognize, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or Good Omens.

    For kids there is Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colin is a criminal mastermind I loved to cheer on. Can’t forget Harry Potter, even if they stamped it fiction so to not confuse the masses.

    There are tons more out there; these are just the ones I have read. If I can remember I want to check out Charlie Huston. He’s supposed to be another really good author in this genre but I have yet to check him out.

    Now I’ll wrap up this pseudo-rant. Though the Heroines dominate let’s not fall into the trap that the poor Historical Fiction did. Keep the definition open or soon it too will be known as just another synonym for Romance

    There is a difference.
    (Ask for Historical Fiction and see if you’re pointed to Gore Vidal or Nora Roberts)
    Grumble Grrr!

  2. Megan Says:

    All good points! Thank you! I didn’t mean to limit the genre, I was just trying to give an idea of what style I’m writing in, without overwhelming the uninitiated. I’m writing more in line with Charlaine Harris and Stehpanie Meyer than with Jim Butcher (love him though!) and Glenn Cook. So still urban fantasy, but on the paranormal romance side of things, but not as extreme as Jeanienne Frost’s Cat and Bones series or Jill Myles’ Succubus series. I have a hard time imagining guys picking up my book for fun, but maybe they’ll prove me wrong!

    I was guessing at the age range based on the age of the characters in the books. I gave my mom Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville books and she later returned them to me politely saying she enjoyed reading my vampire books about Kitty Does Dallas. *frustrated sigh*