Urban Fantasy – just say no

cyberpunk-work

In last week’s post I brought you ten magnificent reasons why Urban Fantasy is awesome and why you – yes, you! – should write it. ‘But’, I hear you cry, ‘aren’t there two sides to every argument?’ Why yes, there are. So, without further blitheration, I give you the counter: ten reasons why writing UF sucks a big ‘un.

Duality

If UF has a defining characteristic it’s that two worlds exist at the same time: a surface world that’s (more or less) identical to our own; and a second, hidden, reality. How do they interact? Who knows about the second and how have they exploited their knowledge? Is there a Rowling-esque Ministry of Magic? Do vampires have representation in parliament? Or are they entirely separate? You need to have the answers

There are no rules

As I repeatedly banged on about in last week’s blog, UF is a young genre. Thus we have to establish our own world. If we play with magic, or shapeshifters, or vampires or whatever, we have to tell people how they operate in our world. The tropes that have built up in other genres don’t exist here yet. So everything has to be worked out from scratch

History

For how long has this duality existed? Where has influence been exerted? You, as author, need to know these things. Are we dealing with a threat – and, if so, what’s brought it to a head now? Is Theresa May a wizard? Donald Trump a warlock? Have the Illuminati lapped up all the cream – and if not, why not? Hitler was, I’m told, obsessed by the occult: if so – and these secrets existed in your world – why didn’t he win the war? These questions might never crop up directly in your work, but you still need to know the answers

Society and politics

This ‘second world’ has its own rules; it must do, right? In Highlander the immortals fight to the death whenever they meet: are there similar customs/habits/prejudices in your world? Working this out takes thought – and, as you must have realised by now, I’m a lazy, lazy man. Similarly you have to work out your structure of government; are we dealing with an essential anarchy or is there a hierarchy to be devised and constraints developed?

It requires absolute, complete and total cohesion

The real world is full of complications. It’s messy, unpredictable and incredible. But truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction. You need to obliterate all potential loopholes: one loose thread and your whole tapestry unravels. Your world must work. It may be fantastic to the nth degree, but unless you’ve worked out why, for example, your dark-demon lord didn’t conquer the (human) world in centuries past, then you’ve got nothing. Suspension of belief relies on coherence. You must not let your readers down

If everything can be anything, why isn’t everything something?

Last week I wrote about the magnificent ability for phone boxes to be portals, typewriters mystic demon-conjuring devices and so on. Which is great, but begs the question: when do you stop? If the advantage of UF is that the world is essentially normal then the more ‘normal-abnormals’ you have the less the reader can get a grip on your world. If you’re not careful the very anchors of reality slip away and you have to explain absolutely everything. In great, crunching, deathly-boring detail

It’s wish-fulfilment

And that (nearly) always leads to bad writing. Who wants to read about you? Even with supernatural powers, you’re still nobody

Urban fantasy still has a ‘fringe’ reputation

There are some magnificent authors out there. There’s also some really shoddy writing. Most of the hoi polloi still equate UF with the outer limits of erotica, horror and the like. Which is not to say that there aren’t amazing writers in those genres – there most certainly are. But UF still has an image problem. At least people know what erotica is; you’ll have to explain what urban fantasy actually is on a regular basis

It’s already passé

Remember when everyone was writing conspiracy-theory novels a la Dan Brown or Sam Bourne? Remember when you couldn’t move for sparkly vampires? And zombies? Urban fantasy might be a new genre but novelty doesn’t last; you, my friend, have missed the boatwagon. Those great authors I wrote about last week have already got it nailed down. Anybody who now writes UF will look like a coat-hanger, a populist, an unimaginative dullard. Too late, sweetheart, too late

I saw it first

It’s mine. Hands off.

 

A letter to beta-readers everywhere

Dear Reader

So. Here we are again. How many times do we have to go through this, huh? I thought that the last time was…. Well, the last time. But no. Once again you let me down and we have to go through this whole pathetic rigmarole once more.

What’s that you say? It’s my fault? That they were my errors and you were doing me a favour anyway? Nonsense. No-one writes magic on the first pass. It’s down to you to let me know what’s working and what isn’t. If you’d have given me what I wanted initially we might both have been spared this abomination. So I’ve come up with a list of things I actually want you to evaluate as you read through my novel once again. If a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing properly and all that.

So, no slacking, no excuses. Here’s what I want you to think about.

The basics:

  • Typos, spelling, grammar – you know this. But please do draw any errors to my attention
  • Unspecified ‘bad writing’. If I could make something clearer/be sharper, or if something just could be better-written please do let me know
  • Punctuation matters. Tell me if I’ve got it wrong!
  • Under no circumstances allow me to dangle my modifiers

Plot:

  • Do you understand the plot? Is it rational/fair? Is it sufficiently complex but not over-complicated?
  • Are any threads left tangling? Any subplots left unresolved?
  • Does it sustain your interest?
  • Any McGuffins left hanging? Are there any Chekov’s Gun’s carelessly lying around?

Style:

  • Are there too many rhetorical questions?
  • Does the novel ‘flow’ right? Is it well paced, and were there any sections that dragged?
  • Does the mood change across scenes, but not too abruptly within them?
  • Are any bits of information repeated?
  • Is anything underexplained?

Character/dialogue:

  • Did you get a clear impression of the characters?
  • Were they consistent? Did they ever do anything that seemed awry to you?
  • Were there any sections of dialogue that seemed stiff or unnatural?

Other:

  • Were there any ideas that seemed hackneyed or old-hat?
  • Any clichés?

Remember, I don’t just want to know about things that are ‘bad’; I also want to know if I can do anything better. I realise that might mean the whole damn thing, but I’m a terrible judge of my own writing. I’m also lazy and, given the chance, would happily hop-and-skip straight across a passage if it’s not scribbled over in red pen with a big note saying ‘rewrite; you could do this better’.

So, let’s get down to it. Are you ready? Maybe, if you do your job properly this time, we’ll crack it this time.

Yours, with begrudging thanks

The Author