Urban Fantasy – just say no


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.


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


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.


The lazy writer’s guide to genre

The lazy writer’s guide to genre 

Know you want to write be aren’t sure what? Simply scan through the list below and you’ll soon find the genre for you! 

Childrens & Young Adults 

How well do you know the little blighters? Can you find the right degree of simplicity without falling into patronisingness? Are you afraid of being terribly, terribly silly – or, at the older age-range, terribly po-faced and intense (because, like, teenagers feel, man)? Plus you have to pick an additional genre, which means you’ve got all those problems too. Incredibly difficult and best avoided 


Risky. Visual humour doesn’t work too well when written down, and sarcasm and irony create black comedy at best. Unless you’re really, really good at writing bon mots and creating high farce I’d steer well clear. Otherwise you end up looking like a bit of a prat


A tricky bugger as you actually have to create a plot. One both convoluted and logical. You also need to know a little about police work, criminals and the like. Or you could just make it all up, but beware you don’t fall over the Cliff of Implausibility. I can’t recommend this


 Icky-squicky couplings displayed in all their misbegotten glory. Oh yes. Just be ready to create a secret identity, for nobody looks at you the same way after they’ve read about your predilection for whips, chains and hot wax. Trust me on this 


No-one in their right minds would ever write fantasy. For a start you have to create your own ‘world’, with its own ‘laws’, its various ‘peoples’ and so on. Nightmare. You’ll soon be drowning in notes. And that’s even before we get to magic. Even magic has to have rules or the novel will just be an expurgated spew of chaos. Far too much like work 


How much do you like research? Because you can bet your bottom dollar that every mistake, every little tiny anachronism, every modern phrasing will be picked up by somebody – and historical fiction fans are notorious letter-writers. And how are you going to combine modern attitudes – towards women or sexuality, say – with the realities of the past? 


Ready to embrace your deepest, darkest fears and pin them to the page so everyone can see what a freak you are? Have an obsession with viscera and parasites? If so, horror might be the genre for you. Just be ready to be scowled at by people who think they’re too good for all that. Right down there with erotica in the ‘respect’ stakes, but without that strange warm feeling that could be guilt, could be… something else 

Literary fiction 

Are you a genius? No? Move along, please, nothing to see here 


Can you write intensely emotional love scenes without use of the ‘f’ word? Are you capable of describing deep, passionate kisses that go on for days without resorting to cliché? Have you the skills to craftily navigate your way around the Bad Sex Award? Can you find something new to say in this, the oldest of stories? No? Me neither 


See fantasy, but replace ‘magic’ with ‘technology’. Again, stay away 


There are two options: the James Bond style glamour-chase and the le Carre-a-like intrigueathon. One is relatively simple but somewhat old-fashioned. The other is incredibly complicated. Both are full of double-agents, femme fatales and suspicious accents. Like a crime novel but with even more twists and turns. Far too difficult, especially now we’re out of the Cold War 


This is like historical: you’ve got to spend hours and hours and hours of research. And that’s before you lift a pen in anger. Then you’ve got to write the damn thing, finding something that hasn’t been said many times already. Finally you’ve got to avoid causing any national/racial offence whilst being true to the situation. Basically this is far too much like work 


A combination of historical and adventure at heart: but can you really balance the brutality of the old Cowboys & Indians reality with modern sensibilities? Don’t forget the need for strong female characters and all sorts of racial sensitivity. And it is a bit of a niche market these days 

All of which should lead you to… 

Parish magazine 

This is more like it. The natural home of every writer who wants a quiet life. Highly recommended