I found a blog post that delves into some of the same questions and dilemmas I have about writing Urban Fantasy. I don’t want to be forced into writing a mystery, which seems to be a staple of some of the genre, but something I have no interest in writing. Not only does it intimidate me, it downright terrifies me to even think of writing a mystery. And I am not going to be pigeon-holed into doing so. It was an interesting article that brought up some of the very points I had mulled over such as the seeming proliferation of PI plots, both professional and civilian, such as the Dresden Files, the Mercedes Thompson series, the Anita Blake series by Laurel K. Hamilton and some others. It seems that there is always a mystery going on, though not always in the same fashion as in the mystery genre itself, which I won’t touch with a ten foot pole. But that brings me to the thought that most plots involve a mystery to some extent and that my own plot does indeed have some elements of that in it as well. Just not a lot and that was pointed out as well and made me feel better about the idea of mystery being included and not having to deal with the PI and police procedure.
I don’t think I have to write a mystery UF, but it’s a worry that it might be the only one that would be picked up for publication. The posts at the end of the blog were reassuring, reminding me that not all UF is a mystery and I feel free again to write what’s in my head and not try to force it into an unnatural shape, which would prove disastrous.
From there I found this blog by Carrie Vaughn. It comes in 3 parts and the second part is particularly interesting and helpful. I was much relieved to find that my book does not have any of these issues in its current first incarnation. I’ll be rewriting basically the whole thing and it was good to re her pet peeves and keep mind what not to add. And it was funny, since I have had some of the same issues with female leads lately. As she put it “When the heroine is insecure about her appearance and ability to attract men, and talks about this by comparing herself to her best friend who is a blond bombshell. You would be amazed how often this happens in these books. I take this one personally, for obvious reasons (I am, in fact, blond). “Blond” seems to be a code word in some of these books for “not the heroine.” Or even, in at least one book, not that I’m going to name names or anything, “bimbo.”” Yeah, being a fellow blond, I too find the blond bombshell/bimbo label annoying. I am neither a bombshell by virtue of being blond, nor am I a bimbo. Just saying.
Now from here I found this article by Lilith Saintcrow and all I can say is wow. I mean wow. But before I delve into my thoughts on this blog, let me first address the classification of books into genres.
How genres are defined.
Apparently this is an issue. I hadn’t realized that it was a big debate since the books I have read about writing, written by both authors and editors, made it clear how books are defined. By what drives the Plot and by the setting, in that order. There shouldn’t be a question about weather something is Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy, barring a few books that straddle the line. Since both are similar in setting we have to look at the plot. What is the main focus of the plot, what drives it forward? If the primary focus of the book is the romantic relationship between two people, if that is what drives the plot forward, their actions and reactions to each other, then its a Romance. I don’t care where it takes place, what’s happening in the background, its a romance. There can be a mystery happening around them, or a war, or a Zombie apocalypse, it doesn’t matter. There can be lots of sex or no sex, it doesn’t matter. If the focus is the relationship, it’s romance. Just to make things clear, if the focus and drive of the story is sex and not a relationship, then it’s erotica.
Urban Fantasy is primarily a fantasy as defined by the setting. There is magic, other races or supernatural occurrences in our own world. It’s Urban because it happens in a city. Time frame isn’t a defining part of it, but most of it is contemporary. (If it happens outside a city, it is considered Contemporary Fantasy, but I find so few people know of the genre that it’s easier to call it Urban Fantasy, but I digress.) Pretty much just like a paranormal romance, so here’s where the plot matters. What drives the plot? In UF it should not be a romantic relationship. It should be the protag against something, preferably of a supernatural persuasion, vampires, werewolves, his/her powers, a mob boss, whatever. There can be romantic elements in it, but that isn’t what drives the plot along.
Let’s look at Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs. On her website, she lists this book under Paranormal Romance and this is one of those books that walks the fine line between UF and PR but I think she has the right catagorization. In her own words “The series has plenty of action, but there’s more emphasis in on the romantic attraction between the hero and heroine.” She is right but it’s not easy to say it’s wholly one or the other. The relationship between Anna and Charles does take up a lot of the book and it is the more central point of the book, but it’s not a typical romance plot. There isn’t a high level of sexual tension or graphic sex scenes and the side plot seems more main plot than just side plot at first glance. But in the end, it is a paranormal romance if you have to pin it down and you do. Not to force it to be one or the other, in fact this is a particularly skillful blend of the two and it stays away from the pitfalls of both with enviable ease.
Categorization isn’t a dirty word, and it isn’t there to make books fall into rigid formulas and defined boundaries. Every genre book doesn’t have to be the epitome of the genre. It’s there to make it easier for us all to find what we like, to talk about what we like and describe it to others in ways we will all understand. It’s so much easier to tell people what genre or genres a book falls into, such as Cry Wolf which I would describe as both UF and PR. The people I’m talking to will understand what the book is about without me telling them the whole plot and ruining the book for them.
The problem comes when people don’t understand what the defining characteristics of a genre are. Or don’t know what makes it one genre and not another. UF and PR suffer from this and I see the problem being mostly with the publishers, some with the authors and the rest with the people who don’t read them in the first place but tell everyone what they are about. But that comes back some to the publishers.