April 11th, 2011

Ghaleon

Urban fantasy

I was listening to the latest episode of writing excuses in which they discussed urban fantasy. By the way, if you have any interest in creative writing I suggest you check these guys out. They're each professionals of their respective crafts, offer great advice to both aspiring and professional writers, and are fun to listen to. I've been reading some of Dan Wells' books and they're very good. These guys know what they're talking about.

Anyway, this week they were discussing urban fantasy. More specifically, what makes an urban fantasy what it is? Next week they'll be discussing more specifically how to write an urban fantasy, but for now they merely offered their definitions of the term. I found this particularly interesting since I recently finished writing an urban fantasy novel (it's the one I'm editing at the moment).

Their definitions are all over the place, but one thing they seem to agree on is that there are two definitive types. The first type is an urban fantasy world in which magic and the supernatural are common knowledge (the Dresden Files being an example of this), and the second type involves secret societies and hidden worlds that exist under the noses of the muggles (think Harry Potter). I wondered where my work fits into this.

The Spirit Sky, the book I'm editing, is kind of in the middle ground between the two. Magic certainly isn't common knowledge. Out of all the characters in the book, only two are even capable of using magic. It does involve an alternate reality (the titular spirit sky) but it's not a "world" as we understand it. Nothing lives there. It's not a separate space, but rather a parallel one. If you were to cross into the spirit sky everything would be exactly the same as in reality, only the sky would look different. The characters only ever visit the sky when they're about to enter combat, and that doesn't happen very often. So while the book does contain an otherworldly element, the vast majority of the book takes place in the real world and deals with real world issues.

The book focuses mainly on the characters, what they're doing, and how they cope with the situations they're placed in. The major driving force of the plot isn't some supernatural horror that the heroes must stand up and face, but rather it's the characters' own fears, weaknesses, and insecurities. Supernatural beings are involved, though, featuring deities and mythical creatures pulled from folklore ranging from Greek myth to Judeo-Christian demonology. The overarching plot of the series ultimately draws its inspiration from Persian myth. The supernatural elements are an integral part of the story, but they serve a different purpose. Everything from the superpowers the heroes possess to the otherworldly beings they deal with serve as parallels to what's going on in the protagonists' hearts.

One of the main antagonists, a demon, represents another character's desperation to hold on to the things that are precious to him; his willingness to sacrifice everything, even his soul, to protect those he loves. By opposing her, Matthew (the protagonist) comes dangerously close to repeating the mistakes that led to this situation in the first place. He wants to save someone precious to him, but just how far is he willing to go? Would he really give up everything in the name of love? Would it even be worth it?

My goal in writing The Spirit Sky was to explore the human condition using the supernatural as a backdrop rather than the focus. Even my choice of main character was a calculated decision in this direction. Matthew is not a hero. He is a 19 year-old computer geek who works in retail and spends most of his time playing video games. Yet he's thrust into this situation and has to sink or swim. It's how he copes with these circumstances, his struggle to find his identity, is where the meat of the first book's story is. By the end of the book he is changed, and not necessarily for the better.

I guess where I'm going with all this is that, to me, urban fantasy is more than a fantastical story taking place in an urban landscape. It's also a story involving fantastical elements that deals with modern day issues. It's using the supernatural to explore the human condition, revealing it in ways that are not otherwise possible. Sure the supernatural does have to be there, but it doesn't have to be the primary focus. I personally found that the urban fantasy setting allowed me to explore the concepts of love, sacrifice, fatherhood, and the necessity of doing horrible things for the greater good. To accept that you're going to Hell for what you've done, but having no regrets because something good came from it. At least, that's what you tell yourself so you can sleep at night. I wouldn't have been able to tell this story quite as effectively without the urban fantasy setting.
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