What Is Urban Fantasy?

What Is Urban Fantasy?

posted in: Storytelling | 3

Today we have a special post! I’m interviewing published author J.P. Dailing to talk about a sub-genre of fantasy: urban fantasy. We’ll answer questions such as: What is urban fantasy? What makes this genre special? What are some of the challenges of this genre, and most importantly, why should you give it a try?

Put on your wizarding hat and let’s begin!

J.P. Dailing
J.P. Dailing

Brianna: Welcome to StoryPort, Jason! I’m so happy to have you on today. To start, tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do? And what brought you where you are now?

Jason: Hello, my name is Jason Dailing and while I have a day job at HEB, I am working, along with my wife, to become a full time author. I started writing in junior year of high school, and after a meandering course through other pursuits including screenwriting and video production, I’m back on track. Recently got my first book published and looking at the next in the series.

Brianna: So, you just released your debut novella. It’s YA urban fantasy, the first in a series aptly titled Urban Legend. I’ll admit, urban fantasy is a sub-genre I’m not very familiar with. For those who don’t know, what is urban fantasy? How does it compare to other forms of fantasy?

Jason: Urban fantasy is usually defined as fantastic elements (magic, different races, enchantments, etc.) happening along side a contemporary world. These are usually unknown to the world at large. Mortal Instruments and Dresden Files are perfect examples of this, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a TV analog. Urban Legend is a bit different in that the fantasy elements are somewhat integrated into the world, enough to have a US Dept. of Mysticism and Metaphysics to handle those issues.

Brianna: Why do you like writing urban fantasy? What makes it fun?

Jason: I love writing urban fantasy because it gives me a framework of a world that already exists. Within that framework though I can delve into intricate interactions of individuals and how they deal with different kinds of power. Plus, fantasy is the best medium to bring social and personal issues to light with new context.

Kid adventuring

Brianna: I love what you said about fantasy being the best medium to view social and personal issues from a new perspective. This may be one of my favorite things about the genre as a whole!

Now, urban fantasy deals a lot with integrating the fantastical and realistic, while still making it all feel believable. How do you handle this balance? Do you ever struggle with merging these two extremes?

Jason: Merging the worlds of what-is and what-is-not with fantasy is actually more complex than I initially anticipated. This is why urban fantasies tend to be separate worlds alongside the “real world”; the divide between the fantastic and mundane is better defined and allows for more narrative wriggle room. With Urban Legend, they are intertwined and create real logistical challenges: how does criminal litigation change when memories can be reviewed by third parties? What challenges arise mixing medicine and alchemy? I combat this by keeping it small in scope and gradually expanding, making sure the framework is solid before dumping in the big questions.

Brianna: That sounds like a good strategy for any kind of fiction that introduces readers to a new world or reality, whether it’s an urban fantasy, high-fantasy realm, historical epic, or future society! It’s best to start small, let readers become grounded, and gradually reveal the entire scope of the world so it doesn’t overwhelm them.

Could you explain more what it looks like to have a “separate world” alongside the “real world,” versus having “intertwined worlds”? What are some more examples of both in literature or entertainment?

Jason: In “separate worlds”, there would be a distinct divide between the ordinary and extraordinary where, aside from a few exceptions, they have no real impact with each other. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis is the perfect example. There is next to no crossover between Narnia and the real world except for the main characters (with the Jadis incident in The Magician’s Nephew as the most bleed-through). The Harry Potter series is another good example with wizarding world actively making sure the separation remains in place more or less successfully.

“Intertwined” worlds are a bit more complex as the events of the two worlds splash to varying degrees into each other. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher achieves this with (to name a scant few): a wizard listed in the yellow pages, a mob boss hire supernatural goons, a vampire running a strip-club/brothel, and a war between the Queens of Faerie kicking off huge weather upsets. Urban Fantasy usually encompasses the latter, while stories with the former tend to be classified closer to “contemporary fantasy” due to the strict divide.

Brianna: That makes a lot of sense! I honestly don’t think I understood the difference between “urban fantasy” and “contemporary fantasy” until you explained it that way.

What are some of the other challenges of writing in this genre?

Jason: I’m glad it helped! Yeah, not until I began writing fantasy did I find so many niches in fantasy, a veritable banquet of flavors. Like any writing, there is the risk of the plot being wrapped up unsatisfactorily in an ex machina. This goes doubly so for fantasy and science fiction in that new worlds and rules are being crafted by the author and so is the tendency to have a “thing does something and all it right in the world”, or “hey that thing worked on this, why not that all of a sudden?” There needs to be a consistent internal logic and clearly defined limits so the reader knows what can and cannot be done. If anything, I have the tech crash and leave it up to the character to make the game-changing choices.

Brianna: I love that. Fantasy is one of those genres where you can make a lot of your own rules, but then you are bound by them. Your story has to make sense within its own logic.

Last question: Any tips for writers considering the genre of urban fantasy, or for those just starting out?

Jason: Well, urban fantasy is a bit of a niche market; it’s not as in as much demand as say romance or general non-fiction, so chances are it’s going to take time to build up steam. Keep writing and NEVER listen to any one who says you can’t make it based off “stats”. Statistics are a snapshot of the past, not glimpse into the future. No one can predict or determine your future as a writer except for you.

For discussion…

Wow, I learned a lot today. I hope you all did, too! What did you think about Jason’s thoughts? Leave a comment and let me know!

Also, be sure to check out Jason’s book blurb below:

Urban Legend

Rylee has manifested illegal magic.

Abandoned since before she can remember and virtually friendless, Rylee now finds herself in the middle of a power struggle between an heir to the ruling house within the Vampirum and an agent for the US Department of Mysticism and Metaphysics. Both fight to claim her as their own, both want to make use of her power for the own ends, and both have deeply personal ties to her long since missing parents.

In this premier book of a YA urban fantasy novella series, get caught up in a world where magic is inter-weaved with a modern world, giants and pixies oversee legal disputes, and witness the humble and profound origins of an URBAN LEGEND.

What destiny will Rylee forge?

Learn more:

See Urban Legend on Amazon, or catch up with J.P. Dailing at his personal blog, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

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3 Responses

  1. Latias876
    | Reply

    For a long time, I wasn’t entirely sure which genre to put my story in as just Fantasy is a bit too broad for mine. But now I do, so thanks to the both of you for helping to clear this up! ^w^

    Also, Mr Dailing has some really encouraging advice at the end and I’d be sure to do my best to bring my story out to the bookstores! 😀

    • Brianna da Silva
      | Reply

      I’m so glad this was helpful! Thank you for your comment! ^_^

  2. Lawrence R. Kotkin
    | Reply

    I have a genre problem. No magic involved in my urban fantasy, but rather standard elements of telepathy. Deeply embedded in modern crime and politics, the whiplash of the news keeps changing my plot. Given that, is telepathy fantasy or science fiction if current events are involved? I’ve gotten varying opinions from agents. I’d like to peg this down to assist connecting with an agent. This article helped and hurt simultaneously, slipping along the magic/vampire/officialdom in society slalom. I have none of those.

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