Writing Diverse Urban Fantasy

Writing Diverse Urban Fantasy

posted in: Storytelling | 0

Today, more and more authors are being called out for writing problematic content, including the imbalance of male-to-female heroes, the preference for white protagonists, insensitive depictions of trauma, and countless other forms of harmful representation that are usually created unintentionally.

We’re finally seeing an end to the reign of the white, straight, strapping male hero… which is great for culture, and for society! But it also means our work as writers just got harder. (But psh, let’s be honest, did you ever really think this job would be easy?)

As standards for inclusive storytelling rise, it’s up to us to make sure we reach the bar. In order to get there, though, we have to stay teachable and continually learn from each other.

Briana Morgan is a YA author who’s already crushing this. I had the pleasure of interviewing her about her upcoming urban fantasy mystery, REFLECTIONS, to talk practical tips on genre mashing, diversity, and sensitive rep.

Get ready to take notes, because her advice is on point!


Portrait of Briana Morgan
Briana Morgan

StoryPort: Welcome to StoryPort, Briana! I’m so happy to have you on today. To start, tell us about yourself. What have you written before? What are some things you care about? And most importantly: What’s your favorite snack food?

Briana: My debut novel, BLOOD AND WATER, came out in 2015 and was rereleased this year. It’s a YA sci-fi/thriller novel. Then I published TOUCH, my one-act play, in 2016. My YA urban fantasy novel REFLECTIONS comes out June 10.

I care about a lot. Probably too much. I’m into cruelty-free beauty, social activism, intersectional feminism (including LGBTQIA+ rights), and diversity in publishing.

Favorite snack food is much easier to narrow down. It’s popcorn.

StoryPort: I’m personally excited about REFLECTIONS, and it’s coming out soon! Can you tell us what it’s about in a nutshell?

Briana: Aww, thanks! I’ll do you one better—here’s the back-cover blurb. 🙂

“Rama would trade almost anything for the chance to become someone else, even for a little while.”

In the small, rural town of Aldale, West Virginia, Ramachandra “Rama” Ganeshan wants nothing more than to avoid dressing rooms for the rest of her life. After a brutal assault destroys her confidence and self-esteem, she yearns to be someone else… someone pretty, popular, and loved—until multiple girls in town are found murdered.

After stumbling across her beautiful classmate’s body and a terrifyingly familiar face in the murderer, Rama encounters a group of shapeshifters who know more of the killings than they let on.

Only by earning the shapeshifters’ trust and becoming one of them will Rama be able to help serve justice.

But first, she must learn to love herself and confront her painful past—and find the courage to investigate the violence.

StoryPort: Your past published writings have been more dystopian or apocalyptic in nature. This is your first work of urban fantasy. What was that experience like? Was there anything about this genre that was particularly fun or challenging for you?

Briana: Urban fantasy is an entirely different beast. Having never written urban fantasy before, I was terrified to start. Reading Holly Black and Marissa Marr helped immensely, as did speaking with my writer friend Mariella Hunt, who adores the genre. I also did research regarding story structure of urban fantasy, as well as various setting, tropes, and plot devices typical of the genre. The hardest part of writing urban fantasy for me is worldbuilding. With BLOOD AND WATER, all I had to worry about was the virus. The shapeshifter mythology took a lot more effort to develop and put together cohesively. Even then, sometimes I found it difficult to stick to the rules I’d created.

Female magician conducting energy

StoryPort: I definitely feel you there. Worldbuilding is hard in any form of fantasy. Not only is it challenging to add the right details to make the setting feel real, but it can be confusing to keep all those details straight… even if you created them!

In addition to fantasy, REFLECTIONS seems to have a touch of mystery. What were some things you learned as a writer while weaving these two storytelling styles together?

Briana: REFLECTIONS is definitely an urban fantasy/mystery hybrid. It’s hard to weave two genres together, but I think what helped me was focusing more on telling the story than on meeting the constraints and expectations of both genres. I did what I could to fulfill some expectations I thought readers would have, but I didn’t let that consume me. Overall, Rama’s story deserved to be told. Everything else was background noise.

StoryPort: That sounds like an awesome approach. Story always trumps genre, in my opinion!

I’ve noticed as you’ve been posting about your characters on Twitter that they have a lot of diversity and uniqueness. What was your process like for creating them? How did you arrive at these characters?

Briana: When I write, I almost always get my protagonist first. So Ramachandra fell into my head before anything else about the story. She just happened to be the daughter of Indian immigrants. From there, everyone else just… fell into place.

When I write, I want to reflect the real world as much as possible. To me, it never made sense not to write diversely.

StoryPort: I couldn’t agree more!

It can be a challenge, though, writing about characters that have vastly different experiences from the author. Perhaps this is why it doesn’t happen more often.

Do you have any tips for overcoming this hurdle? What are some practices you recommend for writing about people who are very different from you, or who come from different cultures?

Briana: It can definitely be a challenge! That’s why I recommend employing sensitivity readers to look over your work and make sure your representation is accurate and appropriate. The worst thing you can do in writing characters who differ from you in some way is to misrepresent their culture and provide harmful rep. It’s important to do anything you can to prevent this. Make sure you do thorough research, have members of the group you’re representing read the book, and if you are called out, own up to it and take steps to correct the problem.

StoryPort: It seems REFLECTIONS has some themes of sexual assault. Because that can be a difficult and triggering topic for some readers, I imagine you had to approach the subject delicately. What kind of research or preparation did you do to write about this topic?

Briana: While working on REFLECTIONS, I spoke with a lot of people who had been through similar trauma. I also watched a lot of documentaries on sexual assault and post-traumatic stress, as well as using sensitivity readers to make sure I was being as accurate and respectful as possible. Also, by including the Additional Resources section at the end, I’m hoping that anyone who has been through something similar to Rama can get help if they need it.


For discussion…

How have you approached diversity and sensitive representation in your stories? Share in the comments below!

And don’t forget to pre-order Briana’s book, REFLECTIONS, out June 10!


Reflections Book Cover

Here’s the book blurb again:

“Rama would trade almost anything for the chance to become someone else, even for a little while.”

In the small, rural town of Aldale, West Virginia, Ramachandra “Rama” Ganeshan wants nothing more than to avoid dressing rooms for the rest of her life. After a brutal assault destroys her confidence and self-esteem, she yearns to be someone else . . . someone pretty, popular, and loved—until multiple girls in town are found murdered.

After stumbling across her beautiful classmate’s body and a terrifyingly familiar face in the murderer, Rama encounters a group of shapeshifters who know more of the killings than they let on.

Only by earning the shapeshifters’ trust and becoming one of them will Rama be able to help serve justice.

But first, she must learn to love herself and confront her painful past—and find the courage to investigate the violence.


You can pre-order REFLECTIONS on Amazon, and keep up with Briana on her blog!


Photo credits: Pixabay

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