How to Write Urban Fantasy – A 101 Guide for Beginners

How To Write Urban Fantasy

Want to learn how to write urban fantasy?

If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman, Jim Butcher, Cassandra Clare and Patricia Briggs, then you are a fan of urban fantasies. It is one of the most popular sub-genres of fantasy writing. You will find urban fantasies making it to the list of bestsellers. Many of them are also adapted into movies.

So, What Exactly is Urban Fantasy?

“Urban fantasy is about the junction of our everyday modern world with the realm of the fantastic.” – Emma Jane Holloway

Urban fantasy first appeared as a sub-genre of fantasy when Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire came out. Today, it is one of the most popular genres of fantasy of avid readers all around the globe.

As the name suggests, urban fantasy is defined by two things: an urban setting and fantasy.

The Setting

The setting is the first defining element of urban fantasy. It must be based within a structured community, typically an urban community. It can be based in towns, cities, villages or the ‘burbs’.

Most of the current urban fantasies are set in modern towns and cities. However, it is entirely up to the author to create the setting as per their plot. Many authors also set their urban fantasies in the far-flung future, while many others set them in the ancient past.

Magic or Supernatural Element

The second defining element of urban fantasy is something supernatural or magic. It can be magic, like in the Harry Potter series, or deities as used by Neil Gaiman in his book American Gods. When you are creating an urban fantasy, the supernatural and non-supernatural part exist in the same world.

You will often find urban fantasies where the main character, who is entirely normal, discovers or uncovers a world of magic. Think Harry Potter discovering that he is a wizard.

So, urban fantasy is a story that entails supernatural/magical/paranormal elements that are layered in our recognizable world. You may pull elements from other genres as well, such as mystery, science fiction, romance or horror.

Now that you understand what urban fantasy is, here is a guide for beginners on how to write urban fantasy. You will not only learn about all the main elements of urban fantasy, but you will also get some amazing tips to help you create a bestselling urban fantasy.

Learn how to create the urban world

Creating the Urban World

As mentioned before, the setting of urban fantasy is an urban world. It can have creatures straight out of legends or myths. The general rule of urban fantasy is that the story must be set in an urban setting. However, many urban stories are also set in small towns, villages, etc.

To help beginners trying to create an urban fantasy, this part will solely focus on how to build the world of urban fantasy in your writing. There are different interpretations of the word “urban,” and you can choose and go by your own definition about the place and eras, etc.

Here is a simple guide that can help you create the setting in your urban fantasy.

1. The era

You don’t have to limit yourself only to the modern era when you are creating an urban fantasy. In fact, you just have to keep an urban setting in whatever era you choose. You can choose an era in the past where your characters live in a big city.

If you decide to choose an era that isn’t the present day, then make sure that you also include all the specifics of that era. For example, if your story is set in medieval times, include swords. Similarly, you must also include all other relevant details such as the right clothes, customs and cultures of that period.

Choosing and working with an era in the past is not easy. On the contrary, working with a modern time era is easier as we are familiar with it. You can include or exclude some elements of the modern era and your story gets set in a different era. For example, if you take out the Internet from today’s era, your story will automatically shift to the ‘90s.

So, you can use the modern urban world as the North Star and then make changes here and there to create a different era.

2. Cultures and Societies

If you are creating a separate species, you must also build a culture and society around them. For example, vampires, elves, fairies and angels all should have their own distinct culture and societies. In addition to creating societies for all these supernatural or magical characters, you must also create a cultural setting for them.

The more you get into the details of each, the better your urban fantasy story will be.

Take time to develop each character

3. The Daily Life of Each Character

Another important thing you must work on is deciding the everyday life of each of your characters. It includes anything and everything. The best way to do it is to imagine how a normal day in the life of your character will be. Get into the character and then build upon it.

If you want to fully know the world you have just created, then you must work on building your characters. Think about one day in their life at a time and work on it. A new day can be an altogether different story.

Remember, it takes time to develop and build characters. Patience is the key here. Don’t think that everything will be done in just a day. It is going to take longer to develop characters and the more time you put in them, the better results you can expect.

Learn how to create the fantasy world

Creating the Fantasy World

Now that we are done with the urban world, the next step is to create a fantasy world. Remember, you have to create a fantasy world based in an urban setting. While there is no best approach to creating this world, you should focus on keeping the fantasy and magic aspects limited and consistent.

But, what is meant by limited here?

You must ensure that the magic in your fantasy world is believable. It should also be logical, which means that it should be within the rules and limits of the urban world you have just created. Don’t make the magic omnipotent, or the story wouldn’t sound too believable.

One magic user shouldn’t be able to do everything. They should have their specialty. So, decide on what type of magic they can perform. Similarly, be consistent with your story.

Remember, you will not have any story to write if the world you’ve created is limitless. In a world without limits, your characters will be able to do anything without the need to endure any hardships or make journeys. Therefore, your fantasy world should be limited and consistent.

1. Legends and Myths

You can take characters from different legends and myths or you can create your own. You just have to keep the urban setting in mind and play around with myths and legends as you like. However, don’t try to incorporate too much into your world.

If you are creating a world with angels and faeries, then you must find a way to connect them. Don’t just use fantasy species for the sake of it. You should be able to add your own twist to them as that will make your story interesting. You can use myths in your plot to create a more cohesive urban fantasy story.

2. Add Animals

While it is not a written rule, adding animals to your story can make it more real and believable. Wildlife and animals are abundantly used in fiction, so why not use them in your urban fantasy as well?

You can add animals like cats and dogs, which are commonly seen in the urban world. In addition, you may also add some unusual and strange animals that bring a sense of fantasy to your story. They can appear as pets of your character. Just think out of the box, but relate it back to the ordinary and you will create great urban fiction.

Include different species in your urban fantasy

3. Species

There are different species that appear in urban fantasy. First of all, your story should include humans. They can be both magical and non-magical ones. Think wizards and witches. Then you can play around with shapeshifter and werewolves. Animal/human hybrids can also be a part of your story.

You can also add species from different mythologies into your story. These include demons and angels, fairies and faeries, monsters and gods and everything in between. Demigods can also be a part of your storyline.

Whichever species you choose, make sure that they don’t seem forced into the story. You also don’t have to include all of them in your urban fantasy. Just choose the ones that you think fit best in the storyline and have a definite purpose in your story.

Urban fantasy is not complete until you put some magic to it

4. Include Magic

Urban fantasy is not complete until you add some magic. It can stem from anything, but you have to be careful about its limits. As mentioned before, you will not have a story if there were no limits and boundaries in your world. Your characters will not face any challenge and as a result, you won’t have an interesting story.

Now that you understand all the important elements needed to create an urban fantasy world, you have everything that you need to create a story. You must connect all these elements with each other in the story.

You can create the world first or the characters first. It is entirely up to you. Each will bring a new perspective to your story and then you can decide which one you want to continue with.

Create your plot, develop your characters and just start writing. You may add as many elements as you want in the storyline. Just make sure that nothing seems forced and that every character is given its due importance.

5 Tips for Writing an Urban Fantasy

The next part of our article is about some expert tips on how to write urban fantasy. These tips can help you create a bestselling urban fantasy that can be the next Harry Potter.

1. Start with a Strong and Immersive Setting

We will not be wrong to say that urban fantasy is only as good as its setting. It doesn’t matter what type of setting you have chosen for your urban fantasy; just make sure that it is well-developed and vivid.

Even if you have chosen a real-life location, you will be adding a number of fictional and fantasy elements to it. So, you have to make sure that your readers know everything about this place. Here are some expert tips on world-building for your urban fantasy story:

  • Imagine as much as you can. Create a world off-page before you actually create it in black and white. This will not only help you be as imaginative as you can, but it will also immerse you in your story, helping you understand the setting before you start writing.
  • If you want to create a realistic setting, you can draw inspiration from your own world and surroundings. You can also create an alternative version of your own world and add some magic to it to create an urban fantasy.

If you feel like you are facing a writer’s block, just give it some time and then start writing. You must give your 100 percent in creating an immersive setting, which is only possible if you have your mind and heart in the story you are writing.

2. Point of View

When it comes to urban fantasies, writing in the first-person is the most popular. Urban fantasy is deeply character-driven. The opinions and beliefs of the protagonist profoundly affect the entire story. It is the personality of the protagonist that makes people keep reading and wanting more.

As a writer of urban fantasy, you must pay close attention to the mindset and voice of your characters, especially the protagonist. Therefore, most writers prefer to write urban fantasies in first-person. However, it is not a written rule. If you think you can use any other voice to tell your story better, go with it.

Maintain a balance between magic and reality

3. Create a Balance between Reality and Magic

While magic is a really important part of any urban fantasy, balancing it with reality is very important. This is where urban fantasy differs from other sub-genres of fantasy.

Where fantasy books are based entirely on fantasy world and lands that are populated with fantasy creatures, urban fantasy is based in a very realistic setting. It has normal humans as characters alongside some magical creatures and beings.

While you can choose to present the fantasy aspects of your story any way you want, you must make sure that it is well-blended with reality.

4. Add Mystery

Fans of urban fantasy love mystery. Therefore, you should try to add as much mystery to your story as possible. Your plot should be so intriguing that it urges the reader to continue reading. Adding the element of mystery can do that.

5. Avoid Clichés

Don’t make your urban fantasy boring by following the same plot that has been used hundreds of times before. Find something different. Readers are not going to find your story interesting if it is filled with the same old clichés.

So, avoid turning your readers away with too many clichés. Urban fantasy doesn’t always have to be a love triangle between two paranormal creature guys and a human girl. You should make it different.

Where clichés should be avoided, adding tropes is actually a good idea. However, you have to make sure that you use these tropes in an original and fresh way. For example, if you have to write a story on vampires or werewolves, bring in a fresh perspective. Even better, create entirely new features.

These were some simple yet effective tips and tricks on how to write urban fantasy. Follow them and you will be able to create an epic urban fantasy that may become the new bestseller. However, keep in mind that writing an urban fantasy requires time, patience and dedication. Don’t rush things and give everything its due time and attention.

Work on your characters and build a world that draws in your readers. Make the magic believable and develop the protagonist. You will get there slowly but surely. Publish your work and even work on sequels if possible.