An urban fantasy book is one which has an urban and modern city setting, and yet, it contains supernatural components – hence the name urban fantasy, where a real world setting is combined with fantasy.
Also known as modern fantasy, it is a subgenre of fantasy.
The interesting thing about urban fantasy as a subgenre is that it can quickly spill over into other subgenres such as paranormal romance, which can sometimes make it tricky to establish whether a book is actually urban fantasy, or not.
The formula works. Yes.
According to The Guardian, it is one of the most successful genres in modern day publishing. It is massively popular.
However, what if you want to write a compelling urban fantasy novel, which is different from the norm, and that can increase the likelihood of it getting accepted by agents and being published?
The first thing you can do right away is to take a look at the following posts:
The second thing you could do is read urban fantasy books by fellow, successful authors. Take a look at the following post to connect up with some on Facebook:
The third thing you can do is to take a look at the clichés most common to urban fantasy and see how you can avoid them.
And that’s the purpose of this post.
We want to make you aware of 15 urban fantasy clichés to avoid. However before we move onto the list, let’s clarify exactly what a cliché is.
What is a cliché?
You may have guessed the origin of the word cliché comes from the French language. In the Mid-19th Century, the term was used in printing jargon referring to a cast plate that reproduced words or images that would be used again and again.
In storytelling, a cliché is an idea or a concept that has been used repeatedly, so much so, that it is considered to be boring, and lacks creativity to say the least.
If you’re an urban fantasy writer, and you’re considering using clichés in your story, remember, their use, although can be entertaining to some readers, can for other readers, along with agents, publishers and critics be considered to be poor writing, which is lazy and lacks originality.
Okay, so now we’ve got the definition over, let’s take a look at number 1 in the list of urban fantasy clichés to avoid.
1. A supernatural law enforcement protagonist
An urban fantasy story needs characters with supernatural powers. However, does the protagonist who is, a law enforcement individual such as a police officer also need to be paranormal in nature? It seems like in many urban fantasy plots this is the case, and the more times it happens, the more it will continue to be a cliché and will be overdone.
If you’re planning on writing a protagonist who is a detective, why not make him a human. Doing so will help create some balance and differentiation at the same time between the human world and the supernatural one.
2. The depressed supernatural bad boy
This is a character that is bad to the bone, is supernatural, and has an intensely dark background. However, this does nothing to detract the heroine in the urban fantasy story from falling for him, in a way where she finds his deeply ingrained flaws attractive. In effect, the depressed supernatural bad boy is bad for the heroine’s health. But, she is attracted to his unkindness nonetheless. And in this relationship the heroine is the one who is the saviour of the bad boy.
Rather than adding to this stereotype, does such an individual really need to be included in your story, and if he does, please don’t give him dark hair!
3. Romance triangles
Also known as love triangles, these are prevalent across urban fantasy, as in many other genres too. What makes them frustrating is that you’ve seen them before, many, many times, not only in other books, but on TV and in the movies as well. Romance triangles can also make the heroine who is part of a couple with the first guy seem selfish, and make the third guy who usually comes onto the scene, interfering with the both of them, self-serving.
Romance triangles seem to be popular in urban fantasy series. They enable the plot to thicken and to continue moving the overall story forward in subsequent books. However, if you’re planning on writing an urban fantasy series, why not test your writing skills in creating sexual tension between only the hero and heroine over several books? And talking about several books leads us nicely onto the next urban fantasy cliché.
4. The Urban Fantasy Trilogy
Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings had a lot of influence in increasing the popularity of the trilogy, overall. And authors of many types of subsequent fiction, not just urban fantasy, decided to follow suit, so much so, that trilogies are all over the place. Trilogies are not bad in themselves. It’s just that by imitating the characters, plots and subplots of well-known ones like Star Wars makes them so.
This article brilliantly explains the traps you can get into as a writer when undertaking the writing of a trilogy.
5. The use of vampires and werewolves
If you’re considering writing a love tale involving a vampire, human and werewolf, you might want to think again. This alone could be enough to put off readers. What might make it worse even is if your characters are based upon Bella, Edward and Jacob from The Twilight.
And if you decide to use such a model, ensure the characters have captivating and unique backstories and character arcs.
6. The Chosen One
You know what I mean.
The Chosen One is also the special one that is different and superior to everyone around him, or her and arguably is always the protagonist in an urban fantasy book. This individual is the one who can save the universe from total destruction. The Chosen One can work, and if you decide to have such a character in your tale, give your protagonist a personality and real flaws, as opposed to someone who is perfect, and who doesn’t need to work to get the skills to undertake the ultimate rescue.
7. A female protagonist who thinks she’s ugly
With this urban fantasy cliché, you usually have a female protagonist who thinks she’s unattractive when actually she’s extremely pretty, and feels unworthy of anything good in life, and continues to carry on this way, despite other characters telling her the contrary, and having several good looking men with supernatural capabilities who are contesting for her attention and affection.
I mean, need I say more!
8. Shallow female protagonists
Opposite to the point above about a female protagonist believing she is not good looking when she actually is, is the type of individual who is vain, shallow and who takes no responsibility for her own actions, and has no hesitation for blaming everything outside of her for the troubles she might find herself in. Yes, in an urban fantasy book this type of character is extremely one-dimensional, and the lack of any personality or intelligence can make for a really uninspiring read for readers who may pick up your book.
9. Humans not being aware of the fantasy world
Here the entire fantasy world is kept hidden from the public. If you’re planning on doing this with your urban fantasy story, then here’s a question for you. “Why?” If you don’t have an answer, then are perhaps you’re just doing it because others have done so before you. When the public made up of humans is also aware of the fantasy sphere, it creates endless possibilities for the writing of an urban fantasy book that is interesting and imaginative. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling is a brilliant example of this well done.
10. Rejecting the supernatural
Related to the previous cliché, this one is all about the humans in an urban fantasy story refusing to accept that supernatural beings even exist. It is true that a human protagonist is going to find it hard to accept that another parallel and alternative world also exists. This is realistic as it goes against everything a protagonist knows and believes as real. However, think about the readers, of which you may also have been one. If all the evidence suggests that the paranormal is in existence, and the readers can see, hear and feel this, then a protagonist, who believes it is all in his or her head, just comes across as unrealistic.
11. Instant love between two individuals
Instant love between a guy and girl is another one of those urban fantasy clichés to avoid. This is where both individuals meet, have minimum interaction, and quickly fall head over heels for each other. If you’re a new urban fantasy author, you might be inclined to want this to happen between your protagonist and his/her supernatural love interest. However, many consider it to be cheesy, and remember that this type of instant love rarely symbolizes real interaction, and even if it did, you would miss out on the opportunity to create the building up of tension and interest between the two individuals over time, as they overcome challenges, which would make for a far better story.
12. Vampires who want to be human and not vampires
Specifically, this is about a male vampire in an urban fantasy book. The vampire, although bloodsucking and murderous, hates what he is, and he doesn’t want to kill, and is severely conflicted. Instead, he wants to a good, virtuous member of the human race.
You get the picture.
13. Damsel in distress
This is an old school stereotype that has also made its ways into urban fantasy. With this one, the female character is devoid of any ability to get herself out of her predicament and is dependent upon a supernatural guy to get her out of her mess. Not only is this boring, it is also sexist. Women are intelligent and can think for themselves, so why not write such a character, and reverse the stereotype completely around by making the supernatural guy as the one who needs to be saved from destruction, and give your female protagonist an opportunity to do so using her own merit.
14. Men who are hundreds of years old falling in love with younger women
An example of this one would be a werewolf or vampire who is hundreds of years old falling in love with a woman who is centuries younger than him. Readers will always question why this scenario is such in an urban fantasy book, unless you can use an imaginative way to explain why this happens to be. One explanation could be that the really old werewolf or vampire comes from a world where life spans were longer, and someone who is 200 years old and finds himself in New York falling for a 20 year old in 2017 is actually the same age as the 20 year old.
15. The inclusion of elves in the story
Elves, which are most common with high fantasy, have also made their way into other subgenres including urban fantasy. Indeed, some of you may consider elves to be a classic type of character, which is endearing, too. Having said this, if you’re planning on giving an elf a place in your story, and it has a backstory, which includes having an origin from a rich, historical ancestry, and whose race is now under threat of extinction, then it is a cliché.
So, what did you think of our 15 urban fantasy clichés to avoid? Do you agree that they need to left out of your urban fantasy stories? Or do you believe any are necessary? Are you an urban fantasy author who has used any of the above clichés in your stories and your readers loved the fact that you did?
Please tell us more and share your experiences in the comments box below!
Image credit: Pixabay
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://writingtipsoasis.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/hv1.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Hiten Vyas is the Founder and Managing Editor of Writing Tips Oasis.[/author_info] [/author]