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5 Gold Nuggets

August 30, 2010

The topic this week is “Five things you wish you would see more of in the genre you write in.”

Let me just say, whoever’s idea this was is awesome. I write Urban Fantasy. I read Urban Fantasy. I breathe it. And I swear sometimes I live it too. Er … don’t ask.

Urban Fantasy is quite controversial these days. It’s currently the number one subgenera of Fantasy and is so huge, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was promoted to its own genera anytime soon.

If you write UF, you’ve most likely noticed the conflicting advice from agents and publishers. For example, are vampires still in? The entire world seems to be split right down the middle when it comes to pro or con vampire characters. FYI I happen to know a number of agents that said “Yes, we still take vampires, but please, no more angels!” When I saw this, I was like “What? How did angels come up?”

Anyway, as an avid reader/writer of the genera, I’m very excited to present what I think Urban Fantasy needs more of (in no specific order):

1. Male main characters. While I have absolutely nothing against female main characters, it would be nice to get a guy’s perspective once in a while. I know the majority of UF readers are female, but come on. Men can make good mc’s too. They can be emotional and fall in love. They can grow into a hero. Actually, I rather prefer male mc’s because men have a very real and witty sense of humor. They’re often stubborn and take a while to change for the better. When they fall in love, they fall hard and become super protective of their loved ones. Aren’t those the perfect features for an exciting main character? I think so.

2. Kick-ass female leads. I am sick and tired of all the “Bella’s” out there. All the whiny, delicate, damsels in distress that you can take out of the story and the novel would be that much better for it. I hate it when a female main character says anything along the lines of “please don’t fight for me, you might get hurt. I’m not worth it.” UGH. I have no problem with the girl starting out weak – but she had better develop into a toughie by the end of the book/series. For once I would like to see a female mc say “I’m going to kick some serious butt with you.”

3. Uniqueness. I don’t care if your novel is about vampires or werewolves (or angels! Haha). But it had better be unlike anything else I’ve already read. I do not want to see a vampire version of Harry Potter or an angel/demon version of Twilight. I want something entirely new.

4. Following the actual definition of the genera. I’m not quite sure when everyone started confusing Urban Fantasy with Paranormal Romance and Horror. The three genres are completely different form each other. In case you’re wondering:

  • Paranormal Romance = Romance with one or more paranormal main character (think Twilight or The Black Dagger Brotherhood.)
  • Horror = Monsters trying to kill you (not love you).
  • Urban Fantasy = When the main plot is centered on the troubles of living in an urban society (crime, pollution, racism, etc) and contains fantasy elements such as magic or creatures of myth (such as the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris).

Do any of these definitions reflect the current market trends? Nope. Can one mix romance and horror into an Urban Fantasy? Absolutely. But it would be nice to see a successful UF that is true to the original definition of the genera once in a while.

5. Plot. This ties in with #3 a little bit, but is more specific. I noticed that most UF is very character driven, and that’s fine. Heck, I’ll be the first to admit that I am very character driven myself. But I often feel like too many UF novels lack enough plot depth. I seriously believe that if an author took a little more time to develop the plot arc of an urban fantasy, it would push the genera from “short commercial fiction” into a more classic, more successful, well-written piece that will out-live the current fads. For sure, it would set the author apart from the countless cookie-cutter pieces out there.

6. Word Count. Okay, so the title of the post says FIVE, but I just had to touch on this. Before I begin my rant about word count, though, let me warn you: Do Not take this one to heart. Word count is extremely important, and I’ve had to learn that the hard way (imagine a rejection letter that says “we were truly excited about your manuscript and wanted to sign you, but we decided not to because your word count is too high. Yup).

However, I’m often disappointed by the low average word count in Urban Fantasy, and I say this strictly as a reader. Why can’t there be long drawn out plots in the genera I love? Why can’t there be Epic Urban Fantasy? After all, UF is a subgenera of Fantasy; a genera that is often written in ‘epic proportions’.

My love for a longer story actually extends to all genres, as it seems that agents, publishers, and the general market is set on forcing writers to write shorter stories with shorter chapters. Long, drawn out descriptions, character background, novels spanning the life of the main character, are all things of the past that somehow died in the 90’s and I think it’s a shame. I remember reading paperbacks that were a few inches think in my childhood. Now most fiction – short of literary fiction –  comes to a stretching halt at a mere 300 pages. Tsk tsk.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the necessity of mastering the craft. Knowing how to write concise sentences, grab the reader with compelling action, and submerge them in tightly woven subplot is very important. But what about the art and delight of getting lost in a story that makes you use your brain? I feel it is lost, replaced by books written for a society that doesn’t really like to read.

Sorry for ending this on a depressing note. When I’m published and a tad more popular, I will have to write an ‘Epic Urban Fantasy’ for you all. *Wink*

What about other readers out there? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have something you’d like to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. I’m sure there is no shortage of opinions.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2010 6:36 pm

    Hello, J.D. Thank you for posting, and once again for blazing the trail for some of us who follow! 😉
    When you do write that epic Urban Fantasy, we will gladly stand in line for a couple of hours with our $30 dollar hardcover, eagerly awaiting our 10 seconds with you at the signing table. Actually, I take that back. I want it signed at the after party!!
    I’m with you on Uniqueness and Genre. I get bored with the same story over and over again. Hopefully when we have all made it, we will remember not to use any safe formulas. The genre thing is pretty crazy. When I started blogging I had to really think about what the folks were claiming that they were writing/reading. For me, attempting to locate readers who might be interested in my novel hasn’t been easy. Some claim that they like horror, but actually only like vampires if they are kissing. Ripping and tearing into people-not so much!

    • August 30, 2010 11:46 pm

      Heck yeah, you are all invited to my future after party. 😉

      I truly look forward to the day when I’m popular enough to break the rules and write anything I want – so I can write something GOOD, regardless of the market. Muahahahaha!

  2. August 30, 2010 9:24 pm

    J.D., I…uhm, blushed at the description of paranormal romance.

    But, seriously, I liked your blog. To the point. What is the literary world coming to when we cater to the masses who want the equivalent of a 30-second sound bite? I thought reading was a way to escape the rat race?

    Hopefully, agents will heed your words and then I’ll be able to read a nice long UF from you while trying not to blush.

    • August 30, 2010 11:51 pm

      Thanks Gregory. Reading is an escape for me. Always has been, always will be.

  3. August 31, 2010 12:15 am

    Great post. I’m with you on the epic but that’s because before I considered reading urban fantasy, I was an epic/high fantasy reader. That was my favorite genre to read in high school. I like long but I’d also like to read a few single novels instead of series. It’s hard when I’m trying to experience many different writers when everything is a series. I love a good series but could definitely use some single titles for my reading pleasure.

    • August 31, 2010 8:34 pm

      Thanks Dawn. I love series, but you’re right. A few good single titles would be a nice balance in the this genera.

  4. August 31, 2010 9:36 am

    I had similar comment when trying to find a publisher for my fantasy saga. I was told that it would need to around 140k word to be acceptable. Then I went out and bought Raymond Feist ‘Into a Dark Realm’ and was ultimately sorry that I had. Why? Well the story was good, the character were good, the setting was, even his love of clothes was good… What was wrong was that it was no more than a hardback novella. The story took a while to get going… they made it into the dark realm then it ended and I had to wait for the next instalment of what was clearly the intro to a full length book.

    I never did go back and get the rest.

    I believe that a story should be as long as it takes to tell. A friend of mine wrote a book called ‘The Dark Rose’ a historical romance around the slave trade, I don’t do historical or romance but this is a book worth reading. Why? No one told him about length requirements for the genre so he wrote a long story then carved it into 140k masterpiece, you can even pick up on the authors Welshness. So I say, write the whole story, go the distance in give us the Rumble in the Jungle or the Thriller in Manilla. Give us detail, character with lives that are living not just standing there waiting to be killed / loved / eaten or whatever.

    Write it and damn them all!

    PS do I get a free copy now?

    • August 31, 2010 8:19 pm

      Hey Mathew. I’m glad people are agreeing with me on the word count topic, I worried I would be alone in that viewpoint. The reason it irritates me is that even though my manuscript is better off with the “extra stuff” cut out – it wasn’t terrible in it’s original 125k word form either. FYI: The average word count for urban fantasy is 75k – 85k words. Maybe if enough of us ban together, we can change the trend back to the days of Moby Dick and Little Women-sized novels. 🙂

      Thanks for your input.

  5. August 31, 2010 1:59 pm

    Hey JD,

    I agree with you on some points–particularly about the male MCs (I recommend Rob Thurman’s Cal Leandros books. One of my absolute favorite series.).

    I honestly haven’t heard a single agent who has said that vampires are still in–feel free to point me to them, since I obviously haven’t found them yet–and angels *are* at the 50/50 point. There are a lot of good angel books (Meljean Brook’s Guardian series, for example).

    As far as word count goes: Part of the reason why agents and publishers want lower word count is mostly financial. The longer a book is, the more money it takes to publish it–and the more money it will cost for readers to buy it, which means that less people will spend the money on it unless it is part of an established series or from a well-loved author. Also, readers are more likely to read a shorter book based on time constraints–people are generally too busy to read a 1000 page book.

    I also highly recommend Karen Marie Moning’s FEVER series for a female character that goes from weak to bloodthirsty. 😉


    • August 31, 2010 8:28 pm

      Mires, thanks so much for the book recommendations. I’ve written them down on my Borders shopping list. I went ahead and boldly asked a few agents/interns about vampires on Twitter and I swear that was their answer. Then again, I mostly follow agents who rep urban fantasy so maybe they are bias on the whole vampire thing? I don’t know. Also, I’m not bashing angel books – no way. I love all the paranormal beings equally. 😉 I’m just repeating what they said. Also, if you follow the hashtag #queries or #queryslam, I’ve noticed it mentioned in there as well. A lot of comments like “Grr … more angles”. Really, I don’t know what they have against them, but I’m assuming it’s more due to a lack of uniqueness and not just plain hatred for the things.

  6. August 31, 2010 5:27 pm

    Hi J.D… I must say, it’s an education reading your posts! I always have wondered what UF is all about!

    I’m definitely with you on the “Uniqueness” and “Plot” aspects; though not writing to a genre myself, I’ll keep quiet on genre-hopping. As for wordcount (and who’s counting! 5? 6? ), I’m with Mathew, a story should be as long as it is necessary to tell it! If it is long and deserves to be long, then fair enough. However, there do seem to be some large books that are well padded with unecessary detail.

    And many thanks for the invite to your after party! Is that the one scheduled after the writing cruise around the Greek Islands? …I do love a good party! 🙂

    • August 31, 2010 8:49 pm

      Absolutely, cruse ship around the Greek Islands! :))

      Like I told Mathew, I’m shocked you guys agree with the word count deal. I thought everyone would argue and throw food at me. The reality is, though, if you’re a first time author, you have to stick to the word count for your genre. Unless, of course, your plans do not include publishing what you’ve written.

      Thanks for commenting, I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  7. September 1, 2010 12:28 pm

    Okay, JD, glad you made your disclaimer about angels. I am going to stick my neck out and say no one writes angels the way I do, but then, writers should feel that way about their work and their stories. I try to read everything I can to see how people handle things, and IMHO they shy away from the obvious: Heaven vs. Hell thing. I’ve heard agents and editors say, “Oh no. We can’t have that!” Well then, I guess there is some other reason the Bible is still one of the best sellers of all time…

    Another peeve of mine is we have to have Angels vs. Demons. I like Dark Angels better, and Heaven vs. the Underworld, the largest town being Undertown, where they swill Red-X and Sexual Apricot, and there’s an absence of organization, unlike Heaven with all its rules, and safety.

    I think your point about writing that great book, regardless of the rules, is what I am taking away from this blog (and sorry I didn’t post earlier-been busy with some edits). That excites the heck out of me. I want those characters who give me withdrawals, in any genre. I’m thinking JR Ward here.

    And yeah, I don’t want to pack a dictionary when I’m reading on that Greek Island cruise, on my way to your After Party.

    • September 3, 2010 11:41 am

      Sharon, you’re awesome. Kudos for defending your work. Don’t let my angel comments get to you. I know how it feels, really. People tell me every day that I shouldn’t write about vampires because of the Twilight craze. Well you know what? No one writes vampires like I do! And as soon as I can manage to write an outstanding query letter, the world is going to find that out. (Yeah, I have too much confidence and determination).

      I’m not sure what genre you write in (Christian Lit? Paranormal Romance?) But in UF I do see some Angels vs Demons and Heaven vs Hell plots. And there is always at least one human caught in the middle of it.

      Just remember that above all else, if your book is truly unique and well written, they’ll take it. Even if you villain is an angel and you mc is a vampire. Yeah. 🙂

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