June 29, 2013 by Kira Lyn Blue
Welcome to the third part of our series on how to prevent your Urban Fantasy books from being stale and moldy. We’ve already discussed Setting and Systems of Magic, and today we’re taking on the denizens of your cosmology.
The Supernatural Beings of Your Urban Fantasy
We’re not talking specific characters yet (that will be a separate post), we’re talking the races and types of supernatural critters or sentient beings we use in our cosmology. This piece of the puzzle is the trickiest one to tweak in my opinion and must be approached with caution. Still, there are ways to make your conglomeration of supernatural beings unique.
1. Draw from mythology and folklore: Isn’t that what every other UF writer is doing? Yes, but the degree to which each writer manipulates the mythology varies. Some writers take the idea of a supernatural race or being and then build their entire cosmology around it with minimal influence from actual mythology or folklore. Nothing wrong with that, but adding in tidbits that link to known history and mythology can hook your reader in deeper. For me, seeing these sort of links in a book is like a fun little zing of understanding and comprehension. It ties the book to the “real world” and adds a bit of legitimacy to fantastical concepts. The more heavily an author links to folklore and mythology, the greater credibility they appear to have. Which is valuable, because it helps the reader to suspend disbelief at fantastical concepts.
The drawback here is that this requires a fair amount of research and maybe even more careful plotting. There’s also the risk that someone else has already used the same mythological concepts and links in very similar ways.
2. Make your own monsters: I’ve seen plenty of readers complaining that they’re tired of the usual fare of supernatural beings. Vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, and Fae have all been done to death, they say. So, could you create entirely new supernatural beings to use in your writing? There’s potential in this area, but again, I think it’s tricky.
The reason the usual supernatural suspects are so popular is that they tap into the collective consciousness and understanding of supernatural concepts. They’re familiar and readers have an idea of what they’re going to get when they pick up a book on vampires. If you give them a supernatural race they’ve never heard of before, you may lose their interest before they even get past the summary on Amazon. It might just be too foreign for them to risk when there are so many other options to choose from. In other words, it’s a gamble. This isn’t a route I’d encourage anyone to take just to make their book stand out, only if your unique supernatural being is the point of the book. Otherwise, you might have more luck modifying existing supernatural races to your own cosmology.
3. Twist the traditional: This is probably the riskiest maneuver in the bunch. What I mean here is using one or more of the traditional supernatural races, but giving them your own twist by changing up some part of the lore. While it has potential to make your books stand out, it may not be in the way you want.
Case in point: Sparkly Vampires.
I’ve seen all sorts of twists on traditional vampire mythology: they’re hybrids of humans and aliens that landed on Earth milennia ago, they’re the descendants of Atlanteans: humans with nanomachines in their bloodstream that heal their bodies, they’re demons, they’re a race of Fae, and so on. The first two were the hardest for me to get past because they undermined the whole concept of cursed creature of the night. The further you go from the accepted understanding of a traditional race, the harder it will be for your readers to suspend disbelief and the more likely you are to get backlash.
Then again, the authors of all of the series I’ve mentioned above are bestsellers. So, take that into consideration. Again, it’s a gamble. Some readers will love you for subverting tradition and others will deride you. So, if you come up with a twist on the traditional you love and it works into your story, go for it!