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How much Magic in Urban Fantasy?
Posted: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:39 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

For national novel writing month this year, I'm working on an urban fantasy with werewolves. (I know, shhh, leave me alone, I'm having fun with it.)

How much magic do you feel is necessary in an urban fantasy? The first four chapters of this book mention werewolves, and some background about them, but the actual _magic_ doesn't start till later.

What do you all think? I'm very curious to find out.

The urban fantasy I have read and liked wasn't too heavy in magic, but there was just enough to know it was there, and the supernatural elements are always exposed fairly quickly -- at least mentioned or shown in the first chapter.

Timothy Maguire
Posted: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 12:35 AM
Joined: 8/13/2011
Posts: 272

Personally I'd say that the trick with magic is not to limit it or anything, but weave it into the city itself. With Urban Fantasy I almost always jump to the Dresden Files as my personal touchstone and the magic level in that's always quite high (one book begins with the immortal phrase: 'The building was on fire and, for once, it wasn't my fault', which pretty much demonstrates the level of destruction that occurs during the stories). However, one of the central elements of the books has always been the weaving of the magical into the city itself. Whether it's fairies garbed in bottle-top armor or monsters living in the undercity, the entire point is to bring the unfamiliar into the familiar. A regular piece of plot-device is the books is the building of a seeking spell, using something of the owner's to find them. These spells often make use of everyday objects to work, adding a touch of mundane to the magical.

I'm writing my own urban fantasy at the moment (yes, I will upload it. After it's had a long, long conversation with Mr Edity Stick) and the magic in it's quite heavy duty. I've already had teleportation, psychometry, illusions and body modification with more on the way. The trick is that it's all sidereal to our mundane universe, so relatively invisible to the average person. That's the other important thing. More than any other genre I can really think of (excepting horror), urban fantasy generally has its magic happening in the shadows, away from the eyes of the ordinary person. I know this isn't a hard and fast rule, but a central theme is the fighting in the shadows, maintaining the everyday peace.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that your magic should be as powerful as you like, but it should also be subtle. It needs to be a part of the urban landscape, not apart from it. Try for spells that make room for electrical wires, sewer pipelines and rats. Imagine monsters that have adapted to the urban environment much like pigeons and foxes. Create new schools of magic that run on wi-fi networks and concrete.
Posted: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 1:28 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

That is interesting, Timothy. The urban stuff I tend to like, the magic is underground, where the 'normal humans' aren't aware it is going on, but the special beasties are aware... and there are even people who try to control just how much real magic seeps out in the world. So I definitely fully agree with you there.

I'm definitely going to have to play with this. I'm a limits girl, though... I don't mind super powerful magic, it just needs to have prices and consequences to roll with me. For the most part, I think we're generally on the same line of thought. I don't have a lot of bang, boom magic yet (though my magic-kin don't use a lot of public transportation if they can avoid it!)

Must.. chew.. more on this. Thanks for the response!
Carl Rayer
Posted: Friday, November 11, 2011 5:13 PM
Joined: 5/20/2011
Posts: 6

I think the real point about magic is why it needs to be in the story, is it decoration or thematic? You have were-wolves therefore you already have one sort of magic.

Is the magic of the type that defines a parallel world that ordinary people are unaware of, such as the world of Buffy, or of Harry Potter. Or is it new magic, that is appearing for the first time, intruding into our world like the crystals in JG Ballard's novel? Or is this simply another world, where what we consider magic is commonplace, and it's used in a way that's ordinary for its inhabitants (here I'm thinking of the different talents of wizards in Earthsea), much in the way that we can be impressed by someone who can speak several foreign languages, impressed but not amazed.

I think the idea of the hidden magical world of Harry Potter, at least on the scale in which it exists, seems more comical than plausible, and I suspect the reader will be alerted to the convention - and it won't seem as fresh.

But in each of the above cases, I think the magic should be present from the start - unless the point of the story is to see whether a spell can be cast, in which scenario I expect I would advise the exact opposite!