What is Urban Fantasy?

July 28, 2008 at 7:56 am (General) (, , , , , , , , )

The Vampire...In My Dreams
The Vampire…In My Dreams

I’ve seen this question asked a lot lately. Everyone from agents to editors to authors are coming out with their own versions. And I’ve been asked this a lot by students and others. So this is my version:

When I first started writing vampires, the tag urban fantasy didn’t exist, so I used “paranormal.” But paranormal to me, is really ghosts, psychics, that kind of otherworldly phenomenon. And it can be in present day, or the past, as long as it’s not fantasy. Fantasy, anything goes, because it’s fantasy and exists in a world that is not our own.

So what is urban fantasy? To me, it is mythical, fantastical creatures living in our contemporary times. Have a demon romance? It’s urban fantasy. It can be urban fantasy horror, or urban fantasy romance. But it’s urban fantasy. The fantastical element in modern times.

Think of the hero, werewolf extraordinaire, working on his computer. It’s urban fantasy. He can be sitting in the country estate, or living in the city. But it’s still urban fantasy.

Think of the gargoyle that protects your apartment complex at night, and talks to the heroine during the day. Urban Fantasy.

Now, what is being said–urban fantasy is first person. Why?  I’ve read tons of third person POV urban fantasy werewolf stories, for one. And they were urban fantasies by virtue of the fact werewolves live among us. Whether they’re in the closet or have come out, it doesn’t matter. It’s a fantasy world within the normal structure of our world.Heart of the Wolf

 Some say that urban fantasies are not romances. Why? Are paranormals not romances? Some are, some aren’t. Some historical fictions have romances and some don’t. I know, because I review them and ask for only the ones that have romances. So sometimes we try to limit ourselves into some narrow defined category because some write like this and all of a sudden we’re all supposed to write that to fit the category, and again I ask why?

My werewolves, as well as many others, are sexy. They are romances. They are third person, and they are urban fantasy. They’re not fantasy, which would be set in a different world. They are not paranormal, dealing with psychic or ghostly entities. They are urban fantasies.

Why get hung up on a tag? Because people who are writing them want to define this for query letters to agents and editors. And also because readers and devout fans of urban fantasies need to see the tags. Some readers might not like hot, sexy urban fantasies. That’s okay. They can read the reviews and see if it’s something they want to read. Some want hot, sexy reads. The same thing.

So what is urban fantasy? Mythical creatures living in present day society, whether they’re vampires, werewolves, mermaids, gargoyles, other shapeshifters, fairies, pixiex, ghouls, or other kinds of creatures that we normally don’t see joining the exercise clubs or dancing in our dance clubs–that’s urban fantasy, 3rd person point of view, 1st person point of view, romance, no romance, doesn’t matter.

So what is your take on urban fantasy? 

Terry Spear

Heart of the Wolf, Don’t Cry Wolf

The Vampire…In My Dreams, coming Aug 26 to bookstores!

Deadly Liaisons, coming November! (vampire adult romantic suspense–urban fantasy 🙂 )




  1. Jackie (Literary Escapism) said,

    Great Definition! I love it. It’s so true too. How often are we looking for something out of the ordinary that we can insert into our everyday lives.

  2. terryspear said,

    Thanks, Jackie! I so agree!! A fan wrote to me that she got a kick out of my werewolves because they were checking Internet messages. 🙂 I just finished writing an urban fantasy that had a couple of mythological creatures in the tale and asked my mother what she thought. I love her. 🙂 She loves Dracula and fantasy stories, when most women her age would shake their heads.

    But she was worried–“I guess they’re looking for fantasy, right?”

    “Yes, urban fantasy,” I assured her. “You know, werewolves, shapeshifters, vampires, the good stuff.” 🙂

    “But,” she continued, “do they go for two kinds of mythical creatures in the SAME story?”

    “Oh, yes,” I assured her. “Some big time authors have everything including the kitchen sink in theirs. This one only has two different kinds of creatures.” 🙂

    I don’t think I reassured her much. If it sells, then that will work.

    So I’m off to write another. Have no idea where I’m going with it, or what kind of urban fantasy it will be, who the hero is or even who the heroine is, but right now…she’s about to get into trouble, and that’s the name of the game!

    Thanks again, Jackie. Urban Fantasy is just fun. 🙂

  3. A Werewolf and his computer… | Literary Escapism said,

    […] I don’t think anyone has actually come up with a universal recognized definition, but I think Terry Spear has a definition that I can totally see. To me, it is mythical, fantastical creatures living in our contemporary […]

  4. terryspear said,

    Thanks, Werewolf!!! From the computer of one who should truly know. 🙂

  5. Matt’s Bookosphere 7/28/08 « Enter the Octopus said,

    […] What is Urban Fantasy, and how is it different from “paranormal” and “romance?&#82… […]

  6. Savanna Kougar said,

    Hi Terry, I agree with your definition. For one thing, it makes perfect sense to me. Like you said, what does it matter if its written in first or third person. Or if there’s romance and happily ever after, or not.
    I didn’t think of it as an urban fantasy when I wrote it, but the story is current day and the heroine is a black cat shifter, and the hero has his own ‘powers’. Yet they live and move among us so-called normal people.

  7. terryspear said,

    Hi Savanna! I so agree. Another comment that was made was about the lightness/darkness of urban fantasies. I can’t remember which way it went, but again, that’s at the discretion of the writer. Some are lighter, some are darker. 🙂

  8. Shira Lipkin said,

    It really doesn’t have to be mythical creatures – it’s any sort of magic in our everyday world. You can have decidedly weird stuff happening to humans, too…

  9. terryspear said,

    Interesting point, Shira. Can you elaborate?

  10. E. Sedia said,

    Actually, the term Urban Fantasy has been in use since 1980, with writers such as Emma Bull and Charles De Lint pioneering the genre. Later it expanded to include any urban settings (as long as they are industrial), and even imaginary worlds (China Mieville, for example, is often lumped with urban fantasy school, since he does write excellent although imaginary urban settings.) That is to say, urban fantasy has a long history on the SF/F side of things before it met paranormal branch and became more about creatures (and often, romance) than about just magic and other traditional fantasy trappings. I find it somewhat puzzling that the current definition seems to include primary werewolves/vampires, and leave behind a much more varied tradition.

  11. sapphicscribe said,

    Hey, I agree! I am writing a novel, but when I realised that it was set in modern day and had more than one ‘creature’ in it, I decided to term it Urban Fantasy, purely because it fitted into a specific genre and it will be easier to market. It is written in third person and yes, there is romance! So, guilty as charged! Like the blog! Saffy. x

  12. Defining Urban Fantasy « The Quad Pod 5 said,

    […] Neil Gaiman, Laurel K Hamilton, Tanya Huff, Charles de Lint, and Terri Windling. I also thought this post was a pretty good discussion of the label. And if you really want to get into it, apparently Urban […]

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