The lines between genres perplex and vex many writers. Often, the rules and conventions seem blurred. Questions can lead to more queries, without the benefit of concrete answers. Urban fantasy, as a relative newcomer on the genre scene, is no stranger to this controversy.
While The Night Stalker television series and movie are often credited as being early examples of the genre, the term urban fantasy only became a popular way to describe a style of fiction in the 1980’s and 90’s. Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, and Jim Butcher are all lauded by experts as some of the preeminent voices in the genre.
But, what are we to divine about the genre, based on its history? When is urban fantasy…urban fantasy?
In recent times, we have seen the rise of paranormal fantasy alongside urban fantasy. In many respects, the two genres share myriad similarities. So, then, if they are so alike, how are they different? Some have said that the fundamental difference is a relatively simple one: magic. The thinking here is that urban fantasy will contain magic, whereas a paranormal book will not. I do not necessarily subscribe to this view, but offer it as part of a broader discussion on the topic.
Where to draw the line?
Where to draw the line at what is considered magic is yet another debate with particular relevance for fans of urban fantasy. Some might consider abilities like telepathy to be magical, given their current dubious scientific state. Others take a more strict approach and require invocations and incantations, some sort of rite or ritual, for an affirmative adjudication.
Both urban fantasy and paranormal usually present stories that are firmly rooted in the present. They both employ speculative elements, often werewolves, vampires, and wizards, that form fundamental parts of the plot and setting.
While the “rules,” of fiction are fluid and situational, it is wise for writers to take the time to probe genres and learn their conventions. Because readers will come to expect it.