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5 Tips for Writing Urban Fantasy Fiction

Bestselling author Steve McHugh shares five tips for writing urban fantasy fiction that have helped him through the drafting process and to the fully finished novel.

Urban fantasy is one of those genres that encompasses a huge number of subgenres and offshoots, and it’s sometimes difficult to get a handle on what to focus on when writing it. Everyone is different, and every book will have its own flavor, setting, and even world.

(Steve McHugh: On the Joys of Writing Villainous Characters)

But here are some things I’ve learned over time, writing books set in two quite different urban fantasy universes.

1. Stick to the Rules of the World You’ve Created

It sounds simple, but sometimes when writing, characters don’t always do what you want them to do, and they want to break the rules. Breaking the rules of the world you’ve created is bad.

If you’ve set out the idea that people can’t fly in book 1, but by book 3 you’ve changed your mind, you’d better have a really good reason to explain why that’s changed. Whatever the rules you choose for the world you’re creating—even if that world is built on the bones of our world—stick to them, or have good creative reasons why they’ve changed.

2. Research the Details of Your Story

I mean, this is true for every book ever written, but if you’re setting your book in London or New York, or anywhere for that matter, you need to make sure that the setting sounds authentic. Research the city, the history, and the people. If you’re writing books with police procedure, research that procedure, even if it changes your world. It helps create an immersive setting and believable characters.

If you get it wrong, I can guarantee that someone will pick up on it. No, you won’t get everything right about every topic, but limit what you can get wrong by researching. Also, researching is fun and can lead to a bit of a rabbit hole of new topics, creating new ideas for future books.

5 Tips for Writing Urban Fantasy Fiction

3. Watch Movies and Anime for Magic and Action Scenes

I practically grew up watching Hong Kong action films and anime. Both are wonderful for giving creative uses for fight scenes and using the environment in action, but anime especially will help with ideas about how to incorporate your magical system into any action scenes.

“Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood,” “Naruto,” Ninja Scroll, and Studio Ghibli films all have magical systems and characters. While they might not mash up with whatever magical system you have in place, I find them brilliant for sparking something in my imagination. And anything that can do that is worth your time.

4. Merge Fantasy With Reality

In urban fantasy, the world you’ve created is usually laid on top of, or attached to, our world in some way. Beings with fantastical powers and lives live alongside humans—sometimes knowingly, sometimes in secret.

5 Tips for Writing Urban Fantasy Fiction

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Being able to write about crimes and investigations while adding magical and fantastical elements to them is great fun. But being able to write about mundane stuff and add those same elements no matter how small they might seem makes the world feel lived in.

5. Write the Story

This is sort of a cheat entry, but it’s also the most important one. The world-building, the research, the characters, all of it is important. You can’t have an interesting book without interesting characters, or a world people want to read about, but you also can’t have a book anyone wants to read if you’re not writing it.

There’s an old saying that you should write every day, and frankly, it’s nonsense. Life doesn’t work that way, and people shouldn’t feel guilty for not writing for a few days. If you want people to actually read your work, you will at some point have to write something. Books don’t write themselves. And while world-building and research are important, and a lot of fun, you’re doing it for a reason.

So, when you have a story, and you have characters, and you have a world, write it. Writing is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, and I can’t recommend it enough.

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