Urban Fantasy with Harry and Harry

Today I asked myself, “Rebecca, do you want to be productive?  Or do you want to draw ridiculous cartoons and then put them up on your blog?”  And myself replied, “How did you get this number?  I told you never to call me again.”  So I took that as a sign to do the cartoons and blogging thing.  But there will be a point to it, too.  Maybe.  This post is going to lead up to that writing sample I promised you guys, so you can expect another update very soon after this one.

But first!  I drew Hamlet.  I just saw Michael Sheen play Hamlet at the Young Vic theatre here in London, and it was awesome, in case you were wondering why I drew this.

Right, so that’s done.  Now the current novel I’m working on is called Grotesque, and it is just my luck that I came up with the idea for it just as NaNoWriMo was coming to a close.  But I’m not bitter.  Even though I wrote 25,000 words in a single weekend, and could have easily reached the 50,000 word goal if I’d had the idea sooner, I’m really okay.

Anyway, Grotesque is a fantasy, even though my forte is really Urban Fantasy.  Now I realize that many people don’t actually know what Urban Fantasy is, so I have illustrated definitions for you.

Urban Fantasy is when you take the real world – cars, iPhones, email, hobos – and insert some element of Fantasy into it, like magic or super powers.  Observe:

A good example of this is Harry Potter.  It’s the real world, but there are people who can do magic.  Another example is The Dresden Files.  If you have not encountered this series yet, you haven’t lived, in my professional opinion.  Jim Butcher is a genius.  Honestly.  His writing flows in a way that I rarely see, even from authors that I truly love.  He is also so funny that it should be illegal.  His main character, Harry Dresden (Now the title of this post is starting to make sense, yes?), is sarcastic, witty, and lovable.  Here’s a picture I drew to illustrate all these qualities:

The skull’s name is Bob.  No I am not kidding.  I will say that reading The Dresden Files is kind of like being in a boxing match, only your hands are tied behind your back and your opponent (That would be the book, in this analogy) gets to wail on you for as long as he wants.  It really is a very rapid-fire, out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire type deal.  But it’s worth every bruise, metaphorically speaking.  I’ve got more to say on Harry Potter, the character, but first I want to finish up my definitions.

Fantasy is when you create an entirely new world from scratch, and that world involves things like magic, fairies, elves, and/or wizards.  Think Lord of the Rings.  Also keep in mind that these are the simplest definitions I can come up with, and that you should probably go to some form of dictionary if you want a more complex explanation.  Here’s Fantasy (Yes, I’m aware I look like a sarcastic Powerpuff Girl):

So Grotesque is a Fantasy, and I’m going to tell you, Fantasy is both a blessing and a curse.  Here’s why it’s a blessing: If you’re making up your own world from scratch, then you get to make up the rules as you go along.  The only boundaries that constrain your writing are the ones that you set up, and you can mold and change them as you see fit.

Here’s the curse: Creating everything from scratch means that everything, absolutely everything must be explained.  And you leave yourself vulnerable to criticism and plot holes if you forget to explain something.  It’s not like Urban Fantasy, because people are already familiar with the real world, so all you have to explain is whatever fantastical element you’ve added.  In Fantasy, the existence of magic brings up all sorts of questions that you have to answer.  For example, you might have a magical farming community.  And then you have to address the question of why they bother to grow food if they’re magic.  Can’t they just pull food out of thin air?  Or at the very least plant, harvest, etc. using magic?  Those are things you have to think about.  But then you run into another problem: Everything needs explaining, but nobody wants to read a book that is 50% exposition, where the story is constantly being interrupted by paragraphs of explanation.  This leads nicely into what I wanted to talk about with Harry Potter.

I’ve noticed that there is a very convenient way to get around this explanation problem if you introduce a certain type of character into your writing.  I call this character the Neophyte, with a capital N.  Harry Potter is my favorite example of the Neophyte.  See, if you have a book in which every character already knows the rules of their world, then the reader is left out.  He/She either has to figure out the rules for themselves, or they’re just plain left in the dark.  Letting the reader figure things out, by the way, is not a bad option, if you do it right.  Also here’s a simile: The aforementioned divide between characters and reader is like having all the characters in a big, fancy yacht while the reader is in a little dinghy that’s attached to the back of the yacht by a rope.  But what happens if you put a character into that dinghy with the reader?  Then, suddenly, your reader isn’t alone.  They have someone to help them row and catch up to the yacht so they can get on board and party with everyone else.  Okay, enough of this simile.  What I’m saying is, that’s exactly what Harry Potter does.  Because he’s new to the wizarding world, he has to have everything explained to him, which means that the reader is informed vicariously through him.  It has the added bonus of inserting explanation without having to stop the story.

In Grotesque, my main character is, well…a grotesque.  You know, those scary statues that were put on churches and castles and stuff to fend off evil spirits and peasants?  Right.  The book begins with the grotesque – Serrafiel – being brought to life.  So one minute he’s a statue, and the next, he’s a living, breathing…monstrosity.  Serrafiel is the ultimate Neophyte, because literally everything, right down to breathing and speaking, is new to him.  Which is why I chose to narrate the book from the first person, in the present tense.  Because then the reader gets to see everything through his eyes, exactly as it’s happening.  And it becomes kind of a fun adventure for the reader as he/she tries to figure out what’s going on alongside Serrafiel.  Also, a big shout-out to my friend, Noris, for giving me the name Serrafiel.  In Spanish it would mean something like, “He will be loyal.”  Very poignant.

So now that that super duper long post is out of the way, you can look forward to seeing the first chapter of Grotesque, coming soon to a computer near you.

Word of the Day: Neophyte (n) – a beginner or novice.

P.S. You get extra points if you got the Legend of Zelda reference.

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2 Comments

Filed under books, writing

2 responses to “Urban Fantasy with Harry and Harry

  1. Even though i might have to explain this whole new world, im enjoying every second of it 🙂

  2. It’s a shame more people didn’t comment. I love the title, Grotesque. It makes me want to discover who is Grotesque, and why. I bet you’ve got a character who likes to be snarky. Speaking of commenting, why do you suppose so many people “like” a post but don’t comment? The best way to get someone else to check out your blog is to interact with them, not throw eight million “likes” around. That always irritates me. Oh well, I’m a quality over quantity kind of guy, and I love the quality I’ve discovered here. See, I’m reading my blog homework!

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