I’ve been thinking a lot about plots, tropes, and how to explain what Urban Fantasy IS to people, and I decided it might be fun to play a little “choose your own UF adventure game.”
There are points involved, so do your best.
Step 1. You need to pick a modern city. It should be a large urban city, and/or a city with a mystique about it. No, you can’t just make up a city – that’s leaning hard into Fantasy (capital F), not Urban Fantasy which is always in a modern (urban) setting.
As long as you didn’t pick New Orleans, New York, or San Francisco you get 5 points. Yay you! (There are other cities out there, you know. I’ll wait while you pick another one…)
Step 2. You probably already know that UF needs to have magic in it. So, you’ll pick a way in which your city relates to magic. Here are your choices:
- Magic is hidden, normal people don’t know about it
- Magic was gone, but now it’s back and causing problems
- Magic caused, or is happening because of, an alternate history of the world
No points for that one, because they’re all good choices. Now, on to the choose your own adventure part
IF you picked option 1: (Magic is hidden, normal people don’t know about it)
- Will your Main Character KNOW about magic? (Pick a number between 1 and 4 and Go To Section A)
- Will your Main Character NOT KNOW about magic? (Pick a number between 1 and 3 and Go To Section B)
IF you picked option 2: (Magic was gone, but now it’s back and causing problems). Pick a number between 1 and 4 and Go To Section A
IF you picked option 3: (Magic caused, or is happening because of, an alternate history of the world) Go To Section C
Section A – Your Main Character’s Magical Power is:
|1. So unique and special no one else in the whole world can do it|
|2. Not very impressive, really, it creates more problems than not|
|3. Refusing to manifest/ unpredictable|
|4. Constantly changing, it’s a power that can do anything that is needed, whenever it is needed.|
If you picked #4, shame on you – MINUS FOUR POINTS – pick a new number between 1-3 and try again. All other numbers: +10 points!
Turn to Page 1
Section B – Your Main Character finds out about magic because:
|1. There’s a problem only they can solve, and someone comes asking for help|
|2. They stumble into it. They don’t want to know about magic, but it’s too late now!|
|3. They are abducted by someone with magic, forced into a world they don’t understand|
|4. The Main Character never finds out about magic and life goes on|
If you picked #4, you’re simply not following instructions. You were supposed to pick a number between 1 and 3. Also, what kind of a story are you trying to write anyway?!
Everyone else: Take your age and divide it in half. Now you get +3 points
Turn to Page 1
Section C – Alternate History
So, you want to change the world, huh? Be careful, you might soon find yourself writing a historical fiction with fantasy elements, or you know a Regency Romance. I know you want to avoid that at all costs. So first, keep it modern. Set your UF at +/ – 20 years from today.
If you’re still determined about writing an alternate history UF, you’ll have to pick a VERY SPECIFIC reason or event where history changed because of magic. Usually this is explained by an all-knowing person to a less-knowing person, but don’t dump it all in the first chapter, kay? And answer these questions:
- What very specific event IN RECENT HISTORY changed world history?
- What concrete things are different IN THE PRESENT because of that event?
- Is magic known/unknown in this alternate history world?
- Does everyone have magic? Why/why not?
- Are you sure you want to write this much detail into what should be about 90-100k words long? Do you actually want to write a fantasy novel instead?
+ 5 points for every bulleted question you had an answer to. Also minus a point for every 100,000 words you have to cut later.
Turn to Page 1
Welcome to Page 1
Why Page 1, you ask? Because that’s how long your UF book is at this point. So far, you have a giant, blinking curser on an empty page. You have created a setting and the beginnings of a backstory for your world. Now you have to decide what motivates your characters and what challenges they will face.
Step 3. Name Your Main Character.
Remember how you divided your age in half earlier? Divide it in half again. Do it once more – for you math geniuses out there, that’s dividing your age by 4. If you’re dealing with a two digit number add those together until you come to a single digit less than 10.
If you actually did that math minus 5 points. Writers don’t do math.
If you caught one of the errors in my math equation, minus another 5 points. I will repeat, writers don’t do math.
Just pick a number between 1 and 5 like a good right-brained person. Your Main Character’s name is:
Did you pick a male name? Oh bad luck for you, there’s about 1000 female main characters to every male character in UF, so you’ll have to pick another number and try again. Add one to whatever number you picked and that’s your new name (5 becomes 1).
Oh you don’t like your character’s name? No problem. Choose your favorite name like the special snowflake you are. (Go to the black box below)
+15 points if you didn’t have to change your Main Character’s name. That’s a freaking miracle right there.
Minus 10 points. Your agent/editor said that’s the name everyone likes. You’re just being difficult. You know what, just add one to whatever number you picked and that’s your new name (5 becomes 1). Geesh.
Step 4. Find Your Motivation
Now is the time to decide what major flaws your character needs to overcome. There has to be emotional growth fueling the plot of your novel, so take the time now and figure out what their major character flaw is. I’ll wait…
Still thinking? That’s fine. No rush. I mean, it’s not like you’re on a deadline or anything.
May I suggest you dig deep into your closest relationships, and pull out the personal flaws of those you love? They won’t mind. And they certainly won’t ask you which character they are. Also it’s a great time to think back to that terrible boss you hated. Or that 6th grade bully…
Got it? Great! Go to Page 5
Need help? Turn to Page 10.
So your main character has a major flaw, but here’s the twist: THEY CAN’T KNOW THEY HAVE THAT FLAW.
Say what? That’s right. They can’t start out as a self-actualized character. Where’s the growth in that? Your Kate/Anita/Mercy will definitely learn that their life choices suck, and they are driving away love/ happiness/ success. But first, they’re going to start out thinking their life is pretty good. Their opening scene is going to show just how normal, and seemingly happy they really are. Well… sorta. I mean, there’s that like that one thing that’s kinda not perfect… but we’ll get to that.
The thing they need to learn is like a bumper sticker slapped on her forehead – everyone else can read it, but she’s got to take a good hard look in the mirror to see it for herself.
Turn to Page 15
What is your favorite color?
- Something else
BLUE – Her bumper sticker reads: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
RED – Her bumper sticker reads: “To thine own self be true.”
Yellow – Her bumper sticker reads: “What goes around comes around.”
Green – Her bumper sticker reads: “It’s better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.”
Something else – Your character is weak, whiny, and/or a total pushover. Game over: Your main character will drive readers to leave 1 star reviews. Pick another color.
Turn to Page 5.
Step 5. Remember that one thing that isn’t going great for your character? This one thing will foreshadow their bumper sticker theme. In chapter one, you’re going to pick a specific way to SHOW (don’t TELL) that thing happening (in a very small way) in their normal, otherwise happy, life.
So, if you picked red (“To thine own self be true”) then your opening scene could show their otherwise totally fulfilling life, EXCEPT they do something that someone else told them to do, even though they knew better. Like ordering a venti salted caramel mocha with extra whip–and then changing it to a ‘tall, no sugar coffee with a splash of almond milk’ when their best friend gives a pointed glance at their waistline.
Remember, this is small. This is foreshadowing. We’re talking about not sticking up for themselves in a public setting, regretting a job choice, letting a friend/family member speak for them. Small, but meaningful.
- What does your Kate/Anita/Mercy do during the day? You know, for money.
- What is the small scene (during their normal day) that will foreshadow your bumpers sticker theme?
Plus 10 points if your opening scene shows your character in an unusual day job, which will later become a skill-based asset during their quest. Like say, a sharp shooter or mechanic.
Step 6. Let’s jump way ahead of the gun and name your UF Novel. (Don’t worry, everyone does this).
A significant portion of UF Titles are two words (and no more than two syllables per word). First, pick one of the following words: Blood, Burned, Born, Broken, Called, Fated
Put that word before or after either “Magic” or “Destiny”. (You can insert 1-2 prepositions as needed)
- Magic _____
- Destiny _____
- _____ Magic
- _____ Destiny
- ______ in Magic
- Destiny of the ______
Nice work. Plus 300 points if you search that title online and it doesn’t already exist.
Okay, so you have a character name, you have an arc for emotional growth, and an opening scene showing her normal daily life which is pretty great (except for that one small thing). You even have a book title! Now what? Oh right, you gotta get a plot in there. It’s time to put big, hairy problems in Kate/Anita/Mercy’s way for some much needed emotional growth.
Step 7. Pick a Common Fantasy Problem:
- Bad guy wants to use magic to blow up the world (figuratively or literally)
- Good guys are actually bad guys, main character finds out about evil plot
- Something has gone wonky with magic
- Something terrible (and magical) has happened, must find out who-dunnit
That’s it! You’ve got the right start to your Urban Fantasy in 7 Choose Your Own Adventure Steps. You probably even have your first fifteen pages written. The final 300 are up to you!
Just spend the next 1-3 years turning that problem into a plot. All you need is some ups and downs, a surprise twist, and don’t forget to work in emotional growth, extra characters and sub-plots. Layer in realistic, yet amusing dialogue. You’re probably going to have to kill someone. Splash with romance, and a strong (but relatable, and never over-bearing) love interest, and voila! You are done.
Got all that? Plus 1 point. What? Did you think being an author paid well?
Total up your points and write your final score in the comments.
If you actually know your final score: Minus all your points. Have you learned nothing?
Go to comments. Write something you learned, and win a lifetime of “GET OUT OF WRITERS BLOCK FREE” points.