Monday, November 27, 2006

The Difference between Urban, Dark and Contemporary Fantasy

There’s a discussion going on fur, fey and fangs about what the difference is between the categories above. I realized in replying to someone else’s post that I don’t really have a good sense of what separates urban fantasy, for instance, from dark fantasy.

Urban fantasy, as I understand it, ought to take place in a city. It was postulated that the moniker “urban fantasy” also promises grittiness. One commenter suggested that it implied stronger language, which I found kind of fascinating. Urban fantasy is going to give you f-word uttering, urban-dwelling faeries in leather, apparently. It’s also going to take place in the modern world with modern sensibilities. Urban fantasy is *not* going to involve castles and knights, unless somehow they’ve been transported to today. Urban fantasy may or may not include vampires in its metahuman denizens.

Dark fantasy, then, can happen at any time in (meta)human history. It most certainly includes vampires, because, as was pointed out by someone the “dark” part is really just a stand-in for the word “horror,” in a lot of ways. Dark fantasy is a story with fantastical elements that gets ugly, in the horror sense. There’s going to be blood spilled in dark fantasy, probably lots of it.

Contemporary fantasy takes place in the now, has a modern sensibility, includes any number of metahuman creatures, including vampires, but is usually more light-hearted in tone than any of the above. It can take place on a farm or a city, and isn’t necessarily “gritty.” My books probably fall into this category most strongly, though because of the strong romantic content, my books are labeled “contemporary romance” or “paranormal romance.”

Paranormal romances, of course, can take place in any time, in any place and are only distinguished from other romances by the fact that the heroine or the hero are metahuman. Most of paranormal romances, however, I think don’t tend to be particularly gritty or dark, though there are probably exceptions to this… as there are to all the “rules” I’ve tried to outline above.

I think that most fans of one of these categories will read all of them, although I found it fascinating that there were a lot of people on fur, fey and fangs who came down strongly in one camp or the other. I suppose if you prefer dark and gritty, silly romantic paranormal isn’t going to jive -- I myself, personally, read according to mood. I tend to prefer to dark, but silly can be a lot of fun when I’m in the mood for it. I tend to enjoy humor, even gallows’ humor, in everything I read.

What about you? Any preferences or quibbles with my definitions?


Kelly McCullough said...

The only one I'd note is that none of these categories have to have metahumans, unless you're classing human mages as metahuman. Other than that, it pretty much works for me.

tate said...

Good point. I guess magic is really the only defining catagory for fantasy, eh?

Sean M. Murphy said...

I'd go a step further--mages are not necessarily involved, either. So long as the story is driven by, or set in a world that has any element of the fantastical, whether it be gods, fey, undead, magic, etc, then it qualifies as "Fantasy." Where it falls into these subdivisions will be determined in part by setting and in part by tone and language. I think you've done a rather good job of defining, in broad strokes, the basics of these sub-genres.

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