Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Writer Wednesday: The Line Between Horror and Urban Fantasy



Today, I'm turning my blog over to Gail Martin, a fellow Broad Universe member, and she's got a great post about the line between horror and urban fantasy. So, take it away, Gail!


Where's the line between horror and urban fantasy?


by Gail Z. Martin



I read a lot of urban fantasy, and I'll have my own urban fantasy series coming out from Solaris Books in 2014, and I've been wondering: Where's the line between horror and urban fantasy?

I suspect it's been shifting around.  (And I'd love to hear your opinions, so please comment!)  After all, Laurell K. Hamilton started out shelved in horror, then became her own brand of urban fantasy, took a detour into erotica, and seems to have come back to something in between urban fantasy and suspense.  And yet, most of the usual tropes in urban fantasy were standard horror themes not too very long ago.

Remember when vampires were the bad guys?  They've made such a thorough transition to becoming the sexy love interest that I suspect they hired a Madison Avenue PR firm to do some reputation management.  Ditto werewolves and demons.  We've even seen the softer side of zombies and the soulful side (pun intended) of ghosts. 

I’m only partly kidding when I say that horror now seems to be focused on people as monsters, and urban fantasy seems to be focused on monsters as people.  I suspect there's some deep commentary on society today hidden in there, but I don't know what it is.

Here's where I see the divide between horror and urban fantasy--feel free to disagree.  In horror, whether the "monster" is human or some kind of creature, the monster has the upper hand for nearly the entire story.  There's a sense of helplessness that seems to be essential to horror, a creeping sense of inevitable death. Even though the main character in horror might find a way to survive and vanquish the big bad at the very end, he or she is less a hero than a survivor. 

In urban fantasy, whether you’re human, non-human, mortal or undead, it's the thought that counts.  In other words, do you intend to be the hero or the villain?  Urban fantasy looks beyond the stereotypes to create characters that retain their volition and morality regardless of whether they're alive, dead or something in between.  As I'm fond of saying, being dead doesn't automatically make you a bad person.  Urban fantasy also has a clear hero who emerges, and while things may get grim, the lack of control and helplessness that helps to create the atmosphere of a horror story is either absent or brief.  The main character is a hero, not just a survivor.

Everything's gotten grittier, but I'd also say that while urban fantasy can certainly have its share of blood and gore, it's less over-the-top than horror and exists to make a point instead of being its own point.  And finally, in urban fantasy, when the book ends there's the feeling of "we won!" as opposed to "we made it out alive."

That's my 2-cents, and I'd love to know your thoughts.  Thanks for reading.

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Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books.  My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.

About the author: Gail Z. Martin is the author of Ice Forged in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga and the upcoming Reign of Ash (Orbit Books, 2014), plus The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven & Dark Lady’s Chosen ) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn  and The Dread) from Orbit Books.  In 2014, Gail launches a new urban fantasy novel, Deadly Curiosities, from Solaris Books. She is also the author of two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.  Find her at www.ChroniclesOfTheNecromancer.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com.

26 comments:

  1. Hi Gail! I'm a Horror/Dark Fantasy writer, so I'm looking at it from the other side of the mirror, so to speak. I agree that the genre lines are blurring. I sometimes pitch my Horror-Romance novel as "just a little darker than Paranormal" to Paranormal reviewers. I'd say Horror protags are just as heroic as UF/F/P ones though. I feel the difference isn't in character, but in intensity of the writing. UF/F/P want their readers to experience mostly suspense with a few real chills, whereas Horror writers want to elicit a deeper level of fear from the reader. We want the reader afraid to turn out the lights. Heh-heh-heh.

    Good luck with all your books, Gail! :-)

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    1. I love books that make me afraid to turn out the lights. ;)

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  2. I tend to agree with your deliberation. Love the whole idea of 'monsters being people' and 'people being monsters.' I don't read much horror, so I can't comment on that as much. The UFs I've read tend to have an MC--in my case, usually female--that has a bada$$ attitude. She's rough around the edges, but has an underlining tenderness she doesn't want to reveal. Makes for good tension.

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  3. I haven't read a lot of true horror(too chicken) but I agree w/the sense of helplessness. I feel it when I'm reading too! As in, I know I'm going to be seeing monsters in every shadow for the next week- and I can' stop it, lol!

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    1. LOL I love that though. Then you know the book really got to you. ;)

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  4. I've always looked at horror as being the exposure of something horrific. To me, urban fantasy isn't horrific, more than it is a story. The horror novel is the idea of something unfolding, and it's the idea which scares the bejeeezies out of you.

    It's the difference between mortals fighting monsters and a rape video going viral on the internet, mocking a young victim. To me, there is only one kind of horror, but it doesn't necessarily mean blood and gore.

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    1. No, horror doesn't have to mean blood and gore. In fact, I prefer scary to gory.

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  5. Yes, I think you're onto something when you say that horror is more about "people as monsters and urban fantasy is more about monsters as people". Nicely stated! I've written a contemporary horror, and it has no vampires or evil faeries, only really creepy people making Faustian bargains!

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    1. The more realistic the horror, the scarier it is in my opinion.

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  6. Great points! I think this why I tend to enjoy urban fantasy more while I write, though now I'm starting to wonder about my NA novel I'm shopping, hmmm... :)

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    1. I enjoy both UF and horror. They bring different things to the table, and I can appreciate both.

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  7. I love when authors take a category or genre and redefine it for themselves. I know publishers like to pigeonhole titles in order to market them most effectively to a specific audience, but I think all books if you look closely enough are pretty much mashups of a lot of different influences.

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    1. I love books that are mash-ups of different genres. I have a paranormal coming out (Into the Fire) that is paranormal, romance, and mystery all rolled into one. :)

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  8. Great post. I don't consider myself educated enough in either genre to make a sensible argument or agreement. All I know is I enjoy both the suspense and the thrill!

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  9. I would kind of characterize horror- regardless of whether it's scary or gory- as the sort of material that gets under your skin, that makes you feel a lasting sense of dread in its company.

    Good post, Gail!

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    1. Yeah, I think the "dread" has a lot to do with making it horror.

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  10. What an interesting post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Gail. You brought up so many good points about the blurred and changing lines in horror and urban fantasy. :)

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  11. Great ideas about the genres. I enjoy both, because I appreciate gritty characters and situations.

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  12. Good observation Gail. I've noticed the blur as well. To me, it feels like horror *usually* has a little less in-depth character development and often doesn't break away for laughter to break the tension as much.

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    1. Yeah, the kind of humor horror tends to have makes you cringe in fear.

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