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Urban fantasy and paranormal cliches

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The cliches I'm seeing in urban fantasy, is vampires and  werewolves who are moral characters refusing to indulge in their animalistic ways (ie drink cow blood or blood blank blood/lock themselves up when the moon is full.) It also seems to me that there are a lot of vampire or werewolf police or detectives. This seems to be the norm whenever a writer is headed toward noir territory.

I would love to see some different monsters, personally.  :girl
#31 - October 19, 2007, 12:59 PM

Legionsynch

Guest
I have to agree with a lot of what's said already.  (Hi, I'm new here btw). :) 

I love it when I can see a story that takes a new twist on an old idea, or something that's steeped in old stories, taken and twisted and given a new sort of life thanks to the author.  I think Scott Westerfeld's Midnighters is a great example of taking an old idea (monsters that come out at night) and breathing new life into it, and creating a new myth along the way.  At the same time, he's an example for someone taking an urban fantasy approach, and going in a completely different direction.  It's not the same thing you're going to see in a dozen other permutations.

#32 - November 07, 2007, 05:57 PM

AnneMarie_writes

Guest
It would be great to see other creatures, but it seems that the audiences don't want them, or that the publishers don't want to take a chance on them. Why else have we been inundated with werewolves, zombies, and vampires for so long? Personally, I'd like to see less-used mythological beasts. Just because it became known in the early 90's doesn't make the chupacabra less interesting! (In fact, it makes it *more* interesting in my mind.)

Where are the nacken, Kashchei, and hiisi?
#33 - April 16, 2008, 10:47 PM

m_stiefvater

Guest
Personally, the cliiches that always bother me are the ones that come about from the author basing their mythology on fictional stuff. Yeah, I know that sounds incoherent -- hey, it's early here -- but I mean, it drives me crazy if I can read a vampire novel and see that the mythology is based off something Anne Rice invented. Or if I read a faerie novel and see that it's only using the most cursory folklore that's been used in other novels.

Like -- what happened to the wolf strap legend with werewolves? Nobody ever uses that, and it's ollllld and interesting. There are Celtic vampires with fascinating lore around them, completely different from the ones we normally see in fiction. And oh, what I wouldn't give to see some people tying together an oak, a thorn, and an ash twig together with a red ribbon in a faerie novel.

I don't mind seeing the same creatures over and over again, but there had better be some interesting character interactions going on. Because the problem isn't with the creatures -- that's like saying "I'm tired of seeing guys in fiction" -- it's that the creatures always seem to fill the same character functions.

So that's what I think is cliche in UF -- shallow research. As a musician and an artist, we were always told we had to know all the rules before we could break them and we had to know the traditions before we could make something new. Why should folklore be any different?
#34 - April 17, 2008, 04:24 AM

AnneMarie_writes

Guest
I completely agree! There's a unicorn legend that is awesome, but you only ever hear about unicorns and virgins.

The problem might stem from writers reading these tropes in fiction and thinking, "Well, I can do that better!" But not actually spending the time to research further, as you said. I adore research! I could do it all day. In fact, if someone wanted to pay me to do the research for their book -- I'd be in.

:)
#35 - April 17, 2008, 02:12 PM

How about the mysterious old book that you find in the attic / antique bookstore / etc as a plot device?

Or does that belong in a different genre?
#36 - April 17, 2008, 09:33 PM

I completely agree! There's a unicorn legend that is awesome, but you only ever hear about unicorns and virgins.

Highly recommend "Ariel" by Stephen Boyett for a twist on the traditional unicorn-in-modern-day tale!

And I think Brian Froud, Holly Black and Melissa Marr showed fantastic amounts of research in their faerie books. I hope to do the same!
#37 - April 18, 2008, 10:39 AM

AnneMarie_writes

Guest
Llehn: Possibly. It's been done a lot in popular culture (movies, etc.). However, there are always ways to spin things so they seem new.

Duskydawn: I'll check it out! Thanks for the rec.
#38 - April 19, 2008, 05:46 AM

I think the book in the attic is cliche, but I love it. I think the whole finding something magical in the modern world and going from there can lead to so many disparate places that's it's not very cliche.
#39 - April 19, 2008, 08:35 AM

JustinDono

Guest
I think the book in the attic is cliche, but I love it. I think the whole finding something magical in the modern world and going from there can lead to so many disparate places that's it's not very cliche.

I'm okay with a familiar beginning (i.e. book in the attic) as long as it leads somewhere new or interesting.
#40 - April 19, 2008, 02:22 PM

CarrieAnn

Guest
I happened to pick up a bunch of books in a row in which the MC ran away from home. I know there are a lot of urban fantasies that don't involve runaways, but part of me was thinking, man, are good parents illegal within city limits these days?!?  :eh2

Carrie
#41 - April 19, 2008, 06:54 PM

Member.
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I was browsing the YA section of Barnes and Noble the other day, and was amazed by the number of paranormal fantasy vampire books.  No wonder editors say no more vampires.   :mail
#42 - April 20, 2008, 09:15 AM

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I was browsing the YA section of Barnes and Noble the other day, and was amazed by the number of paranormal fantasy vampire books.  No wonder editors say no more vampires.   :mail

True, but at the same time, this week's paperback Times list has two original trade paperback vampire books in the top ten (Chosen by P.C. Cast and Frostbite by Richelle Mead)- and both are part of series that came out after everyone was saying that vampires were overdone and the market was saturated. 
#43 - April 20, 2008, 10:06 AM

AnneMarie_writes

Guest
I happened to pick up a bunch of books in a row in which the MC ran away from home. I know there are a lot of urban fantasies that don't involve runaways, but part of me was thinking, man, are good parents illegal within city limits these days?!?  :eh2

Carrie

YES! IMHO, YA books are about showing teens that they're growing up. They'll have to make their own decisions and enjoy or suffer the consequences of those decisions. If you take away the responsible parent, then the MC is left to do just that with the added bonus of the supernatural.

I'm sure there are YA fantasy books out there with responsible adults that are in the "know" of the supernatural elements, but the only one I can think of off the top of my head is Herbie Brennan's 'Faerie War Chronicles'. Even then, the adults aren't parents. They're substitutes.

Interesting commentary on the role of parents to their teens, isn't it? :)
#44 - April 20, 2008, 02:58 PM

CarrieAnn

Guest
YES! IMHO, YA books are about showing teens that they're growing up. They'll have to make their own decisions and enjoy or suffer the consequences of those decisions. If you take away the responsible parent, then the MC is left to do just that with the added bonus of the supernatural.

I can agree with that no problem. :)

I think my point was that I think there are more creative approaches to getting the parents out of the way. That in my mind popping in a runaway borders on cliche, or at least taking the easy way out as a writer. As in, set up problem at home, have MC run away, and then there's no need to deal with parents for the rest of the book. Although I suppose you trade those problems for the whole new set of survival on the street problems, so maybe "easy" isn't the right word for it. But aren't there more unique ways to deal with the parent problem?

I think I'm babbling.

But I was interested to know what other people think about runaways... are they cliche, are they the easy way out, or am I way off base? (Wouldn't be the first time! Heh.)

Carrie
#45 - April 21, 2008, 04:47 AM

Legionsynch

Guest
I can see both sides to this.  I think it mainly comes down to the way the story's handled - does it make sense for the MC to run away based on the story, or does it just read as convenient?  I've seen both recently, and it does just seem to be an easy way to not have to focus on parents.

I'd love to see more stories where the parents are just ignorant of what's really going on out there.  Like Buffy's mom was the first two seasons of the show.  All this weird stuff going on, and it's just as much a struggle to keep your secrets as it is to deal with the supernatural.



#46 - April 21, 2008, 07:16 AM

True, but at the same time, this week's paperback Times list has two original trade paperback vampire books in the top ten (Chosen by P.C. Cast and Frostbite by Richelle Mead)- and both are part of series that came out after everyone was saying that vampires were overdone and the market was saturated. 

But one thing I always look at in those situations is whether it's a first book or a later book in a series.  I know that Frostbite is a second and Chosen is a third in a series.  So that means that the first books in this series were probably bought in....2006 (I looked it up -- Richelle sold in Nov. 2006 and the Casts sold in Oct 2005)?  That's back when Vampires were still going very strong in YA (I think Twilight came out in Sept. 2006).  I tend to think that readers will stay loyal to a series and so you'll keep seeing vampire series books hitting the bestseller lists and being popular whereas a brand new book in the market may not get the same attention.  And I wouldn't be surprised that editors are turning away from vampires because what they buy now isn't coming out until 2010.  Of course, I think an editor will buy a fantastic book, vampires or not, but I think as time goes on and the market is saturated, having vampires in a book will not be the major hook.  So to me, seeing a bestseller that's in a series says something different about trends than seeing a stand alone (or the first book in a series) on the list.

I think it's also been interesting to watch the faery trend.  Melissa Marr and Holly Black are both very established and keep writing and in 2009 there are a lot more faery books coming out as well (I can think of 4 debut authors with faery books in 2009).  I believe it was Barnes & Noble last year who declared faeries to be the next big trend.
#47 - April 22, 2008, 08:37 AM
THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH series (Delacorte)
INFINITY RING: DIVIDE and CONQUER (Scholastic)
www.CarrieRyan.com
@CarrieRyan

m_stiefvater

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I think it's also been interesting to watch the faery trend.  Melissa Marr and Holly Black are both very established and keep writing and in 2009 there are a lot more faery books coming out as well (I can think of 4 debut authors with faery books in 2009).  I believe it was Barnes & Noble last year who declared faeries to be the next big trend.

Psst and don't look now, Carrie, but there are whispers of a "zombie trend." ;)
#48 - April 22, 2008, 09:31 AM

Psst and don't look now, Carrie, but there are whispers of a "zombie trend." ;)

Totally agree. Noticed a HUGE zombie trend this year! (And dark fairies, which always seemed big to me...)

My friends actually attended this and took many pics!
http://www.wickedlocal.com/cambridge/archive/x1989250864
#49 - April 22, 2008, 12:34 PM

Uber Sparkly Poster
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But one thing I always look at in those situations is whether it's a first book or a later book in a series.  I know that Frostbite is a second and Chosen is a third in a series.  So that means that the first books in this series were probably bought in....2006 (I looked it up -- Richelle sold in Nov. 2006 and the Casts sold in Oct 2005)?  That's back when Vampires were still going very strong in YA (I think Twilight came out in Sept. 2006).  I tend to think that readers will stay loyal to a series and so you'll keep seeing vampire series books hitting the bestseller lists and being popular whereas a brand new book in the market may not get the same attention.  And I wouldn't be surprised that editors are turning away from vampires because what they buy now isn't coming out until 2010.  Of course, I think an editor will buy a fantastic book, vampires or not, but I think as time goes on and the market is saturated, having vampires in a book will not be the major hook.  So to me, seeing a bestseller that's in a series says something different about trends than seeing a stand alone (or the first book in a series) on the list.

Their presence on the list is striking (at least to me), not in terms of editors saying "no more vampires," but in terms of readers doing the same.  This thread was started in early January, 2007, and several of the very early comments said that vampires were everywhere and that the market had just hit critical mass for vampire stories- since most of us presumably don't have our own slush piles, the critical date for when readers started saying "too many vampires" isn't when a book is bought- it's when it's published.  And while I agree that popular series will stay popular, and that series books aren't the best indicators of trends, even if we look at the first books in each series, we're still looking at books that came out months after people on this thread said that there were too many vampires on the market.  The publication date for the first book in the CHOSEN series was May 1, 2007, and the publication date for the first Vampire Academy book was mid-August- so here we have two bestselling series, both of which were probably bought when vampires were hot, but both of which came out months after everyone and their dog had started mumbling about the vampire bubble bursting.

Anyway, I completely agree with your assessment about vampires if we're looking at things as writers, wanting to get published, who will face submission piles where editors see vampires almost as often as they see portals- you stand the chance of setting off the "not ANOTHER vampire" reaction.  But if we approach the same question as readers, I still think there's a lot of room in the market for a good vampire story to do really well, even though the market seems crowded, and I think both of these series are good examples of that.  I also think it's interesting that neither one of them has a "typical" take on vampires- both series use a fairly distinct mythologies.  And- interestingly to me- both are set at schools for vampires, which I think is part of a larger trend on "special boarding schools," that you can trace in part back to Harry Potter, and which also applies to a third book on the paperback Times list- "I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You." 
#50 - April 22, 2008, 02:15 PM

m_stiefvater

Guest
Nothing but to say I'm filled with Jen-love.

Excellent points and I agree. I also think you'll keep seeing vampires come out -- but I think that it'll be more likely that they'll come out from previously published authors, rather than slushpile or newbies. If Melissa (Marr) said "I'm gonna do vampires, darn it," readers and editors would nod.
#51 - April 22, 2008, 02:56 PM

Psst and don't look now, Carrie, but there are whispers of a "zombie trend." ;)

Haha!  Yay for zombies!  Let's hope the trend continues through 2009!  But I find that it's a trend endlessly amusing because when I started writing The Forest of Hands and Teeth I thought "there's no way anyone will want a book with zombies in it" and I was even afraid to use the word "zombie" in my query because I thought the agent would laugh and auto-ding.  :dr

But back to Jen's points, which I think are excellent.  I sometimes wonder if there's some bleed-through from adult urban fantasy on the "vampires are dead" issue.  I don't read much UF, but from reading other boards, it seems to have been dominated by vampires for a while.  Maybe it just *seems* there are more vampires on the market because of that.  Because when I look at the YA shelves, I don't feel like it is bursting with vampires (but that could be that I'm not looking closely enough).  And while I agree with you that we don't have our own slush piles and that we look at the market as readers, I'd argue that we also very much look at the market as authors as well -- most people on this board are pretty hyper aware of what's selling (thanks to PM and the Good News thread and just being a part of the industry) so I do think that people on this board will feel a market saturation for vampires before an "ordinary reader" would.

It's so hard for me to judge because most of the readers I know are also industry folks and I do think we're biased because of that :)  For example, I bet an ordinary reader doesn't see a big faery trend whereas industry insiders do because we're privvy to what's coming out next.  And so I think we're likely to notice trends and market shifts before they happen (or even as they're happening).

At the same time, when I read a book I love, I want more just like it.  I think Meyer touched off a firestorm of people wanting more vampires -- any vampires -- and I think that books will fill that need where hers can't (since hers only come out once a year). 

Hmmm... not sure if my thoughts are coherent :)  I just find market analysis to be endlessly fascinating!  And I also think you're right about a lot of really successful books recently being set at "special boarding schools." 
#52 - April 23, 2008, 09:24 AM
THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH series (Delacorte)
INFINITY RING: DIVIDE and CONQUER (Scholastic)
www.CarrieRyan.com
@CarrieRyan

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I was just on a YA Panel at Romantic Times on "Making Editors go Squeee" (with the ever-lovely Miss P).   One of the pre-panel requests was to ask our editors  agents what they wanted.   On panel, I was fascinated by a couple authors saying their editors & agents weren't into paranormal/UF.  This couldn't be urther from my experience, but it was true for THEIR houses & agents.

My US editor, otoh, said:  "Strong, believable heroines; strong, nuanced writing; unique, engaging storylines; and a distinctive narrative voice. . . a penchant for urban fantasy and left-of-center main characters” (Anne Hoppe, Exec Editor, HC Children's). 

I think what editors want is hard to quantify b/c what they want isn't abt the species or any of the other easily listed things.  It's abt that story, that book, that voice, that tone, that . . . whatever that elusive IT is that makes them get giddy. 

Carrie's book, frex, made her editor get giddy. (I know this for fact b/c I emailed her editor & requested a copy b/c I was intrigued.  Krista & I shared exclamations of WOW after I rec'd the book.)  It's not abt the zombies; it b/c the book is just That Good.  [NOTE: Aside from an email after I read her book & exchanges in public forum where we are both responding to a poster, I don't know Carrie. My take on her book is much of a straight-up, objective opinion as I can offer on any book.]

My .02:  What I hear is not editors saying what's "hot" or what type or subtype is or is not selling.  What I hear is that they want stories they get gleeful over. *shrug*  That, however, is much harder to define, so it's not as easy to put on lists of what to write or not write.

JMHO, of course . . .
#53 - April 23, 2008, 10:17 AM

m_stiefvater

Guest


My .02:  What I hear is not editors saying what's "hot" or what type or subtype is or is not selling.  What I hear is that they want stories they get gleeful over. *shrug*  That, however, is much harder to define, so it's not as easy to put on lists of what to write or not write.

JMHO, of course . . .

I completely agree -- it's why I shake my head when I see lists of "top ten overused things in . . . (fill in the genre)" and instantly there are hoards of writers saying excitedly, "I don't have any of those in mine!" or sadly "I have two of them."

It's not the point. It's the voice, the characters, the story.
#54 - April 23, 2008, 02:21 PM

I completely agree -- it's why I shake my head when I see lists of "top ten overused things in . . . (fill in the genre)" and instantly there are hoards of writers saying excitedly, "I don't have any of those in mine!" or sadly "I have two of them."

It's not the point. It's the voice, the characters, the story.

I agree with this too.  I think if you write a book you're passionate about, that passion will come through on the pages (I'm oddly passionate about how to survive after a zombie apocalypse *shrug*).  I'm sure I have things in my book that would be on an agent or editor "we're tired of this list."  And of course, you can write a book that has nothing on a "do not do list" and that doesn't mean it will get picked up either :)  I think it always comes down to "if it works, it works." 

And as an aside, it still boggles my mind (in a very good way!) to hear people talk about my book having read it.  Especially people like Melissa who's books are on my shelves!!  Thanks Melissa!  :thankyou
#55 - April 24, 2008, 06:24 AM
THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH series (Delacorte)
INFINITY RING: DIVIDE and CONQUER (Scholastic)
www.CarrieRyan.com
@CarrieRyan

m_stiefvater

Guest
I think if you write a book you're passionate about, that passion will come through on the pages (I'm oddly passionate about how to survive after a zombie apocalypse *shrug*).

We won't mention what this might mean for your mental status, Carrie. ;p (and for the record, ever since I first read about your novel, I've been DYING to read it when it comes out and Melissa's recommendation did not help my patience one bit . . . so add me to the list of many many minions standing in line for it.)

And I think the last thing I'm going to say on the cliche front is that the only damning cliches in fantasy are cliche characters, rather than 3D characters. Everything else can be forgiven if you write well enough.
#56 - April 24, 2008, 07:40 AM

mike

Guest
I agree that it's all in how you tell the story, but sometimes as a reader I'd like to see a well-told story that isn't just using the same props well. What I mean is, even if you tell a great vampire story, that doesn't mean I might not be a little more excited if it's using some other prop (and actually taking the time to extrapolate what it would mean to have that fantasy element exist, not just swapping vampires with werewolves with any other entity that serves the same basic story purpose.)

Not having the cliches won't make a book great, but writing a great book without cliche does (I think) make it even better.

Something I've gotten a little tired of is seeing fantasy elements in UF always in some kind of underworld. It's not actually woven into the world, it's something off to the side to be discovered, something the parents don't know about, the MC's friends don't believe in, etc. I get tired of seeing our world with a fantasy element tacked on, even if lip service is given to that fantasy element being really important behind the scenes. Take the fantasy out from behind the scenes!  :grrr

It's not bad, I just wish I saw more balance. I still <3 you, Neverwhere and American Gods, don't worry!

Oh, oh, and I want to read your book, Carrie! I've wanted more zombie fiction since I read World War Z. (Which is quite brilliant and stunning. Read it if you haven't!)
#57 - May 23, 2008, 12:49 PM

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