Logic in Urban Fantasy – Making the Unreal seem Real
by Cathy Clamp
Urban fantasy has become such a popular subgenre of fantasy because it takes our real world and imposes fantasy elements into it—allowing heroes and/or heroines to use their humanity to solve otherworldly problems. It’s fun for readers to vicariously live through the characters, who have to deal with things like monthly rent, sucky jobs and annoying families. Plus, when the real world gets involved, so does the reality of legal red tape, smart cops who can also figure things out, and physics. Nothing can be more frustrating to a paranormal hero/ine than to be outsmarted at their own game. So they have to be smarter, quicker and more dangerous than those around them. Anything that keeps the characters on their toes makes it all the more fun for the reader. But it also keeps us authors on our toes, which isn’t as much fun.
See, it’s much easier to set a story in a paranormal reality because we don’t have to answer annoying questions, like “why” and “how” things happen. But in the Sazi shapeshifter reality, featured in both my new book FORBIDDEN, and the Tales of the Sazi series that preceded it, is stuck square in the middle of our current world, so I can’t escape asking . . . and answering, all the tough questions.
What sort of questions? Here are a few that were dealt with early on that have served the characters well:
How could a shapeshifter really exist today, when there are cameras everywhere, social media rules the world, and persistent people go out of their way searching for weird things?
Answer: Well, it’s tough to be Sazi. No question. When the full moon rises, a shifter has to shift and hunt. Fortunately, people are still people. They’re a tad self-absorbed and if given a little incentive, will avoid an area. What sort of incentive? Well placed growls coming from a darkened path certainly help send people the other way. And who hasn’t avoided an area when the hairs rise on the back of your neck for no apparent reason? Maybe there is a reason. A little well-timed aversion magic can change the route home.
How do shifters find other shifters when everyone stays hidden?
Answer: Scents, of course. Just like dogs and cats and wilder animals, shifters have uncanny noses. Every person has a personal scent, and a wolf can smell where another wolf has been. Or a cat, or a bird or a snake. The nose knows. Even emotions have scents to the Sazi. Fear is a jaw tightening scent that smells a lot like Worchestershire sauce. Open a bottle and take a deep whiff. Feel that sensation at the back of your jaw? Makes you want to bite down on something, doesn’t it? Happiness smells like bursts of citrus, and if you lie? Oh, they know from the smell of black pepper that seeps from your pores.
A human shifting into an animal would have density issues, or at least size ones. How could people not notice a bird or snake the equivalent size of a human?
Answer: Predators are BIG. Great cats dwarf standard size humans, weighing upwards of 200 pounds, birds can have wing spans of 8 feet, pythons have been found that eat humans for lunch, and even wolves can weigh around 125 pounds. And with a little misdirection, plus speed and shadows, a person wouldn’t think anything other than, “Damn! That was a big cougar!”
Wouldn’t people notice if one particular person was always missing on full moons? For years on end? The excuses would eventually run out and cause suspicion, right?
Answer: Sure. Absolutely. Without a really good reason, people would definitely notice. But what if the shifters worked for family businesses? Multi-generation owned businesses are the heartblood of commerce. And people in small towns in rural areas might all stay and live there for a very good reason.
Believability. That’s what it takes to make an urban fantasy story come alive to a reader. Ask the hard questions, and then answer them with sound logic, and the reader will come along for the ride. Dive into FORBIDDEN. Smell through the nose of a shifter, feel the snow on your fur and the tickle of dangerous magic in the air. Come along for the ride!
Courtesy of Tor Books, I have a copy of ForbiddenForbidden by Cathy Clamp for one (1) lucky winner!
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