Trends in Paranormal and Urban Fantasy Fiction

Vampires are cool…until they’re cliché.  Shapeshifters are hot…until they’re barely lukewarm.  What’s red-hot today may be dead-dog boring tomorrow.   Or might just be the next big thing again next year.  How do you know?  Should you write for the current trend?  The answer to that question put to a panel of best-selling authors on Friday at 11:30 at “Trends in Paranormal and Urban Fantasy Fiction” in the Manila/Singapore/Hong Kong room was a unanimous and resounding “NO!”

So then how do you decide what to write?  “Write about something that you’re passionate about,” said Anthony Francis.  “I have this world in my head and the characters are clawing their way out.  And when some of that gets onto the page, it starts the project.”

“When you begin writing, write something that you really like,” agreed Diana Gabaldon.  “Worry about selling it later.  Pay attention to the business, but don’t let it affect what you write.”

According to writer and agent Deidre Knight, timing can also play a huge part in getting your piece sold.  “I’ve got writers that we shopped a first manuscript for, sometimes even a second, and those weren’t the magic ones, but then they were published later in that writer’s career.”

Jennifer St. Giles offered this bit of advice to new writers just starting out: “Absolutely finish your first several books, get good feedback on them, realize what you’re doing and how to make it all come together at the end, and then after that write a proposal.”  Added  Lois Gresh, “I would just recommend that you write a lot, and not worry about the business until you really feel comfortable.”

So how do you get to feel comfortable?  Here the panel was divided.  Some swore by workshopping and critique groups, while others felt those processes could not only be less than helpful, they could also have a negative impact on your writing.  The consensus: choose what’s right for you.  Just don’t forget, said C.L. Wilson, that with critique groups you have to give as well as get.  “If there are four people giving you critiques, you are critiquing four people, so there’s a lot of work on your side on other people’s stuff.”

Okay, you’ve gotten through the hard stuff and written that book.  And it’s turned into more than one.  Now it’s a series.  How do you keep it from getting stale and being the same story told over and over again?  “I think with a lot of urban fantasy,” said Shiloh Walker, “you’ll see the hero or heroine start out early in book one or book two fairly, not necessarily weak, but their powers or their skills or whatever are lower, but then you’ll see that they make a massive jump in skill or power early in the series, so they’ve already done a lot of growing.  If they grow too early, how much more is there to do?  Maybe if you slow that down and make them grow and mature slower through the series that could be one way to keep a series fresher longer.”

“Your book and your series have different arcs that play out,” Jennifer St. Giles pointed out.  “Each book should be different.  Whatever is tying your series together, either the plot or things about the characters that have yet to be revealed, that is what carries your series.”

What, someone asked, would be considered the “sweet spot” as far as word count for a novel?  Once again, the panel was fairly unanimous that 90,000 to 100,000 words was about right.  “But at the same time I wouldn’t have a meltdown if you’re at 105,000 words,” said Deidre Knight.  “From the agent perspective I wouldn’t think twice about requesting a 110,000 word manuscript or 112,000.”  Of course, even she had to think twice about the one million word manuscript that had to be wheeled out of the post office on a hand truck.

So why has paranormal and urban fantasy become so popular recently?  People are hungry for conflicts that get resolved, for heroes and heroines that overcome, according to the panelists.  We want people who can be bigger than this world, who can defeat the monsters, confront our evil, and kick its butt.  And the paranormal market provides an arena where that can happen.  So go, write your book, and don’t worry about the trends.  “You be the trend setter,” Jennifer St. Giles stated.  “Write from the passion of your own heart.”

Author of the article

When not buried in other worlds by reading about them, Lisa Guilfoil enjoys writing about them, taking great pleasure in tormenting any character foolish enough to pop out of her mind.  She lives in New York with her husband and dog, who both know enough not to bother her when the voices start talking.