Writing Excuses 5.35: Brainstorming Urban Fantasy

Okay, let’s have some fun. Not that we weren’t having fun for the previous 150+ episodes, mind you. But this is extra-fun.

Brandon, Dan, and Howard take the urban fantasy writing prompt about big-box stores and decide to brainstorm a story out of it. When we begin this ‘cast all we have is the prompt.

Then we brainstorm, plowing through setting, character, conflict, and story.

By the end of the ‘cast we’re ready to make a pitch to an editor and sell the book.

Okay, maybe not. But the book is totally ready for us to sit down and write. Or, better yet, for YOU to sit down and write.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Kitty and the Midnight Hour, by Carrie Vaughn, narrated by Marguerite Gavin

Writing Prompt: Take what we’ve done in this ‘cast and try to come up with a plot and an ending. Alternatively, take the list of competition films from the most recent Sundance Film Festival and pick six that are somehow part of a Fey plot.

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33 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 5.35: Brainstorming Urban Fantasy”

  1. You should totally write a book on this. “Writing Excuses presents an amazing story of courage, love, and hope in this opening to a saga unmatched by any literary piece before.” New York Times Bestseller.

  2. Great episode, as usual.

    And ditto on Carrie Vaughn’s Kittie series. I’m not hugely into fantasy, urban or (especially) otherwise, but Carrie’s stuff is great. I’m looking forward to her doing some science fiction.

  3. Great episode – I really like that you guys have brainstorming podcasts like this that are so much fun, interesting, and enlightening all in the same measure.

  4. Informative podcast. It was an interesting setting the guys came up with. If nothing else, it shows me how different my approach toward writing is since I typically come up with the base plot before I sort out how to start the story. There are times when I’ll have the plot before I’ll have most of the characters that will live through said plot.

  5. “The fey are the Walmart people” – I nearly spewed on my keyboard. That alone needs to be a story. :-)

  6. Hilarious cast, loved it. Also, just finished reading the Alcatraz books with my boy, he shook his fist at you lots while reading the fourth Mr. Sanderson, but we really hope you get to publish the fifth one.

    Now, for the prompt, I dug the premise you all came up with and wanted to try and work out a main problem for the plotline.

    Bradford Holmes, a descendant of Park City, Utah’s Silver Queen, is forced to take a job at Walmart his senior year of high school to learn “some responsibility”. His father, Emery Holmes, wants him to take over the family business, but Bradford would rather go party it up and help the oil cleanup effort along the gulf coast than go to college. In the heat of an argument, Emery agrees to let his son spend a year on the coast before higher learning if he can survive a real job without getting fired.

    Trying to do a good deed, he uses his connections to get his co-worker Lily tickets to see the screening of The Runaways. She comes back raving because she ended up sitting next to Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson, and comes clean that she is such a huge Twilight fan because she is fey and finds the depiction of the supernatural world fascinating because it is ALMOST right. Plus R-Patz is so pretty he could be fey. She offers him the boon of seeing the land of the fey for giving her such a fine gift and he accepts, agreeing to go home with her after work that night.

    All of the entrances to faerie are through the big box stores and outlet malls, and they are considered the aboveground domain of the fey. They also lay claim to the ground beneath Park City, however, and are worried the Holmes family’s mining operation is coming too close to their lands. Lily does not realize who Brad is, but Titania does when he is required to give her his full name upon their introduction(court manners being what they are). The Queen of Faerie uses Brad’s name to tie him to the faerie kingdom, and he cannot go outside the tunnels or the big box stores until she frees him.

    This leads to a kidnapping plot, and possibly an underlying romance between Brad and Lily. Both could lead to his character changing and the initial bet between he and his father resolving. In the end, I see Brad staying in Park City to be with Lily and take over the family business to ensure it doesn’t encroach on faerie lands.

  7. I’m actually writing an Urban Fantasy right now. The funny thing is that I do have Royalty in it. It was always part of the concept from the beginning otherwise the plot wouldn’t work. I also don’t have it set in an Urban neighborhood. I don’t look these terms up, I just figured that Urban Fantasy was Fantasy that was set in the mordern world as opposed to an alternate time line or universe. I call mine Country Fantasy because it’s set in a very small town and my main character lives in a cabin. So it’s not really urban. It just works for what I have to do.

    I just write whatever I want and then I find a term that comes close to describing what I write. I find it’s easier that way instead of conforming to a writing term. Which I think is kinda sad when people do that.

    Anyway, awesome episode. I have learned a lot just by listening to this podcast and I always go back to re-listen to podcasts that touches on one of my weaknesses.

  8. Good stuff. Great use of the “unseen world.”

    Maybe the Fey need the minerals that the MC’s character mines and maybe they are not as “green” as we have been led to believe?

    Great ideas.

  9. I’ve been listening for two or three years now, and I have to say that this was probably the best Writing Excuses I have ever heard. My second time listening through, I kept getting distracted by thinking about brainstorming my own story plots, and after the third listen I decided that I have to model the process you used on paper tomorrow morning so I can actually learn to brainstorm a story. Thank you so much for the time and effort you invest in talking about the writing process so that everyone else can learn; I look forward to more brainstorming topics in the future.

  10. Thanks Len. I’ve read it through and seen the movies, I must admit. Say what you want about Meyer, but she writes darn good dialogue. I can’t hate on a story that has it, because so many don’t :).

  11. Hi, I LOVE Writing Excuses! Especially when Howard wears pants, LOL. I am not sure about writing urban fantasy. For a while that term used to umbrella any fantasy that started in a ‘normal life’ situation even if it goes to a fantasy worls, but you have defined it as urban and fantasy coexist, and even playing off each other. So where does taht leave the other fantasy books where they actually leave their world and go into a fantasy land that doesn’t flip back and forth?
    FYI http://www.writingsnippets.com is giving away a free copy of scrivener on their blog – This might help with the story bible and brainstorming.

  12. For some reason I hate people who can’t convey humour without writing “LOL”. I think it’s especially reprehensible for alleged wannabe writers.

    Let’s see, is there anyone I haven’t offended yet?

  13. Dear Ed,
    I hate it when writers sit up on their cloud and have no human emotions unless they are contrived by words. Get a personality and get over yourself. Just saying, LOL

  14. Well, I was going to transcribe this episode, but I’ve spent more than two hours on it and I can’t really justify it anymore. Plus I found out that I don’t type quite fast enough to be able to transcribe effectively, particularly when Brandon, Dan, and Howard are all talking at the same time.

    Here is as far as I got in the time I did spend on this.

    Woman: This episode of Writing Excuses is brought to you by Audible. Visit http://audiblepodcast.com/excuse , to start your free trial membership.

    [Typewriter typing.]
    Brandon: This is Writing Excuses, Season 5, Episode 35: Brainstorming An Urban Fantasy.

    Howard: Oh, fifteen minutes long because I forgot what I was supposed to say.

    Dan: And, uh, we’re all secretly wizards.

    Brandon: Okay.

    Howard: Muahahaha.

    Brandon: There’s a lot of discussion among us, offscreen, about what to do with this podcast. We eventually decided we’re gonna try and, um, put our money where our mouths are, and try and do a quick, really fast brainstorm, on a plot, a setting, and characters, for an urban fantasy. And we’re gonna start with the setting, cause um, it seems the consensus is that need to start there.

    Howard: Okay.

    Brandon: So, let’s start building a world bible. What is the premise? What are we going to do for our..

    Dan: Should should we base this off of the writing prompt Howard gave us three weeks ago?

    Brandon: Um.

    Dan: with with the big box stores being the link between our world and the fey?

    Brandon: Okay.

    Howard: That’s fine.

    Brandon: Okay, big box stores are the link between our world and the fey. Sounds good to me.

    Howard: Okay, alright that’s good.

    Brandon: Alright.

    Howard: Location, just to make it easy on us for research, why don’t we say that the location is, like Salt Lake City?

    Brandon: Salt Lake City. Works just fine for me.

    Dan: Okay.

    Brandon: Um. And we’re gonna sp–. Or maybe we could even how ’bout how ’bout this, since it’s big box stores? Park City, particularly the um, outlet malls.

    Dan: Ah ha ha. Okay.

    Brandon: The outlet malls of Park City. Park City.

    Howard: I’m not as familiar with Park City, but uh that’s fine.

    Dan: Mmm.. yeah, that’s good. We could do park city.

    Brandon: Park City or um, okay, what are our major premises? We’ve got that, um, the connection to the fey world are, um big box stores, or maybe in this case also outlet mall stores, and things like that that.

    Howard: Okay, well, let’s ask this question: are the, um, the the the fey world, is it an invisible world? Is it a world that is, you know, like a a parallel universe that you step through and are now in, you know fey land?

    Brandon: I think we have to say it’s an invisible world that’s part of our world.

    Howard: Okay.

    Brandon: Um, I want to go with that just because, um, it just feels right to me. So.

    Howard: Oh, that’s fine.

    Dan: Okay.

    Brandon: And and we can deal with this whole the whole concept, that’s been talked about before, that we, we talked about in our Urban Fantasy, um, podcast, that, faries are real, they’ve been with us all along, and the, modern incarnation of them is is dealing with

    Dan: [Quietly in the background.] And all in happening in Park City

    Howard: So, similar to, similar to, uh, Spiderwick, where you look through the hole in a a a naturally worn hole in a rock, and now you can “see” the goblins.

    Brandon: We need our own spin on it.

    Howard: Oh I know we need our own spin on it. I’m just saying. So the the th fey are already among us.

    Brandon: They are already among us.

    Howard: Already among us, and we are unable to perceive or interact with them

    Brandon: They are the Walmart people
    and that’s why they don’t fit in real well.

    Dan: Oh man come on, the fey are frightening!

    Brandon: The the the those are a type of fey?

    Dan: Okay.

    Brandon: Do we really to go there?

    Dan: No, I think we totally should.

    Brandon: Just, yeah. You know the people that when you go to Walmart

    Dan: My favorite part of the Monster Hunter books by Larry Correia was that the elves were all these, you know, backwoods hicks?

    Howard: Well they were trailer trash elves… is the

    Dan: Yeah. Let’s…

    Brandon: [Quietly.] Okay.

    Dan: let’s totally have the fey be the the Walmart people.

    Brandon: You go to, when you go to Walmart and those poeple

    Dan: Which is why they all look like they’re dressed wrong at two in the morning

    Howard: The greeter?

    Brandon: Yeah. The and the uh

    Howard: Have you noticed how the greeter, you’re not entirely sure, that he or she is human?

    Brandon: Yeah.

    Howard: I mean at first glance you say, well, that’s just an old person, and I’m so glad that he or she, you know, has a job, you know, and a very, very pleasant, smile, and ah, oh my gosh, is that a tail?
    That happens to you guys doesn’t it?

    Brandon: Yes, every week Howard.

    Dan: Every time!

    Brandon: And that’s because

    Dan: Um, Jordo check Howard’s medication again.

    Brandon: And that’s because that fey are trying to fit in right?

    Howard: Oh, we’re brainstorming? I thought this was an RPG. Yes! Uh but

    Brandon and Howard together: the fey trying to fit in

    Brandon: and they’re just not that good at it yet.

    Dan: Yeah. They uh, they don’t know how to dress, which is why they look like they’re half Hot Topic, half Salvation Army.

    Brandon: Yes.

    Howard: Park City.

    Brandon: That’s a

    Howard: Oh my gosh. [Caugh.] Park City, because we have urbanization, happening in an area that uh, you know in just in the last

    Brandon: Yeah

    Howard: forty years, was wild, and so the wild areas of the world not don’t just have wild animals living in them, they have the fey,

    Brandon: Right.

    Howard: living in them, and as we urbanize them, um, wow, I just turned this into uh uh um

    Dan: Yeah, but we’re gonna we’re gonna take it back because they actually love urbanization and commerce, which is why they hang out at the big box stores.

    Brandon: Yep.

    Dan: That protects them …

    Howard: It’s the–

    Dan: … from us seeing them, because, of the the all the constant transactions of money.

    Howard: Is it the constant transactions of money, or is it the fact that you have so many different kinds of products under one roof? You can buy lumber,

    Dan: Okay.

    Howard: and you can buy plumbing, and you can buy potted plants,

    Brandon: [Quietly.] And chips

    Howard: and you can buy a gas grill, and a rake and wood chips

    Dan: Okay.

    Howard: And.

    Brandon: Okay, so it’s this conglomeration of a lot of different topics

    Dan: It’s it’s

    Brandon: It’s

    Dan: a modern incarnation of the ancient, market bazaar.

    Brandon: Right.

    Dan: Where, everything all in one place.

    Brandon: Oh, so they’re comfortable there?

    Dan: Mmm hmm.

    Brandon: I think that’s a really good reasoning for it.

    Dan: Yeah.

    Brandon: Okay. We we’ve got something kind of interesting.

    Howard: There’s a setting,

    Brandon: There’s a setting.

    Howard: and we’re only four minutes and forty five seconds in.

    Brandon: Well, alright.

    Dan: Fantastic.

    Brandon: Um, let let’s let’s delve into characters and just talk about what kind of character are common in urban fantasy, and why do they work? Um, what are we looking at?

    Howard: Typically, your urban fantasy doesn’t deal with a character who is uh uh powerful here, you’re you’re not dealing with a prince,

    Brandon: Right.

    Howard: you’re not dealing with royalty or a knight, you’re dealing with um, well like in the Dresden Files novels,

    Brandon: Yeah.

    Howard: he’s a private detective, he’s a wizard you know he’s a member of that sect,

    Brandon: Right.

    Howard: Um, but uh, and often urban fantasies are YAs, and so the uh, uh, the protagonists end up being, you know kids who are just a few years older than the target audience.

    Dan: Mmm hm.

    Brandon: Well, I will disagree with the, well often I suppose works, but, I would say just as common, um in urban fantasy for adult, um, but I think you’re right that it’s it’s less, it, I think that urban fantasies do tend to look toward the everyman aspect a little bit more

    Dan: Yeah.

    Brandon: Um, than the superman aspect to an extent, I mean, urban fantasy also does have the subgenera of chicks in black leather kicking butt

    Dan: Yeah.

    Brandon: um,

    Dan: Which is a huge subgenre.

    Brandon: A huge subgenre, but even you know we we could say Buffy is part of that,

    Dan: Mmm hmm.

    Brandon: and Buffy was an everyman, mixed with you know, here are these supernatural powers now go kick butt

    Howard: Well and here wasn’t just everyman though there was also an element of hero’s journey in Buffy,

    Brandon: Right.

    Howard: Where she’s every man, but she’s inherited the mantle of the slayer.

    Brandon: Right.

    Howard: Um, now, part of what we’re doing in this brainstorming

    Brandon: Right.

    Howard: is going trope fishing and and picking the ones we like.

    Brandon: Right.

    Dan: Mmm Hmm.

    Howard: I like the idea of someone that has gotten a job, at a big box store,

    Brandon: Okay.

    Howard: And so we’re talking about someone who’s working for minimum wage

    Dan: Mmm Hmm.

    Howard: Um, you know who comes from that Hot Topic plus Salvation Army
    culture there that you described? That’s uh, frightening.

    Brandon: Well, no. We need to make the, we need to make the protagonist an outsider.

    Howard: Well, well, no.

    Dan: I I I’m I’m let let me say something really quick. I think that there are two, very common character types that you’ll see in almost every urban fantasy.

    Brandon: Mmm Hmm.

    Dan: There’s the outsider being introduced to the

    Brandon: Yes.

    Dan: mystical world, and there is the person who crosses easily between both.

    Brandon: Okay, yes.

    Dan: And sometimes one is the protagonist, and sometimes the other one’s the protagonist.

    Brandon: Yes.

    Dan: Um, and both of those will always be there. If the protagonist crosses easily between worlds, then the newbie is gonna be a sidekick,

    Brandon: Yeah.

    Dan: who stands in for the reader so we can explain things.

    Howard: ‘Kay.

    Dan: If your protagonist is the newbie, then the one who crosses easily is the mentor.

    Brandon: Right. Um, I’m gonna say, we’re doing something kind of wierd with this whole big box stores. I really do, my gut instincts say we need the newbie to be our main character.

    Howard: ‘kay.

    Brandon: Um, because

    Dan: I agree.

    Brandon: there are a lot of ones that I see

    Howard: That’s what I first

    Brandon: where the actor like moves easily, they can have some really wierd setting elements, but the tropes, are very like

    Dan: Mmm hmm.

    Brandon: are are are easy to explain.

    Dan: well and just thematically,

    Brandon: Yeah.

    Dan: if we’re talking about a minimum wage worker, having them be the neophite

    Brandon: Yeah.

    Dan: I think makes a lot of sense.

    Howard: Okay, here here we go.

    Dan: It blends well.

    Howard: Here we go. Um, were we’ve got a newbie. The newbie is related to, uh, you know, son of whatever, uh, somebody who owns a hotel there in Park City.

    Brandon: Okay.

    Howard: And, gets a job at the big box store, makes friends with somebody at a big box store, and gets his friend into a Sundance screening. Because Sundance happens at Park City.

    Dan: Mmm hmm.

    Brandon: Yeah.

    Howard: Okay? And the friend, from the big box store is actually one of the fey, and is a huge fan of you know name a celebrity.

    Dan: Celebrity of the week.

    Howard: Celebrity of the week.

    Dan: Mmm hmm.

    Howard: Okay? And, got to sit next to them at a screening, and now feels like he owes newbie, some sort of magical blood debt.

    Brandon: Oh, he’s got a boon

    Howard: And that’s our link

    Brandon: from the fey, yes.

    Howard: He’s got a boon from the fey

    Brandon: He got in to go and sit next to Christopher Nolan,
    at a screening of um, uh, the you know the new Batman film.

    Howard: Right.

    Dan: Awesome.

    Howard: Okay.

  15. For some reason I hate it when some writers sit up on thier writer cloud and have no emotion or personality unless it is contrived by words. LOL
    DeeDee, aka DV

  16. @Ed,
    *lol* it’s net speak. Now, try reading fan fic that is written ALL in netspeak and then tell me what you think. :) I have and it’s lame.

    The only fantasy I know about that starts out in RL and then you just go to the fantasy world…I don’t know what one would call that. Urban comes close and I pick my terms by what come close to describing what I write. Usually, if a character leaves one world for the next, my thinking is that they’re a changling and the fantasy world is really their home and the character wants to get to know that world and the family they didn’t have.

  17. It’s also can’t-write-for-toffee speak. Enjoy your writing career, you master(s) of expression.


    ps DV stands for diarrhoea and vomiting. Deeply, deeply appropriate.

  18. I don’t know if there is a particular term for that kind of fantasy. It’s kind of a standard form of story structure, though perhaps mostly in older fiction. Orson Scott Card talked about it as a sort of ‘milieu structure’. Someone goes to a different world, sees the sights, and then returns to their own world. It’s good for showing off the world you’ve built, and it’s used for exactly the reason given in the podcast: the outsider. It gives us someone we can relate to, someone who can explore the strange and wondrous world for us.

    One of the best known would be the Thomas Covenant stories, but others have used it. In fact, the structure is used in other types of fiction too. I think one of the examples Card gave was Shogun, which features a European exploring the strange land of feudal Japan.

    I read one book called Spellsinger where a human ends up in a world of anthropomorphic animals. That one dates back to ’83. More recently, in ’98, Mark Anthony started his Last Rune series, in which a guy called Travis goes to another world and discovers he’s the Runebreaker of their prophecy. In fact, in that series he comes back to our world at the end of each book, which means he ends up being sent back by some new means at the beginning of the next book.

    I’m sure there are others. Like I said, it’s not uncommon. Strictly speaking, it’s not the same as urban fantasy as used these days, where the supernatural coexists with what we consider natural. The outsider usually doesn’t spend much of the story in our world, just enough to get a sense of who they are, what they’re leaving behind.

    Other types of fantasy benefit from the structure too. Tolkien used it with both Bilbo and Frodo, who were already residents of Middle Earth. In ‘Blue Adept’ by Piers Anthony, the main character goes from a distinctly sci-fi setting to a distinctly medieval fantasy one.

    I suppose you could call this sort of thing ‘crossover’ or ‘outsider’ stories, but those terms have connotations that have nothing to do with it.

  19. Also, wow, calm down guys. Play nice.

    I mean, honestly, a scrap that I didn’t start? What is the world coming to?

  20. Ed, this is an open forum where everyone is welcome, and all we ask that you be polite to the other guests while you’re here.

    DV, continuing a fight that someone else started is still fighting. Play nice.

  21. This is the first podcast of yours I’ve listened to but certainly not the last. Just found you through iTunes in searching for writing fantasy. Awesome podcast — fun for sure but also very instructive. Really like you guys putting yourself on the line like this.

    Makes me want to go out and find some other fantasy writers to brainstorm with. Been doing that a bit with my writing buddy but this example opens a much bigger possibility for me. Thanks. Downloading back issues as I write.

  22. Hey Dan, Howard, and Brandon,

    Love your podcasts! This was an especially fun one.

    I assume that with a ‘cast per week you’re always looking for new topics, and I have a suggestion if you like it. I don’t recall your ever doing a full ‘cast on learning curves. There’d be a lot of advice worth giving, I think, especially on the question: if I have some complicated information that it’s important the reader understand to set up a future plot point, how do I convey it without being boring or didactic?

    This would be especially relevant to sci-fi and fantasy but it plays into other stuff too. I’m working on a book set in France and what brought this topic up was my trying to use “tu” and “vous”–the French informal and formal modes of address–and make the reader actually understand what the difference means for the characters’ relationships. I think I’ve actually made it work, I need to try it out on a few more readers to be sure. And then I got into a discussion with some people who were doing fantasy based on Chinese and Korean mythologies and they had these vastly complex cultural levels–things like four different levels of formality expressed by different modes of language–that they were trying to convey. Which of course raises the question, how much is realistic to attempt.

    Anyway. Just thought I’d suggest you put that in your grab bag for a rainy week if you feel like it.

  23. I was late in listening to this, and today I went to Walmart. Quite fortuitous timing,actually. Never have I enjoyed a visit to the store as much. Everywhere I turned I could ALMOST see the hidden tails. I swear the kind greeter DID have one! The heavyset manager looked very troll like, and the thin workers covered in tattoos and dyed hair easily could have been any number of fey. And to me, that is what makes urban fantasy so special. I mean what can be more magical than making one of the most hated and despised stores to be at on a Friday night and make it enjoyable!

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