I’ve written before about setting and how important it is (wearing my children’s author hat), here; Setting It Straight
When it comes to urban fantasy, a sense of place is doubly important. In order to totally anchor the reader in the world they know and can relate to, it’s vital to get it right. Using a real setting is usefully limiting, helping to add reality to the tensions in the story. And we all know that real life monsters get away with all sorts under our very noses.
Jaycee Dugard, the girl kidnapped when she was 11, lived in the captor’s backyard in a tent. No one noticed for a decade.
Some tropes go the extra mile with altered reality or alternate histories or deliberately chosen secret settings. We see this best in wizarding schools, extranonormal institutes, magical societies or city noir. But for my money, the best urban fantasies involve trying to cope with the weird and paranormal in modern day society. Ben Aaranovitch’s Peter Grant novels do this, as does Jim Butcher’s Dresden series. Pitching the mundane and ordinary against the inexplicable throws up the ‘what if’ hook in flashing neon and helps, paradoxically, with suspension of belief. Dealing with real life in the midst of demonic invasions opens up a whole canvas of possibility. Real cities have features that lend themselves. Kim Harrison originally planned on setting her Rachel Morgan series in a made-up city, but her editor suggested they relocate the Hallows into the real world. Consulting with a map, she realized only Cincinnati worked, which turned quite well:
“It’s one of the oldest cities in the U.S. It was the fourth largest at one point. It was an old city that kept its architecture. It’s got the oldest garden graveyard. They used to be known for their body snatching. Seriously! You could be in the ground for an hour and then you’d be on a train heading north to Detroit for the hospitals for study. Then you’ve got the tunnels…”
There’s a great post about this here. NYCC
In my hands, choosing reality for the setting gives me the chance to maybe explore the humorous side of life (or should that be after-life?). Is that bloke in Carphone Warehouse wearing the costume of the Creature from the Black Lagoon for a bet, or has that knock on the head somehow opened an inner eye to allow you to see him as he really is. Nice whelks, too.
Real cities have features that lend themselves.
In my hands, the chance to maybe explore the humorous side of life (or should that be after-life?). Is that bloke in Carphone Warehouse wearing the costume of the Creature from the Black Lagoon for a bet, or has that knock on the head somehow opened an inner eye to allow you to see him as he really is? Mmm, nice whelks, bro.
For me, setting the Hipposync Archives in Oxford was a no-brainer. It’s a city full of Gothic spires, has a rarefied atmosphere and is populated by the brightest and most eccentric of people during term time.
“Matt would have been the first to admit that Oxford was an interesting city, full of very bright people who knew as much about the real world as a life dedicated to theoretical quantum physics or the medieval Ottoman architecture of the Balkans might allow. Which was to say, not much. He saw them in the street every day, dressed in clothes chosen from a charity shop by a visually challenged chimpanzee. Perfectly polite, but as eccentric as a box of croakers.”
The 400Lb Gorilla. DC Farmer
Some readers, of course, can not find a way around the science fiction or fantasy injection. But then, as mentioned, the clue is in the label.