I tried to look up the definition of Urban Fantasy, and I think I'm more confused on the definition than when I started. I believe I've sort of mixed in Contemporary Fantasy and Paranormal Fiction, in addition to the actual Urban Fantasy genre. The rules I found were a bit blurry, so to speak. They spoke of "sometimes they involve this..." and "this is a common theme," but no definite rules. Then again, how can you impose strict rules on creativity?
What can be defined as Urban Fantasy? Paranormal stories that take place in an urban setting. That makes sense according to the label. They're not called rural fantasy stories, after all. But I admit to just having thought that paranormal stories taking place in the modern day and age were Urban Fantasy, and that they didn't necessarily have to happen in a city, despite the moniker.
For instance, Patricia Brigg's stories of Mercedes Thompson, while associated with a city, appear to mostly happen at her home, which appears to be a nice plot of land where she has room to take her coyote form and run around. A large plot of land on the outskirts of a city seems a bit rural to me.
In Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series, some scenes are set in the city and some are set in rather rural areas, once again involving a home out in the woods with plenty of acreage. After all, wolves need running room just as much as coyotes. In fact, maybe more. We've got some city coyotes in these parts. A group of them gave me a heart attack while I was out taking a late night walk last week. Yikes!
Another rule that floated by from Wikipedia was that characters often had tragic pasts. I never really thought of that as a rule, but I can see that in a lot of the series I read. In fact, I can take that one step further and say they frequently don't have both living parents, if they have any at all. I feel like there is often a mother, but not a father. That's just with the stories that come to mind, though. So do they have to be lacking a parental unit, preferably the male one?
Does Urban Fantasy have to have a kick *ss chick in it? That seems to be a common undertone, and I can't think of one I've read that doesn't involve at least one, but is that a rule? I didn't find it as a requirement anywhere. Can a man be the main character?
What about sex? Some of these Urban Fantasy series are practically porn! Is sex a requirement? Is that our modern view of vampires? I can't say that's entirely new, a vampire being sexual. Mina sure liked Vlad Draculea in "Dracula," and there have been many other eroticized examples in horror. But what draws the line between horror and Urban Fantasy? Did Anne Rice write Urban Fiction or did she write horror? Or was it Contemporary Fantasy? Stephen King is clearly a horror author, but what sets his book "Salem's Lot" apart from Urban Fantasy? Is it that, in horror, they only want a little vampire action if they've been compelled, but in Urban Fantasy they're just plain sexy, so of COURSE humans want them and are willing to give it up? Is there an example of a horror story where the victim is willing? I could swear there was at least some of that in Anne Rice's books, but it's been a long while since I read them.
Perhaps it's that, in horror, the supernaturals don't tend to have human emotions, but in Urban Fantasy they can pity humans and even fall in love with them. But wait, Draculea certainly had human emotions in "Dracula." Look how far he went to get the woman who reminded him of his first love, long dead! His motives were all too human. And he cried...
One thing I can say is that I can't recall ever having actually found fear in respect to an Urban Fantasy. Yes, they include the creatures of our nightmares, at least nightmares from our childhood where a vampire was always bad and a werewolf would always eat your face off. Even shape shifters were always bad ("Cat People"?). They just aren't really scary. We always know the main character will come out of it and kick some major booty on the way out.
In horror, the supernatural creatures have to be finished off at the end, or at least a good show made of it. They are to be destroyed, not followed, not worshiped, certainly not respected. Yet in Urban Fantasy and related genres they can be both the good guys and the bad guys.
The only thing I've always considered a bit of a rule in my mis-construed definition was that supernatural creatures interacted with regular humans in a somewhat "normal" way. As in, humans acknowledge they exist. They may not be happy about it, but they know it and they have to live side by side with them in many ways. In Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake books, they can be anywhere: on the police force, in a church, even a school teacher can be a were-something or other! Kim Harrison has them more distant in her Hollows series, as I don't believe there are any humans in their neighborhood (The Hollows). I'm not really sure about the flip side of that, though. It seems supernaturals live out there in some places, but maybe the humans aren't aware of it.
So tell me, how do YOU define Urban Fantasy? What do you see as the rules? What sets it apart from horror?