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2021: Celebrating The Writers' Greenhouse
10 YEAR anniversary!

Friday, 17 July 2020

Weekly writing prompt: Urban fantasy

Urban Fantasy

In the run-up to the online Summer of Writing workshops in August, I'm posting a writing prompt each weekend - plenty of different stuff for you to play around with as a chance to experiment, get your pen moving, and have fun! Each of the prompts loosely connects with a weekend pair of the Summer of Writing workshops, and I'll explain the connection at the end of the post each time. I find it's often more useful to play with prompts first, then think about their purpose afterwards, as we're more open and uninhibited that way. (That said, if you need to understand the point of something to enjoy it, feel free to scroll down and read that first!)

This week's prompt is URBAN FANTASY. That's stories which are set pretty much in our here-and-now world, but add elements of fantasy, like magic powers, magical races, etc. (If you know Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, Laurel K Hamilton's Anita Blake series, or Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan series, those are all urban fantasy.

SO, step one: pick something in the urban environment that frequently catches your attention, or puzzles you. For example, lit-up bollards, road signs with double poles, shoes on top of bus stops, patterns on manholes. Then, by freewriting / talking aloud to yourself on the page, start describing it in detail and exploring a magical explanation for it, how it reveals a substrata of magical beings, powers, or forces at work, who knows about that and who doesn't... and see what emerges.

I suggest you do this as a timed exercise - I usually suggest ten minutes, because that's such a doable length of time, and we're much more likely to do something if we know it'll only take ten minutes. If you want to spend longer on it, you absolutely can, but commit to just the ten minutes first and do that.

This is the 4th of the 5 weekly writing prompts running up to this year's online Summer of Writing workshops. This prompt links with the pair of workshops on orientating the reader: Shifting between Scenes (Saturday 22 August) and Deft Exposition (Sunday 23 August). Every genre needs exposition (explaining backstory and assorted info to the reader), but the fantasy and sci-fi genres really help us recognise the need for it, and are also brimming with examples of how to do it well, so it's a great way in. And if you're not an SFF-fan, urban fantasy is a more accessible place to play, because it's set in a world you already know, with your added-on invented bits. Urban fantasy is also a great way to think about orientating the reader as you shift between, because your story has both its magical world and its real world, and at each point you're finding cues and clues for how to let the reader know.

You can see all the previous prompts here and there's also a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

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You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...
  • 1. Creative Ground (Saturday 1 August): exploring the different kinds of thinking we need for creativity, process versus product driven approaches, and increasing our reservoirs of inspiration
  • 2. Creative Play (Sunday 2 August): experimenting with taking creative leaps, opening up to fresh ideas, and risk-free thinking
  • 3. Creating Voice (Saturday 8 August): creating or developing characters through exploring their voice
  • 4. Dialogue on the Page (Sunday 9 August): practical aspects of writing dialogue: its purpose in the story; common errors; attributing speech; and the descriptions and actions that go around it.
  • 5. Place is Story (Saturday 15 August): using rich locations to develop and create plot events
  • 6. Purposeful description (Sunday 16 August): writing description that serves strong narrative purposes and exploring techniques for strengthening your descriptive writing
  • 7. Shifting between Scenes (Saturday 22 August): how to keep the reader oriented about who characters are, what happened last, moving in time and place, and dealing with flashbacks elegantly
  • 8. Deft exposition (Sunday 23 August): a range of ways to weave explanation into a story and how to deal with "heavy-duty" exposition for more complex info
  • 9. Exploring Styles (Saturday 29 August): exploring a wide range of styles and the features of each, and experimenting with writing in different styles
  • 10. Polishing your Style (Sunday 30 August): using original imagery, selecting telling details, improving word choice, spotting clich├ęs, and pruning unnecessary words
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 16 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

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