Hopping back on this urban fantasy mystery train, today I want to hit on some points to consider when designing your sleuth. After all, one of the best things about the genre is the first person smart ass whose head we're riding in, right?
(I know you're not obligated to go first person, but let's face it, most of these books are.)
Urban Fantasy shares a lot of tropes with Noir and for good reason. There's a certain vibe that comes with both. An expected grime, if you will. So here are a list of things that are expected from an Urban Fantasy sleuth; you may mix and match these at your leisure. They're on point for the genre, but none of them alone are fully necessary.
1. Badass Woman - Yes indeed. This is one of the rare genres where the protagonists are predominantly female, and I think that's cool as heck. And of course when you are running around with vampires and werewolves, being incapable is a quick trip to a shallow grave. Mind you, plenty of books still have male protagonists (looking at you Harry Dresden and Cal Leandros), but they're fewer and farther between.
2. One Foot in the Supernatural - Rarely will you see a protagonist in one of these stories be fully human or fully supernatural. I hypothesize, the reason for this is because the humanity in them makes them accessible while the supernatural in them makes the reader want to slip into their skin. They might be part-fey (October Daye, Sookie Stackhouse), some kind of human spell caster (Anita Blake, Harry Dresden), or a shifter into something out of the ordinary for their area (Mercy Thompson), but you can bet whatever it is they are going to be human enough for the supernatural community to look down their noses and supernatural enough for humans to be kind of iffy about them. One foot in each world.
3. Down on Their Luck - This is a straight up noir trope. The sleuth has to be at the end of their rope. The bills need paying and they really need the money. Maybe they owe money to someone dangerous. Maybe they are battling an addiction or lost everything and don't know how to pick themselves back up again after that. Start them as far down the bottom of the barrel as you can and give them plenty of room to scrape their way back up.
4. A Person-of-Interest - For whatever reason, certain members of the supernatural community have an invested interest in this person. This could be because of their bloodline, something they've done in the past, just trying to figure out what the heck they are...you get the picture. There's something special about this character. The interest? It's usually not going to turn out good for them; in fact typically it means there's something that wants them to suffer or that wants to eat them.
5. Actually a Good Person Deep Down - Most noir sleuths are deeply flawed individuals, but when the chips are down, an urban fantasy protagonist is like Han Solo. They come back. They do the right thing. This appeals to something in most readers that wants to see the best in people, and after all, your hero is your hero.
If you've got any tropes that I've missed, please feel free to let me know in the comments below, and once again thank you for reading! I've got one shameless plug I want to get to before I formally release you to the rest of your day.
Yeah, it's about Torchlighters again.
I'm stupid excited for this book. In case you weren't aware, it's a mob story set in a city powered by summoned demons and attempting to capture the zeitgeist of the 1920's. It should be coming out in February, and once again I will give you guys the pre-order link just as soon as I have one.
Megan R. Miller