Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Urban Fantasy Thoughts

First, does anyone know any urban fantasy novels not written in first person? I really enjoy UF, (of course, since I'm working on one now), but man, I am sick of first person. I don't like first person sex scenes. I'm tired of the automatic sense of selfishness first person narrative brings to the story.

I don't mean selfishness in terms of the heroines being selfish--although, let's be honest. As I have yet to read an urban fantasy without a "kick-ass" heroine, most of them are monstrously self-centered, to the point that they miss valuable information because they're so busy pulling out their weapons (remember when that was the hero's job? Heh heh) or casting spells or telling everyone else they're wrong, wrong, and Our Heroine is the right one because...well, because she is.

What I find interesting is the contrast between today's Urban Fantasy and yesterday's Gothics. In both, the heroine was in jeopardy from a Bad Guy whose identity was unclear. In both she couldn't be sure who she could trust and who she couldn't. But while the Gothic heroine used her wits, and maybe didn't discover the truth until it was almost too late, the UF heroine just hurts people physically. And if she learns the truth a little late, we get mad, because she's been presented to us as this all-powerful ass-kicker, so we expect her to know what's happening at all times.

I enjoy violence as much as the next girl. (Actually, I probably enjoy violence a lot more than the next girl, as evinced by my love of John Woo films.) But I also like characters who use their brains as well as their weapons.

And something else bothers me about UF, too. We never seem to see the world being created. We're always stepping into an already-done world, and we have to play catch-up. There's always a line in there somewhere like, "After the Tremor (or the Turn, or the change in laws, or whatever), hunters/psionics/supernaturals came out of the closet" or whatever. I want to read about what happened during that Turn! I want to read about the people who first realized there was a whole 'nother world they didn't know about!

It's one reason why I so enjoy Kelley Armstrong's books. Yes, they are in first person, but they're set in a separate world within our world. I don't have to memorize a whole bunch of new terms or picture myself on the set of Blade Runner in order to get into them. (And what a bleak view of the future it always is, eh? We never see a world where the presence of supernatural beings has aided humanity instead of feeding off them and turning cities into cesspits.)

Like I said, I really do enjoy the genre. But they're starting to feel same-y to me. The heroines are all terrifically powerful and tough. The heroes...well, they're not as tough as the heroines, which you all know is an issue for me.

And this is why I wonder about the first person. So many of these voices sound just the same. When most of what the MC thinks about are weapons and maybe the Friend Who Died And The MC Feels Responsible, it's hard to make me feel like I'm not in a book by a different author I just read, you know? Or the one before that, or the one before that.

What do you think? Of UF, or first person, or futuristics, or whatever?

18 comments:

Bernita said...

I always wonder why they have to be "futuristics."
What's wrong with "now"?
There'a a great creep/excitemment factor imbedded in the scenario of something existing, subterranean, that the general population does not recognize.
And WTF is wrong with equality between men and women? Combining strengths and different abilities?
A kick-ass heroine, to me, means someone with mental strength, someone who can, if necessary, fight dirty and physically, not a woman who beats up everyone including the hero.
I enjoy reading first person though.

Anonymous said...

The POV really doesn't matter that much to me, at least that my small brain has noticed. But, I think you are right about taking more time to develop the world. I am a visual person and like to form those scenes in my head. One of the things that makes movies like Blade Runner and even Demolition Man, Total Recall in sci-fi, etc. so appealing to me is I guess what you would call the set design. The created world of those movies just reaches out and pulls me into the story (and it's more than JUST the visuals, it's the language, etc.). It should be the same in books. -JTC

Sam said...

I live different POV's - first person is one of my favorites though.
I read the coolest urban fantasy called 'Arial' but I don't remember who the author was. Very, very cool book about technology disappearing one day, being replaced by mythical creatures.

Sam said...

love, not live.
Argh.

December Quinn said...

I'm right there with you on the kick-ass heroines, Bernita. I like to read about ordinary women finding their strength, not women whol are already tough as nails.

Exactly, JTC. Give me a little more to go on than just new words and things, tell me what it looks like, feels like.

I do enjoy first person, Sam and everyone. Some of my favorite books are first person. I'm just wondering why there seems to be so little UF in third person.

S. W. Vaughn said...

I am at this moment writing a third-person limited POV urban fantasy with absolutely zero KAH content.

I must shamefully admit that I'm not widely read in the urban fantasy department. Just finished reading Nora Roberts' "Dance of the Gods," which may possibly be considered UF, and is written in third-person limited (with, in my opinion, far too much head-hopping for comfort... I'm still dizzy. I love ya, Nora, but damn. Settle down.)

Have you read the Anita Blake series? I have not. Is that first person?

So ends my meandering comment. :-)

Robyn said...

If I can bring in a movie- my fave futuristic kickass heroine flick is "The Fifth Element." Milla Jovovich was a helpless waif AND Xena, and my favorite operatic aria was sung beautifully! How can you lose?

With any kickass protag, my main bone of contention is this: Heroes are set up as the Toughest. Coldest. Most Ruthless. Evah. But he gets his butt kicked regularly, always almost losing the last battle and barely ekeing out victory. Just once I really want to see these guys clearing the room, you know? Or not getting sucker-punched after reading for 1/3 of the book about how he has the Senses Of A Jungle Cat.

But KA heroines never get beaten up. Never. You may have read one (please tell me they're out there!)but I haven't. If I'm supposed to believe they can dish it out, they should take it too, shouldn't they? Lose a fight once in awhile, please!

December Quinn said...

I totally agree, Robyn! (As always).


I love guys who just jump in and get the f*cking job done. Don't tell us he's the toughest without showing us, you know?

No, I've never seen a KA heroine lose. Very annoying, that is. I'm keeping it in mind for future.

Erik Ivan James said...

I'd much rather read third person than first. I think the "pictures" are more vivid. I do write in first person, though, for the practice. It helps me clarify my thinking. Then I rewrite in third.

~chuckling~ I'm not much into severe KA heroines...they hurt! And, I'd rather be on top...um...to "finish right".

Isabella Snow said...

Gotta say I hate first person anything.

Anything.

I'm sure this will make me grossly unpopular, but hey. That's how it is.

I did like the Bridget Jones narrative for the film though. Other than that.. nuh-uh.

Especially ick for sex. I want to watch it - not hear a self narrative.

Jenn on the Island said...

I've only read a few Urban Fantasy, and all were first person. The stories were good (one was by Kelley Armstrong the rest were by Laurel K.), but I just felt like I was missing out on something.

As I've said before, I read for the heros, not the heroines. Seeing through her eyes only just doesn't do it for me.

And I'm totally with Isabella on the sex in the first person: No thanks. I don't want to hear her experience it, I want to experience it myself.

Hm, I do however have my current heroine take out the hero the first time she meets him. Mind you, she's trained with Royce Gracie himself, and although she honestly tossed and pinned him, she immediately realizes there's no way she could keep him on the floor....

Anonymous said...

I always wonder why they have to be "futuristics." What's wrong with "now"?

Because "now" requires research, and no matter how much research you do, someone will write you a letter that reads, "Dear Author, On page 123 of your novel 'Love's Percussive Blast' you referred to the hero's gun as a Czech-made M-84 when any idiot could tell you that the correct name for that particular firearm is the Skorpion, vzor 61. Next time, do some research, ok?"

Well, that's my theory for it. And, also, my excuse. Now, if you'll pardon me, I must return to my writing. My intrepid heroine was just about to defend herself from three laserblade-wielding attackers. I think I'll have her make her getaway in a flying car...

December Quinn said...

See, Isabelle, as I said I don't mind first person. I prefer, third, but I don't hate it. I just don't like first person sex scenes. This may sound fnny coming from someone who writes erotic, but there's an...indelicacy about a first person sex scene I find offputting. "He touched my x. He lifted me over him" or whatever. It just feels like the narrator is being a little too open with me. It's that private bone again, I guess.

I agree, Jenn. I write third, and my WIP doesn;t go into the hero's POV at all, but I'm still allowed to interpret him a little more broadly because I'm not in first. I thought of going into his POV, but he's actually sort of a mysterious character and I decided it would be better if the readers don't know that much about him.
And I don't mind a genuine sparring match. That's sexy. I just hate when the heroine always wins, because she is teh strongest or whatever. Like, what's the point then?

December Quinn said...

Lol, Bettie, and that's very true I think. It's easier to build your own world with its own rules than it is to fit your story into the existing one. (At least, it is in the planning stage. I don't mean to imply that it's easy to build that world while writing it.)

And don't get me started on people doubting your research. You can give people a list of your sources and they still won't listen. Urgh.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Robyn, I'm with you on The Fifth Element. Great movie! :-)

kis said...

First person bugs me. I never feel like I can trust it. It's just a basic understanding of human nature--the desire to be seen as tough and smart, the reluctance to admit you're wrong, or to confess to acting stupid or childish or unfair.

First person is like a personal ad. "I'm a SWF, tall, thin, attractive, super-great fighter with a sensitive side, I like long walks on the beach," etc. You never read one that says "I'm a SWF, I get bitchy once a month, I tend to blame others for my unhappiness, I have stretch-marks and chronic halitosis."

People have great difficulty being honest about their flaws. Taking a character's word for everything is just a bit of a stretch. I would find it easier to trust a first person POV of, say, a pedophile, because I at least know what he's omiting and lying about. With a kick-ass first person heroine--and don't get me wrong, I love Xena and Buffy and Lara Croft as much as anyone--I just get the impression I'm only being told half the story.

As for KAHs getting their asses kicked, my MC does--but she's not a UF character.

cyn said...

i haven't read any, either. tho rachel caine was an author at our little f/sf conference. she does the weatherwarden series which is uf, and paranormal romance as well.
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_/002-0781601-5918464?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=rachel+caine

Jenna said...

Urban Fantasy, 3rd person: Echo and Narcissus, Mark Siegel