Urban Fantasy Kitchen Sink: What's the Limit?:

Total posts: [48]
1 2
I'm working on a new story (or series, not sure at this point, hard to tell), about a reporter who stumbles across a mermaid, and through his subsequent relationship with her, gets pulled into the world of the supernatural. So there'll be all types of supernatural creatures popping up and involving themselves in the story. Werewolves, vampires, sorcerers, all that good stuff, plus so much more (having a decent knowledge of folklore is always a good thing).

My problem is this. Where do I draw the line? How do I stop it from just turning into 'What cool new creature is coming next?', or from just overwhelming the suspension of disbelief by having so many creatures, it's impossible for them all to be hiding all this time? I'd just as soon this not be a monster of the week type story, and to be able to focus more, but I also want to avoid just having the normal standard fair, go further than that. What's a good balance here, or is it obvious and I'm just missing it.
2 chihuahua015th May 2013 06:48:35 PM from Standoff, USA , Relationship Status: I LOVE THIS DOCTOR!
Writer's Welcome Wagon
Personally, it all comes down to purpose. Consider every creature and fantasy element you put into you story, and think whatever you think it adds to the story. If you're better off with something mundane, go mundane. If expanding your mythos will deepen your setting, go for it

Bottom line, just avoid throwing in everything without a thought, and you should be fine.

(That Guy You Met Once)
...And it also depends on how long your story is.

If it's a short novel, keep it limited. If it's a serial that'll go on for years, use however many creatures you want.
4 Wolf106615th May 2013 09:21:07 PM from New Zealand , Relationship Status: In my bunk
Typin' strangely
One of the things I liked most about the series Moonlight was that the mystery of the week wasn't always due to a vampire. They existed, occasionally they were a problem, but so were people.

Whether you make it a book or a series, make sure that various creatures aren't the explanation for everything that happens (as seems to be the case with some of the Urban Fantasies).

It gets a bit much when you read a fantasy and it turns out that everything we know about our society is the way it is due to the influence of supernatural creatures. They take over the whole story. Hindenburg? Due to warring ghoul factions. World War Two? A long-term plan by the Tucheezi Vampire clan. Having three meals a day? Vampire custom from the dawn of time. Eat toast for breakfast? Invented by werewolves because handwave. And so it goes.

And then every little plot is due to them as well.

That's the point where it gets too unbelievable for me: not "having too many different types of creatures" as such, more "having them responsible for too much of the plot and backstory."

Sure, having 15-20-foot giants somehow not being noticed for centuries, especially if they're in large enough numbers for a stable population, would probably stretch credibility to breaking point, so you'd have to have some damned plausible reason no one noticed that the neighbour occasionally takes up an entire elevator by himself. Or decide that, nah, there are no giants wandering around.

edited 15th May '13 9:23:14 PM by Wolf1066

Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
5 MajorTom16th May 2013 08:51:41 AM , Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
^ And that is why stories relying on The Masquerade are a bunch of hack works. It's just so easy to hide behind such a thing than world build better.

edited 16th May '13 8:58:02 AM by MajorTom

"Allah may guide their bullets, but Jesus helps those who aim down the sights."
6 chihuahua016th May 2013 10:27:16 AM from Standoff, USA , Relationship Status: I LOVE THIS DOCTOR!
Writer's Welcome Wagon
Careful, you just called Harry Potter a hack work.

That said, I'm trying out Broken Masquerade for my current project, although I'm maintaining the Masquerade with Manifestation Files, so I can explore the "Muggle conspirator" angle.
7 Fulcanelli16th May 2013 01:03:57 PM , Relationship Status: Less than three
Little Laguz
I'd like to think that the balance really varies from work to work. If you're what you're doing solely revolves around that supernatural world, then I really think the balance could be whatever it is you want as long as it doesn't go over the wall. To agree with other posts, the amount of creatures that pop up should be limited to their plot relevance. As long as each creature's purpose is explained and justified by the plot, you should really be able to put in anything you like.

I suppose this all depends on what your plot actually is though, of which I don't really know. In my opinion, you would really only hit a limit once your roster of creatures completely consumes the plot that they used to be a part of. Granted, I may have no clue what I'm talking about and am possibly spouting nonsense.

Best of luck finding a balance regardless.
The only reason why I like waking up is because I like falling asleep.

Hm, I feel like I was just insulted. evil grin

Although the Masquerade isn't going to stick around for the entire story, where's the fun in that? Besides, the logic boils down to "If people know werewolves exist, why would werewolves still exist?"

Anyway, conversation for another time.

So, the general consensus is, introduce only what the plot needs. I can do that. Still leaves me with plenty of flexibility. As an example, selkies are probably alright, but them plus krakens, sea serpents, a leviathan and the Midgard Serpent might be a bit much.

edited 16th May '13 1:45:48 PM by Nightmare24

If you are going to build a true Fantasy Kitchen Sink, don't put any limits on yourself. Anything you can include without bending the story over to accomodate it, feel free to throw in.

If you are going to have limits, however, forget about making a Fantasy Kitchen Sink, and have very tight limits that you will not cross. If the story is about a war between vampires and werewolves, for example, don't throw in faeries just because you found a cool legend and got enamored with them that week. That kind of decision can be hard to take back.
10 chihuahua016th May 2013 06:59:01 PM from Standoff, USA , Relationship Status: I LOVE THIS DOCTOR!
Writer's Welcome Wagon
[up] Didn't True Blood did exactly that?

11 MajorTom16th May 2013 08:04:58 PM , Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
Careful, you just called Harry Potter a hack work.

In some ways it is. While its magical world is surprisingly well-written the premise that the Muggles don't or won't notice the tiny little rips and tears in The Masquerade that happen appallingly often is fundamentally absurd and hackish.

I mean like in the second book when they fly the car? Surely somebody in the British countryside would have seen that. Or worse, somebody in the Royal Air Force or some constabulary keeping their eyes on the sky. Yet in story they flew that thing somehow completely unnoticed despite no magical reason why.
"Allah may guide their bullets, but Jesus helps those who aim down the sights."
12 chihuahua016th May 2013 08:12:18 PM from Standoff, USA , Relationship Status: I LOVE THIS DOCTOR!
Writer's Welcome Wagon
Pretty much all mainstream fiction stories have worldbuilding flaws like that. It takes more than a few suspension of disbelief-breaking moments to demote an otherwise deep series into a hack work.

Thinking about it, Harry Potter has some Fantasy Kitchen Sink elements, although it stays European for the most part

[Note: I'm the kind of person to not notice stuff like that half of the time, and even then, I usually don't let it ruin my experience. I'm fine with that; I just don't want to fall into the "nitpicking the story" mindset often.]

edited 16th May '13 8:15:38 PM by chihuahua0


Totally off topic but...

1) They were seen, at least in the movie(it's been awhile since I read the book). The Ministry ensures that people who do see stuff like that don't remember it. Also, the car had a cloaking device most of the way, and a dozen other enchantments besides, hard to tell what all Arthur did to that car.

2) Suppose someone does. There's kind of a major issue though: Who's going to believe them? And that's what makes these supernatural creatures hiding fairly believable, at least to me. Yes, people might stumble across a werewolf or a vampire or something like that from time to time. But most of them are either going to be ignored as purely insane, or are going to keep their mouths shut to avoid that problem. You can't just go around saying you saw a werewolf and not expect people to look at you funny. Unless someone literally turns up with footage of a werewolf on camera and has a dozen experts look it over to prove it's not fake, no one important, and certainly not the general public will believe them. Pure and simple.

14 MajorTom16th May 2013 08:47:34 PM , Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
^ That's why I brought up the RAF or the constabulary. A car at the altitude seen in the movie would show up on local RAF radar quite easily. As well as a dozen or more local airports own.

It's incredibly hard to believe that in the age of camcorders (which have been around for 30+ years) and easily used cameras nobody ever snapped a wizard or what have you in the series.

In short it kept falling back on the same crutch that all Masquerade hack works do: The Ministry or whatever kept a lid on it. That's the problem and why Masquerade works are hackish, they rely on it as a crutch to Hand Wave away all conceivable scenarios of witnesses. Even stuff that's the constant target of conspiracy theories like the FSB/GRU and CIA aren't anywhere near that good and they have the funding and capabilities of world superpowers.

It might be more believable if you were doing a piece set in a more antique world like the pre-Renaissance since secret societies did exist then and did a pretty good job of hiding themselves for a time. However any Masquerade work set after 1850 is going to have an increasingly hard time proving it's not a hack work.
"Allah may guide their bullets, but Jesus helps those who aim down the sights."
My fantasy kitchen sink has four categories: angelic, demonic, fairie/elemental, and undead/necromantic. I do use a masquerade but it's not foolproof - there are people who know about the hidden world but the majority is blissfully unaware (I say "blissfully" because those who DO know tend to become genocidal maniacs). And while they weren't RESPONSIBLE for most events in history (such as WWII), they were certainly INVOLVED in many of them. I might mention an invisible race in passing (even if they don't have a place in the story) but I focus on elves, ghosts and shamans.
Level 3 Social Justice Necromancer. Chaotic Good.
Raven Wilder
[up][up] Actually, while a lot of stories have an M.I.B. that keeps a lid on the supernatural, in plenty of others The Masquerade is maintained, not because anyone's trying to maintain it, but because people just have really strong Weirdness Censors. They'll see a flying car or a shape-shifting witch or a 10-meter-tall giant, and 9 times out of 10 will either refuse to believe what they're seeing or repress all memory of it shortly afterwards.

edited 16th May '13 9:20:07 PM by RavenWilder

"It takes an idiot to do cool things, that's why it's cool" - Haruhara Haruko
And people wonder why I don't value my own opinions.

Anyway, that's pretty good advice guys, I'll definatly consider it.

What's the framing device here? Could you provide some plot points that justify the story? Did the reporter go for a swim, nearly drowned, had the mermaid save his life, and then she went like: "Let me introduce you to my friends, every supernatural creature that ever existed!"?

Also, do you have to make the mermaid the story's resident tour guide? Wouldn't some other, maybe a little more menacing creature, serve this purpose better; or is it deliberate, as in, you want to introduce the reporter to this hidden world through someone that's actually a good person?

Sorry about the bucket-load of questions, I just find it hard to provide feedback with so little to go on. Plus, you don't have to answer me, you can ask this stuff to yourself and answer them inner monologue style and see if it helps.

edited 17th May '13 6:55:14 AM by Basterd

19 MajorTom17th May 2013 07:04:59 AM , Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
^^^ That's just as hackish as having MIB's do it. Human psychology does not work that way!
"Allah may guide their bullets, but Jesus helps those who aim down the sights."
It's less that, and more that once he finds out about this whole situation, he spots little issues and problems all around, things that as a reporter he has to look into, so he asks her for introductions, guidance and information whenever he needs it.

And yep, that's what it boils down to. I needed someone who was pretty decent to act as his major adviser, and I wanted to avoid the standard werewolf or vampire thing. I figured a mermaid was a bit more on the interesting side.
Although, I'm guessing he won't be able to report his finds in the Muggle newspaper he works for, right? At least not with some really negative consequences.
Well no. But there are papers out there similar to the Weekly World News that will pay just fine.
23 chihuahua017th May 2013 08:35:38 AM from Standoff, USA , Relationship Status: I LOVE THIS DOCTOR!
Writer's Welcome Wagon
Please, Major Tom. You're making a dangerous claim there, saying that (all) works with masquerades are hackish.

As said before, there's Weirdness Censor in some cases, but they don't all work the same. Some run on mundane mechanics, others comes with the tone and genre (eg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and some are Extra Strength (eg, Percy Jackson, my own Manifestion Files).

Say that it's lazy using the Masquerade and avoiding worldbuilding, but Masquerades still have merits. There's still effort involved constructing the mundane and fantastical world, and there are still scenarios to explore and possibilities that can lead to great storytelling—and not just from genius writers.

Partly, it's that you're calling one of my writing projects hackish without reading it first, but it's also that the Masquerade isn't a Bad Writing Trope. It's a tool with several approaches, not a binary device.
24 MajorTom17th May 2013 09:23:43 AM , Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
Please, Major Tom. You're making a dangerous claim there, saying that (all) works with masquerades are hackish.

The reliance upon it is hackish, not the actual masquerade itself. The increasing reliance upon it to explain away why there are no "crossovers" into the real world is the problem, not the trope itself.

As per your work, from what I've seen and heard about you're not overly dependent on it hiding away everything with a Hand Wave. You're doing a lot better than most masquerade works.
"Allah may guide their bullets, but Jesus helps those who aim down the sights."
Raven Wilder
That's just as hackish as having MIB's do it. Human psychology does not work that way!

That's exactly what someone with a Weirdness Censor would say. tongue

Psychology might say Weirdness Censors aren't possible, but, like all sciences, it's based on the premise that we can accurately observe the world around us. If Weirdness Censors exist, then our perceptions of reality are unreliable, so we can't trust anything we think we know about how the world works.

edited 17th May '13 9:35:01 PM by RavenWilder

"It takes an idiot to do cool things, that's why it's cool" - Haruhara Haruko

Total posts: 48
1 2