As everyone who follows this blog probably knows by now, I'm big into urban fantasy, both as a writer and reader. This means that I come across, and read, a whole lot of blog posts and internet articles about urban fantasy every week, as well as participating in #ufchat on Twitter. And I've noticed something. A lot of these sources exaggerate.
I know exaggeration generally occurs as a rhetorical device and is being used to highlight certain aspects of the genre. Thing is, this highlighting is frequently in a "my UF doesn't do that" or "we've moved past that as a genre" or "let's tone things down" vein, and I'm not sure it's entirely accurate in that regard. In fact, I think it may perpetuate myths and misunderstandings, and possibly turn people away who'd otherwise read the books in question. (I'm guilty of this highlighting too, by the way.)
I'm not exceptionally well-read in UF, admittedly. There are too many novels for me to even have read half of them. But I'd like to think I'm reasonably versed in what's going on in the genre, and I have to say, I've yet to see some of the heroines people discuss like they're everywhere. You know—the red-headed stick figure in leather, corset, and heels, wielding a longsword or high-calibre weapon without a realistic muscle or body mass. The busty bombshell who shags anyone with a six-pack and a Clint Eastwood voice. The woman who whines about how she's got it so hard when she breaks a nail in the middle of a case and wouldn't you know it but everyone's out of fake nails, not to mention her favourite color of nail polish.
Of course, there are protagonists who fit parts of these stereotypes, but in all the cases I've seen, it's just one part of their character and it comes from either a part of the world-building or in the character's backstory. Maybe they need to wear leather because that's the only thing tough enough to not fall off in a fight. Maybe they sleep around because they've got deep-seated issues about their body and the nature of sex. Maybe the girl with the broken nail is a beauty pageant contestant trying to find out who's been slipping vampire serum to the competition.
Okay, maybe that last one's stretching it.
I also don't see a lot of the broad-chested, sexist, quasi-abusive he-men who are supposed to run rampant through urban fantasies, or the highly-formulaic plots, or the excessively whiny vegan vamps. They're there, to a degree, but the exaggerations … well, exaggerate the character traits, and formulaic plots? UF is by and large a mystery genre. There's only so much you can do with "crime happens, someone goes to solve it, various bad things happen, clues appear, mystery solved". Even still, there's an awful lot of potential even in a single world. The series I follow, which, okay, most are only 4-6 books right now, haven't been played out yet, and the worlds are actually expanding.
These exaggerations of characters and tropes don't just come from haters, though there are certainly people who look down on urban fantasy and play things up to point out flaws. Writers and readers say these sorts of things all the time. "More real vamps!" they say. "More realistic characters!" they say. "More creative plots!" they say. If anyone's reading books with fake vamps and shallow characters and hackneyed plots, they're, I'm sorry to say, not looking hard enough. Not really looking that hard at all. As far as I can tell, good urban fantasy, with rounded, realistic characters, good romances, good mysteries, and complicated, layered worlds is all over the place. By exaggerating the genre, not that that's always a bad thing, we're making people think that it doesn't. Ourselves included.