Urban World Building

The good thing about Urban Fantasy is that the setting takes place on earth, and the ‘normal’ basic rules of physics (gravity, sunlight, weather, etc) pretty much apply, albeit with a few author-intended specifics.  But as I develop the general locale and settings for the major scenes of my next project, I find myself researching areas much further afield than I’d planned. 

For example, I need a residence for an important, well-heeled bad guy. Not an apartment.  Probably on an estate with plenty of privacy.  Something with ‘grounds’; gardens, trees, and some sort of parking area for guests.  Since this residence is in the city, it would most likely be an older place.  How old? What kind of architecture?  I look into the history of the city, its layout, geology, weather, architecture, historic homes, and other general influences.  In my case, I see that the type of house I’m imagining (in this case, Victorian or Queen Anne) would be typical of the type of architecture for the time and place.  I find a picture of a couple of homes which are similar to what I have in mind.  But in order to be able to describe this building as I need to for my readers, I need to research the architecture style elements and learn the names of those elements.  I need to learn about roofing materials, windows, siding, construction materials, descriptive terms and telling details for eaves, trim, and colors that will make this residence come alive for the reader. 

So now I have my house. Is it in a neighborhood or outside of town?  If it’s in a neighborhood, who are the neighbors?  How close are they?  Close enough to hear the fight scene I’ve got planned?  Ooh.  I don’t want the cops coming too quick.  Response times in an upscale neighborhood would be pretty fast.  Maybe the house should be a little further out.  Yeah, but further out is farmland.  This style of architecture wouldn’t belong out in the middle of a corn field.  And having multiple cars parked in the driveway would be obvious to anyone that something is going on in that house. 

Okay back to the city then.  Close enough to the action, but not so fancy.  Maybe next to a park or a graveyard would be good (this is urban fantasy after all, you can probably make good use of that graveyard as a plot element), or in a rundown neighborhood where people don’t ask questions.  Even though the owner is well-heeled, no need to flaunt it, right?  Not when you’re trying to keep a low profile.   An older home; something plainer (Dutch Colonial, perhaps), nondescript on the outside so as not to attract attention; the multiple visitors at odd hours less likely to be noticed, since we have funerals and unfriendly neighbors who keep their shades pulled after dark.   A tall fence and big trees around the place to deter the nosy.  Suddenly I have a very different look to the residence than I originally planned.  Maybe not as pretty, but certainly one that serves the plot and fits more appropriately into the world I’m creating.

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