This was a suggestion from the lovely Jen.
As I’m sure you’re aware if you’re here, I write Urban Fantasy. I also read a reasonable bit of it. In short, I really love Urban Fantasy. This is a quick (and possibly dirty) guide to worldbuilding specifically for Urban Fantasy.
(Shall I say Urban Fantasy one more time? Do I dare?)
So first things first, you need to decide whether magic is hidden or out in the open.
We’ll start with if it’s hidden, as that as far more questions involved.
If magic, and thus all those magical beings you’re dying to write about, are hidden, how does it remain that way? What exactly is in place to make sure that non-magical people don’t find out?
In my Infernal Hunt series, there was a mix of fae magic, a set of guidelines, and people like Evie (the protagonist), to make sure everyone stayed in line.
I’ve seen people use magic spells that limit what non-magical people can see and perceive. I’ve seen councils that regulate the use of magic and punish those who use too much, or use it too near to non-magical beings. I’ve seen it that magic is hidden behind portals and certain places within the city. There are lots of options here, but you need to figure it out, and stick with it.
What are the consequences for those who break this rule?
Let’s say that Bob (poor old Bob), gets drunk on that wonderful fae whisky, stumbles into the middle of Time Square, and being drunk, mistakes the big neon advert for some magical foe and casts a big spell. We’ll say it’s a flashy spell that no one can deny is magic.
What happens to poor old Bob in this situation?
What happens when your supposedly non-magical (but we know better) protagonist stumbles into the magical world?
Given that they are actually magic (because this is Urban Fantasy), what happens here? Do the council know that they’re actually magic and thus treat them differently to if Gerty, who is truly non-magical, stumbled into this world?
Just how big of a shock is this stumbling? Do they look around and suddenly everything is unicorns, vampires, and bright sparkly fae magic? Or do they notice that some people seem to be a little hairier than normal and others have odd shadows?
What happens to the offspring of a magic and non-magical union?
We know it’s going to happen at least once, so what are the protocol there? What are the chances of the offspring being magical? How will the fully magical beings treat them? What are the consequences and differences between them and fully magical or fully non-magical offspring?
What about if a magical being wants to live out in the non-magical world, as a completely non-magical being?
Can that be done? Why might they want to do that? What could possibly go wrong?
Why is magic hidden in the first place? What’s the reasoning and history there?
Is it that they feel the non-magical just aren’t ready and they’ll break everything? I actually can’t remember my reasoning in the Infernal Hunt world… my bad.
Exactly what form of magic is present here? Have you found a way to hide full-blown dragons?
There are lots of options here. Are you talking big flashy elementals? Subtle knowledge weavers? Alchemists and witches? The classic vampires and werewolves? You know there’s magic, but what is it? How does it work? How can it be stopped?
Lots of people have magic upset technology, is your magic one of those? Is it instinctual and inborn, or does it need to be taught? If it needs to be taught, what happens if someone’s super-magical… but never received their education? (Dun dun Dduunnnnn!)
How does magic interact with technology?
Urban Fantasy means the modern world, so how does magic fit into that? In my Ink world magic’s right there out in the open, woven into the fabric of society and all that good stuff. So my characters drive cars, use phones, watch movies, and also ride in airships, battle drakes, and so on and so forth.
Other series have it so that magicians (or whatever you choose to call them), really struggle with technology because the magic gets in the way. How do you handle the modern world combined with magic? Does every magic type react the same? For example do vampires get on fabulously with everything except lightbulbs and the internet will not work around them? Or maybe werewolves can’t be cooped up in cars but absolutely adore the convenience of microwaves?
What happens if magic gets out on a large-scale basis?
Let’s say you have a big bubble that keeps the magic contained and the non-magical people entirely clueless. What if that bubble cracks, explodes, or something else meaning that suddenly everyone knows about magic? What would happen then? Are there any safeguards in place? Are there any back-up plans?
In the Infernal Hunt world I had a combination of witch and fae magic that stepped in to resolve this little issue by a huge joined spell to alter peoples’ memories. You could go any one of a hundred ways. Maybe you have a brutal pixie council in charge of these things and they choose to slaughter anyone who notices magic. Maybe you put something in the water system that brings out their latent magic and brings them into the fold.
Is it possible for a magical person to lose their magic? Or a non-magical person to gain magic?
Is that a thing that could happen? If so, how likely is it? What happens if it does? What are the consequences if it does happen?
I have a particular type of elf that will die a horrible death over about three days if they lose their magic. Do you have a happier outcome in your world?
I’m sure there are many more questions you could, and probably should, be asking yourself if you want to build and Urban Fantasy world. I hope this provided a bouncing off point though!