If you read a lot of urban fantasy, you might be concerned that Urban Fantasy City* is quickly approaching a Bartender Event Horizon. The Bartender Event Horizon is much like the Shoe Event Horizon described by Douglas Adams, wherein the economy is slowly consumed by shoe production, sales and consumption; in the Bartender Event Horizon scenario, however, the only viable career choices are criminal, private detective chasing said criminals, and bartender (or other food/entertainment worker) serving said criminals and detectives.
This might just be a case of common tropes becoming ossified into unspoken genre requirements, much the way the Standard Fantasy Setting has pervaded high fantasy (and perhaps there’s a sense of sticking to a comfort zone as far as character professions– Most Writers Are Writers, after all). But it’s an ossification I think has happened because authors aren’t encouraged to spend a lot of time thinking about the logistics– particularly the economics– of their fictional world. There are a huge number of writing templates out there to help you flesh out your characters or outline your plot, but not a whole lot that ask you to consider how many people are in your parallel dimension of Urban Fantasy City, how most of its citizens earn their living (is it a port city? a manufacturing center? a hot vacation spot?), or what sort of major problems it faces (industry collapse? housing shortages? owl infestations?).
Once you’ve identified the major economic drivers in your city, you can think about potential jobs for your main character (beach resort manager? spaceship mechanic? owl removal specialist?). It also will help you fill out the rest of your cast and your world. For example, imagine your character lives in a port city. That means an ever-changing stream of international sailors on shore leave (and the businesses that cater to them– translators, restaurants, motels, sex workers, cab drivers, bars and movie theatres probably all depend on these sailors for business). It also means lots of locals employed directly in the shipping industry, repairing docked ships, operating cranes to unload cargo, renting warehouse space, or working as crew. In those two sentences, we see a plethora of potential jobs for your characters in which they are an organic part of a realistic economic structure. Try doing your own exercise like this if you’re looking for plot ideas, and stay tuned for Part II of this post.
*A metropolis located just outside Diana Wynne Jones’ Fantasyland