In the late 1980s, a number of fantasy authors began to write about the various creatures and tropes of fantasy like elves, other supernatural beings, and magic in contemporary times in big cities rather than the past or in mythic places.
The Encyclopedia of Fantasy defined these urban fantasy novels as “texts where fantasy and the mundane world interact, intersect, and interweave throughout a tale which is significantly about a real city.”
Authors like Charles de Lint created stories where the real urban world and Fairy met. Other writers during this period include Emma Bull and Mercedes Lackey.
The heart of these stories are folkloric in tone with a sense of a fairy tale being retold in modern terms. The language of the novels is lyrical and poetic, and events from the main characters' point of view have a sense that something may or may not be happening.
This type of urban fantasy is now called traditional urban fantasy, and a current writer is Neil Gaiman.
In the late 1990s and beyond, a different type of urban fantasy began to appear. These novels had their basis, not from fairy tales, but from the horror and mystery genres. Other media influences included the TV show, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.
These contemporary urban fantasies were popularized by Laurell K. Hamilton with her Anita Blake novels. They have a strong protagonist who has some form of supernatural power.
The narrative is in first person, and the world has a strong sense of good and evil.
The real world is the gritty reality of the big city where the natural and the supernatural mix, often to disastrous results. The main character often has a probable sexual and crime-solving partner who is supernatural and a forbidden sexual partner either by society or by her/his own standards.
The main plot is a mystery which the main character must solve to prevent chaos, whether it be preventing bad supernaturals from harming humans or some form of disaster from occurring.
Usually, the main character is in law enforcement-- a police officer, a private detective, or a bounty hunter.
After the Anita Blake series became popular, authors from other genres entered the market. Romance authors, in particular, cross-pollinated the contemporary urban fantasy with the romance.
Instead of the mystery being the plot driver, the romance is the central plot driver. In a vast majority of these books, one of the romantic partners is supernatural, and the other is human or part human.
The most successful and influential authors include Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon.
Marilynn's Workshop Schedule and Information Links
Writing in the Moment April 11-May 8, 2011
How to get your voice, viewpoint, and craft so perfect that you disappear and your story comes alive. Lots of worksheets.
The Blurb: Mother of All Promotions July 25-August 7, 2011
A blurb is the pithy description of your novel in a query letter, the short "elevator pitch" used at a writer's conference, the log line for online promotion, and the all important back cover copy for a published novel. Without a great blurb, a novel won't be noticed by agents and editors.
Marilynn Byerly--creator of a blurb system used by university publishing courses, publishers, and many authors-- will show you how to create that perfect blurb for your novel. The course will include a number of worksheets and in-class blurb analysis.