Making Magical Realism Effective
January 8, 2008
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The story we reviewed in our workshop last night, “Inheritance,” by Jedediah Berry, has some elements of magical realism, falling under the mantle of fabulist fiction (a nice bridge from my last instructor-led writing workshop). One of the topics I found pretty interesting in our discussion was how to make the fabulist elements more effective.
This applies, granted, when you’re introducing a few magical elements into a real world, rather than creating an entirely fabulist world (as I have been known to do). Our instructor’s belief was that the magical elements are more effective when the characters in the story treat them as normal, or at least do not treat them as extraordinary or magical. In “Inheritance,” the main character comes into possession of a mysterious beast, who has many human qualities and seems somewhat intelligent, though he can’t speak. The beast is (of course) symbolic, and that works because the other people in the story don’t say, “Wow, that’s an amazing freak of nature!” They comment only on whether it will bite, or whether it will ruin the model ship it’s looking at, as though it were just a particularly intelligent dog. There is some discussion at one point about where his father got it, but even that has the tone of “wonder what remote country he brought it back from” rather than “it’s not of this world!”
As a result, the story is very effective in convincing you of the beast’s reality. Just something to keep in mind if you’re writing stories with small doses of magical realism: don’t make the characters stand around and gawk at how magical your inventions are. They should be an accepted part of the world. If your characters accept them as such, your readers will too.
(Another excellent example, by the way, is in Philip Wylie‘s “The Answer” … go read it if you never have, because it’s pretty cool.)