So I’ve been taking a magical realism course at a local writing center. Once a week, I get to hang out with a group of about eight other writers and, led by a really great instructor, we discuss reading assignments like Aimee Bender’s “The Rememberer” (seriously, bookmark it for when you have five or seven minutes. It’s short but powerful.) and workshop each other’s stories.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, magical realism is a style of writing that incorporates magical elements but grounds them in the real world, where they’re not necessarily treated as extraordinary, but used to push the story forward and reveal/bring about change in the characters.
So to get us to started during our first class, we did this really great exercise (want to try it?) that involved us thinking of a magical element and pair it with a character.
Hence, I’m currently working on a short story about a graffiti artist who creates paintings as an offering to a sea dragon, but he fears for his life because the sea dragon keeps washing his work away, each time causing more and more danger to the artist and his town, and he can’t figure out what it is the dragon really wants from him.
Crazy, right? And fun. Although I’ve always loved reading magical realism, this is the first time I’ve tried writing it. The way it’s challenging me has shed some light on why and how I write.
When I’m working on a story or a scene, the moment it clicks for me is when it starts to feel real. Real enough that I can believe the character or the situation or whatever it is they’re feeling. If I look back at my last few works, they were all grounded in things I knew to be true—like my grandfather’s kidnapping, or an abandoned property my parents once owned—and having that as a starting point gave me permission to imagine everything and anything else.
We talk a lot about truth in fiction not needing to rely on facts. How as long as it feels real and stays loyal to some aspect of our human experience, there’s truth in it.
Working on this story, I find myself starting from a place so far beyond reality, I know it only exists on the page. It’s forcing me to redefine my criteria for truth, to let go of the idea that for something to feel real, I have to think it could actually happen.
Maybe the real magic is in the leap, in that moment when what’s most extraordinary isn’t something like an all-knowing toaster but the way a town reacts to it. And it’s not just in this one style of writing. In all fiction, there’s the real and the magical and everything in between.
Have you ever written magical realism?