Most of us write in the genre we most love to read. I've been a speculative fiction reader since the age of four. Of course, I had no idea that was even a "thing". I loved magic and unicorns, dragons and dinosaurs. I loved space and ghost stories and anything weird and wonderful.
Fast forward and you see a young girl writing (terrible!) science fiction with her best friend in middle school and (even worse!) ghost stories with her sister. Creep a little further along and you'll see a young woman in her first apartment, sitting on the floor on the furry, brown carpet, writing feverishly on a fantasy novel she believes will be a best seller.
I've flung my sword at high fantasy, science fiction and horror. I wrote a short screen play in college based on an alternate telling of the Wizard of OZ and wrote my final project as a modern day ghost story. My first published piece is about the Angel of Death, a young woman down on her luck, and a lady who has lived for centuries under the imprisonment of love.
Or is it?
Oh trust me, that first drivel was definitely OUT THERE! I had space ships and talking china dolls and boys discovering a power to control fire because of his fairy ancestors. I say drivel not because of the genre. I say drivel because they were TERRIBLE!
About a year ago, during my Writing Sabbatical, I came across a term I'd not heard before. Magical Realism seeped into my thoughts. It's poetry when you say it and makes you reconsider every shifting shadow in your driveway, every faint glimmer in the twilight. I began to wonder what it was all about. I found LISTS of magical or magic realism authors. Most of them are Spanish or Latin American but there are others who have adopted the tradition. Salman Rushdie leaps to mind. As does Alice Hoffman. As I dug deeper (read, gave Google a run for its money with my very long and detailed search phrases), I uncovered some wonderful articles written on the topic of magic realism and several books on the subject.
Author Stephanie Carroll has a marvelous three part introduction to magic realism that I highly recommend reading if you are even remotely interested in the subject. Oh, and that's another thing: it's not a genre of itself. It's an aspect of another genre. In other words, any genre - literary fiction, romance, historical fiction, crime fiction - can have elements of magic realism. The key is not to let the magic outweigh the realism. Too much magic and it's fantasy or horror; too much realism and it's plain, old fiction. It's a balancing act and one that I'm enjoying researching.
Back to my more recent works. Are they fantasy? Or are they magical realism? The short screenplay is, as it stands, magic realism. If I were to take it further, turn it into a novel, it would cross the line and become fantasy because it requires me to cross into another world. Boom! No more realism; it's off to the land of OZ. The short story I submitted for my final university project IS magical realism and it stands as such, even when I try to expand it. It is firmly rooted in this world with a very human protagonist. The magic element is the hitchhiker she picks up who was of this world but isn't any longer. Why is this not fantasy? Because it doesn't detract from the realism. The appearance and disappearance of the old man is as believable as you reading this text. He's there. He talks to the young woman. He's gone and leaves her a task. She's startled but doesn't really question the happening and she finishes the task without any internal or external struggle. If I'd expounded on the mystery, taken it further, had her research the why and the where and the what, pulled her out of reality and into the realm of the spirit, then it would cross the line and BOOM! We're back in fantasy land.
See what I mean by balance?
As for my current story, I'm unsure. I feel upfront, it's magical realism but I do delve into a bit of explanation as to why the centuries old woman is still there. Still, it's a simple explanation and the protagonist doesn't question it. She doesn't question the Angel of Death too much either. She's startled but accepting, acquiescing into the tale and letting each character become a part of her story.
And I believe that's the key: don't explain too much and don't have your characters run around trying to expound upon or theorize about what is going on. They have to blink, shrug a shoulder and move on, accepting that there are, indeed, "...more things in heaven and earth, Horacio, than are dreamt of in your philosophies."
What are your thoughts? Have you ever written magic or magical realism? Do you read magical realism authors? Or do you prefer to be swept away into a world of Other, where the realism of the everyday melts away and things are unfamiliar?
strange lights in the woods.
not the best picture but neither are those Bigfoot photos... :P
Happy Wednesday and happy writing,
If you're interested, here are two more links to thoughts on Magical Realism:
Elements of Magical Realism by Michelle Witte
What is Magical Realism and How Different is it from Fantasy by the Gotham Writers
And, if all else fails, get Google to work for you. I Googled "how to get started writing magical realism" and found a wealth of knowledge!