by Ellen Buikema
Magical Realism portrays the real world with a hint of fantasy. By not recognizing the magical aspects as supernatural, these elements become normal. For the characters, there’s nothing surprising about it.
Some say that the genre began in 1920s Germany in painting such as Beach of Dangast with Flying Boat by artist Franz Radziwill. Others suggest that Magical Realism began far earlier.
Author Gabriel García Márquez explained that Magical Realism arose from tales told to children by the Grandmothers as if the events really happened, because the Grandmothers believed they did.
Márquez was raised by his maternal grandparents in Colombia. His grandmother’s belief in magic, superstition, and spirits carries on in his stories.
“The narrator doesn’t get upset when out-of-this-world things happen, nor does he dismiss them or try to explain them. That would be considered disrespectful to the Grandmothers. Instead, he allows the reader to inhabit the expansive possibilities but doesn’t directly state his beliefs about it. It can feel like those dreams where you think: “I knew I could fly,” and the mornings after in which you might be inclined to try. And perhaps, like the supposed rapturous, levitating nuns, you can.” GG Márquez
Subtle supernatural happenings add to many parts of the story. This includes the development of the characters, narrative, and creation of conflict.
Deciding how these supernatural elements weave into your story is important. You’ll need to figure out why they occur in your story.
Magical elements should be purposeful. Figuring out how and why they belong helps with their role in the plot.
When you think of Magical Realism, consider Latin American writers like Isabel Allende. American authors Aimee Bender, Paul Yoon, and Alice Hoffman, or Japanese magical realist Haruki Murakami may come to mind.
Gabriel García Márquez is credited with reinvigorating Latin American writing. In his novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, he stated that “he was just writing the world as he saw it, that he wasn’t trying to embellish.” In this story, ghosts are seamlessly worked into the everyday world as well as odd details like a rain that lasts almost five years.
As a foodie, I very much enjoy the magical realism that reflect the emotions of the characters in Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate . The protagonist cooks meals that cause those who eat them to feel what she feels. When she is sad, they are sad. When she is feeling amorous while cooking, it’s a love fest for all.
In Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, she stated, “the main character develops a ‘power’ to taste the emotional life of the cook in the food she’s eating.”
With these elements in mind, you can write a Magical Realism story that will hook and enthrall your readers.
What stories do you enjoy that use Magical Realism? If you were to write in this genre, which magical elements would you chose and why?
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Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, YA paranormal fantasy.
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