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Characteristics of the Magical Realism Genre of Literature



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Magical realism was formally regarded as a regional trend in Latin American literature, but it has become more popular in contemporary literature all over the world. Magical Realism is a narrative technique that blurs the distinction of fantasy and reality. It is characterized by either of these two ways: 1) an unexpected or improbably element is inserted into a predominantly realistic work in a matter-of-fact way or 2) magical elements are incorporated into a realistic tale in a matter-of-fact manner. The real and fantastic, believable and incredible are equally accepted.

Characteristics of Magical Realism
Magical realist stories usually begin one of two ways: 1) The story begins with the "magical" event, then the story continues with the characters behaving "normally." 2) The story begins ordinarily then gradually becomes extraordinary. Usually the second beginning is used, so the magical dimension is established to the reader outright.

Author Carrie Brown says in "The Conjurer's Art: The Rules of Magical Realism and How to Break Them ". . . magical realism does not refer simply to the oddities and eccentricities of human behavior, nor to the sometimes astonishing world of natural causes and events, nor to the surprising acts of coincidence and fate that occasionally appear to be directed by an uncertain authority." The magical events must be linked emotionally or psychologically to the character. The elements must be so real and necessary to the motivations, fears, or desires of the characters that the reader forgets it can't happen in reality. You must make the reader suspend disbelief. It goes back to basic characterization. You must know the characters' motivations, what they want more than anything else in the world. Without this character understanding, the attempt at including magical events will be obvious and amateurish.

Examples of Magical Realism
* A lilac bush (or in the movie, a rose bush) blooms out of season and is nourished by a man's corpse. (Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman)
* An angel appears to an old man. ("A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
* A woman goes in search of a cat in which she can reincarnate herself. ("Eva is Inside her Cat" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
* A woman's tears fill a ten-pound sack. (Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel)
* A radio suddenly broadcasts the intimate conversations of strangers. ("An Enormous Radio" by John Cheever)
* A girl falls through a rabbit hole and ends up in a land of talking rabbits, caterpillars, and lobsters. (Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol

Many children's stories use a lot of magical elements in their stories. Who doesn't remember stories about toys coming to life, or walking through a closet and ending up in a different and magical world, or a giant peach flying through the sky? It almost sounds too easy to suggest looking at a potential story through the eyes of a child. As writers, we can place those magical, childlike elements in adult stories if we can suspend disbelief.

Other examples of magical elements are love charms and ghosts. Ghosts are common characters in magical realism. Lois Parkinson Zamora says in her essay "Magical Romance/Magical Realism": "Ghosts embody the fundamental magical realistic sense that reality always exceeds our capacities to describe or understand or prove." One thing that separates magical realist ghosts from "horror" fiction is that in magical realist fiction, ghosts are three-dimensional characters. They have back stories, motivations, regrets, and passions like living characters.

As in any other style of fiction, specific details are as important in magical realist fiction. If your writing is rich with details, then the reader will not step back and question the magical elements. Carrie Brown wrote,"Magic shouldn't take the reader out of the world he knows. Make your magic, if you will, the stuff of life itself. After all, it's the most magical material the world has ever known."

More about this author: R. M. Ziegler

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