What Is Magical Realism? A Definition

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Some stories bring out the magic in everyday life but not in the way you might think. Good stories undoubtedly craft their own magic, sucking you into the world created. However, all genres can do that. I’m talking about magical realism, a subgenre of fantasy that adds magical, or fantastical, elements to a typical literary fiction setting.

Magical realism isn’t strictly fantasy, but it isn’t strictly the “real world” literary fiction either. It toes the fine line between both, creating a world where everything around us looks familiar but carries a touch of magic in a variety of ways. A lot of the time this magic and all the fantastical elements in the world work without anyone questioning it. It’s just the way the world works.

But on this note, how do you write magical realism? How do you incorporate any fantastic elements to a story? Take a look below for some more information and inspiration!

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A Definition

Typically, this genre falls under literary fiction rather than fantasy (though you could still call it a type of fantasy as well). The literary fiction, or fiction taking place in the real, known world around us, provides the foundation for the story, but magical or fantasy elements exist in the world. However, these fantasy elements don’t need an explanation for why these exist. Magical occurrences or anything typical for the fantasy genre are considered the norm.

This magical genre need the following characteristics. There doesn’t necessarily have to be a balance, however. Usually, the magic acts as the backdrop to the story.

1) A realistic setting. The realism part of the genre comes into play here. The world needs to be “realistic,” or otherwise recognizable to the reader. This might be the present day in a country that exists or even a familiar historical setting like 1940s India.

2) Magic/fantasy. Unlike other types of fantasy where an unrecognizable, created world exists for the fantasy to exist in, this magic functions in the real world on its own. It requires no explanation whenever it occurs. The key to writing this aspect of magical realism is to make sure the magic doesn’t end up pulling your readers out of the story.

3) Necessary Information. Between your setting and the magic you create, you need to establish certain ideas and facts within your story. For the setting, readers need the context for what the society and the environment is typically like in reality. However, like fantasy, this genre requires some explanation for what’s happening when magic occurs. You might explain what event or person caused the magic but don’t elaborate further on where the magic comes from.

How to Write Magical Realism

Interested in writing? Make sure to follow these steps below.

1) Create a realistic setting. Whether you want a historical setting or present-day setting, you need to make sure it’s consistent with reality. Focus on the story’s realism. If a setting is historical, focus on the historical context. The characters might experience fantastical things, but they should go about their day-to-day life in a normal, recognizable setting for the most part.

2) Do your research. In the same vein, make sure you understand the setting you want to create. Research shows in writing! Even if you write a story based on the culture or background you grew up with, your readers need to understand that background. Get the history down, explaining it in a way readers can visualize. The magic needs to be out there, but the realism remains grounded. If your setting isn’t realistic, the rest falls flat.

3) Add “magical” aspects and detail. Ghosts might appear out of nowhere. Or fireballs. If you can imagine it, chances are you can include it. Make sure, however, you don’t offer realistic explanations for why or how these things happen. Without explaining, you establish the magic as normal, something that reflects reality in its own way. That’s just the way things are.

Some Examples

If you want to read magical realism, check out these books and sources below! Happy reading!

Gods of Jade and Shadow – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Beloved – Toni Morrison

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

Check out more magical realism books here.

Happy writing!

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