Monthly Archives: September 2015

What is Magical Realism?

249116968_020dadfb09_zThere are so many different types of literature in the world. So many that often writers don’t know about all the varying branches. One type of literature I’ve recently been familiarizing myself with is magical realism. I’ve always been a fan of escapist literature (by that I mean fantasy and science fiction). However, when I read Sea Oak by George Saunders I wanted to know more about the category his short story fit into.

Magical realism is a type of postmodern writing. It attempts to show readers the truth behind a specific reality or worldview. What’s interesting about magical realism is that is introduces magical (impossible) elements into a real-world story. In other words, the ghost that’s haunting the attic isn’t part of a fantasy narrative. It’s the expression of peoples’ beliefs that ghosts exist.

Think about the show Ghost Hunters. A team of paranormal investigators investigate paranormal activity at various sites around the United States. Many people believe the otherworldly experiences of the investigators to be a hoax, yet there are those whom believe the experiences are fact. For those individuals, the ghosts are a real part of contemporary life. (In other words, individuals who believe in the paranormal have a different reality than those who don’t believe.)

Magical realism attempts to show the world through eyes other than our own.

It may seem like magical realism is close or the same as fantasy, but what makes it different is:

  • When done correctly, magical realism doesn’t require the suspension of disbelief (the reader’s decision to set aside his disbelief and accept a story’s fantastic premise as being real), as much as readers automatically accepting the sublime as part of normal everyday life.
  • Magical realism strings events together in such a way that readers automatically accept the fantastic as reality. For example, in One Hundred Years of Solitude one of the characters is shot and killed. His blood flows down the street, climbs stairs, and navigates around corners to reach the character’s mother. A miracle.

Magical realism depicts unreal features as part of mundane life. It blends the magical with the familiar.

Here’s a great summary of magical realism:

“In magical realism the writer confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts. The principle thing is not the creation of imaginary beings or worlds but the discovery of the mysterious relationship between man and his circumstances. In magical realism key events have no logical or psychological explanation. The magical realist does not try to copy the surrounding reality or to wound it but to seize the mystery that breathes behind things.”

Know of any examples of magical realism?

(Photo courtesy of Kathy.)

Breaking down that Brick Wall: Working through Resistance to Writing

8932033483_187b8a780e_zSo you want to write a novel? That’s fantastic! Writing is a great way to express yourself creatively and to explore new, interesting, and often difficult topics. Sometimes, writing is simply a way to relax and enjoy yourself.

However, writing isn’t easy. Maybe you sit down at your computer or notebook and hash out the first five, ten pages quickly, but then you stall. Or perhaps you’re stuck on the first page, opening sentence, etc. No matter how hard you try the words aren’t coming to you. It feels like there’s a wall blocking your creativity, and anytime you try to scale the wall, go around it, smash it, or plead for it to please move, it refuses.

Maybe the wall knows that you secretly don’t want to be sitting down and writing. Whether you’ve got too much on your plate, or your buddies are all going out to get a drink, sometimes you don’t want to write, even though you know you’ll feel great after you do.

Think about all that homework you had to do during your school years, that work project that’s due on Friday, vacuuming your entire house, exercising, scheduling that doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off (writing a blog post)…most likely you’ve experienced some sort of resistance in your life. (There’s a reason trainers will tell you that once you hop on that treadmill, you stay on it for fifteen minutes before deciding whether you’re going to call it a day.)

How do you overcome resistance?

Don’t wait for inspiration to fly in via a muse. Often that only serves to make resistance to writing stronger because the more time you spend away from writing, the greater the distance becomes between you and your story.

Resistance is a natural feeling. Many times resistance occurs when you’re doing something worthwhile. Why? Because that something is challenging.

You may love writing, but it takes work, uses energy, and can be exhausting.

So, what do you do?

  • Make a list. Create a list of all your writing goals for that day. (or goal, such as write 500 words, or write for 15 minutes) Once that goal is down on paper, tackle it. Many times having your goals written down makes them seem more real, and more doable. Plus, it’s always nice to be able to cross something off your list.
  • Make writing a habit. One of the best ways to shoot yourself in the foot is to write inconsistently. If you write for two hours Saturday, but then don’t write again until a week later, you’ll probably have to go back and reintegrate yourself with your story. By writing consistently, whether it’s every day or three times a week, you’ll remain focused and in your characters’ heads.
  • Don’t let resistance become an overwhelming monster. Ever experienced how putting something off only makes it a bigger challenge? If you’re feeling resistance to write, don’t close your laptop and call it quits, work through the resistance. It may take you fifteen minutes to write one double-spaced page, but you’ll most likely discover that after a bit that resistance fades away and your creativity flows.

There’s a reason why you’re writing. Remind yourself of that reason (hopefully it’s because you love writing for such and such reasons, like you have this story inside of you that’s just bursting to be told). When there’s meaning behind what you’re doing, often there’s less resistance.

How do you work through resistance?

(Photo courtesy of Hans Splinter.)




Making Someone Laugh: Injecting Humor into Writing

6225537439_e5d2ef4c3d_zHumor is a part of our lives. It lightens moods, makes serious situations easier to handle, and provides an outlet for intense emotions. In writing, humor is a deliberate choice of words, metaphors, misdirection, sentence structure, miscommunication, etc.

Humorous stories are written in ways that make people laugh, even if they’re not sure why they’re laughing. One of the best things about humor is that it engages readers. When readers are engaged, they bond with the story, characters, etc.

  1. Use the ridiculous from real life. Often the best materials for humor come from real life, so carry a notebook with you and pay attention to your surroundings. If something happens that makes you laugh, record it.

What can make a story or anecdote even funnier? Exaggerate it.

Ever seen or listened to a comedian? Often their stories are so ludicrous that it’s difficult to believe they occurred in real life. Most likely they did, just not to the extreme the comedian states. (Exaggeration can help to showcase the point(s) you, as the author, are trying to make.)

  1. Avoid sarcasm. Sarcasm can be a great way to express humor, however since it relies heavily on tone, it is difficult to pull off, especially in writing. You may inadvertently end up offending or hurting someone. Steer clear of it, even more so if sarcasm is used to make yourself feel better by putting someone else down.
  2. Make fun of yourself. Using yourself as the fool allows others to relate to you and your story without feeling like the finger is pointing at them. (Who hasn’t at some point felt like a fool?)

Think of some of the best comedians you know. Often they make fun of themselves rather than others. Usually, some of the topics comedians use in their act are serious – something that has effected them greatly, but they use humor to mitigate the severity of the story, and to give listeners and readers permission to laugh. (Giving readers permission to laugh at what you say/write is extremely important. You can do this by peppering subtle hints throughout your work. Humor is only effective if readers feel that it’s okay to laugh.)

  1. Safeguard the humor. Don’t overuse humor. By being selective with humor, you’ll better grab readers’ attention, and help to focus readers on the major points you want to make.

Humor may not be your forte. Perhaps you feel you don’t have a humorous bone in your body, but writing humor should be attempted. Even individuals who are naturally funny learn how to use humor effectively.

Looking at the funnier side of things can enhance your writing by adding a new dimension to it, as well as forcing you to stretch your creativity beyond its comfort zone. Plus, humor reduces stress, loneness, and helps individuals deal with rejection, loss, etc.

The biggest aspect of writing humor? Listen to the world around you. Then, build upon that world.

What kinds of things do you find funny?

(Photo courtesy of Moyan Brenn.)

Squeezing Creativity From a Dry Spell


Creativity is the life force of writing. It’s what makes readers feel alive, and is what captures and keeps their attention. Without creativity there would be no stories. So, what happens when creativity suddenly refuses to strike?

Writers can’t write.

They must find a way to reinvigorate themselves, or their work will come out feeling stilted and forced.

How do writers recover from a dry spell? Over the years, I’ve picked up a lot of different ways from a number of writers.

  1. Free write. Write down anything and everything that comes to mind. Verbal vomit, in many ways, can lead to new ideas, even if the free writing itself isn’t all that great.
  2. Gain a writing persona. Create a separate writing personality, someone other than you to write for a bit. Your hands will still be doing the typing, but you’ll be on a beach somewhere, while your persona gets the creative juices flowing.
  3. Learn something. Pick up gardening, astronomy, cooking, yoga, Russian, anything that might interest you. Read a few textbooks too. The more you learn, the more information you have to create from.
  4. Meet someone new. Each new person you interact with comes from a different background, and has a unique perspective. Never been far away from home? Go someplace utterly different and strike up a conversation.
  5. Keep a journal with you at all times. You never know when inspiration will strike. Perhaps the sun glinting off a rusty sign, or a man weaving straw hats on the boardwalk, can be used as part of a scene.
  6. Time yourself. Give yourself a set amount of time to focus on writing. It can be fifteen minutes a day, or thirty minutes every other day.
  7. Get outside. Yes, allergies can be a pain in the butt, but being outside can breathe creativity back into you. Go for a hike or a jog, or find a bench by a river and people watch. Heck, stare at the way the sun highlights the green in the trees’ leaves.
  8. Be in the zone. This term is usually applied to athletes, but it works great for writing too. When you’re writing, focus all your attention on writing. In fact, with whatever you’re doing be in the moment, whether it’s reading a book, washing the dishes, or participating in a conversation.
  9. Be open to everything. Judgment hinders creativity because it limits how you view the world. There’s a reason the saying, “Never judge a book by its cover,” has stuck around.
  10. Screw it. Not everything is going to always work out perfectly. There will be roadblocks, hiccups, and mountains. Recognizing this will allow you to move past the traffic jam. One of the great aspects of writing is that you can go back later and edit, so let a chaotic mess crash all over the page. Who knows, something great may come of it.

Have more ideas? Post them in the comments section

(Photo courtesy of subflux.)