Magic Realism Is Not

A relatively new term has been popping up all over the publishing realm, Magic Realism. But what exactly is magic realism? And is the classic definition what agents and publishers really want?

If you do a quick GoodReads search for magic realism books you will get a haphazard collection of works. Whether or not these are classified correctly is not for me to determine but here is how you can identify if what you are reading or writing falls into this quirky and highly prized category.

Magic Realism is the attempt to add something abnormal into the normal and accept it.

Magic Realism IS:

  • Magic Realism is the real world as someone somewhere has experienced it
  • Magic Realism accepts an illogical or unrealistic element as normal. Meaning the characters/narrator accept things as they are without explanation.
  • Magic Realism is serious, it assumes what is written is truth not fiction.
  • Magic Realism is the real world with real people who have a different reality than what is normally accepted, usually involving the paranormal.

Magic Realism IS NOT:

  • Magic Realism is NOT Fantasy or Science Fiction. These two categories create new worlds and delve, often deeply, into it’s magic and mystery.
  • Magic Realism is NOT going to discuss/explain itself in the text (no magical or technical info dumps).
  • Magic Realism is NOT an escapist book, it should feel completely believable.

Overall, when you finish a Magical Realism book and set it on your nightstand, you should look back at it with these thoughts in the back of your  mind: ‘Is this true? Is my thinking skewed? Did someone somewhere really experienced this?” That is the point.

I’ll give you an example, Judy lives in an old double wide with her invisible sister. The narrator talks about Judy and her sister like normal people who have normal lives. At no point does the narrator explain about the invisible sister, she just is. At no point does the narrator say Judy has a brain problem, Judy just is. If it’s hard to wrap your mind around it here is another way to think of it. As you read a children’s book and a dog talks in the story no one is surprised, no one explains, the dog just talks. We accept that the dog talks because it’s a children’s book nothing more. Its the same with Magic Realism, you accept the story face value.

I hope this unfogs some of the tension around the Magic Realism catagory. As for agents and publishers and what they really want… they want something original in voice and story as always.

What are some examples of Magical Realism have you read lately? Did you enjoy them? Are you writing something that is or could be Magic Realism?

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