One of the keys to the astonishing success of the Harry Potter series is the adept way in which J.K. Rowling roots the fantastic realm of wizardy in the real, everyday world peopled by the Dursley family and other “muggles.” Magic realism, wielded skillfully, can enchant readers and fully engage them.
Why not take a leaf from J.K. Rowling or from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize-winning author of One Hundred Years of Solitude? Adding a dose of magic realism enriches a story by giving it an “extra dimension,” according to Alison Ruth, a fiction writer whose short stories and debut novel, Near-Mint Cinderella, have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
In an inspiring Write Group session called “Add Magic to Your Writing,” Alison noted that artfully injecting fantasy into a realistic setting can enliven a story on many levels: It adds depth and complexity; it offers a vehicle for exploring the subconscious; it fuels characters’ discontent and raises questions; and it creates an “ambiguous environment” which keeps characters off-balance and in a questing frame of mind — all of which can help drive your story forward.
Alison offered six helpful guidelines for adding magic to descriptive writing:
Strive for believability: Readers are more than willing to suspend their disbelief if you set up a world in which they can readily accept that something magical could happen. As a writer, your job is to create a setting in which magical happenings are not just possible, but acceptable and believable.
Go for it creatively: Adding magic to a story requires a generous dose of imagination and a willingness to come up with mind-bending scenarios: fairies who enslave humans; a teacher who can see the future but hates witnessing disaster; ghosts that come to dinner — anything goes.
Limit its power: Magic works in small doses — a little goes a long way. Add too many dreams, symbols or other disruptive elements to your story and you’ll undermine your credibility and disengage your readers.
Be consistent: If you give a character magical powers or introduce magical forces, make sure they are used logically and coherently within the framework of your story.
Make it feel natural: Magic isn’t an artificial, manipulative tool. It should feel organic and arise naturally. Set the stage so your readers are ready for it.
Use it to fuel conflict: Magic is not an end in itself; it’s a means of raising questions and generating conflict within a character or between a character and his/her situation and environment. So make your magic sing for its supper and fuel friction — and growth.
Who doesn’t need more magic in their Life? Bravo, Alison! For more on Alison Ruth’s debut novel, Near-Mint Cinderella, and her new book, Starlight Black and the Misfortune Society (Prizm Books), go to Amazon and visit alisonruthlit.com. Write on!