Thursday, July 7, 2011

More Questions for the Agent: Magic Realism

Oh no. I have to define it?

According to Wikipedia: a genre of fiction in which magical elements blend with the real world. The story explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the "real" and the "fantastic" in the same stream of thought.

Makes sense right? Let's give it our own definition now. Let's start with like genres and work our way up. (These definitions are partially subjective and in my own words.)

Urban Fantasy is a world in which magic of some sort exists and either exists in tandem with ours without the "mortal world" knowing about it (think Harry Potter or Twilight), or exists instead of our world (what our world would be like if we all knew magic existed, like in the Sookie Stackhouse novels).

Paranormal Romance can have the same worlds and magic rules as Urban Fantasy but the main plot line is romance.

Paranormal: I've heard people say that Paranormal is not a genre without adding Romance to the end, but I'm a fan of defining something as Paranormal on its own or with a qualifier. For example, what would a time travel or ghost story be (without a main romance story line)? I call it Paranormal.

Magic Realism. One of the rules of Paranormal is that the magic in it usually has some sort of explanation of how it works and rules that govern it. For example, Harry Potter's world is explained, has history, and has specific rules that govern the magic and the people, therefore it's paranormal (or urban fantasy, or fantasy). Now, if you think about, say, Mary Poppins has Paranormal elements in it, but by no means is the world governed by specific rules. It is business as usual and we must take the magic stuff as it comes. Time travel and some ghost stories are the same. Time Travel has no other occurrences of paranormal in it; it just happens and we take it as is.

Now, here's why Magic Realism is so tricky. Because no on ever uses the term to describe something. You wouldn't describe Mary Poppins to someone by saying "It's a Magic Realism musical about a governess helping two bratty kids and their family get along and love each other." Likewise, a Time Travel is a Time Travel, it isn't described as Magic Realism. But, according to the definition I've just given, it would be.

I can't give many more examples of Magic Realism because, frankly, I'm not a big fan of the genre. Blame it on me liking rules to go with my weird stuff, but I prefer a world that is built up and in which characters must interact with it. So, when in doubt, leave Magic Realism out. If there is absolutely no other way to describe your ms, then use it. But, to me at least, Magic Realism conjures up images of weird stuff, the stuff of acid trip dreams better left in the dark. Paranormal elements I can handle and I feel they are much more telling than "Magic Realism."

What other books (or movies) would you describe as Magic Realism?

Happy writing!


Cambria Dillon said...

Great definitions! So, Alice in Wonderland -- magic realism or just trippy story-telling? And I haven't read Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma yet, but I've heard it classified as Contemporary with elements of magic realism. It's on my TBR list and I'm interested to see if that's an accurate depiction or not.

So interesting how some of this is still a little subjective though. Thanks for giving us your take on it!

Sarah said...

I'd say Imaginary Girls fits under the category of Magical Realism. (Loved it!) Aside from that... hmmm... wiki says One Hundred Years of Solitude falls under the definition because of how the story is structured. I guess I kinda get that.

Ashley Chappell said...

What about authors like Neil Gaiman? Novels like Neverwhere, American Gods, Anansi Boys, etc, all feature elements that would be in sync with the initial definition of magic blending with the real world.
I may be biased as a writer of fantasy, but I can't say that I'm a fan of the term Magical Realism. In my mind, it's an apologetic's version of Fantasy conjured up to defend it from those who sneer 'Escapism!' at it as though that were a bad thing...

Kathryn Rose said...

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. One of the best books I've read all year, I might add.

Beth Kemp said...

This is really interesting. I've only seen Magic Realism used in lit crit circles, for people like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Angela Carter or Salman Rushdie. I can see how it would apply to Gaiman - really, there's no difference, but I would never have thought of applying the label to his work, I would have called it Fantasy. Is it a bit like the difference between 'Fantasy/Sci-fi' and 'Speculative' as labels? Is Magic Realism 'serious' or 'literary' fantasy? Hmm.

Stephsco said...

About a half hour ago I looked up defnitions for paranormal and supernatural to determine if there was much of a difference. What I'm writing is not paranormal romance, and I feared even mentioning paranormal would cause someone to fill in romance. I guess it's THAT common, but you are right, it doesn't mean it can't stand alone. I was thinking supernatural mystery might work b/c it has to do w/ real people investigating a missing girl, but from the perspective of the afterlife rather than here. Not so much magic but an alternate world.

These categories make my brain hurt.

Unknown said...

I was going to say The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, but someone beat me to it. My book club just read it. Beautiful writing, amazing book--enough said. :)

Debbie Maxwell Allen said...

Love the definitions. Would you say historical fantasy might fit the bill?

Also, I featured your blog in my agent series today. Glad I came across it!


Anonymous said...

If you want magic realism, look to the Latin American authors like Marquez, Allende, Borges, Esquivel, etc. Also Bruno Shulz. I agree that if there's going to be magic, there should be rules. I always feel tricked when I read magic realism, especially because it usually comes toward the middle or end, when you think you've figured out that this is a realistic novel, and then suddenly there's magic to complicate or solve problems. It always feels like a cop out to me. Thanks for the post on the difference!

Maureen Wanket said...

American Gods isn't Magic Realism, is it? With American Gods and Anansi Boys, Gaiman writes based on mythologies that have complex rules and systems already in place. With the Magic Realism term I definitely think of Latin American writers like Marquez. What about old stories like Rappacini's Daughter? Fun discussion.

MuckieDuckie said...

Questions. Is dark fantasy considered a genre? If so, can anyone help me with examples? As ashamed as I am to say it I don't know what genre my writings would fit under. If I had to hedge a guess, I would say urban fantasy. Instead of meat and potatoes, I'm a horror and fantasy type of girl, and all these genres make my head hurt.

Kate Larkindale said...

Chinese authors often use magic realism. Just look at work by Maxine Hong-Kingston. I'm a huge fan of the way she uses it.

Kelly Bryson said...

This discussion makes my brain hurt. Can we get a "Mythological Romance" category? ;)

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