Saturday, June 12, 2010

Genre - Magical Realism

Recently, my fourteen year old daughter was, as usual, sitting in the back seat of the car texting to a friend. “Hey, Mom, how do you spell genre?”

My husband and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows. What fourteen year old uses the word “genre” in a text to a friend? I’m not sure I’d even heard the word until I was a librarian. Readers today are much more aware of the genres of books they read. They are much more likely to stick with one genre and not read others. Go into most modern bookstores and you’ll find the books organized, not by author, size, or color, but by genre.

We at the Blood Red Pencil are going to use a few posts over the next weeks to define and discuss genres. The market may be better for some genres than others. There may be different marketing approaches for different genres. You may find that some agents specialize in handling one genre over others. We’ll discuss those all these points in upcoming posts.

I’m going to begin the discussion with a relatively newly recognized genre, Magical Realism. Magical Realism weaves magic or supernatural events into a plot, assuming the events are perfectly natural and realistic. They often draw on the native folklore and myths of the area in which they are set. Magical Realism writers often use ghosts or reincarnations of ancestors into animals or objects in very matter-of-fact ways. The other characters accept these spirits as perfectly natural and predictable. The genre is often used to make political commentary on imperialistic or dictatorial governments.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is considered by many to be the seminal work of the genre. Because the genre came into the public consciousness first through the work of Marquez and his contemporaries, we often think of it as a Latin American genre. Pieces using Magical Realism are usually set in exotic places or cultures, most often Latin America, but can be set anyplace.

Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie also write in the genre. All these authors’ works draw on native folklore, political unrest, and supernatural occurrences but are placed all over the world.

If you choose to write in this genre, you will be joining an auspicious group of authors. Give it a go!
Jo Klemm has worked as a librarian since 1985, with the exception of the eight years she raised her three girls. She has worked in public, medical school, university, and community college libraries and is currently working at Tarrant County College in Arlington, Texas as a Public Services Librarian. In her spare time, she is a professional storyteller, focusing on western and Texas stories and Arthurian legends. The written and spoken word has always fascinated her and, though she embraces technology, she worry that it is moving us away from appreciation of the power of the written word. In her teaching, storytelling, and writing, she tries to inspire and empower students to learn from great authors, old and new, and to find their own voice on the page.

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  1. Great post. I'll be back for others about different genres.


  2. The interesting thing about magic realism for someone like me who is Latina is to see it characterized as a genre. When I was growing up, we all just thought of it as ordinary life.

  3. I've been wondering how people cut the fantasy pie. Was surprised to see my recent books sort of fit your magical realism parameters.

    Thanks for the buzz word to include in my queries -- if I ever get up the energy to get them organized.

  4. My first novel, Eating Mythos Soup (2000), is in the Magical Realism genre. But at the time I'd never heard of the term, so I was quite surprised when some reviewers categorized it as such. I wish I had known then there was a genre that described what I wrote - it would have helped me to describe it in my marketing efforts. When people asked me for its genre, I'd say something like, "Well, it's kind of wierd ..."

  5. I find your views on Magical Realism very interesing as I'm a writer of norse mythology set in present day. I'm so totally not with the whole Dark Fantasy/Dark Romance crowd as I do not write about the darker characters of paranormal such as vamps n werewolves but about the afterlife and gods etc.
    I've been reading a book on writing fantasy recently and they describe Magical Realism as having 'the plot may concern an inexplicable intrusion of magical or otherworldly into otherwise ordinary lives.'
    To me one an example of this definition would be Harry Potter (suprised?) because after all that whole magical society exists within an unknowing modern world. To me that's what I believe Magical Realism genre is all about. The unbelievable occuring amongst the non-believers.
    What are your thoughts on the definition provided?

  6. I've read reviews of a number of recent Southern literary novels (American South) which were magic realism. Not that surprising with so many Gothic elements common in Southern literature.

    Another use of the term magic realism refers to some more traditional fantasy novels where the reality of plagues, filth, and death aren't glossed over.

  7. Magical Realism is ruined for me. I went to school in Puerto Rico were our required reading included many books by Gabriel García Márquez, Laura Esquivel and others.

    It wasn't only that we were forced to read and analyze the books but, I think, we couldn't really relate to most stories and it was really hard to believe the magical part of story.

    The only writers that I still adore, and so do fellow classmates, was Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez. Their books are more relatable to today's youth. And Gabriel GM's work usually has sex as a strong theme—teenager like reading that kind of stuff even if it's just to laugh.

    I will stick to Realistic Fiction with the occasional Isabel Allende book and some fantasy and horror.

  8. Extremely interesting post. I love it when kids surprise us with their knowledge or interests.

  9. Some of the books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende are cool. Except from that I haven't read much of that genre. I'm not very fond of magic nor science fiction >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  10. Jo, do you think Sarah Addison Allen's books fall into this genre? She wrote The Sugar Queen and most recently The Girl Who Chased the Moon. There's always magic in the books, but set in modern American settings with decidedly contemporary themes. What do you think?


  11. I like all of Haruki Murakami books that fall into this so well - The Wind-up Bird Chronicles, Wild Sheep Chase, and so on. I adore magic realism and though I haven't written it - I've considered it.

  12. I just started writing a story in the genre of Magical Realism not realizing that was the name of the genre. I was calling it Speculative Reality.

    I'll be looking forward to seeing what the other genres are in the coming weeks.

  13. Magical Realism is one of my favorite genres. I'll be watching your posts on the other genres. Hopefully, it'll help me decide which one my own wip fits best. It seems to slide into a few others, too, but in the end I'm afraid I'll have to pick just one.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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