Eclectic Voices

Fiction, Monologues, Plays & More

A Moment for Magical Realism

weirdVintageAliensPhotoa thought from Eclectic Voices Coordinator Chelsea Sutton

This is how the conversation goes:

Random Person: Oh, you’re a writer?  What kind of stuff do you write?

Me: Plays and fiction.

Random Person: Okay.  But what kinds of plays and fiction.

Me: (long silence) You know.  The kind about…people.  And death I guess.

Random Person: So you write horror?

Me: Uh…

Random Person: You’re like the next Stephen King!


I’ve never been one of those writers who write for only one particular genre.  I write literary fiction sometimes. Horror sometimes.  The occasional Apocalyptic Drama. Even Science Fiction (I won my first award for Sci-Fi in middle school for an epic space adventure called Evil in the Stars…I didn’t have a lot of friends in middle school.)

When hard pressed to describe my writing style or genre, I usually say Magical Realism.  (I think this story of mine qualifies.) Magical Realism is probably one of the most misunderstood and amorphous sub-genres out there.  Usually lumped into the Speculative Fiction pile with science fiction, fantasy and horror, it’s one of those genres writers and intellectuals will spend years debating about its real nature and definition.  Honestly, I’m probably using it wrong too.  But I find it’s the closest thing that describes my default writing world.  And it tends to be the style that I respond to in the most visceral way when I see it in other literature, films and plays.

At its simplest, Magical Realism happens when then normal and mundane intersect with the fantastical – much like Fantasy – except that Magical Realism’s “magical” elements are so fully a part of the world that there is no difference between the reality and the overall metaphor within the ordinary, internal, personal stories Magical Realism is telling.  In Fantasy, the characters and story react to the magical rules of the world; in Magical Realism, the characters and story are part of and inseparable from the rules.

I’m probably getting this wrong.

Magical realist fiction depicts the real world of people whose reality is different from ours. It’s not a thought experiment. It’s not speculation. Magical realism endeavors to show us the world through other eyes.  the ordinary as miraculous and the miraculous as ordinary. – Bruce Holland Rogers

Let’s find some examples.  For literature, I was first introduced to the concept of Magical Realism with Cuban writers such as Magic Dog and Other Stories by Antonio Benitez Rojo or Three Trapped Tigers by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, but you can also find Magical Realism with authors like Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino and Gabriel García Márquez.  In fact, many Latin American writers were lumped into the category of Magical Realism, sometimes for political reasons.  Aimee Bender and Haruki Murakami are great examples of Magical Realism writers, and personal favorites of mine, and even Kelly Link can stray into the Magical Realism realm (though a lot of stuff is solidly in Fantasy and Science Fiction land).

As far as films go, examples span a wide range, including: Big Fish, Stranger Than Fiction, Being John Malkovich, Like Water For Chocolate, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Barton Fink, Pan’s Labyrinth, Edward Scissorhands, and Groundhog Day.  All have magical elements are are full integrated and accepted in the world which is otherwise relatively mundane, and these elements function as a larger metaphor of the story and emotional arc.

I get the most excited and emotionally engaged with a story when there’s something poetic or fantastical connected to what’s going on.  Even a small change, like a heightened level of language in a story, the way the actors move in a play, a twisting of the visuals in a film.  Stories that take the ordinary and shift it ever so slightly and make it strange and magical – that’s what gets me.

Even though I’ll always have a soft spot for other “genre” fiction – like Horror and Science Fiction and Fantasy and…well…okay…ALL of it.  And in reality, the really good stuff can’t be so easily pigeon-holed into one genre or another – all genres overlap and speak to each other in a variety of ways.  It’s when you stop listening that you’re in trouble.


Chelsea Sutton holds a BA in Literature from The College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Her plays have had readings and productions in Santa Barbara, New York and Los Angeles and she is currently participating in workshops with the Skylight Theatre Playlab and The Vagrancy Writers Group, as well as spearheading ECT’s writers group, Eclectic Voices. Her play The Dead Woman, was recently named a Semifinalist in the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference 2013 and a finalist for the Stanley Drama Award. Her fiction has appeared in The Best of Farmhouse Magazine, The Catalyst, Spectrum, NYC MidnightFictionade, Bourbon Penn and a forthcoming issue of The Cactus Heart.  She was the 2011 Winner of NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Contest. Her story The Tick and the Tocking received Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. She is a member of the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative.

3 comments on “A Moment for Magical Realism

  1. Ellen Morris Prewitt
    March 10, 2014

    I, too, am a fan of magical realism—you’ve named some of my favorite writers. My first published short story—”Mother Mary Commutes to Memphis”—I denominated “realistic magicalism” because the characters (Mother Mary and her guardian angel) were the normal people and the Elvis information (all true) was the really weird stuff. I also began reading GGM’s autobiography and stopped: I didn’t want to know from whence came his magical situations. Isn’t it interesting how films can have a high level of magical realism and still be considered real? Obviously, you’ve touched on a great subject for me! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Nicholas C. Rossis
    March 13, 2014

    I love Magical Realism, and my series Pearseus could probably be classified as belonging to that genre (I’ve classified it as fantasy, but after reading this I’m adding “magical realism” to the tags). Thanks for the post!

  3. passtheprose
    March 21, 2014

    Hi, Dani Nicole at passtheprose here. Thank so very much for this post! I have been writing YA Fantasy for a couple of years but feel myself leaning in a new direction. I had an inkling that it was magical realism and after reading your post I am more certain of that!

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